Katie Johns is associate editor for WQP. Johns can be reached at [email protected].
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It could be said that fate played a hand in the history of Angelo Water Service.
While managing a local lumberyard and home center, Larry Gayler sold Art Douma, the owner of the Culligan Water Dealership in San Angelo, Texas, at the time, the materials to build a home. The two discussed Douma’s plans to retire and sell in the near future to be closer to two of his sons.
Gayler then left the lumberyard and had a dream that he should enter the water business.
Fate did not stop there, though. Duoma sold Gayler the water system for his lake house. Gayler then sold the lake house to get the downpayment for Duoma’s Culligan dealership, which he purchased on September 1, 1978, just two months after leaving the lumberyard.
And thus began the first of three generations of ownership for the Gayler family.
All in the Family
Within a few weeks of ownership, Greg Gayler joined his father in the business.
Greg, who started his senior year of high school the day his father purchased the business, became the route driver and started learning about the service. Over time, his responsibilities became larger. Soon, he started making decisions when his father was out of town, and at 18, he was in charge of maintaining the business’ main reverse osmosis (RO) customer, a local dialysis center.
That was when RO was just becoming a business trend. Until then, Angelo Water Service had been a small business focused primarily on portable exchange and some automatic softeners.
When Greg left for college, he had plans to go into an accounting or computer science career, so he studied both. After discussions with his father and continuing with the water business in college, he decided to join the family business instead. Greg officially became a partner in 1992 and bought the business from his father in 1998 under the same ruling his father had with Duoma–pay out the balance over 15 years.
Two years ago, Gregs’ daughter, Jacque Gayler Thweatt and her husband, Josh Thweatt, decided they wanted to become a permanent part of the family business and now own the second branch in Abilene, Texas. While both new owners, they were not strangers to the business– in fact, it is how they met.
Much like her father, Jacque started working for Angelo Water Service part time in high school. She answered the phones, helped schedule routine maintenance, washed vehicles and did other tasks. She went off to college, but after, she came back and held a more secretarial role in the family business.
Josh Thweatt began working for Greg when he was 21 during summer breaks while home from San Angelo State University, which is also where the Thweatts met. He and Jacque would talk in passing, but Josh said he “was smart enough to know she was the boss’ daughter.”
He took an interest in the business, so when he and Jacque were married, the two talked about how to become more involved.
For Jacque, she grew up around the business and enjoyed the atmosphere her parents and grandparents created. She said between Christmas parties and summer picnics for the employees, being around the business felt like home.
“Growing up in a small town like San Angelo, I really liked the idea of having a small business in which you can give back to the community, be involved and know your customers,” Jacque said.
She said when her husband came on board “it was like an answered prayer.” In 2017, when the family purchased the Abilene location, it marked the first time a woman was an owner in the family. Greg’s wife, Laurie, had designed the sprinkler systems used in the Angelo branch, but Jacque is the first full-time female employee.
“I think in the back of my mind, I always hoped I’d come back to do it because I saw both my parents and my grandparents working at it and building toward their future together, and I’d really like that as a family,” Jacque said.
When the Gaylers first purchased the San Angelo location, RO was still in its infancy. Greg said before homes around the local lake had access to city water, they treated it to make it safe or potable.
In 1984 and 1985, they added bottled and vended water and continued to treat well water and some surface water. They have also added automatic conditioners and drinking water systems to their services.
Now, residential services at the branches include water softeners, saltless water softening, home filtration, RO, bottled water, water coolers, free water testing, water vending, iron and hydrogren sulfide treatment, disinfection and salt delivery. Commercial wise, the branches serve various businesses in the Abilene and San Angelo areas, including assisted living and educational facilities, hospitals, manufacturing plants and restaurants among others. As business has grown, so has the staff.
When the Gaylers and Thweatts first purchased the Abilene location, there were only two employees. Now, there are three full-time employees, in addition to technicians who help from the San Angelo office, but now, the Thweatts are looking to add a fourth.
Currently, Josh does service and delivery in addition to being a technician, and they hope the new employee can take on the service and delivery role so Josh can be the full-time service technician. Jacque works in sales for the branch and serves as manager. Meanwhile, the San Angelo location has 15 staff members.
Gayler said another challenge has been keeping up with regulatory changes, especially in terms of bottled water.
“Through associations such as TWQA, WQA, IBWA and MABWA, we have access to the resources that help our business learn and grow,” Gayler, who has served on the TWQA board for many years and is currently treasurer, said. “Our association with Culligan has provided much training and sharing of information with other dealers. Our relationship with Culligan corporate has grown much stronger for all dealers over the past 10 years or so.”
Along with treatment systems, filtration, ultraviolet (UV) disinfection and bottled and vended water are becoming more prevalent. Josh Thweatt said drinking water, as far as RO systems, are becoming more popular with customers.
“I think it’s going green that probably has a lot to do with it, with people trying to cut back on plastic bottles and people realizing it’s a lot better value to pay for an RO system insteading of buying bottled water, ” he said.
Keeping with Tradition
The family said they see water treatment continuing to be important in homes and businesses, so they anticipate the business moving through more generations.
“I think the benefit we’re learning right now is that there is a reason and a way that they have been doing things for so long because they work and then how we can capitalize on things that are maybe not as cost efficient or time efficient, so that we can launch ourselves into a more productive form of business,” Jacque said.
And as more generations come along, mottos and ideas Larry left will be passed down. Greg said he learned to always do the right thing, give people the knowledge to do their part and the authority to do so without permission, fixing mistakes from his father, which he keeps in mind as he runs the business today.
As for working in a family business, Jacque said it benefits everyone, including the customers, as legacy knowledge is passed down from generation to generation.
“Family business I would say, it’s a large source of pride,” Jacque said. “A big source of pride whenever I can go into a customer or potential customer’s home and say ‘I’m third generation,’ especially as I am new and still learning about the industry. I can say ‘I don’t have the answer, but I can call someone who has 40 years experience,’ so that’s very beneficial to me and our customers.”