Dec 03, 2018

Top of the Class

WQP rounds up the top dealers of 2018

WQP rounds up the top dealers of 2018

In each regular issue, WQP profiles a Dealer of the Month: a water treatment dealer going above and beyond in the areas of hard work, customer service, professional development and technical innovation. A roundup of the 2018 Dealers of the Month can be found in the pages ahead. 

The dealerships that span these pages run the gamut from new businesses to multi-generational companies. Some are running the business alone, while others have partnered with spouses or siblings. Many are involved in their local communities and churches, and all value quality customer service and clean water. They have all demonstrated notable qualities worthy of recognition. To nominate a future Dealer of the Month, go to www.wqpmag.com/dealer-month-nomination-form.

Chuck Minnott of Mainly Water

Mainly Water LLC

Chuck Minott, Owner

Mainly Water LLC

Burlington, Maine

Age: 63

When his wife was diagnosed with cancer, Chuck Minott packed up his Denver dealership and moved back to their home state of Maine, opening Mainely Water in 2016. With a 36-year career in the industry, Chuck the Water Guy, as he is known on the dealership’s website, values hard work, education and customer satisfaction. 

“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,” he said. “It used to always be that way, but consumers didn’t have the power that they have now.”

Professional certifications: WQA Certified Water Specialist and Certified Installer, Master Plumber, Local Plumbing Inspector, Radon Mitigation Technician, Propane and Natural Gas Technician.

Mainly Water provides treated water

Past life: Minott spent time as a clinical engineer before entering the water industry.

Greatest accomplishments: Minott initiated a bill in the Colorado legislature for the state to adopt licensing specific to the water treatment industry. The bill became law in April 2016. He also was the highest-volume dealer of 3M water treatment equipment in the world for each month 3M had a dealer program. 

Notable project: At his previous dealership in Colorado, Minott installed a large commercial water softener in the Mile High Center skyscraper in downtown Denver. The installation took place in the boiler room, where temperatures averaged 112°F. For four days, the team moved all the equipment in with a hand cart, as there was no parking nearby.

Favorite thing about the water industry: Minott values the people and his relationships. “As we have aged, our old adversaries have become our friends. Amazing! I love this business.”

Industry gripe: Minott thinks sales representatives should be certified. 

Greatest influence: Maverick, from the movie Top Gun. “When you’re afraid of what will happen, ‘Engage Maverick. Engage!’”

Personal life: A “born-again Christian,” Minott values time with his wife, outdoor sports, hunting, fishing and working around
his home. 

Hidden talent: To get a head start on the competition, Minott starts his day at 5 a.m. “By the end of the day, I hope to be even with them [or] maybe be a tiny bit in the lead.”

Giving back: A member of The Grange, Minott volunteers on a number of local projects, and also is involved with his church. 

In five years: Minott sees himself “fully retired in [his] little cabin with [his] wonderful wife.”

Words of wisdom: “Get a Master Plumber’s license. This industry, like others, is getting highly regulated.”

Water Unlimited serves Sparks, Nev.

Water Unlimited

Chris Bruch, Owner

Water Unlimited

Sparks, Nev.

Age: 66

Water Unlimited was brought to life when Chris Bruch bought out the water treatment portion of a Nevada bottled water business in 1990. Bruch operates under a “win-win-win” mentality, with three factors guaranteeing success: supplying a quality product for the customer, offering a good value and treating his employees well.

“I love what I do,” Bruch said. “I enjoy making people’s water better, and I think our industry should be proud of itself, because we supply a good service for people. I feel really good about what we do as an industry.”

Water Unlimited provides treated water

Education: Associate degree

Professional certifications: WQA Certified Water Specialist and Certified Installer 

Past life: Bruch worked in the bottled water business for 20 years. 

Favorite thing about the water industry: Bruch loves being able to make his customers’ lives better by improving their water.  

Industry gripe: “Companies that bad-mouth the competition. … There is plenty of business out there for everyone. It makes us all look bad when the negative comments start.”

Greatest influence: Bruch cites two formative influences in his career who taught him a lot about business. “The first taught me many things to do—how to read a financial statement, the meaning of cash flow and the importance of computers (circa 1990). The second taught me many things not to do, [which is] just as important.”

Personal life: A Vietnam veteran, Bruch is passionate about his children, his dog and his work. He enjoys “anything with a motor,” including classic cars, motorcycles and four wheelers.

Giving back: The business donates to the local veterans’ house, food bank and community outreach programs to supply shoes and clothing for homeless families around Christmastime. 

In five years: Bruch hopes to cut back on his working hours while helping his son take over a leading role at the business. 

Words of wisdom: “Get certified, work hard, always be honest. And did I say work hard?”

Soft Water City in Sycamore, Ill.

Soft Water City

Chris Puentes, Vice President

Soft Water City

Sycamore, Ill.

Age: 47

Chris Puentes and Lisa Kijowski grew up at Soft Water City, the dealership their parents started in the early 1970s. After running the business themselves for almost 20 years, the pair has seen an evolution in both the business and the industry, and use this extensive experience to motivate their staff. 

“I don’t ask my employees to do anything that I haven’t done myself with less tools and less equipment. I am 100% a working boss,” Puentes said. “If you’re in an ivory tower just barking down orders, I don’t think you get the results that you would if you’re in the trenches with the employees.”

Soft Water City provides treated water

Education: Associate degree in liberal arts

Past life: Puentes has been around the water industry since he was 8 years old. 

Greatest accomplishment: The business is a Pentair True Blue Dealer.

Notable project: Soft Water City provided arsenic remediation for Hinckley Big Rock Middle School. The school was unable to open until the dealership provided point-of-use treatment to every sink and drinking fountain in the building. 

Favorite thing about the water industry: Puentes particularly enjoys making a customer happy after he or she has been mistreated by another company. 

Industry gripe: Puentes would like for franchisees to be required to only sell their equipment and not those used by independent dealers. 

Greatest influence: Family is significant for Puentes, who names his parents and sister as his greatest influence. His parents started the business, while his sister operates it with him. 

Personal life: When he is away from the business, Puentes coaches travel softball, writes poetry, and is “a halfway decent artist.”

Hidden talent: “I can make a cupcake that will knock your socks off!”

Giving back: Soft Water City donates goods and services to nearly 100 local charities
and nonprofits. 

In five years: Puentes sees the business continuing to steadily grow, with the possibility of adding a plumbing division. 

Words of wisdom: “Do your research and learn the industry to fix, rebuild and install prior to selling anything.”

Bolder Water provides water to Thornton, Colo.

Bolder Water

Tim Dickerson, Owner & Operator

Bolder Water LLC

Thornton, Colo.

Age: 38

Above all else, Bolder Water’s owners Tim Dickerson and Melissa McMurphy value family. The pair opened the dealership in early 2017, and their five teenagers all lend a helping hand around the business. Their eldest son has even expressed interest in Water Quality Assn. certification. 

“It’s been an adventure serving our community, and we want to continue that adventure,” Dickerson said. “Our passion to our vision has driven us on a daily basis.”

Bolder Water provides treated water

Education: High school diploma, incomplete college degree

Professional certifications: WQA Certified Water Specialist and Certified Installer

Past life: Before entering the water industry, Dickerson had roles in business-to-business sales, customer service, construction and management.

Greatest accomplishments: Dickerson was named Employee of the Quarter for leading sales and service calls and managed multiple franchise locations, but perhaps his most impressive accomplishment: “starting a business from scratch while raising five teens.”

Favorite thing about the water industry: “Everyone is very open and willing to help out each other. We are all share a common goal [of helping] those in need of water treatment and to educate along the way.”

Industry gripe: Long-term sustainability is key for Dickerson, who hopes to see more conversations about conservation and efficiency. 

Greatest influence: Jeff Gordon. “His philanthropy off the racetrack has always been about helping others. He is a successful owner of multiple businesses as well as a racecar driver and he owns parts of many other successful race teams. His giving and kind spirit has always been an inspiration to me. He helps children and cares so much about his community. When you reach that level of success and charity, your time is the most valuable thing you can give and I see he spends a lot of his helping his community.”

Personal life: Dickerson and his wife and business partner Melissa McMurphy love spending time with their family. Their location near the Rocky Mountains offers plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and four wheeling. Dickerson also likes to garden and work with his hands, and he is in the pit crew of a local racing team.

Hidden talent: Dickerson considers himself to be pretty handy. “I can help the kids fix about anything they break. If I can’t help them fix it, we always find someone in our local community to help.”

Giving back: Dickerson and McMurphy volunteer with their children at Xcel Energy’s Day of Service every year. They also spend time helping out Dickerson’s 91-year-old grandmother. 

In five years: Dickerson hopes to be involved with the industry both locally and nationally. “I want to continue to grow our business, providing customers with solutions. We would like to be a leader and resource for our community.”

Words of wisdom: “Stick with it, learn everyday, and always better yourself. Your knowledge and experience is your greatest asset.”

McCarty Well Drilling serves Buchanan, Mich.

McCarty Well Drilling

Greg McCarty, Part Owner & President

McCarty Well Drilling Inc.

Buchanan, Mich.

Age: 52

Michigan-based McCarty Well Drilling offers residential well drilling, water treatment, geothermal services, and irrigation systems. For owner Greg McCarty, he sees the business—and the industry as a whole—providing a vital service to the community. 

The community, in turn, shows up for McCarty. He is able to draw from a pool of repeat clients, while also relying heavily on referrals from happy customers. He strives to communicate well in an effort to provide an individualized experience for each customer.

“I put ourselves up there with doctors and lawyers,” he said. “We’ve got a heck of an education in this thing and we should get paid for it. A lot of guys don’t do that.”

Education: High school diploma

Past life: McCarty has been in the water industry since the age of 12, with a three-year stint in the U.S. Army after high school. 

Favorite thing about the water industry: “I really enjoy when people appreciate what we do for them. It makes all the hours and sacrifices worth it.”

Industry gripe: McCarty thinks more water industry professionals should recognize their staffs’ skills with higher salaries. “We need to do this to be able to attract and retain quality people with good wages and benefits.”

Greatest influence: “I admired my grandfather a great deal and still hold a great deal of respect for him and how he started what would provide me a respected career and trade. My father would be my second greatest influence. He never had to say it, but the fear of him being disappointed in me drove me to know as much as possible at very early age.”

Personal life: McCarty enjoys travel, history, golf and snowmobiling.

Hidden talent: “I can be very good at making things happen when others can’t.”

In five years: He hopes to have set the motions into place for the next generation to take over the business.

Words of wisdom: “It’s a long-term investment, and you’re not going to know everything in five years. I still get surprised, even having been in the industry for 30 years.”

Water Processing serves Hobbs, N.M.

Water Processing

Ronnie Lee, Managing Partner

Water Processing LLC

Hobbs, N.M.

Age: 67

As a former nursing home administrator, Ronnie Lee knows a thing or two about management. At Water Processing LLC, Lee nurtures his young staff through education and training, and offers desirable benefits. He also instills in them the importance of customer service and delivering a quality product. 

“My philosophy is, I don’t operate for a profit for just a day; my business decisions are such for long-term operation,” Lee said. “When you treat people that way, word gets around, and you’re there for the long haul.”

Water Processing serves treated water

Education: Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama

Professional certifications: Master Plumber, Journeyman Plumber, New Mexico Advanced Small Water Systems Operator 

Past life: Before entering the water industry, Lee worked in health care administration.

Notable projects: Lee’s most memorable projects include installing industrial softeners and reverse osmosis systems in prisons and gas plants.

Favorite thing about the water industry: Lee values customer relationships, and that the water industry offers “plenty of challenges, but less stress than health care.” 

Industry gripe: “I would like to see much more idea-sharing opportunities among small and independent dealers. Almost everybody has something they do better. Even opportunities to trade used equipment … would be beneficial for ‘rental companies.’”

Greatest influence: “Jesus Christ. Our business is built on his teachings.”

Personal life: In his free time, Lee enjoys bass and crappie fishing, as well as riding mules. He’s also a pro in the kitchen. “I’ll feed steak and crab to 45 immediate family members for Christmas—including my 23 grandchildren!”

Hidden talent: “Tenacity!”

Giving back: As a passionate Christian, Lee provides quality water for several church, camp meetings and missionary projects. He also is a church deacon and adult class teacher, and is involved with the National Write Your Congressman organization.

In five years: Lee sees himself fully retired from his duties as manager, with Water Processing continuing as a family operation.

Words of wisdom: “Things built very quickly most usually can be torn down quickly. Consider tomorrow!”

Elite Water Systems serves San Antonia, Texas

Elite Water Systems

Erik J. Bernal, President & CEO

Elite Water Systems

San Antonio, Texas

Age: 38

Living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Erik Bernal had an epiphany. Seeing the entire city under water led him to seek out a career in the water treatment industry. Now located in Texas, Bernal runs Elite Water Systems, a dealership with a unique business model. The company sells directly to homebuilders, who offer Bernal’s water treatment systems as part of a new home. Bernal sees it as his duty to work with consumers to help them find the correct system for their water concerns.  

“Our job as experts is to take the information they have and align their education with the right thought process and enhance what they already know to help them formulate the right decision to get the right solution,” he said.

Elite Water Systems provides treated water

Education: Bachelor of Science in supply chain management from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Professional certifications: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Class III Water Treatment Specialist, Certified Speaking Professional

Past life: While living in New Orleans, Bernal worked as a sales representative for Schindler Elevator Corp.

Greatest accomplishments: Bernal graduated cum laude and No. 2 in his business major. He also is the largest GE/Pentair water dealer in the U.S.

Notable project: Bernal developed and executed a water treatment program that targets homebuilders. The company currently works with 26 homebuilders in central Texas and soon will be extending its reach to Dallas, Houston, and El Paso, Texas, as well as Florida and Arizona. “Lead generation is the most expensive and important aspect of sales, but when the builder sells your products for you because they already have a captive audience, that’s a game changer.”

Favorite thing about the water industry: Bernal knows he is improving the quality of life for both his customers and his employees. “Consumers enjoy a healthier home and my staff enjoys working for a company that has a passion for people.”

Industry gripe: Bernal wishes consumers were better educated on the importance of water quality. “Little do they know that every drink they take, every fruit and vegetable they eat, and every pharmaceutical they consume was made or grown with water. So you are either the filter, or you buy a filter. Be careful what you consume and understand what was used to create it.”

Greatest influence: His father, who taught Bernal to enjoy every moment and spend as much time with family as possible. “Sometimes that means working hard to provide your family memories … Always have a sit-down meal with your children once per day. It creates a platform to mentor them.”

Personal life: As a sports junkie, Bernal enjoys attending major sporting events and following his favorite athletes. He also loves any hobby his children have. He is passionate about his family and his faith.

Hidden talent: A self-proclaimed “barbecue grill master and one heck of a Mexican food chef,” Bernal is also ambidextrous, which he has found to be an asset when shooting pool, shooting guns, or writing with both hands. 

Giving back: Putting that public speaking certification to the test, Bernal often speaks to high school students about life skills, college and various workforce topics. He also donates money and time to families in need, particularly during natural disasters. 

In five years: “I see myself as one of the leaders in the filtration business, consulting other water companies to be profitable. I also see my staff running multiple channels throughout the U.S.”

Words of wisdom: “Immerse yourselves in professional organizations, such as your homebuilders associations, WQA, your regional water quality associations, and find two mentors—one for business, one for personal life. You can’t build anything on your own.”

Aqua-Pure Water Conditioning serves Antioch, Ill.

Aqua-Pure Water Conditioning

Ronald Gagnon, President

Aqua-Pure Water Conditioning

Antioch, Ill.

Age: 61

As a Boy Scout leader, Ronald Gagnon leads Aqua-Pure Water Conditioning with the same integrity and values that he instills in his scouts. Gagnon runs the business, which has been in operation since 1996, operating under the golden rule, treating customers the way he would like to be treated. He knows the value of not pushing a sale and instead giving the customer space and time to consider their options and come to a decision on their own. 

“They say in real estate ‘location, location, location,” he said. “I think for our industry that’s ‘be professional, be professional, be professional.’”

Aqua Pure provides water

Education: Some college

Professional certifications: WQA Master Water Specialist, WQA Certified Installer, Illinois Department of Public Health Certified Non-transient Non-community Public Water System Operator

Past life: Gagnon was in the U.S. Navy for 21 years before entering the water industry. 

Greatest accomplishment: Gagnon is proudest of the WQA certifications he has earned. 

Notable project: A large commercial system just north of Chicago is Gagnon’s most memorable. The backwashing carbon filters were twin 30-by-72-in. tanks plumbed in parallel, the softener had an 18-by-65-in. tank, and the piping was 3-in. copper. “In order to get the units to the basement of the home, which was still under reconstruction, I had to hire a couple of additional laborers. Loading the carbon into these tanks was bordering on exceeding our capabilities. My team and I persevered and got the job done, satisfying our customer.”

Favorite thing about the water industry: Gagnon loves when he can help a customer finally solve a problem after trying other systems without success. “I conduct a full analysis of the water, figure out the best method to take care of the situation and plot a course of action. When my actions result in a truly satisfied customer, I am really happy and feel a great deal of satisfaction in my achievement.”

Industry gripe: Deceptive business practitioners get under Gagnon’s skin. “I wish that those ‘fly-by-night’ vendors and dealers who come into the business trying to sell a product that really doesn’t work to fix the water problem would just not make their appearance.”

Personal life: Gagnon is passionate about his family, the Boy Scouts, being active in his church, and food—both cooking and eating.

Hidden talent: Many people would be surprised to learn of Gagnon’s past career as a recruit company commander and division commander. “Most people can’t envision me getting into a recruit’s face and using an extremely loud voice to get his or her attention.”

Giving back: As a member of the Knights of Columbus, Gagnon is active in a variety of charitable projects. He also has worked as a volunteer adult probation officer, a youth group coordinator and a Boy Scout Scoutmaster. 

In five years: Gagnon hopes to have his successor near the end of the training pipeline, with the end goal of selling the business to him or her.  

Words of wisdom: For Gagnon, honesty is the best policy, and the Golden Rule is key. “Treat your customers as you would expect someone to treat you.”

Orbital Water provides water to Fort Myers, Fla.

Orbital Water Consulting

Michael Melendez, Owner

Orbital Water Consulting LLC

Fort Myers, Fla.

Age: 39

Living in Puerto Rico, Michael Melendez was working in the pharmaceutical industry with large industrial water treatment equipment. When he moved to Florida in 2012, he moved on to smaller systems, working for a local water treatment provider. In 2017, he opened Orbital Water Consulting, a business dedicated to providing clean, safe water to residents and businesses in the Fort Myers area.  

“We have to focus on that we are in the health business,” he said. “This is not only a money-making machine. We have to focus on that we’re working with people and if we do something wrong, we’re affecting an entire family.”

Orbital Water serves Florida water needs

Education: Bachelor of Science in chemistry and Master of Business Administration in international business

Professional certifications: WQA Certified Water Specialist, Residential Water Treatment Design Certificate

Past life: Melendez previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a consultant, validation specialist and senior regulatory specialist. 

Greatest accomplishment: Among his greatest accomplishments, Melendez first lists completing his professional degrees, followed by earning a solid reputation as a scientist and professional. He also became owner of JM Scientific Consultant of PR, an industrial firm that helped pharmaceutical companies maintain regulatory compliance.

Favorite thing about the water industry: “My favorite part is to see people smile when they finally have good water at home.”

Industry gripe: Melendez would like to see more oversight for new water treatment businesses, and thinks training and education should be required.

Greatest influence: “My wife is a great influence because she supports me and encourages me all the time. … On the professional side, I have to say that Luis Figueroa was one of the greatest mentors on my career path, giving me the opportunity to begin working as consultant while teaching [me] all I [needed] to succeed.”  

Personal life: Melendez enjoys going to the gym and working out, and is passionate about health.

In five years: Melendez hopes to be “one of the more recognized and more important water companies” in Florida and perhaps the entire country. 

Words of wisdom: “Educate yourself about water treatment. Never stop continuous education and [keep] in mind that we are in the healthcare business as well. More [important] than money is human health!”

Rocky Mountain Water Conditioning serves Thornton, Colo.

Rocky Mountain Water Conditioning

Tom Kinnane & Michelle Rucks

COO & Owner/CEO

Rocky Mountain Water Conditioning

Longmont, Colo.

Age: 50 & 56

After several vacations to the Rocky Mountains, Tom Kinnane and Michelle Rucks knew they wanted to relocate to Colorado, so relocate they did. With Kinnane’s water treatment experience and Rucks’ business savvy, opening Rocky Mountain Water Conditioning in 2017 was a logical next step. Now, the pair works to provide clean, healthy water to a large service area, all while maintaining the quality and customer service people expect from a small business. 

“At the end of the day, we want to have the right solutions, we want to treat our customers right,” Kinnane said. “Being a small company enables us to make sure we have complete control of all those kinds of variables.”

Rocky Mountain Water Conditioning provides treated water to Colorado

Education: Kinnane has a Bachelor of Arts in government and politics and JD from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Rucks has an Associate of Arts in paralegal studies and Bachelor of Science in business. 

Professional certifications: Kinnane is a WQA Master Water Specialist and Certified Installer.

Past lives: Kinnane held a number of sales positions, “everything from selling women’s clothing to gym memberships.” Rucks was a Realtor prior to entering the water industry, and also has experiencing managing other people’s businesses, including those in the medical publishing and legal industries.

Notable project: Kinnane and Rucks helped a local mother by designing a treatment system to reduce heavy metal buildup in her daughter’s body.  “We helped her with research and presented options. Six months after installation she let us know that a recent test showed that metals in her daughter’s body were at a three-year low.”

Favorite thing about the water industry: “You get to help people with something that can be not only problematic, but completely unavoidable. You can’t go without water. It sounds cliché, but water is something people can’t do without, and being able to improve peoples’ water and their home life—even in some cases, their health—is the best part.”

Industry gripe: Kinnane and Rucks think all water treatment providers should be WQA certified. “There are still too many snake oil salesmen in the business and they ultimately end up tarnishing the reputation of the companies with certifications and licenses who truly understand water quality.”

Greatest influence: They agree that this honor goes to Ron Edwards, Kinnane’s former boss, who taught him how to run a water treatment business. 

Personal life: In their spare time, Kinnane and Rucks enjoy camping, hiking, bird watching, traveling and reading. 

Hidden talent: Kinnane is secretly a great, persuasive writer. Rucks considers herself to be perceptive and “generally pretty good at seeing into people’s true intentions.”

In five years: Kinnane and Rucks hope to continue to grow their business, while adding product diversity and marketing channels.  

Words of wisdom: Kinnane and Rucks advocate education through both WQA and industry connections. They also stress the importance of understanding your service area. “Make sure you know water quality inside and out in the area in which you intend to operate. Don’t waste time in areas where the perception of the water is so good that the client you are seeking is a needle in a haystack. Find areas where there are demonstrable water problems and focus on them.”

About the author

Amy McIntosh | Managing Editor | [email protected]

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