The water treatment industry is full of small businesses that are often family-owned or have been passed down from generation to generation. It is also common for dealers to get into the industry because of a close relative. Whether it be a father-and-son, brother-and-brother or husband-and-wife team, this industry is full of businesses that have been built from the ground up with the efforts of various family members.
Many families and relatives in the industry can recall when they first started their businesses and the challenges they faced along the way. Many have struggled to keep their businesses growing and have inspiring success stories as a result of their hard work and the sacrifices they made.
Jamie Kirlin is one such dealer. He became involved with the water treatment business after leaving the automotive industry. It may not have been the path he always thought he would take, but he has found happiness in this reliable, yet challenging industry. Many dealers across the country may have stories similar to Kirlin’s and—whether facing the challenges of starting a new business or sharing experiences as a seasoned industry veteran—other dealers may find inspiration in his story.
As an automotive manufacturer’s representative growing tired with the industry in the 1980s, Kirlin knew he needed a change. He didn’t necessarily think the water treatment industry would be the direction he would head, but it turned out to be the best path for him.
“I saw that things were changing in the [automotive] industry, and I wanted to get into a different industry,” said Kirlin, president and owner of Advanced Water Resources. “My father-in-law was actually a water treatment dealer, so there was always a little bit of interest there.”
Kirlin moved to northeastern Pennsylvania after getting out of the auto industry, and in 1990 he purchased part of his father-in-law’s corporation, Advanced Water Resources, Inc.
Located in Temple, Pa., Advanced Water Resources is an independent water treatment facility with its beginnings dating back to 1953. The company had been known as Lindsey Water Conditioning since the 1970s, when it was a part of Suburban Water Technology, Inc. Kirlin purchased a portion of the business in 1990 and incorporated it as Advanced Water Resources, Inc., using the trade name Lindsay EcoWater Systems.
Kirlin quickly discovered that the water treatment industry was a lot different than selling and representing automobile engines and parts, but it was a good fit for him. “Water treatment was perfect because it was hands-on, and it was something new, so it gave me a bit of a challenge,” he said.
Within a few years of Kirlin taking over Advanced Water Resources, his father-in-law sold the rest of his businesses and retired from the water treatment industry.
As Kirlin got his feet wet in the industry, he realized there were things that needed to be done differently.
“There was a lot of telemarketing going on,” Kirlin said. “[My father-in-law] didn’t really spend any money on advertising, so we started marketing and advertising and less telemarketing.”
One of the greatest challenges, according to Kirlin, was developing sales leads. In an industry such as water treatment, most business is generated through referrals and word of mouth. Kirlin was able to find success with advertisements on a local talk radio station and by participating in home shows and fairs.
After getting settled in the business, Kirlin soon learned the water in northeastern Pennsylvania had a specific problem that he made it his mission to solve.
“There’s a lot of different types of iron in the area,” Kirlin said. “For a long time it didn’t seem like there was anyone who really figured out how to treat it properly, so I made it my goal to figure that out.”
Kirlin found himself a niche market working with the different types of iron in the area. His business predominately serves the residential market and has recently begun to serve the commercial side of the industry as well.
“As my business grew, I added more staff. I have people now that take care of the residential sales, and I’ve been doing more commercial sales,” said Kirlin. “It’s a good goal for me to grow that [part of my business].”
Currently, Advanced Water Resources does not sell appliances or drill wells; it is a company made strictly of water treatment professionals who are trained in analyzing water, identifying problems and offering solutions to improve the quality of water for homes and businesses throughout northeastern Pennsylvania.
Advanced Water Resources now has a staff of seven employees and has found that the key to such growth and success is customer service. According to Kirlin, something as simple as an annual phone call or periodic mailings will keep a customer coming back.
“A lot of times, if you don’t follow up with a customer they won’t even remember you,” Kirlin said. “I found that out the hard way.”
In the future, Kirlin said he hopes to get into other water-related products such as tankless water heaters, instant hot water units for under the sink and hot-water recirculation for showers.
Now far removed from his days in the automotive industry, Kirlin has yet to grow tired of the ever-changing challenges he is faced with in the water treatment industry. “Every time you test the water, you never seem to find the same water chemistry twice,” he said.
Kirlin also enjoys the reliability of the water industry and the fact that he is always helping people. “I can feel good about what I am doing because I’m always helping someone and improving the quality of their life,” he said. “There’s a lot of facets to it, and it seems like you’re never doing the same thing twice; it’s a new challenge everyday.”
Editor’s note: If you, or any water treatment professionals you may know, have a similar dealer success story, please feel free to share it with us. Contact Stephanie Harris, managing editor for Water Quality Products.