In a competitive industry such as water treatment, many dealers often wonder how to distinguish themselves from the competition. One such way is to obtain a Certified Water Specialist (CWS) certification through the Water Quality Association (WQA). Water Quality Products spoke with two Culligan of Brighton dealers—General Manager Eric Smith and Sales Manager Gail Collins—who recently achieved CWS I certification.
WQP: What was involved in becoming a WQA Certified Water Specialist?
Gail Collins: It was a matter of studying for the different phases of water treatment. The test itself was over ethics, chemistry and proper applications of equipment. There were about 150 questions on the test itself, and the test is all self-taught. You would not be able to just walk in and take the test—you’ve got to have a full knowledge of the water treatment industry.
Eric Smith: And keep in mind that between the two of us, we have more than 50 years of experience in the industry. We’re not new folks to the industry, just late to the process.
WQP: How long did it take you to complete the process?
Collins: I studied for a month or two, but I also have 40 years of experience with water treatment.
Smith: It’s hard to answer how long it would take for somebody who is new to the business and green. It might take a year or two to get qualified enough to even think about taking the test.
WQP: Why did you decide to become a Certified Water Specialist?
Smith: I think today’s water treatment world is different than it was 20 or 30 years ago—it’s a lot more competitive. Being certified gives us an operational edge over the competition that does not go through the certification process. This is something that is looked upon as a value product by our corporation. Along with the equipment we sell is the service we sell. The certification gives us a bit of credibility that is outside the industry, so to speak.
For example, I’m a Culligan master service technician, but anybody outside of Culligan doesn’t really know what that is. Where’s the value in that? But going through the WQA lends credibility that we are trained, we do know what we’re doing and we have had our skills validated by somebody else.
WQP: What is the importance of becoming certified?
Smith: The separation of competition is the main thing—what is really different between our equipment and somebody else’s equipment? A water softener is a water softener in my eyes, but as Culligan dealers, we have a different focus. It is not about the different equipment that we sell, it’s about how we treat our customers. Service is first and foremost, and we try to maximize on that aspect of our business. When we get done at a home—whether it is in the sales process, the installation process or the ongoing service process—we are confident in what we are doing and the customer is confident in what we are doing.
WQP: Do have any further certification plans?
Smith: Yes, we will both be going for the whole enchilada, which is CWS VI. There are six stages and we just finished the first one. We could finish the levels fairly quick, but it’s really a function of the testing procedure now—where to go take the test. We could get it done in a week if we wanted to fly all over the country. As we have meetings in the state with the WQA, national meetings, etc., we will take the opportunity each time we hit one of those to obtain another level. In the state, we have a yearly conference with the Colorado WQA, so that will be one avenue. If we have to drive to a neighboring state to take the test, we will do that too.
Collins: The next levels of tests have specific focuses such as deionization, ozonation and other very specific applications.
Smith: The test we just completed was an initial overall view of water treatment. The next levels are more dialed in to a given aspect of our business such as RO, filtration, and they are more specific on the requirements and the training itself, whereas CWS I is a generalized category of general water treatment. As you finish each level, it gives you more credibility.
If you look at our store (Cleanwater Corp. of America), we own five stores across the country and most of our people are certified in one aspect or another. The company gives us bonuses; we can earn an extra $2,000 by getting to a CWS VI level of certification. So in our company it is an incentive that is pushed, not just put out there on a voluntary basis. They want us to be certified.
WQP: Would you recommend other dealers to become certified?
Smith: Absolutely. It’s an education that, at the store level, we sometimes have a hard time getting. We don’t always have the time because we’re out in the field. The avenue that the WQA offers is that everything you need to know is in the books they give you. So as long as you can read, you ought to be able to get to the next level.
WQP: What would a dealer have to do if he or she decides to become certified?
Smith: Contact the WQA. You have to buy the books and they will send you the package for whichever level you would like to reach. You pay them a fee of about $100 for the test. Once you train yourself and schedule a test, you go take the test and they send you the results. We took the test in September and a week or two later we were notified that we were certified. It’s not a long process.
More dealers should be doing it. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, I’m a qualified technician and I never really felt I needed to be certified. From an educational standpoint, I probably didn’t need it. From a status standpoint, I do need it because how do we separate ourselves from the competition? That was the main driving influence on our part. I would recommend certification for every dealer; you should be certified. It gives you an overall understanding of the industry, and it is very excellent training.