Although the group of close-knit, devoted employees is essential to Aqua-Max of Maine’s success, the real “man behind the curtain” is the company’s vice president, Daniel R. Cote.
It all started when Cote and his wife Brenda, the president of the company, moved back to Maine in 1994 to be closer to family.
Eight years earlier, Cote had been diagnosed with a rare cancer, which he said is what got him interested in the water treatment industry. “Our bodies are primarily water, and I wanted to do something that’s going to affect a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “If I can leave a footprint in life, I hope this is what it is.”
Connections with a few industry figures as well as doing his own water treatment research served as Cote’s initial education of the business. Aqua-Max started out selling water vending and reverse osmosis and ultraviolet treatment systems. The company also had a contract with grocery chain Shop n’ Save to do placements in the area.
In 1999, after constant requests from people who wanted Aqua-Max to install water treatment systems for their homes, Cote and his wife decided to go for it.
Currently, 99% of the work the company does is residential, Cote said. The remaining 1% is commercial and includes some work with local hospitals and a nearby college.
Cote does not seem to know how to give a half-hearted effort on anything. “If we’re going to do it, we want some of the best equipment I can possibly buy,” he said. He also started doing extensive research and connecting with other water quality companies in the area to get more detailed training.
Cote stresses the importance of relationships like these in crafting any successful business, especially a small, family-run company like his. He said many of those first contacts are still good friends, and when he has an issue or idea to discuss, they are often the first ones to hear about it. “We as dealers [have] got to start talking to each other, rather than worry about them being a competitor,” he said.
Besides business relationships with other dealers and water industry professionals, Cote is an avid believer in the power of association memberships. “I cannot stress this enough,” he said. “Membership in an association means that you care. Those who choose not to do it, that shows you the quality of work they may be doing. They make a day’s pay, and that’s all they care about.”
He said he has noticed that while people in the industry say they want more sales, they are not utilizing the resources provided to them by organizations like the Water Quality Assn. (WQA). “They’re there to help you, and nobody’s taking advantage of it,” he said. “If you started talking about the Batelle study and a lot of other things the WQA does, you might be a lot better off today.”
According to Cote, as soon as the results of the Batelle study came out, he ordered a 20-ft banner featuring the study’s key points. He has been displaying the banner at home shows and fairs throughout the year, and he said it has generated a lot of customer interest and curiosity about water quality. “We’ve still got a long, long way to go, but people want information. They want to be sold a bill of goods—that you’ve got credible information, that you’ve got the Water Quality Assn. standing by you,” he said.
Educating consumers, he said, is one of the most important things to do in generating interest in water quality, and hence, your company’s services. “That’s the hardest part of any industry—educating the consumer. It has to happen. The more the consumer knows, the better.”
Cote’s focus is in doing what is best not only for the customer and for his business, but for the water industry in general. “It’s not about me; it’s about the whole of the industry, which is a great industry. It’s a phenomenal industry,” he said. “What I do for myself should benefit other dealers. People I sell to turn around and tell their relatives, because the world is very small today. Who knows where it’s going to be told. So now you’ve got people asking for water quality.”
Improving the Industry
Instead of viewing other dealers as competitors, he sees them as partners that can work together to accomplish a greater goal. “We should all be working for the main goal of satisfying that particular customer,” Cote said.
One thing is certain: Cote is passionate about the water industry and about affecting change that impacts everyone. “I care about the industry. I love the industry. There are a lot of great people in it,” he said. “But don’t let the mighty dollar be the one that’s going to direct you all the time. Use your heart. Listen to that little guy inside of you. Look at your fellow dealers and work with them.”
He hopes that others in the industry rise to the occasion and think beyond the bounds of their own businesses. His message lies in uniting water treatment dealers to help each other out and improve the state of the industry.
“I’m just a little tiny fleck of a dealer, but after a while, you get pushed in a corner, so we have to make changes,” Cote said. “I just happen to be one that has a big mouth.”