Nov 16, 2017

Dealer of the Month: Getting Personal

Individualized customer care becomes hallmark of small New Jersey dealership

The owners work with customers in a service area

When Tom Barry joined Kel Tren Service in 1985, water conditioning was a newer offering in the company’s menu of services—Barry’s father had integrated it into the family appliance business just a few years earlier. That small portion of the business ended up having a big impact for Barry—he is currently the owner of the company, now known as Kel Tren WaterCare, which focuses solely on water treatment.

Into the Industry

Barry’s decision to join the family business started as a temporary one. After graduating from college, he moved to New Orleans, where his brother lived, and worked in the hotel industry. After getting married, he found himself back in New Jersey and in need of employment. “I started working with my dad just kind of temporarily until I found what I really wanted to do with my life, and that was 32 years ago,” he said. He developed a special interest in the water treatment portion of the company and worked to expand it.

Kel Tren WaterCare currently has four employees who serve customers in an area covering an approximately 50-mile radius from the dealership’s Hamilton, N.J., location, including central New Jersey and portions of Pennsylvania. One staff member handles the office work, while Barry and two others spend their time in the field working with customers.

According to Barry, the varying geology of the service area results in some interesting water quality concerns. “From the water treatment industry standpoint, it’s a good area,” he said. “It keeps us guessing, and every day’s a little bit different from the previous day.” Common contaminants of concern for his customers include iron, hardness, hydrogen sulfide and arsenic. As a WaterCare dealer, that means he installs a lot of water softeners and Ion Pro systems for his mostly residential customers.

“Our bread and butter is residential work,” Barry said, adding that only about 10% of his revenue comes from commercial or industrial water treatment applications. He has seen the types of residential applications change over the years, however, estimating that when he started in the industry, he dealt with well water 98% of the time. Today, Barry said, the work is closer to 75% well water and 25% municipal water. He theorizes this is due to changes in water quality over the years, as well as increased public awareness of water contamination issues.

interesting advertising methods

Kel Tren WaterCare has implemented some unusual marketing techniques. Including a floating billboard at New Jersey beaches.

Power in Numbers

Kel Tren WaterCare is a member of both the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) and the Eastern Water Quality Assn. Membership in associations is important to Barry as a small business owner because of the industry support they provide. “I know that as small dealership here in New Jersey, I can’t do it all,” he said. “I can’t be aware of every issue that’s coming across, so it’s nice to have the WQA, knowing that they’re in our corner.” Barry also values the certification and continuing education opportunities associations offer. He went through the WQA certification process earlier in his career, and employee Sam Gigliotti, who Barry describes as his right-hand man, is currently working his way through WQA’s Modular Education Program.

Personalized Customer Service

When it comes to marketing the dealership, Barry has experimented with some unique techniques—including a floating billboard that sailed past Jersey Shore beaches in the summer of 2017. Nevertheless, word of mouth remains the most effective marketing technique, even though the method of communication has changed—Barry credits positive online reviews on sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, Yelp and Google with helping customers find the dealership.

He credits those positive reviews to the company’s customer service philosophy. “I make sure I don’t have any unhappy customers. We do whatever it takes to make sure the customer is taken care of,” Barry said, adding that his employees are proficient and “over-the-top friendly,” and have excellent customer service skills.

Barry feels the customer service he and his staff provide is what makes the dealership stand out from the rest, and purposefully keeping the dealership on the smaller side has helped keep that service personalized—and helped keep the customers coming back. “We’ve had customers for 25 or 30 years,” he said. “They know my kids, they know my wife, they know my family, and it’s just been a good relationship with my customers throughout the years.”

a typical installation

A typical installation for Kel Tren WaterCare

Continued Growth

Barry sees positive growth in the future for the entire water industry. “It’s a growing industry that has unlimited potential,” he said. “The fact that people are more aware and concerned about water quality issues is only a positive for the industry.”

He expects that positive growth to extend to Kel Tren WaterCare as well. “I would say every year has been a little better than the previous year—that’s been pretty static through the years,” he said. And the work keeps rolling in. “I feel fortunate that we have been very busy,” he added.

It certainly helps that Barry is passionate about what he does for a living—even if Kel Tren WaterCare’s role is just a small part of the greater water treatment industry. “I realize I’m not out here changing the world, but it’s a good industry to be in,” he said. “I’ve been doing it all these years and I still enjoy it. I don’t mind waking up every day and going to work. That’s a good thing, I guess.”

About the author

Kate Ferguson is editor-in-chief of WQP. Ferguson can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1007.

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