In the water treatment industry, service is the backbone of business. It is one dealer’s belief that if you are there for your customers, your business will always be there, despite factors such as economic slowdowns.
“My philosophy has always been service is the most important thing you do in this business,” said Robin Pettyjohn, CWS VI, vice president and general manager of Water Treatment Technologies, Inc., Phoenix, Ariz. “Front-door businesses [those that simply sell products and do not service them] just won’t survive in this economy. You have to offer the service.”
Having been involved in the water treatment industry since 1959, Pettyjohn is no stranger to operating a successful dealership. He grew up with his family’s business in Montana, and after moving to Phoenix, Pettyjohn and his wife opened their own water dealership in 1992.
“We service all the different brands of water softeners, and we do a lot of commercial and light industrial work,” Pettyjohn said. “We’re also an authorized warranty service center for drinking fountains and bottle coolers.” Water Treatment Technologies also offers equipment rentals and has 24-hour emergency service available to customers.
“Our business really doesn’t go up and down with the economy,” he said. “Because of building our business on service, we don’t have to rely on equipment sales to stay in business.”
In addition to understanding the value of service, Pettyjohn also believes education is key to running a successful water dealership. “It’s kind of like life,” he said. “The day you stop learning is the day you start to die.”
With the evolving nature of this industry, Pettyjohn believes it is important for dealers to take business education classes at local colleges or universities that teach how to run a business, how to hire the right people, etc.
“Many small dealers run their businesses from their guts; they don’t learn how to be a business person and how to run their business,” he said. “Many of them are just hard workers, but they never learn how to work at the business, not in it.”
Industry tradeshows and conventions also offer valuable learning experiences, according to Pettyjohn, whether it is through the educational sessions or by simply talking with peers about similar business experiences. “By going to the conventions,” he said, “you get an education, and you come home with some ideas to try and a different attitude—you are completely rejuvenated.”
As far as business challenges, Pettyjohn believes the biggest ones your business will face are the ones you create. “It’s being able to understand your limitations and what you do to overcome that,” he said. “One of the hardest things for people to do in business is to give up control—if you can’t do something, then you have to hire somebody who can, and you have to be able to find the right people to hire.”
Finding the right service technicians is one of the greatest challenges for most dealers in this industry. Pettyjohn has found it is best to hire someone fresh to the industry and then train them. He has also found that hiring through referrals is the best way to find reliable employees.
Growing your business is a challenge in any industry, but Pettyjohn believes that integrity, honesty and a love for the business are keys to success.