Welcome to the first episode of Talking Under Water: One water, one podcast. In this episode, your hosts...
A roundup of the 10 Dealers of the Month recognized in 2017 can be found in the pages ahead.
Each month, WQP recognizes a water treatment dealer who exemplifies the values of hard work, customer service, professional development and innovation as Dealer of the Month. A roundup of the 10 Dealers of the Month recognized in 2017 can be found in the pages ahead.
Some come from a long line of water treatment dealers, while others have backgrounds in industries such as politics or education. Many are involved in their local communities, and all face challenges in their business operations. They all have demonstrated notable qualities worthy of recognition. To nominate a future Dealer of the Month, go to www.wqpmag.com/dealer-month-nomination-form.
Kevin Davitt purchased Homer’s Soft Water from his father-in-law in 2016, but he has been working for the 30-year-old dealership since 2000. Davitt has seen several severe floods in eastern Texas in the last few years and has most recently dealt with water quality concerns in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. He prides himself on helping create positive changes in a customer’s water quality.
Education: High school diploma
Previous life: Davitt worked in mold and water damage remediation and carpet cleaning before starting work at the dealership in 2000.
Greatest accomplishments: Davitt names owning a company before the age of 40 as one of his greatest professional accomplishments. In addition, Davitt and his team mobilized after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area, testing and treating water from wells that were submerged by floodwaters. “We consider this a huge responsibility and a tremendous privilege to help ones who are in such dire need. “
Notable projects: Homer’s Soft Water helped another company working in West Texas hospitals. Davitt found that the difficult-to-treat water in the Gulf Coast was no match for the high levels of hardness found in West Texas. “It was a great experience to do this as it fine-tuned our training and expertise even more so.”
Industry gripe: Davitt sees internet sales of “cheap equipment” as a major threat to small, family-owned companies that offer full turnkey services. “Consumers get confused with proper pricing on legitimate professional-grade equipment. It makes the sales call more difficult and, in my opinion, can give the industry a bad reputation.”
Greatest influence: “My father-in-law, Homer Blake. He started this company and taught me everything I know. I would not be in this position now without him. Also, I can’t forget my mother-in-law, Colleen. She was the office manager for many years. She put up with me for a very long time!”
Giving back: Davitt distributed goods and helped rebuild homes after Hurricane Harvey.
Best advice: “There is so much to learn. Never think you have learned it all. … Always keep your mind open to new things you see and also new technology. The industry and water quality/disinfection processes are changing. Always stay open-minded, but educate yourself, as you will have to also weed out some of the ‘junk science’ that has infiltrated our industry.”
With plans to retire in 10 years, Liz Scheopner knows Scheopner’s Water Conditioning LLC will be in good hands: her son Nathan’s. After Scheopner and her then-husband purchased it in the late 1970s, the dealership blossomed from a bankrupt company with 200 accounts to a 5,000-account business with a thriving bottled water operation.
Education: Some college
Greatest accomplishments: Scheopner has been in the business for 38 years and prides herself on maintaining her dignity and values. “I feel I have the respect of my children for what I’ve accomplished and that means a lot to me.” She currently serves on the executive boards of five community organizations, establishing her as a respected community leader.
Notable project: “In 1996, we purchased land and built our current building specific to our business. I am still very proud of the design and functionality.”
Industry gripe: Scheopner struggles with the cash flow issues associated with rental equipment. “Due to the fact that we rent so much of our equipment, if business is growing at a fast pace, you never catch up. This really is our own fault, but I think more and more customers are buying instead of renting.”
Greatest influence: “I try to always follow God in my heart, but I find myself thinking of my father-in-law a lot also. He actually started the family in this business and always put God and family first. He just worked hard and honest, and was a respected member of the community.”
Giving back: Scheopner speaks to school groups about water, mentors a high school class and is chair-elect of the local chamber of commerce. She also helps with the local United Way campaign, is president of the board of Genesis Family Health, and serves on the boards of two foundations that give out yearly grants.
Best advice: “There is a lot to learn! This is not a business you can easily step into. It takes many years to truly understand all that you need to know about water. Also, it is an industry where a lot of working capital to start with is very important—a fact that most dealers will understand and probably agree [that] none of us had enough!”
By developing their own water treatment technology, husband-and-wife team Jim and Pat Fox were able to gain some notoriety in the Seattle area. Now, after 36 years in business, Custom Pure’s proprietary filtration systems are used in a number of commercial and residential applications in the area. The couple prides themselves on fostering a family environment at their dealership, which extends to employees, customers and even the family dog August, who is known to spend time at the shop.
Education: Jim has a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and an MA in air and water resources. Pat has an MBA. Previous life: Before entering the water industry, Jim was working on his Ph.D. Pat was an assistant administrator at a psychiatric hospital and had just earned her MBA.
Greatest accomplishment: Jim and Pat did their own research to develop their own product and bring it to market. “Many satisfied customers have used our filters for decades.” Notable project: They started doing their own regeneration of mixed-bed resin and then modified the regenerator to recycle some of the water and chemicals, improving efficiency and maximizing resources.
Greatest influences: “Bud Mohr and Linda Thomson of then-US Resin were able to provide us with affordable, used mixed-bed resin when we got started. Jim’s dad was the inspiration for product development. He was a chiropractor and inventor. Pat’s dad was a manager of a steel plant and he influenced how we have run our business and treated our customers.”
Giving back: Custom Pure has donated filters and service to two public radio stations and a local senior center. The company also donates water and filters to nonprofit fundraising events.
Personal life: When they are not working, Jim can be found training for long-distance bicycling, while Pat enjoys running with their dogs in agility competitions.
Best advice: “Make use of the resources available in the [Water Quality Assn.] so you can avoid reinventing the wheel. Visit dealers well outside your service area so they don’t feel like you are asking them to coach and advise their future competition.”
Prairie State Water Solutions began as a family affair. A St. Charles, Ill., well drilling and water conditioning business started by Tom Koz’s grandfather-in-law was eventually passed down through the generations and split in half, leaving Koz and his wife with the water treatment portion of the business. Prairie State aims to create “life-changing” impacts, providing clean and safe water to improve the lives of its customers. Maintaining a positive attitude, prioritizing customer needs, and standing behind the product have all contributed to the dealership’s success, according to Koz.
Education: High school and trade school
Previous life: Koz worked in retail before entering the water industry.
Greatest accomplishment: Prairie State Water Solutions has consistently grown its business by 10% or more each year since its inception. Notable project: “I can’t specify one project. I’d have to say I enjoy every customer whom I’m able to change their daily life for the better.”
Industry gripe: Ethics are important to Koz. “There are too many people who don’t have ethics, who don’t care about their work. They only care about making another dollar.”
Personal life: In his spare time, Koz is involved in networking groups and Bible ministry work.
Best advice: “Be ready to learn. Things are constantly changing. Don’t get complacent.”
Best Water Solutions was founded by Walt and Myriam Zukoski in 1982 on the principle that better water means better health. Their son, Jorge Zukoski, purchased the dealership from his parents in January 2017 and has a passion for the water treatment industry.
“It is exciting to sell a product and service that directly benefits those in our community and create jobs and career advancement opportunities for our employees,” Zukoski said.
Previous life: Zukoski was in charge of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine for more than 15 years. He also worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.
Greatest accomplishments: Zukoski prides himself on building and maintaining a professional team of employees, extending the reach of his business, and organizing and strengthening the residential and commercial water treatment dealership created by his parents more than 35 years ago.
Notable project: “Installing an ozone-based water treatment system for Cypress & Grove, a new craft brewery in Gainesville, Fla. They are located in the old ice plant downtown and utilize a very old artisan well to source their water. It has been satisfying to see the application of our technology positively impact the quality of their beer and seltzer.”
Industry gripe: “Eliminate less-than-scrupulous dealers as well as high-pressure salespeople giving the industry a bad name.”
Giving back: Zukoski and his wife previously served as U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. He also supports Habitat for Humanity and is involved with the local chamber of commerce.
Best advice: “Always listen closely to the customer to understand their needs so that the water treatment equipment provided meets their expectations and accomplishes their specific water quality goals. Also, keep in mind that after-sales support is critical to ensure customer satisfaction and is a key component to building a positive reputation for your company.”
A background in politics and real estate may not have offered much in terms of water treatment experience, but it gave Ken Steitz the tools he needed to dive head first into a customer-service-oriented field. After purchasing a struggling dealership in 2011, Steitz led EcoWater of Central California to success.
After taking over the business, Steitz immediately joined the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) and Pacific Water Quality Assn. (PWQA). He quickly became president of PWQA and earned his Master Water Specialist certification.
The dealership’s service area covers more than 100,000 sq miles in central California. A service area this large requires a variety of different products, as well as the knowledge of multiple topographies and water quality conditions.
But above all, Steitz recognizes that his business is about earning the trust of his customers and building long-term relationships.
“We’ve been in a crash course of learning water,” Steitz said, “but the bottom line—from what we’ve found out—is you can know all you want, but if you don’t treat your customer [right] and get on that customer service aspect of it, your water knowledge means nothing.”
When his grandfather fell ill in the early 1990s, Sean Kidwell sought an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy to take over the family bottled water business. After purchasing the company and operating it for several years, Kidwell noticed a need for treatment services in the area. He shut down the bottled water business and set his sights on offering filtration and purification systems.
American pride always has been at the forefront of All American Purification, from Kidwell’s military duty to the American flag insignia on the company’s branding, to the dealership’s use of local and American-made products.
Kidwell seeks to maintain a solid base of regular customers, relying on the consistent revenue as well as the word-of-mouth referrals from frequent happy customers.
“We’re really, really aggressive in the sense of making sure our customers are happy first,” Kidwell said. “My philosophy to my guys has always been building that relationship—a bridge between us and them—to maintain that long-term residual, to maintain that long-term relationship. You’re not selling them just once. You’re selling them down the road again as their needs change in their families.”
The operation of Bohn Well Drilling is truly a family affair. Owner Gary Bohn started the company in 1975. Today, Brandi Weckman, Bohn’s daughter, handles administrative duties and her husband, Lee Weckman, manages the well drilling side of the business. Gary’s son Charlie Bohn manages the septic and excavation services.
While the business has been around for more than 40 years, it has successfully adapted to the industry’s changing landscape. Larger homes mean larger systems. Customers who have been with the company from its inception are still requesting service and upgrades to existing well and septic systems.
The company also has kept up with evolving technology, replacing in-person meetings and handwritten invoices with emails and social media. Still, Bohn Well Drilling aims to make personal connections with its customers, always answering the phone during business hours and quickly returning any calls received after hours.
This personal touch is what has kept customers coming back for more than four decades. Fostering these relationships involves “being real honest to the customers about telling them what their problems are and be up front with them before we start servicing the problems they might have,” Gary said.
When Jon and Gayla Vance sought a career change after 20 years in the education field, they saw water treatment as an industry rife with opportunity. They quickly had to transition from teachers to learners, both in the classroom and out.
Jon attended a three-day intensive course facilitated by Water-Right Corp., and also worked toward becoming a Master Water Specialist with the WQA. He also works with mentors in the industry, such as Al Lozier, from whom the Vances purchased Fresh KC Water in 2015, and Rory Sherman of United Distributors Inc. Observing these seasoned professionals in action has helped Jon learn the ins and outs of running a water treatment business.
Gayla focuses her efforts on marketing and advertising, keeping the branding updated and helping to increase the dealership’s exposure.
“It’s been an amazing adventure so far,” Jon said. “[Water treatment] is a great place to be right now; it’s a great business. I can’t even say enough about the choice that my wife and I made to get into this business and learn it.”
Kel Tren WaterCare
In 1985, Tom Barry joined Kel Tren Service as a temporary measure while he tried to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. Thirty-two years later, Barry owns Kel Tren WaterCare, an expansion of the water treatment portion of his family business.
Covering central New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania, the dealership prides itself on the personal touch it offers to its customers. With just four employees, the staff is known for keeping their customers happy by providing excellent customer service and being “over-the-top friendly.”
An increase in awareness of water quality issues has helped grow Barry’s business year after year, and he does not see that slowing down at any point. That is a good thing for Barry, as he is passionate about his work.
“I realized I’m not out here changing the world, but it’s a good industry to be in,” Barry said. “I’ve been doing it all these years and I still enjoy it. I don’t mind waking up every day and going to work. That’s a good thing, I guess.”