Like many water dealerships around the U.S., Culligan of Yuma is small, family-owned, and keeps close ties to its customers in Yuma, Ariz. But unlike most of his small business counterparts in the industry, owner Larry Yarlott works in an environment of extremes.
“Yuma has very hard water and high TDS [total dissolved solids] in both city water and well water,” Yarlott said. As if the hard water is not an issue enough for its residents, there is also the scarcity of water in general that plagues many communities in the southwestern U.S. deserts.
In fact, a report from the National Climatic Data Center named Yuma number three in hottest mean temperature, and first in its driest category, with only 3.01 in. of average precipitation.
Additionally, the city ranks first for sunniest, least frequent rain and snow, and least humid. “Our main source for city water is the Colorado River,” Yarlott said. “This source also supplies many other cities and everybody wants more.”
Their solution? “We have had to learn to be very frugal throughout the year,” Yarlott said. The big problems Yuma faces are not something Yarlott and his peers in the water quality industry can face alone. The municipality holds meetings to educate the public about water supply sustainability. In September, the state burned down lemon groves as part of a study to see how much moisture farmers could spare for urban development.
For Yarlott, his main concern is quality customer service and healthy, good-tasting drinking water for the community that has relied on Culligan of Yuma for 75 years.
The climate of Yuma may have been categorized as “extreme” by the National Climatic Data Center, but one person’s woes are another person’s paradise, proven by the fact that Yuma welcomes an additional 80,000 residents every winter, mostly retirees migrating from the colder, northern states. “They are a great boost to our economy in the winter,” Yarlott said, adding that about 60% of his business ir residential.
The county’s housing market recovery remains slow, and Arizona, like many western states, was hard hit during the Great Recession. But there are opportunities for Yarlott’s business in other segments even before the winter residents flock to the city — 40% of the company’s business comes from the commercial sector. “With the high hardness, water softeners are a necessity for restaurant, hotels and motels to operate efficiently,” Yarlott said.
He also noted that he has seen an increase in repair and replacement of current systems for the many distressed homes in the area.
Strength in Numbers
To help his business face the challenges of working in the water industry in a desert, Yarlott believes his participation in an association is important. “There is power in numbers,” he said. Yarlott belongs to the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) and holds a CSW-V certification from it. He is also a member of the Culligan Dealers Assn. of North America (CDANA) “The more of us that support our industry, the better the industry will be,” he added.
Interaction with fellow industry members as well as clients is important to Yarlott. “We treat our clients like friends first and customers second,” he said. “We [have] close ties with our customers.” One main piece of advice he has for his industry peers is to “treat other like you want to be treated.”
Culligan of Yuma also stays engaged with the community through social media, specifically with its Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts, which have a moderate number of followers but adequate activity.
Another step Yarlott took to make sure the company stays connected was equipping the serviceman with a smartphone, and the service truck with an iPad and mobile credit card reader. Despite all the technological upgrades, however, when asked about the most successful marketing tool he had, Yarlott said: “It was a small ad that runs daily in the business section of the local paper, both [in] print and online.”
His membership in associations and engagement with the community and his clients are just a few ways Yarlott stays in the loop. “Read the trade [magazines] as much as you can,” he recommends.
Optimism for the Future
As Yarlott, just like other dealers and water industry professionals who work in arid, extreme climates, continues to face the evolving challenges and demands of his customers, he remains optimistic.
“I believe our industry will become much more important in the future,” he said. “With the lack of quality water, the ever-growing population and the climate changes we have seen, [point-of-use] technology will become even more important. The use of membrane-based systems will continue to grow.”