Finding Opportunity in Water

Dealership relies on education to tackle problem water situations

With a thorough knowledge and background in engineering, Mike Schmitt, owner and general manager of Aqua Serve in Bloomfield, Colo., said he is not afraid to take on the more “unusual” or “problem water” treatment situations.

He and Aqua Serve’s operations manager, Chip Howes, have even coined the term “opportunity water.”

Their enthusiasm for taking on troublesome water treatment situations has done wonders for differentiating Aqua Serve from its Denver-area competition.

Emphasis on Education

“We have a reputation among other professionals that know that they can call on us to help them out of a sticky situation – that they can call somebody they trust,” Howes said. “Mike is an engineer and knows water maybe better than a lot of our competitors do, so we’re not afraid to go after even the most challenging water issue, and our customers begin to learn that.”

Four of the company’s eight employees are certified by the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) as certified water specialists (CWS), including Schmitt, a CWS V, and Howes, a CWS VI. Schmitt said two other employees are planning to take their certification tests this fall.

Outside of their formal WQA certifications, Schmitt makes a concerted effort to keep his staff educated and up to date. Every morning before they go out for the day, the group does stretching exercises coupled with some informal education directed by Schmitt. “That becomes not only a stretching exercise to limber everybody up so that they don’t get injured during the day, but also a point of conversation where they can kick around stuff,” he said.

Schmitt gets out the white board and draws something relevant to what the technicians and other staff are currently working on. “Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes it’s half [an] hour – it depends on how juicy it gets. And sometimes I get pretty technical just to show off a little bit, but I will always rephrase it so that it is easy to understand,” he said with a laugh.

Markets Served

As a result of Aqua Serve’s emphasis on professional expertise and experience, word of mouth travels quickly. A local hotel recently called on them to tackle a particular issue that a major water company in the area had walked away from.

Aqua Serve works with residential customers as well as commercial clients. “We specialize in the hospitality business: restaurants, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes—basically wherever they serve food,” Schmitt said.

The company’s services are balanced rather equally between the two market segments, although Schmitt said the commercial work can be more consistent. Aqua Serve also does a small amount of bottled water and coffee service, but besides those, Schmitt said they are a pretty classic water treatment dealer.

Comprehensive Care

“We get a lot of referrals, so consequently, customer service is really important to us,” Schmitt said. “We [look at the] big picture too. We don’t just [a] sell water softener to [a] restaurant, we’re part of their team to get them clean glassware and dishes and silverware on the table for their customers. So a lot of times, maybe we get involved in stuff that we shouldn’t, but that’s part of the total program that we offer.”

The other part of the equation is quality, both in service and in the materials and technologies they use. “How you install it, how you even put a tie wrap around tubes is important, and what kind of tubing you use. We’ve always used Parker Hannifin – the more expensive tubing – for our plumbing, because we want it to last longer than anybody else’s,” Schmitt said.

Howes added, “There’s that old saying: ‘You can explain price one time or answer for the lack of quality forever.’”

Schmitt and Howes have an intense focus on high-quality materials and service, superior knowledge and expertise, as well as on giving comprehensive care to their commercial clients and residential customers – often going beyond the call of duty to keep customers happy.

“That’s basically given us the endurance through the good times and the bad times in terms of the overall economy,” Schmitt said. “We haven’t laid anybody off for lack of business.”

Simplicity & Adaptability

Beyond those key tenants, Schmitt and Howes like to keep things pretty simple.

“We have some goals: Number one is to pay all our bills and keep the people we have employed doing beneficial work, and to do it safely and without  property damage, and to enjoy the work,” Schmitt said. To fulfill those goals is enough for them. “Do we have sales goals that are to increase 10% or 15% a year or something like that? No, we don’t. That’s not necessarily the way that I want to live my life. I don’t want to get caught up in that ‘western culture’ kind of thing.

“My biggest advice is to adapt. You have to adapt to a lot of things because things are changing,” he added.

“And don’t do it the same way you’ve always done it just because that’s the way you’ve always done it,” Howes said.

“You have to keep thinking out of the box—how are those people down the street using their water, and how can you be a participant in that?” Schmitt said.

But perhaps the most important advice of all: “Just never give up. You never throw in the towel because it’s never worked,” Howes said. “It’s just like the old saying: Everything works and nothing works if you don’t try it.”


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About the author

Kristin Muckerheide is assistant editor for Water Quality Products. Muckerheide can be reached at [email protected].