Western New York water dealer shifts focus from plumbing to water quality
In 1993, Scott Hillman got out of the U.S. Air Force in Indiana, met a young lady, married and set up roots. He began working for a water treatment company in Kokomo, Ind., where he learned the ins and outs of the industry.
In 2001, a tragic turn of events led him back to his home state. “I lost [my wife] to cancer, so there was really nothing to keep me in Indiana,” he said. “So in early 2002 I moved back to [western New York] and started setting myself up for my own business.”
When Hillman started Integrity Plumbing & Water Treatment LLC, located in Franklinville, N.Y., he focused mainly on plumbing. “I always did water treatment, but I didn’t really advertise it or focus on it,” he said.
But five years ago Hillman had a revelation that would change the direction of his company: “I kind of had an epiphany where I said, the water treatment is really what I’m passionate about; it’s what I love to do. So, why not focus on it?”
Hillman began investing in advertising the company’s new direction. New uniforms, billboards, flyers, a truck, signage and a website all aided in spreading the word.
Hillman greatly benefitted from his new focus on water treatment. “The business really started doing well,” he said. “I [became] so busy that I couldn’t really do any plumbing.”
Today, Integrity Plumbing & Water Treatment LLC has “two-and-half” employees — Hillman, who handles the company’s water treatment business, a full-time employee who handles the plumbing business and Hillman’s retired father, who helps out part-time.
The company services the city of Olean and the town of Franklinville in Cattaraugus County and the towns of Cuba and Rushford in Allegany County. The area — a resort area with lakes, cottages, ski resorts and seasonal residents — has many of the same water quality issues that Hillman treated in the Midwest. The most prominent of these issues is “the troublesome trio”: iron, hydrogen sulfide and manganese.
Integrity Plumbing & Water Treatment LLC receives about 80% of its business from the residential sector. The other 20% is evenly split between commercial business and the company’s growing point-of-use (POU) water cooler rental program. Because many of the business’ customers are seasonal residents, Hillman said he focuses on major concerns.
“I have customers that are not there all the time and they want to get rid of the iron or the hydrogen sulfide smell,” he said. “They don’t care necessarily whether it’s soft or not, they just want to get rid of the heavy duty problems.”
Hillman has deployed solutions for iron and sulfur removal, and ultraviolet systems for water that is microbiologically unsafe, or as a safeguard.
Knowledge is Power
Although Hillman addresses many of the same water concerns as his competitors, he said that what sets him apart is his commitment to continuing education.
In 2013, Hillman joined the Water Quality Assn. with the specific goal of becoming certified.
“I thought, if people are looking to me to be a water expert, then I really ought to know what I’m talking about,” he said.
In an industry that is rapidly growing — due in part to increasing customer awareness — the process of certification gave Hillman assurance about practices he already had in place. It also gave him additional knowledge to effectively address his customers’ increasing concerns.
“Two things struck me about learning the material to become certified,” he said. “One is how much I knew — a verification that I was doing things properly and ethically. The other was how little I knew. I was amazed, after doing this for 20 years, at how much I learned.”
Hillman was certified that same year, and the knowledge he gained from the process has given him confidence in his ability to address any water quality issue.
“Right now I am in the middle of an install for someone [who] has tannins in their water. It’s not something you run into very often, but I have the knowledge to handle difficult water problems,” he said. “I don’t know that the competition either has the knowledge or the desire. They want a one-size-fits-all approach. I am more interested in solving specific water problems with specific equipment.”
Servicing the Community
According to Hillman, his dedication to customer service also separates him from his competition. He said this detail is often neglected within the industry.
“Customer service is vitally important, and I think it’s an aspect that some of the big dealers especially overlook or get complacent about,” he said. “That’s a mistake.”
Hillman said that many of his customers personally thank him for showing up on time and returning their phone calls. He said that he receives a lot of business based on good customer service alone.
“It’s really, really important to call people back, make them feel important, show up on time and be professional,” he said.
As Hillman looks to move the company forward, he has many of the same goals as other small water dealers — the main one is growth.
“I would really like to see sales increase,” he said. “We are going to keep the plumbing side of the business separate from the water treatment side, and grow them separately but at the same time.”
Hillman also would like to get more POU coolers and grow his rental program so that it is self-sustaining.
However, the growth that Hillman wants is not just financial — it is personal as well.
“Now that I’ve got the ball rolling, it’s really important to keep the certification active and continue to grow that.”