This editorial originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Water Quality Products magazine as "Curating Culture."
Editor's Note: Do you know a water treatment dealer who deserves recognition for leadership in the industry, innovative ideas or successful business practices? Nominate them to be featured as a WQP Dealer Highlight here. Self-nominations are accepted.
Driessen Water’s story spans multiple generations, states and market segments. The business has weathered a changing competitive landscape to adapt to new technologies, marketing channels and even legislative issues to emerge as a strong business built on a foundation of company and community pride.
Building a Legacy
Driessen Water was founded in 1962 by Gene Driessen, son-in-law of Emmett Culligan, who founded Culligan Water in 1936. Gene had met Culligan in California prior to marrying Culligan’s daughter, where they worked together to establish Culligan franchises along the West Coast. Following that experience, Gene opened Driessen Water, which now has 25 Culligan franchises throughout Minnesota, Indiana and Texas and a company called Ultra Pure—headquartered in Dallas—which provides commercial and industrial water services.
Later, Gene’s son, Dan Driessen, became the company’s CEO and eventually hired Mike Herman, current executive vice president of Driessen Water, for what Herman called his “initial baptism into the water industry.”
“After retiring from the Marines in 1999, I went to work for Sears for seven years in the service arm of Sears company,” Herman said. “Then, in 2006, Dan Driessen saw my resume somewhere and contacted me and said, ‘Hey, how would you like to move back home to Minnesota?’”
Herman, who was living in Florida at the time but is originally from Minnesota, was not even job hunting when Dan called and offered him the COO position at the company. Apparently, Dan had stumbled upon Herman’s resume on an online job forum. For Herman, who had known friends who went to work for Culligan Intl. and enjoyed the idea of moving back home after 30 years away, the offer was appealing. Thirteen years later, and now deeply entrenched in the water industry, Herman said he has laughed about his introduction to the industry over the years.
Even since Herman joined the company in 2006, the business has nearly doubled in size, he said. Some of this growth he attributes to increased marketing efforts. Marketing strategies have changed rapidly over the past few years, and the business now utilizes more social media marketing than ever before. However, it also tailors its marketing tactics to the specific communities it is trying to reach. For example, it may incorporate newspaper or talk show radio marketing for a small west Texas community and utilize more social media advertising for a diverse city like Austin, Herman said.
The company also added its commercial and industrial division, Ultra Pure, nearly 18 years ago, which has helped facilitate its growth into new markets. Herman estimates Driessen Water’s market segments now are divided almost 55% residential and 45% commercial and industrial, representing a shift from the company’s original residential treatment roots. Herman offered some advice to smaller water treatment dealerships looking to enter commercial and industrial markets.
“That is a completely different business than the residential side where you knock on the door and see the decision makers,” Herman said. “If I knock on the door once, I may not get anything. I need to knock on that same door four or five times, and when I finally get in the door, to not necessarily try to sell a big piece of equipment. Can I sell them something small to start with, [such as] a filter?”
Start small with nuts and bolts and proving that you are a quality vendor before maintaining a relationship and moving onto larger accounts, he advised.
Another aspect Herman considers unique about Driessen Water is its focus on ensuring it has a strong service arm.
“I do not believe you can focus on sales first and then build your service afterwards. I think it is the other way around,” Herman said. “You have to have that service and customer service arm in place first, and then you have the opportunity to grow with regards to your sale.”
Creating a Community
Despite its strengths and steady growth, one of the biggest challenges Driessen Water is facing is recruiting, hiring and retaining quality employees. This challenge is different from five to 10 years ago when recruiting and hiring was one of the biggest challenges, but employee retention was not as large of an issue, Herman said. In response, Driessen Water embarked on a company-wide everyday leadership cultural initiative, which includes fostering its “One Driessen” culture.
“A lot of that entails how do we make it a better place for our employees and what are we doing to try to create a culture where people want to work at Driessen Water,” Herman said. “It is so many things to try to change the culture and to grow a culture that is a motive of people wanting to be a part of the company. That is a huge project.”
The business is in its fourth year of this “everyday leadership journey,” Herman said. The initiative considers competitive wages, a benefits package, communication and mentorship, among other factors to create a successful workplace environment. The business also has an accountability partner program where leaders are paired with an accountability partner to continuously challenge them to reach their goals.
Driessen Water is an active member in both regional and national branches of the Water Quality Assn. (WQA). Herman cites the Minnesota WQA and its members as instrumental in advocating for legislation that supports the industry over the past several years and encourages others to support the associations.
“If we did not have organizations that were doing that, we would be basically just sitting on the sidelines,” Herman said. “We have to be out in front working and representing our profession out there or we would just kind of be forgotten and pushed aside because we are not as large as some of the plumbers groups out there and the national well drillers.”
As for the future, Herman thinks the water treatment industry will grow as awareness for water quality concerns increase. For Driessen Water, fostering a strong company culture and customer relationships will continue to be an important part of its growing business.
“If we build and retain key employees and we have the right culture, that is the best advertisement we could have out there,” Herman said.