Who knew you could turn a vacation into a career? In 1976, Craig Boesdorfer and Mark Blackwell did just that. The childhood friends left the snowy central Illinois winter for a post-college vacation in the Florida sun—and never left. “It was warm and sunny, so we stayed here,” said Boesdorfer.
In need of a way to make money, the friends answered a blind newspaper ad and started selling water conditioning systems door-to-door on commission for the Jacksonville distributor of Phoenix-based Water Resources. Their hard work paid off, and in 1981, the pair bought out the original owner’s share of the business, forming United Distributors Inc. (UDI).
Today, Blackwell and Boesdorfer run the company together, with Blackwell as president and Boesdorfer as secretary and treasurer. UDI’s business is mainly residential; its primary sales come from whole house water conditioners and reverse osmosis systems. The company also runs a service division to keep customers’ systems properly maintained.
Making the Sale
According to Boesdorfer, the company’s success is based on a few simple principles: “good old-fashioned work” and keeping the customer first.
When the company started, it was often hard to make sales, since many people thought they did not need additional water treatment if they were hooked up to city water, he said. In Florida and Georgia, though, city water is typically hard, and well water has issues such as iron and sulfur, so informing customers was an important part of the sales process.
Today, the sales are just as hard to make, but for a different reason, since consumers today are more informed about water quality issues. “Leads are harder to come by and more expensive,” said Boesdorfer, “but it’s far easier to sell products.” For that reason, he keeps his focus on lead generation. “That’s why we continue to grow,” he said.
Quality customer service is just as important to the company’s sales process, however. Boesdorfer believes personalized service is the best, since consumers put more value on high quality service. “People have tried the big box stores and know the high quality is not there,” he said.
UDI’s 65 employees stay on their toes due to another simple principle: continual improvement. Boesdorfer repeated a piece of advice from his mentor at Water Resources: “You’re either green and growing, or ripe and rotten,” he said. “We try to stay green and growing. We probably train as much or more than anyone.”
The company tries to keep office morale high by offering a positive work environment with no “negative, cynical people.” That can be more important than good pay and benefits, said Boesdorfer. (UDI has those too, he added.) The effort has paid off: the average salesperson has been with the company for 15 or more years, while most administrators have been there for at least 20.
Despite the economic slump, UDI remains successful: each year’s profits have been higher than the previous year’s since 2008. Boesdorfer believes his company, and the industry, will continue to grow, as long as they keep the focus on high-quality, personalized service and generating new sales leads. “Keep the customer first and your company will continue to grow.”