Dealer of the Month: Purer Than Pure

Seattle dealership uses proprietary technology to make good water even better

Jim and Pat Fox (top) often bring their dog August into Custom Pure's Seattle shop. "We're famous for the dogs," Jim said. 

Many Seattle residents are perfectly happy with their water as it is. The city’s water has low mineral levels since it is mainly sourced from melted snow and rain, so hardness and other water quality issues are not significant concerns. However, people and businesses throughout the area know that when they need water that is even purer than what comes out of their taps, they should contact Custom Pure – The Water Store, which has been helping Seattle residents improve their water quality for 36 years. 

Creating a Tradition

The husband-and-wife team of Jim and Pat Fox founded Custom Pure in 1981. Jim had earned a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry, and he used what he learned in college to inform his work in water treatment.

“When I was in graduate school, the first time I went into the water chemistry lab, I saw a gigantic steam distiller with a tiny column of ion exchange resin for final purification,” he said. “I filed that away, and then I thought if you could buy a box of this material, you could figure out some sort of filter you could put it into and make ultrapure water from it.”

While Jim was working on creating filtration technology during the business’ early years, Pat worked as an occupational therapist, which helped keep Custom Pure afloat while it struggled to establish itself. Pat eventually earned an MBA and joined the company, and after approximately seven years of product development and being what Pat terms “a pretend business,” Custom Pure got its break.

“I think the real big turnaround for us was when we got the account for Puget Consumer Co-op market, one of the largest food co-ops in the nation,” Pat said. “They wanted to have bulk water dispensers in their stores. We leaped at the chance to do that. That gave us a lot of notoriety in the area. People start out by hauling their water out of the grocery store and eventually get tired of doing that and call us to ask about getting a filter for their home.”

Growing Green

Custom Pure offers a number of filtration solutions that use deionization to produce ultrapure water. These predominantly point-of-use products operate without using electricity and create no wastewater. In addition, the company owns and operates its own resin regenerator—one of the only such facilities in the state of Washington.

“What we’re really trying to do is be one of the greenest of the green companies—the most sustainable companies,” Jim said. “Portable exchange and regenerating our own filter media is gigantic.”

The high quality of the water produced by the company’s filtration systems makes it ideal for use in a number of commercial applications, including a few sectors that recently have seen growth Washington.

“One of the more recent interesting growth spurts around here has been as a result of state law changes that allowed more craft distilleries and craft breweries and pot growing, as a matter of fact,” Pat said. “All those people need water filtration, so that’s been a growth market for us—not that we did any marketing in that area, but they all talk to each other, so it’s all been word of mouth.”

The quality and efficiency of the proprietary filtration solutions demonstrate that a dealership does not necessarily need to partner with outside companies to offer customers reliable equipment that produces ultrapure water.

“Dealers [should] not be afraid to try to make their own products, as opposed to working through a manufacturer or a franchise,” Jim said. “We’re all very capable of doing lots of ingenious things if we just allow ourselves to.”

Custom Pure offers a number of proprietary filtration products, as well as bottled water. 

Steps to Success

Custom Pure is a member the Water Quality Assn. (WQA), and both Jim and Pat are certified as Master Water Specialists by the organization. They believe being active in WQA is important for water professionals.

“We go to the conference every year and really enjoy the educational seminars, finding out what’s new and up-and-coming in the technology, as well as getting to meet the people we buy component parts from,” Pat said. “It’s been an enormous boon.”

The couple also feels that maintaining a family environment at their dealership helps contribute to the success of the business and aids in employee retention.

“We just had one [employee] retire after being with us for 15 years; we’re rather proud of that,” Pat said. “We try to keep them in jobs they enjoy. I think the key thing is to hire the right people the first time out.”

The Foxs’ openness extends to their relationships with customers, some of whom have been doing business with Custom Pure for more than 30 years. This sort of trust is built upon the company’s philosophy that each situation should be addressed by the most efficient solution, regardless of cost.

“We’ve been a promoter of point of use over point of entry, even though it’s sometimes to our detriment, because we can’t generate huge amounts of money doing it,” Jim said. “I’d much rather be successful over a long period of time than get people into things that they may want to get out of.” 

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About the author

Michael Meyer is associate editor for WQP. Meyer can be reached at [email protected] or 847.954.7940.