Wisconsin family dealership maintains community values
Abendroth Water Conditioning has been a family owned and operated, independent water treatment company since 1953.
The dealership currently is operating under the family’s third generation. In 1953, Renville “Pat” Abendroth built the company in Fort Atkinson, Wis. It now is run by his granddaughter, Linda Kent and her husband Vince Kent; Vince serves as president while Linda is treasurer. At the company’s inception, Linda’s grandmother, Laila, served as treasurer, a title that then was passed down to her mother, Diane, and now to Linda.
Vince and Linda offer customers the same service, products and solutions that were the backbone of the business when Pat started it in 1953.
At the beginning, water treatment was a brand new field for Pat, as he was not in the industry at all beforehand. According to Linda, he started the business because he felt there was a need. The company started small in the garage of his home. At the time, it was just Pat and his son Curtis—Linda’s father—who would help out on weekends when he could.
“Before that, [Pat] actually ran a grocery store and he sold that and went into the water treatment industry,” Linda said.
In 1963, the family purchased the building on Janesville Avenue, their current location. They had an office and warehouse, as well as a car wash and gas pumps. Curtis took over as president in 1967 and his father oversaw the car wash.
“Our salt came to us by rail car,” Linda said. “We were right on the main strip here.”
As the company grew, they had to sell the car wash, and the building became another warehouse and then a garage. They also had to get rid of the gas pumps. As a whole, they concentrated more on the water treatment industry as it began to grow. In 2000, Curtis retired.
An Unexpected Path
The company now is owned by Linda and Vince. However, it was not an easy decision to get into the family business. Water treatment was “not at all” Linda’s forte.
“My husband worked in the hotel industry and I had an older brother,” Linda said. “I just figured he was going to do it. Then, life happened and he wasn’t able to move back because of his family situation. My dad said, ‘Was that something you think you’d want to try?’ and we thought we’ll give it six months. Now it’s been 25 years.”
Linda and her husband Vince moved back to Fort Atkinson around 1994. Linda had worked in retail at Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Vince’s job had them moving a lot, so they thought they would try the family business to stay in one place for a while.
Although she has children, neither of them is headed in the direction of water treatment, according to Linda. Then again, she initially did not see the industry as a fit for herself either.
A Cut Above
The company now is a staff of 15, where it was once just a father and son operation. Abendroth Water Conditioning currently employs two master plumbers, two journeyman plumbers, three Water Quality Assn. (WQA) Certified Water Specialists and three WQA Certified Installers.
In its mission statement, the company explains that it is committed to providing the highest level of service and knowledge, and will offer quality products and services for fair prices.
One thing that makes the business different from everyone else is that it is an independent dealer, able to offer a variety of products.
“Which is kind of nice because when you’re with a bigger industry you have to use those specific products,” Linda said. “Each individual isn’t able to go out and research that necessarily.”
This independence does not restrict Abendroth to one brand of products.
“We think that it is really important to stay on top of technology and the needs of people,” Linda said.
The company’s WQA-certified staff further separates it from its competitors.
“We have a standard we try to maintain and promote,” Linda said. “It’s like going to the dentist or a doctor. You want to make sure that they are well-educated in their field and this is really no different.”
Rolling With the Tide
The company has had to change with the times, as well. From the 1950s to now in 2019, the technology has changed immensely.
Abendroth uses proven and certified technology, such as ion exchange, to handle water softening, deionization and tannin removal. Reverse osmosis systems, distillation, microfiltration, carbon filtration and ultraviolet disinfection are some of the technologies they use to address their consumer’s drinking water needs. For iron removal, they now use the latest technologies in aeration, oxidation, ozone and chemical feed.
When it comes to big challenges, the market is different today than before, Linda said. With social media and online shopping taking over, people now can order anything online.
“That was what made it kind of interesting for us to come in,” Linda said. “The whole computer age changed so much and technology grew from that. My dad was very happy with the way things were and was a little bit nervous about going forward with some of the computerized equipment. But that is something that Vince was really excited about and really kind of grew the business from that standpoint.”
Abendroth offers equipment service, which is not promised at all water treatment companies.
“You can go to a big box store and buy anything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to service that,” Linda said. “That’s one thing we stand behind and promote.”
Above everything, Linda is the most proud of how her family values have been maintained throughout the company’s history.
“We’ve got an amazing staff that works here and I feel we have a really good team,” Linda said. “A lot of that is because of the communication we have and being respectful to everyone. We give respect to get respect and that is not only within the office and our company but also to customers. I think that’s really important.”
They have been pretty blessed to have the business stay within the family for the past 65 years, she said. For Abendroth, hometown values are important.
“As the years go by, [these values] get a little more rare because these smaller businesses seem to be getting snatched up by bigger companies,” Linda said. “We’re pretty excited about the journey we’ve been on and the fact that we’ve been able to grow as a business even though there’s been challenges outside of our own business.”