The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Finance Center, in collaboration with the...
Utilizing continuing education & dealer networks for business success
Make no mistake about it — in good economic times or bad, many homeowners do not place water treatment at the top of their priorities list. This makes it even tougher to run your own business, and it takes a lot of work to have a successful organization.
That is why many dealers interested in getting an edge on the competition seek continuing education opportunities to help inform, guide and keep them on the right track. Many of these same dealers also recognize the benefits of being a part of a dealer network. RainSoft University is one example of a program that offers new dealers the ongoing education they need for their businesses to succeed, while also introducing them to the support they can expect to receive as part of a dealer network.
School Is in Session
Depending on how many dealers sign up, RainSoft conducts one or two of these mandatory week-long RainSoft University sessions for all new dealers each year. Seventeen “students” representing 13 dealerships from 11 states and the Dominican Republic attended the most recent session, held in October 2013 at the company’s corporate office near Chicago.
Five packed days covered a wide range of topics. Led by RainSoft executives and instructors from a business consulting firm specializing in the building products and home improvement industry, dealers were fed a steady diet of valuable tips. Everything from how to run a profitable home improvement business to understanding the science of successful in-home selling was thoroughly debated.
Further seminars on water treatment technology, available products, financial management, accounting, and how to run the service and installation departments followed. Other courses included employee recruitment, sales management, new business and marketing plans, and a demonstration of the company’s iPad presentation for customers. A factory tour and two group dinners helped foster camaraderie between the dealers and corporate management.
Dealers Chime In
Dealers who attended the October event have found that this combination of continuing education and the support of a dealer network has helped them find business success — especially as many of them are either launching their own dealerships or entering the water treatment market from other industries.
Robert Lagos, president of American Home Services in Lenexa, Kan., said the training sessions helped him learn the dynamics of running a business with efficiency — important information for someone branching out to run his own dealership after years on the sales side of things.
“I started as a sales rep out of college in Tulsa [Okla.], became a sales manager, and after four years, I moved to the Kansas City area to work with Paul Latkowski for nine years before buying his business,” Lagos said. “I have a sales and marketing background, but I found the accounting and risk management sessions to be very good, and I now have a better understanding of sales lead efficiency and cost.”
Lagos also has utilized the dealer network to help get his business off the ground.
“I received great support, and when I first started, I spoke with Peter Rushmore, my regional director, everyday and he helped guide me through the process,” Lagos said. “There were many times I would call him after 9 p.m. to talk. The service department helps process orders in a timely and efficient manner. In the first quarter, we’re up 14% from last year.”
Ed O’Neill, who operates Preferred Water Testing Inc. in Union, N.J., has plenty of sales and marketing knowledge from his other businesses, which include home remodeling and snow removal, but found that further education was needed as he ventured into the water industry. He found the finance education to be especially helpful.
“What I’ve learned most is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” O’Neill said. “Being part of the network has saved me a tremendous amount of time. I talk to other dealers who are in a similar position as me, and they’ve shared what doesn’t work. The market is so huge and we are all in this together. At times I have run out of equipment, and other dealers in Maryland and Pennsylvania have gone above and beyond to help me.”
“At RainSoft University, the training session that stood out was on creating a business plan,” said Russ Shelton, president of Southern Energy Water & Air in Hixson, Tenn. He got hooked on the water business when he sold $42,000 worth of equipment in his first week of work for Tim Randolph’s Florida Energy Water & Air in 2012. He soon quit law school, and later opened his own business focusing on green building and building performance.
“I am new to owning my own water business, and the benefits of being part of a dealer network are immeasurable,” Shelton said. “The way that every aspect of owning and operating a successful dealership was dissected and explained was very helpful. So is the ability to have an open dialogue with other dealers in the same position.”
William Efird, owner of Cascade Clear Water in Beaverton, Ore., found marketing, financial and technical support training to be especially helpful. He ended the first quarter of 2014 on plan, despite a competitive marketplace, and credits the iPad presentation.
“Without fail, homeowners say it’s a great presentation,” Efird said. “It’s amazing how it keeps them engaged for a couple of hours so we can explain how to improve their water situation.”
Mike Bossi, with RainSoft of Brentwood, Calif., has been connected with the company for 23 years. He worked for three different dealers in sales and sales management before going out on his own in July 2012. Despite his experience, he is learning something new every month and finding support from the dealer network.
“Seeing the numbers it takes to get results in marketing was the most eye opening. I was overwhelmed with information in areas that I didn’t have experience and learned of new ideas in areas that I was already experienced,” Bossi said.
As a dealer in regulation-heavy California, Bossi has relied on the advice and experience of other dealers to help him navigate the rules.
“In California, mail-outs have many regulations that other states don’t deal with. It’s great to talk to the Fresno dealer about his direction in marketing and technical details I need to look out for,” he said.
Bossi has found that being a part of a dealer network has not only aided in his marketing efforts, but in his sales presentations as well.
“We have a lot of competition here, which has made it more complicated than some of the other areas I have worked,” he said. “The iPad presentation has some great advantages over the old sales book. RainSoft’s financing programs definitely have made a big difference. With three different finance companies with various qualifications and different programs available, our turn-down rate is negligible. Financing helps me stand out from the competition because they can’t offer the same programs we can.”