Succeeding with Service

Twenty-four years ago, Russ Piper, with the help of his family members, started American Water Treatment, Inc. by calling customers to offer softener-cleaning services for a mere $19.95.

“Twenty-percent of the time, the softener was falling apart and definitely needed cleaning and repairing,” said Piper. “We put a sticker on the softener, gave good service and then got call-backs for more cleaning and repairing.”

Russ Piper and Clare Pierson outside American Water Treatment.

Located in Loves Park, Ill., for the past 15 years, American Water Treatment (AWT) now spans two offices and 3,000 sq ft. AWT offers mostly residential softeners and purification systems, including the popular Pentair Logix and GE Avantapure product lines, and dabbles a bit in the commercial and industrial markets as well. AWT brands and customizes its own products as well, such as the Ironmax, a single or double tank iron removal system that uses air to precipitate the iron.

Getting the Word Out

Piper said one of his company’s biggest challenges is getting a chance to talk face-to-face with potential customers about the benefits of AWT products. He tackles this by having a booth at home shows and fairs, revamping the company’s newsletter and using local community groups and his church for networking and word-of-mouth referrals.

AWT offers mostly residential softeners and purification systems and dabbles in the commercial and industrial markets as well.

AWT is also trying its hand at more Internet marketing, said Cynthia Pope, sales representative for AWT and Russ’s daughter.

Another big challenge is explaining to customers why he and his company are more qualified and provide a better product than Internet sellers and big-box stores.

“We’ve paid dues to become certified, to know our product, to know the water, and people need that. It’s not like buying a washing machine or refrigerator. [Big-box stores] definitely do not provide the service we do,” Piper said. “Internet scams frustrate me, too. People call and say, ‘I can get that for $500 on the Internet, why can’t you give me that price?’ but they don’t understand we have installation costs, overhead and taxes—but we will give them service after the sale. But for some people it’s only about the price, even though we’re very competitive with pricing.”

Certification & Credibility

Being certified by the Water Quality Association (WQA) certainly helps AWT, too.

“I love to emphasize that we are certified water specialists,” Piper said. “I also like the WQA because I like going to the convention and seeing different products and having a company rep there to show me how it works— it’s very hands-on.”

Stephanie Harris and Piper in AWT’s showroom.

Pope said her WQA certification lends her credibility as well.

“It shows I didn’t just get a job here because I’m family—I’ve done my homework and I’ve been around the business for 20 years,” Pope said.

Today’s economy has provided AWT with some small obstacles; for instance, more customers are looking to rent instead of buy, and Piper has to start looking for a new financing company because his previous one went out of business.

Yet it looks like AWT has a bright future. In the past year, the company’s sales have seen an increase—a rarity for any business in today’s economy. By focusing on customized treatment systems, professionalism and good service, AWT is sure to continue its growth.

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About the author

Clare Pierson is associate editor for Water Quality Products. Pierson can be reached at 847.391.1012 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Stephanie Harris is managing editor for Water Quality Products. Harris can be reached at 847.391.1007 or by e-mail at [email protected].