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For Vicky Burtis, a career in water treatment was not always in the cards. Starting out as a procurement and contracts employee for the government, she never considered working in the water industry until a gregarious neighbor approached her with the prospect.
“I lived next door to the Rhoades family,” Burtis said, noting that patriarch Robert Rhoades owned Water Doctor, a local water treatment company in Annapolis Junction, Md. “He asked me to come and work for him.”
Rhoades, who is known by many for his warm smile and “soft-sell” approach, proved impossible to turn down—and Burtis is now celebrating 26 years with the company.
“I’ve been very blessed to be in their employment,” she said, adding that she is trained in all of the company’s equipment and is a Water Quality Assn. (WQA) Certified Water Specialist IV.
Company policy requires all employees, from clerical staff to technicians, to be certified by WQA, ensuring that all personnel are qualified to meet customer needs.
“Our customers appreciate the immediate answers they get,” said Burtis, who also serves as marketing coordinator. “Many times over, new clients have said that they learned way more from one phone call with [us] than years with other providers.”
Today, the company employs 10 professionals, each person versed in Rhoades’ mission to provide honest, efficient and effective water services to local residents.
“The gratitude and respect we get from our clients affirms we are doing the right thing,” Burtis said. “We are not perfect, but we strive for perfection.”
In 1979, Rhoades founded Maryland Water Conditioning, hoping to provide residents with cost-effective and reliable treatment services for their water. Back then, there were already a handful of competitors in the area, and Rhoades wanted to distinguish his company from the rest.
“He really wanted the [company] to catch on,” Burtis said, so he trademarked the name Water Doctor, an epithet that helps it stand out from the crowd.
“[Water treatment] is very competitive [in this state],” she said, noting that today there are more than 25 competitors in each county Water Doctor serves. “We meet the challenge of differentiating our [operations] and reputation over others by continually offering the best services and respect to our customers.”
Operations are currently divided between residential, commercial, well pumps and small systems, and although a lagging economy has hindered much of the water industry, loyal clients help maintain revenue.
“Currently, 70% of our new clients come from customer referrals, and we work very hard to earn those referrals,” Burtis said. “Advertising and [online marketing] is supreme in bringing in leads.”
Rhoades has since retired from the industry, handing over ownership to a few managing employees. Today, the company continues to grow, opening new business sectors and exploring training opportunities to improve technical service.
“With our commercial division, there are more regulations for licensing and stronger enforcement of public and community water supply contaminant [regulations],” she said. “We keep up with these demands with increased licensing, certification and continuing education.”
As the global demand for clean water grows, so does the demand for water treatment. Burtis predicts new federal regulations for wastewater and reclamation treatment will challenge businesses in the future, requiring companies to innovate technology and services.
“Locally, radium and arsenic have been issues,” Burtis said, noting that government regulations may influence the way these chemicals are treated. “An emerging chloride intrusion from water softeners has also been documented—more education will prevent this from happening.”
While the company is prepared to evolve under new regulations, Burtis said providing customers with reliable, efficient and cost-effective services will always remain top priority.
“We are continually looking for new products and solutions that are [beneficial] for our clients,” she said. “We are truly blessed to be in the water treatment industry—it gives us the opportunity to change the quality of life for others.”