Branding & online feedback boost Maine dealership’s sales
With a career that spans more than three decades, Chuck Minott, owner of Mainely Water, has never worked for anyone. Originally from Maine, he and his wife spent around 20 years running a dealership in Denver. Two years ago, when his wife received a cancer diagnosis, Minott sold that business and the couple moved back to their home state.
“We also happened to be very close to retirement age, so we considered that,” Minott said. “[My wife] came home one day and I was sitting at the computer and she said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, “I’m writing a website for the company.’ I just wasn’t ready to retire yet.”
Thus, Mainely Water was born.
Buying Over Renting
Located in Burlington, Maine, the dealership offers water softeners, filtration and reverse osmosis equipment, as well as water heaters. Minott said that although his Colorado dealership saw a lot of commercial business, his focus in Maine primarily has been in the residential sector, specifically in private wells. Arsenic is the most common problem in his service area.
Minott often partners with home builders and plumbers to install systems.
“A lot of plumbers don’t like to do water softeners or water filter systems because they like the short-term dollars, but they don’t like the long-term responsibility of keeping them working and maintaining them,” he said. “So I have just made it a point to befriend plumbers and builders and make them happy.”
According to Minott, Maine competes with Mississippi for the title of “worst economy in the country.” Given the poor economic conditions in the state, he expected this new business venture to be primarily rental-driven. However, in the two years Mainley Water has been in business, Minott has not had a single rental customer.
“Unlike a lot of rental companies, I don’t try to rent,” Minott said. “If people want to buy, they buy. If not, then I’ll offer them the rental program, but it just never happens. I really expected to be a rental dealership, but it just didn’t work out that way.”
He attributes this to his marketing techniques. While some dealerships focus on lead generation, seeking customers who are unaware of their water issues and demonstrating their products to make a sale, Minott targets customers who already know they have water problems.
Making a Name
Branding is an important part of Mainely Water. Minott ensures all of his advertising materials have a cohesive look.
“I’m an independent dealer, so creating our name brand is important,” Minott said. “A lot of the larger manufacturer franchise dealerships get the manufacturers’ name brand recognition, and as an independent, we have to create our own.”
Having an updated website also is key to Mainely Water’s success. The website has a personal touch, with Minott—or “Chuck the Water Guy,” as he’s known on the website—featured on the homepage and throughout the site. Not only does the website list the products and services the dealership offers, it also includes a list of certifications with accompanying imagery, photos of installations, and a blog that Minott updates regularly to keep the content fresh.
“The website has always worked well for me,” Minott said. “Customers tell me they love my website because I have so much personalized stuff on it. Professional website people tell me that it’s immature for a website, and it’s not up to current website standards. But you know what? It works. Customers like it, so I’m sticking with it.”
Customers may like the website, but they also like the dealership. Minott noted the importance of online reviews, particularly in an age in which customers expect companies to stand by their products.
“When you buy from a local company, as a consumer you expect that company is going to be responsive, be honest and take care of any issues,” Minott said. “It used to always be that way, but consumers didn’t have the power that they have now.”
Mainley Water is listed on websites such as Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor, the latter of which brings Minott the most business, likely because of his five-star rating.
“By getting that five-star rating, if the guy below me has a 4.5-star rating, chances are I’m going to get the business, and that’s important,” he said. “I think consumers have more resources online now to check us out with. Our industry didn’t have that level of responsibility before.”
Minott is proud of his record on HomeAdvisor and has dedicated a section of his website to customer reviews.
The Right Attitude
Mainely Water has three employees. Two of these employees are installers and both are women, which Minott said is “an oddity” in this industry. When seeking out quality employees, Minott does not require a background in the water industry. He looks for a person with a willingness to learn and who takes pride in his or her work.
“I would say you go into 80% of the water softener installations in this country and you would shake your head and say, ‘Oh this looks terrible,’” Minott said. “The terrible-looking ones frequently work fine, but I’m really picky about what they look like. I want a guy who has a natural pride in the quality of his work. You can’t teach somebody that. By the time they’re old enough to work, they either have pride in their work or they don’t.”
When Minott finds an employee who demonstrates this pride and an eagerness to learn the business, he first takes them into the field and trains them onsite. If the employee plans to stick around long-term, he or she is asked to complete the Water Quality Assn.’s (WQA) Certified Installer (CI) course. The employee pays for the course out of his or her own pocket, but Minott reimburses all employees who pass the course. In the past he has also taken employees to the WQA Convention to take the test.
Mainely Water is a member of WQA. In fact, all of Minott’s dealerships over the past 36 years have been members. When he sold his company in Denver and moved to Maine, his WQA plaques came with him.
“I didn’t leave those for [the new] guys,” he said. “I can’t imagine not being a member.”
In addition to WQA membership, the dealership and its employees have a number of certifications under its belt. Minott is a Certified Water Specialist and CI, a Maine certified radon water mitgator, a certified backflow prevention technician, and a licensed gas technician, which is required in Maine. Technician Ashleigh Cross is a CI. Mainely Water itself is a Maine certified radon water mitigation contractor and is Better Business Bureau accredited, with no recorded complaints.
With a 36-year career, Minott has seen a lot of changes in the water industry. He anticipates a future where plumbers take a more active role in water treatment, although he would like to see the two industries separated. He said plumbers often do not have the time or interest level to complete certification courses, and thus could be more informed about the treatment systems they often are tasked to install.
“For that reason, especially with some of the newer contaminants that are making the headlines, it’s almost dangerous to have people who are untrained working on water filtration and purification systems,” he said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more likely that a water treatment guy with a small amount of training can learn how to properly install water treatment equipment within code requirements than it is for a plumber or handyman to become an expert in water treatment.”
Despite contemplating retirement after his move to Maine two years ago, Minott currently plans to keep his dealership running for the next “six to eight years.”
“The company is growing, I’m not working terribly hard, and I’m very pleased with it,” he said. “I’m very confident that we’re going to continue to do well.”
A water softener and arsenic removal system installed by Mainely Water.