This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue as "New Approach"
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“Bringing cleaner, healthier, local water to every faucet,” is displayed on the homepage of Blue Ribbon Water’s website. The business still is in its early stages–it officially launched in January 2019–but it has big plans for what is ahead.
Bill Cooper is the founder and CEO of Blue Ribbon Water, based in Newburyport, Mass. Currently, most of its work is done in the northeast part of Massachusetts in Merrimack Valley. Blue Ribbon Water has three employees and is a member of the Water Quality Assn. It also is a member of each Chamber of Commerce in every town it does business in, to help “get their name out,” Cooper said. The company specializes in whole house water filtration systems for residences connected to municipal water systems.
“That is different than a lot of companies that service,” Cooper said. “For example, we do not do water softening. We do not do wells. We do not do custom work.”
The size of the market for municipal water is fairly large. In the last few years, concerns have increased and there is more visibility to these issues now, he said.
All his career, Cooper was a high technology sales and marketing executive, obtaining his engineering degree at Purdue University. His business advisor and investor also is from a sales and marketing background and holds a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard.
“We both have the vision for improving not only the quality of water, but we are also passionate about keeping the plastic bottles out of the environment, specifically erosion,” Cooper said. “We are both boaters and we both live on the coast. We are seeing more and more evidence of bottles in the water and it is very disturbing.”
One of the biggest challenges for Cooper is helping people to prioritize taking action about their particular municipal water. Those who have municipal water may not realize there may be contaminants in the water, Cooper said. A whole house water filtration system can allow customers to cut back on bottled water use.
“It is not just drinking, it is cooking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes in it,” Cooper said. “There is a lot of potential issues with a lot of municipal towns. It is partly education and people who really understand it. It is getting them to take action and do something about it. It is one of those unseen things that is unresolved. We spent a lot of time educating customers and we spent a lot of time following up with prospects to get them to realize the benefits and opportunities.”
In the Merrimack Valley area, a prominent regional water concern is the high levels of total trihalomethanes (TTHM). TTHMs are a byproduct of water purification. When municipalities remove water from ground or surface water, they treat it to eliminate bacteria using chlorine.
“Now, in some municipalities, they are able to get the levels down to reasonable and safe levels. They balance risks that the water picks up contaminants from a processing plant out to the home,” Cooper said. “Other municipalities keep a pretty high level of chlorine in the water and results in pretty high levels of TTHMs. So, there is a lot of chlorine that ends up in the home. Where we have had most successes are filters systems that take out 90% of all of our chlorine byproducts.”
Standing Out in a Crowd
As a new company, Cooper and his associates are always coming up with different strategies to help set the business apart from competitors. The company investigates each town to which it is marketing and selling. Visiting the municipal water department and seeing how it takes care of the plant is useful to the operation, as well as looking at the U.S. EPA database to understand what is needed to make water that is clean and healthy and also tastes good, he said. He then will apply the right filter to the particular municipality.
“In the town that I live in, one filter that solves that problem can be sold to every resident in Newburyport,” Cooper said. “So, we do not have to test the water with each individual home.”
Cooper believes their solution is effective for everyone who is on that particular water system. If there are changes to that municipalities water, then the company will pick up on it right away and recommend the next filter change, which happens every six months. They also may recommend a filter change to manage any new contaminants. All installations are done by Blue Ribbon Water, and it uses licensed local plumbers. The maintenance is on a schedule, that way the homeowner does not need to worry.
“They do not need to do any research into the water problems. Once they decide to buy it, then we have the right filter, we install it with licensed plumbers, and then we schedule the maintenance,” Cooper said. “The homeowner does not have to think about it after that.”
Blue Ribbon Water is using its own techniques to build the company, including incorporating a digital marketing approach. It implements Google and Facebook advertising. It is “treating this like a high tech business” and has the right tools and back office systems to support it, Cooper said.
“What we find successful is if customers come through our website and do a positive outreach to us. They give us their name and address and they give us a little note about what they think their water problems are,” Cooper said. “A high percentage of those people turn into our customers. Other digital marketing techniques also work well. We also follow up by email. We have found what does not tend to work so well is blanket direct mail. We are using all the latest digital marketing to capture our customers.”