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Illinois dealer sees evolution of company, customers & industry
Steve Calahan of Water-Right and Nick Koz display Prairie State's Clear Choice award.
With three employees, Prairie State Water Solutions may be small, but it has a resounding impact. Based in St. Charles, Ill., the dealership serves a primarily residential customer base. It offers a variety of products—water softeners, drinking water systems, cartridge filters, ultraviolet systems and more—as well as testing services. But Prairie State was not always solely a water treatment company; it began as both a well drilling and water treatment company.
Water treatment runs in the family for Nick and Dori Koz, president and vice president of Prairie State. Dori’s grandfather launched the company, first with well drilling and later adding water conditioning. He eventually handed the company down to his son, Steve Liberg Sr., Dori’s father.
“[My father] was trying to figure out what he would use [to name] the company. At first, he was going to say his last name, which is Liberg, and Sons, and then realized, well, I have a daughter too,” Dori said. “That’s when he came up with Prairie State.”
Approximately 12 years later, Liberg split the company in half and gave Nick and Dori the water treatment side and Dori’s brother the well drilling side. “My grandfather gave [the business] to my father, so my father wanted to give all of us part of the company,” Dori said.
Once the company split, the Kozs gave the water conditioning business their full attention. Lately, they have begun to narrow the company’s scope to Kane County, Ill., and explore growth options within its boundaries. With a narrower focus, they can concentrate on the water treatment issues locals face. Prairie State deals with municipal water and private water wells, meaning it faces hard water, iron and sulfur issues.
“It’s really flourished. Now we’re able to market just specifically water conditioning to an area that has a huge need for it,” Nick said.
In addition, Prairie State became involved with the Clear Choice Water Group, a network of independent dealers. Because of this involvement, the company is not bound by franchise agreements while still receiving support for company growth. Since joining the group, Prairie State joined a select six dealers from across the country on the Clear Choice Water Group dealer advisory council. Clear Choice also has recognized the company as a top producer in the small market category.
“The support that [the Clear Choice Water Group] gives … We wouldn’t be here without that. There’s no way,” Nick said.
Prairie State has sold Water-Right products for approximately 15 years.
Over the years, the Kozs have seen a fair amount of change in the water treatment industry. Notably, they have adapted to the transition away from chemical treatment processes, as their customers frequently seek chemical-free water treatment.
“You have so many chemicals in your house, between cleaning chemicals and things like that. If we can keep one more out of the house, we’ll make it a safer environment,” Nick said.
In addition, the Kozs have seen a shift toward high-efficiency water softeners. With water crises making national and global headlines, water conservation has become a priority to many Prairie State customers.
“Water is a precious resource, and we’re blessed with a lot of it around here,” Nick said. “But there’s other parts of the country and the world that don’t have what we have.”
Through his business transactions, Nick maintains a positive attitude, reinforcing the importance of honesty in business. As the president of a small company, he emphasizes Prairie State’s values, which include standing behind the product and caring about customers’ needs. These priorities set Prairie State apart.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on. We give you our word,” Nick said.
Prairie State’s imprint on the area is a lasting one. To the Kozs, improving a home’s water is not just business—it is personal. Nick calls their impact “life-changing.” While that may sound grandiose, the idea is simply that improving the water of a home improves the lives of the family members.
“Someone who couldn’t wash their clothes at home now can. Someone who couldn’t drink their water at home—every time they go to the store they’re lugging bottles and bottles of water—now they can drink their water,” Nick said. “You can get more done with your family when you’re not spending that time cleaning; you’re not spending that time doing extra maintenance.”
Prairie State Water Solutions emphasizes the inherent nature of the water treatment industry. “You can complete the house for a person. Not the house, but the home,” Nick said.