Andrew John Wilson’s start in the water treatment industry began with a night of reminiscing about the good old days with a childhood friend. In the 1970s, his friend’s father started Angel Soft Water, and Wilson remembered watching the company prosper, easily selling softeners to homeowners who were more than willing to purchase a product that would make their lives easier and their appliances work smoothly.
Those memories helped Wilson opt for a career change—from “serial entrepreneur” in the pharmaceutical industry to general manager of Angel Soft Water. All was not as he remembered, however.
“I didn’t take long to realize the industry was old school,” he said. “Old ideas, old products, old relationships and old marketing concepts.” Seeing the opportunity to change Angel Soft Water for the better, he purchased it and rechristened it Angel Water Inc.
Today, the Barrington, Ill.-based business boasts 22 employees, and sells filtration and point-of-use systems, in addition to softeners, to a mix of residential and commercial customers.
Foundation in Education
Wilson characterizes Angel Water by its “willingness to question everything … and our ability to find answers.” His education-based business philosophy applies not only to himself, but also to his employees, his customers and other dealers.
“Consumer awareness has improved dramatically. People once ordered equipment because ‘we told them they needed it,’” he said. “Today we spend time educating them about what is in their tap water and guiding them through the choices that best suit their needs and budget.”
Wilson and his staff work to ensure that customers not only know about the contaminants in their water, but also about how their equipment treats the water. “We believe that an educated customer is a lifelong customer,” he added.
But in order to educate customers, the staff members first need to educate themselves. Wilson keeps his employees in the know by sharing articles on water quality, which are frequent conversation topics around the office. In addition, he holds a weekly meeting to ensure that everyone is up to date on local water issues. “We can predict with surprising accuracy the condition of any prospect’s water just by our own experience and by mapping the conditions we find around our service area,” he said.
Wilson also places high value on Water Quality Assn. (WQA) certification. “WQA membership is not important—it’s vital!,” he said. “WQA plays a very important role in helping us to live up to our goal of becoming the most highly educated and professional water quality dealer anywhere.”
Wilson compensates his employees for earning WQA certifications, in addition to rewarding them based on sales performance.
In a final push to spread knowledge of water quality, Wilson started Angel Water Group Inc., a new company that aims to help other dealers succeed in the industry. The company provides dealers a forum to share successes and ideas, in addition to representing products and services Wilson believes will help dealerships differentiate themselves in the market.
Strategies for Success
Like all businesses, Angel Water has had to find strategies to adapt to changing times. The struggling economy has been one of the major challenges. “We leave no avenue to create new business unexplored,” Wilson said.
One way Angel Water has maintained success is through leveraging technology. Integrated systems manage ordering, scheduling, billing, inventory and job costing, and GPS tracking and routing software helps save time and gas in the field. Employees also put iPads to use, not only to keep track of schedules and routes, but also as an easy way to provide customer education.
“Perhaps most importantly, advanced data systems keep detailed information at your fingertips [at] a moment’s notice for tens of thousands of customers, helping each interaction feel extremely personal to each and every customer,” Wilson said. “Also, having employees with iPads [that] have independent articles and documents that can be presented to every customer helps educate.”
Another challenge brought on by the economy is finding customers, especially since new construction was once the main driver of the company’s growth. “Today new construction contributes almost nothing to our growth,” Wilson said. “This has changed the way we have to prospect for new customers.”
A change in advertising strategy is one way that Angel Water reaches customers. Rather than relying on the old standby, the yellow pages, the company now finds more customers through social media, online advertising and referrals.
A final strategy in surviving in today’s economy is differentiation. “Today, the market is flooded with cheap products competing on price and eroding value to consumers and profit for traditional dealers,” Wilson said. “We have to differentiate ourselves with quality products and phenomenal professional services.” Today, in addition to softeners, Angel Water represents Finecel, a POU ultrafiltration system, Atlantic Filter Co., HomeWaterLabs and BevGuard.
Future of the Industry
Wilson sees a bright future for the industry. “We are looking forward to the coming renaissance in the water quality services industry,” he said. “As independent dealers, we need to band together [and] collaborate about the successful strategies that work, so that we don’t become extinct.”
According to Wilson, the key to this success will remain education through industry news outlets and WQA, in addition to collaboration between dealers. He also believes in the importance of spreading the word about contaminants that could affect the water supply to consumers, especially as new information is discovered about emerging contaminants such as chromium-6.
“I believe that point-of-use drinking water systems and whole-house reverse osmosis systems will become as popular as microwaves,” he predicted. “It will be our challenge as dealers to properly understand the contaminants that affect our water supply and provide proper guidance as to the certified products that remove them.”