From art history to water conditioning and treatment, Craig Grant manages to continue the success of the family-owned water conditioning business
Quality Water Conditioning Inc. is a 56-year-old company in Woodstock, Ill., that services mostly domestic customers in McHenry County, Ill. — only about 5% of its business comes from the commercial industry. While the company has a conventional history of water conditioning, its president, Craig Grant, comes from a more artistic background. Grant, who earned a master’s degree in art history, transitioned into the family business after graduate school, as his family expanded and required more income. “When I got out of college with a master’s in art, I was working here part time to support my family, working at the community college teaching art history and then I also had a little leather shop,” he said. “Something had to give.” So in the 1970s, Grant gave up the job at the community college and his leather shop to focus on the family business full time.
Bought by Grant’s stepfather, Philip Meier, in 1967, Quality Water Conditioning started out as primarily an exchange tank business. “We used to take recharged tanks into people’s houses and exchange the exhausted ones with a fresh one. It was very labor intensive,” he said. The company has since advanced with new technology, and now uses automatic tanks to treat hardness, iron and some pockets of sulfur — the most common water problems for customers in the area.
The transition from art to business came easily for Grant, as he had worked almost every position at the company during summers and vacations while in college. “At first I was a tank and salt delivery man, then I moved into the office and was the secretary for a while. Then I got into sales and then that morphed into management,” he explained. “When my stepfather retired it was all me.”
Secrets of Success
The small company has only seven employees and two trucks, but boasts more than 15,000 customers. Even with his small workforce and large service area, Grant said there are still some times that he does not have enough service work to keep his men busy all day. He credits this partially to the quality of the product the company uses. “We have better, more efficient equipment to work with now,” he said. The company has used Autotrol valves on all of its tanks since it made the transition from exchange tanks to automatic, and has found the product to be easy to work with. Grant said that because of the equipment, the company has recorded fewer breakdowns per customer over the years.
Grant also contributes his business’ success to the fact that rentals are its central focus. With more than 4,000 rental customers, Quality Water Conditioning has been able to weather the recession. “The housing industry has disappeared,” Grant said. “That part of the business has dissolved. It is a good thing that rentals have been the center of the business instead of selling equipment outright. As a result of that, we have been able to weather the economic storms well, because we [still] have [rental] checks coming in. Many of the other water treatment companies have been hurt, because they have predicated on sales.”
Of course Quality Water Conditioning has the same challenges as any small, family-owned business. Besides the pressures of securing new business and remaining viable with a small staff, the company had to hire two new service staff members in the past year, after operating with only two for 35 years. Having just two service staff “made our workman’s comp uneven because of the injuries,” Grant said. It also made them less efficient.
Also, due to its smaller size, Grant admitted that the company lacks expertise in the area of Internet marketing and technology. As a self-proclaimed “low-tech” guy, Grant said that he was unaware of how to fully reach his audience on newer platforms such as social media, an area that the company will need to expand as it continues to grow. “I don’t think in this day and age you could exist without having a website. I don’t think many of the younger people and even the older people use the phonebook anymore,” he said. “We are going to be extending our presence in those places over the years.”
Grant’s goal for the future is to simply keep the business growing. To achieve this, he relies on a method that has proved effective thus far: “striving everyday to be responsive, efficient and fair with customers, and focusing on hard work and attention to each customer’s needs on an individual basis.” He credits being “hands on and doing whatever we can ourselves, rather than delegating it to someone else and taking responsibility and treating the customer fairly,” as the strategies for success. And while Grant is not an artist professionally, he manages to keep art alive in other areas of his life. He still makes his own leather goods, draws and does creative writing as a way to maintain the creative part of his existence. And sometimes art and business do collide. “I designed the company logo,” he said with a laugh.