In the early 1980s, Bob Hoey earned his certification as both a Water Quality Assn. Certified Water Specialist and Certified Sales Representative. He said he was the only person in the Twin Cities market at the time to have both those certifications, and people started to take notice.
"People started jokingly calling me the water doctor," he said, "so I started working that angle, put up a logo and acquired a phone number with our name."
In 1984, Hoey opened Water Doctors, which primarily services the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. Approximately 80% of its customers are residential and 20% are commercial/industrial.
By partnering with builders, embracing new technologies and developing innovative systems, Water Doctors continues to grow.
Relying on Referrals
Water Doctors has been nominated two years in a row for the Builder Assn. of the Twin Cities’ Associate of the Year award, a testament to the business' marketing methods.
"I always believe in partnering and having third-party validation, because if I have a homebuilder that trusts me and knows I'm going to do good work, he recommends me," Hoey said. "You establish a relationship; they trust you and then your clients will trust you as well."
Hoey has advertised with TV, radio and print media, but said his main focus is always on 100% customer satisfaction.
"If my clients are satisfied, they are going to refer us," he said. "And I ask for the referral because that is our best source of business."
Water Doctors also has started to implement a new marketing plan, using Demandforce, to target the approximately 30,000 customers in its database. The software will create campaigns, specials and offers to be sent specifically to the company’s list.
Utilizing Internet marketing, however, is not the only way Water Doctors has embraced technology.
Hoey started the company website in 1995, and it has continued to evolve. Customers can now schedule home appointments and order filters or salt with the click of a mouse.
Employees are encouraged to use their company smartphones to e-mail or text message timeframes to clients, and company vehicles are GPS tracked and timed.
“All of our personnel are GPS tracked based on their cell signal, so that way we can figure out how efficient everyone is working,” Hoey said. “If they are in a house for two hours and it should’ve been a one-hour job, we ask how we can be more efficient next time.”
Water Doctors has 22 corporate employees and 50 outside, independent employees. In the late '90s, as homebuilding slowed, Hoey saw an opportunity to partner with appliance dealers and kitchen designers.
“We’ve trained them or taught them how to get into the water business to sell our product as part of their appliance or plumbing package,” Hoey said. “We have 17 of those dealers in Minnesota, Louisiana, Florida and Wisconsin, and we’re just trying to grow and move to the next level.”
The Infinity water softener and filtration system is a source of the company’s recent growth. Water Doctors worked with Pentair Water to create this proprietary system for ultrafiltered water at every tap in the house.
“Infinity is a combination of four different infiltration technologies,” Hoey said. It is a large water softener with carbon filtration, KDF media to protect against bacterial growth and a pH-neutralizing filter. The system has been on the market for just more than three years.
“This has been a really exciting product and the neatest thing I’ve ever been involved with in the 30 or more years I’ve been in the industry,” Hoey said. “Our Infinity is probably over half of our sales now.”
Water Doctors ensures that its installation and service people are trained extensively with all of the systems it offers and to address all of the water concerns in the area.
“They are all licensed by the state of Minnesota as water conditioning contractors,” Hoey said. “They all go through heavy training as far as water quality testing; we do a lot of testing for problem water, arsenic, manganese and iron.”
Upholding High Standards
Hoey said his biggest concern for the water treatment industry is an influx of foreign-made products. Water Doctors tested some of these products, but they had a much higher failure rate than Hoey expected.
“The best advice I can give is not to succumb to the quick profit of a low-cost, inferior product,” he said. “Stay true to quality, American-made products, because your customers trust you and you want to make sure they are getting the right product.”
Water Doctors runs as a true family business, with Hoey’s wife, Laurie, and his middle daughter, Katy, involved in the business. Hoey tries to instill the same family standards to all of the company's employees, which translates to respect from clients.
“My integrity and the way our company is perceived in the marketplace is the most important thing in the world to me,” Hoey said. “Business ethics and quality are really our best assets.”