Before diving into the water industry more than 25 years ago, Mike Guidara worked in Pebble Beach, Calif., as a houseman during college. Perhaps his ocean-side existence was a sign H2O was in his stars, as one day he met an industry professional who offered him a job as a manager trainee for a large bottled water company.
“I dropped out of college and took him up on that and worked for him for 10 years,” Guidara said.
But these days, as president of Truckee Meadows Water Systems, Inc., in Reno, Nev., Guidara is quick to sing the praises of owning a small business, especially since that first job entailed “16 employees and 250 bosses.”
“I much prefer owning a small business,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about the bureaucracy of a large corporation.”
He plans to keep consistent with what has worked ever since he quit that job in 1993 and “just worked out of my garage for three years.”
Mike Guidara (left), president, and Chris McClintock, vice president of sales and service, of Truckee Meadows Water Systems, Inc.
During those years on his own, Guidara generated sales of point-of-use coolers until he eventually brought on a friend and fellow industry member. These days he’s happy at 11 employees and believes his company has avoided major stress because of its product selection and attention to customer appreciation.
“We have a lot of different products we offer, which has helped a lot—if one is down the other one is up,” he said.
The company operates in four divisions: Commercial Drinking Water Dispensers, Residential Water Systems, Office Coffee Service, and Industrial Water Systems. Guidara said his company has an edge over the competition in terms of point-of-use sales.
“The reason we’re still in business compared to maybe the others is we were the first in the community with point-of-use coolers, so we have the lion’s share of the accounts,” he said. “When we first started, there were seven bottled water companies in Reno; now there are two. Their customer base has now switched over to point-of-use.”
Guidara’s staff includes a service manager, a CWSI, who is in charge of five technicians, three of whom are WQA-certified installers.
“The other two will be,” Guidara said. “We [also] have an office manager and an operations manager; they run the office.”
Guidara described the everyday challenges his team faces out on the job.
“We have arsenic--a lot of issues; we have tried every known media to man to remove it or reduce it,” he said. “Not every media has worked. Now we pretty much stick to at least two: AdEdge has a good one and Purolite...We have a lot of iron issues, a lot of odor.
“The TDS of the water is 60 ppm and the hardness is less than 3 grains—but in the outlying areas we have where our wells are, it’s a little bit worse due to volcanic leftovers.”
Sales are “pretty even,” he said, although the office coffee service is down.
“Whenever we lose a customer…what’s nice about the industry right now is everybody’s trying to go green and save money, so every business in America that’s buying bottled water is a potential customer for us,” he said.
Management by Walking Around
In terms of retaining his own employees, Guidara stresses communication and interaction as important for managing an effective staff.
“We have sales meetings,” he said. “We just subscribed to Carl Davidson’s sales training where we’re meeting every Tuesday for an hour-and-a-half. Nowadays with camera phones, whenever we see an issue we take a picture of it, print it up, meet about it and we talk about it. We have a safety director, safety meetings every two weeks; we have service meetings—we just talk a lot in the morning before we go to work: management by walking around.”
In fact, Guidara said, “We have a 5,000-sq-ft warehouse and my office is right in the middle and to get back and forth you have to walk through my office.”
Not that he is ruling with an iron fist, he said. The other key to retaining a good staff is not to micromanage everything they do, but rather let them enjoy being at work. For example, Guidara lets his office manager bring her pet Chihuahuas to work each day.
Although Guidara said he is happy with the success of his small business, he is not without his goals: Aspirations of the moment include pursuing the residential water softener market “a bit more aggressively,” and, he said passionately, wishing for a water softener that removes calcium and magnesium without requiring salt.
“Man, I’m waiting for that day,” he said.