A Second Wind
A second career for its three founders, one New Hampshire dealer has stayed savvy for nearly 25 years
In 1989, Secondwind Environmental opened its doors in Manchester, N.H., bringing new life to water treatment in the state and a new career for its three founders. Christine Fletcher and her husband, Crispin Fletcher, both left the computer industry while their third business partner, Jan Beauvais, left a job in the manufacturing industry.
“We just had a desire to do something that felt a little more connected locally,” Christine said. “Between the three of us, my husband was sort of the environmental guy, I have an MBA in finance, so I was sort of the business person, and our third person was more the pure science guy with the bio-chem background.”
Secondwind Environmental soon changed names to Secondwind Water Systems upon realizing that water treatment was complicated and versatile enough to keep busy, according to Christine.
The company now serves more than 9,000 residential and commercial customers, manages 130 small public water supplies and installs and monitors the performance of more than 100 systems for gasoline contamination.
Learning to Do Things Differently
When the business first opened, Christine found selling to be one of the most challenging things for all three founders.
“My joke inside the company was the only thing I had ever sold in my life was Girl Scout cookies,” Christine said. “It just didn’t come naturally, but we found that when you really like your product and have confidence in your company, it’s easier to sell.”
Just as Christine embraced learning how to sell, she has remained open to change during nearly 25 years of business. She remembers trying to decide if the business could afford one of the first car phones, but now it has purchased iPhones for its staff, because expectations to constantly be connected to e-mail are so great.
A recent technological challenge and opportunity for Secondwind Water Systems came in 2013: moving the company’s information system to the cloud. The switch allowed the company to get rid of its hefty server room and keep everything more up to date, according to Christine.
“It was scary! You never can just sit back and run the business,” she said. “You’re always having to learn new things and implement change in your company.”
Another one of those changes has come with utilizing more mobile technologies. Currently, the company’s technicians have mobile devices they use in the home to access data and write work orders.
“I assume over the years mobile will become a natural, easy thing to do, where technicians can take the credit card in the home,” Christine said. “Sometimes I feel like the latest and greatest just cause a headache, so I hope some of these things will eliminate the headaches and make business better.”
Secondwind Water Systems has found the Internet playing a large role in getting new business.
“When the Yellow Pages stopped being a major source of leads, we were going to go out of business if we didn’t find some new leads,” Christine said. “Things like having a blog and an e-mail newsletter take a little bit to get going, but once you have [them] started, it’s not too expensive.”
New Hampshire is rural geographically, so the company has found it costs a lot of money to cover the whole state to find the people who will spend money on water treatment. The Internet is a way to get a lot of marketing for not a lot of money, according to Christine.
Relying on just the Internet, however, is not an option.
“Our No. 1 source of leads is referrals from the install base. There is no question, and it’s been that way for about 20 years,” Christine said. “[People] used to maybe hear about us through a customer, but then go to the Yellow Pages. Now they hear about us from a customer and then come to us through the Internet.”
Secondwind Water Systems has made it a priority to educate both its veteran employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 15 years, and its new hires.
Over the years, the company has developed what it calls “the configurator.” This includes all the company’s rules of how to know what to configure under which water quality circumstances.
“Ten years ago it felt like this arduous process. The poor sales guys couldn’t figure out what to sell when, and they always had to call the office for help,” Christine said. “It was just a matter of getting all the knowledge that was in the heads of the old-timers and getting it organized in such a way that a new-timer could access it.”
Technicians still receive hands-on experience for them to get totally comfortable, but this at least exposes them to the concepts, she added.
Elevating Water Treatment
Secondwind Water Systems has seen a shift in the customers it serves since it first opened. The company's first customers were people who had problem water, according to Christine.
“Now we have definitely seen water quality be elevated in the minds of people,” she said. “The percentage of people who believe that the water quality matters from a health perspective has increased. The percentage of people who want to know what’s in their water has increased.”
Christine described the water of many of the customers as “New Hampshire soup,” which includes a mixture of water problems, often low- to moderate- hardness paired with iron or manganese. The state also has lots of corrosive water with low pH and low mineral content that can destroy plumbing, as well as water with hydrogen sulfide-type odors.
“The nice thing from a dealer perspective is the customer can see or smell these problems, and it’s bothering them in the home,” she said.
Naturally occurring health issues in some New Hampshire water, such as arsenic, uranium and radon, also are sources of revenue for the business.
Secondwind Water Systems developed a reputation early on for a money-back guarantee that Christine said just makes sense with all these different water conditions.
“We’d stick with it until we solved the problem,” she said. “It’s nice to have the feeling that your customers value what you do.”