Small Business, Big Passion
Growing up in Massachusetts, Paul Friot’s summer job was helping his father, Alan Friot, with the family tank exchange business that Alan purchased in 1971. The elder Friot, who attended MIT and received a degree in electrical engineering, expected Paul to work in his shop during summers.
“I was basically told, ‘This is what you will be doing,’ since I was 13 years old,” said the younger Friot. “After high school, I decided to stick with it and it will be 35 years next month.”
The tank exchange business gradually expanded into a full-fledged sales and services provider of automated systems, including softeners, filters, neutralizers and other water treatment equipment. The expansion led Alan to purchase a commercial property on a busier street in 1979 and business for Friot’s Water Treatment Co., Ayer, Mass., has been bustling ever since.
At the moment, this true-to-form family business employs three people: Alan; Paul; and Helen, wife and mother, who does office work.
“We’re a very small operation, so I do most of the sales calls, service calls, installations, etc.,” said Friot. “[My father] is still really active in the business, but not as much as he was years ago. Now he is really involved in what’s happening at the store, like billing and deposits and ordering parts.”
In times past, they have relied on outside part-time help, he said, but not at the moment.
Real Customer Service
Iron and manganese problems are abundant in this part of Massachusetts, and thus a big part of business for Friot’s.
If a customer calls with a problem like this, Friot said he always makes a point to visit the house first and not diagnose the problem over the phone.
“Normally we like to set up a time to go to the house, test the water ourselves, do the readings and look at the physical situation. There’s no charge for that visit,” said Friot. “Based on what we find, we can draw some conclusions about what the causes are of the symptoms they’re seeing. Then we make a recommendation—it could be equipment, but sometimes our equipment is not the answer.”
“I’m definitely not in ‘sell’ mode,” he continued. “Our fundamental goal is to solve water quality problems—sometimes there’s a problem that is not caused by the water and so we tell them that.”
Through a tough economy and few employees, Friot’s Water Treatment Co. stays strong and relevant through a popular tank exchange program. Through the program, homes that need a water softener can rent a tank from Friot’s and have it exchanged, refilled, recharged and sanitized every four weeks. Friot himself picks up the tanks from houses along his planned route and takes them back to the regeneration plant.
The advantages of an exchange tank, according to Friot, are that the customer does need a drain connection in their home (as they would for an automatic standalone system) and an exchange tank takes up much less space than an automatic system. Also, customers do not have to worry about making a trip for more salt and lugging salt bags back and forth.
This rental system provides the company with a great base income and has stayed strong through the shaky economy.
Friot said his company does not advertise much at all. They do attract customers through their website, but have cut back on yellow page advertising and rely mostly on word of mouth to attract business.
“We’re extremely low-key and generally do not initiate contact with people unless they call us first,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a good way to be, it’s just that we are much more focused on the technical end and maintaining good water quality.”
Friot indeed has passion for the job. In addition to wearing multiple hats at his own company, he is WQA-certified and a member of the association. He acts as the WQA reagent for the state of Massachussetts. Friot also holds a patent for his own point-of-entry arsenic removal system that he developed in 1997 for a customer.