A Diverse Path to Growth

Dec. 21, 2010

Twenty-two years ago, Brady Jones, CWS-VI, began as a janitor for Water Specialties Inc., a business founded in 1984 by his father in Salt Lake City. After performing every job in between, he is now general manager. “Sometimes I sense that only the job title has changed,” he joked.

In the beginning, founder David K. Jones worked for the University of Utah during the day and as a gas station attendant at night, saving money to use for purchasing more water equipment. Eventually the family’s two-car garage gave birth to Water Specialties Inc., which now occupies a 14,500-sq-ft facility in the Salt Lake Valley and employs 15 staff members.

The company’s territory covers Utah and southwestern Wyoming, a wide area that provides a wide range of water conditions. Water hardness ranges from 9 to 68 grains per gal, TDS ranges from 180 to 1,100 ppm, iron from 0 to 6 ppm, sulfur from 0 to 0.3 ppm, nitrates from 0 to 18 mg/L and pH from 6.5 to 8.6.

In response, Water Specialties offers a diverse array of services, from commercial and industrial, point of use (POU) and residential to home/office delivery (HOD) and customized water bottles. Jones estimates that the commercial and industrial market, its most profitable segment, accounts for 65% of the company’s business.

“The products and services we supply our clients are the building blocks for all their products and services,” Jones said. “Without exceptional water, they are product-less. Because of this strong bond we share with our commercial and industrial customers it is extremely rewarding both personally and financially.”

Diversity: Building for Success

Jones found success with the strategy of building a well-respected commercial and industrial business and then branching out into bottled water and POU.

“We began in commercial and industrial water purification and branched out into the bottled water and POU markets,” he said. “It’s easier branching out in this direction because we had credibility within the community, a well-educated staff and technical knowledge about our new products.”

The company entered the commercial and industrial market by leasing deionization equipment and building and installing customized reverse osmosis units, water conditioners and other forms of pretreatment. The University of Utah was one of the company’s first accounts, and Water Specialties is still atop its preferred vendor list.

In 1992 the company opened its 5-gal HOD division by offering free two-week trials, and in 1999 it began custom-labeling personal water bottles for a number of businesses.

Water Specialties’ diversity is one of its distinctions, according to Jones. “We cover such a wide range of water products and we do so very professionally,” he said. “You don’t commonly find such diversity from an independent corporation. In fact, you don’t see many independent dealers anymore, period!”

Changes & Challenges

Looking back on how the industry has changed since he began, Jones notes the different expectations from customers. “When our company began, our customers expected 16-meg-ohm, 18-meg-ohm quality water,” he said. “Today, they’re calling requesting a visit to discuss how we’re going to get their sodium leakage from 250 ppb to less than 80 ppm in their 18-meg-ohm water. A couple of our customers are processing measurements in the parts per trillion.”

The company’s location in the dry Southwest also presents a challenge, as well as an opportunity. Utah is the second-driest state in the U.S., according to Jones, but also boasts a top-ranked economy and is often ranked high in best-places-to-live polls. This creates a situation where water is extremely scarce and each piece of equipment’s efficiency is vital.

Hiring and retaining excellent employees is a struggle Jones is always facing. But in order to do this, Jones says he is aiming at “keeping things fun and lighthearted around the office, being honest and forthcoming with employees, hearing and understanding what they’re saying and recognizing and rewarding their accomplishments.”

The economy has certainly affected Water Specialties. “There have also been a few rough years where personal loans were taken out to keep the company afloat,” Jones said. “Although overall, we’ve been extremely fortunate to be a Utah company and able to draw from the state’s robust economy and well-educated, exemplary work-ethic-driven work force. Presently, I’m worried about China, inflation, taxes and health insurance--all the issues I feel powerless over.”

The bottled water business has also taken a hit from the recession, but this isn’t surprising to Jones. It’s often one of the first things to go when money is tight, he said. “To combat this we’ve done what we can to hold pricing steady and in some cases we’re lowering rates,” he added. “We’re doing what we can to help struggling clients out. I believe they most of them will survive and remember our kindness.”

Looking Ahead

One of the reasons Jones loves the water industry is its fast-paced nature--it is always evolving. “Our clients are pioneers in their fields and are always looking to better their products and bottom line,” he said. “Technology is exponentially advancing and our people are learning new tricks daily to meet customer demands.”

Jones has set specific goals for his business in 2011, which include having an accident-free year, increasing sales and having all employees WQA-certified.

Education is Jones’ main point of advice he offers to other dealers. “I can’t emphasize employee education enough,” he said. “I’m strongly pushing all Water Specialties employees who make contact with our clients to get WQA certified by the end of 2011. As an incentive going into the New Year, we’ve offered each employee a set raise when they complete their WQA certification. If your dealership is experiencing some slow down, I’m recommending using that time to educate yourself and your staff.

“Water is unique--the foundation of life,” Jones said. “Quality water is on the endangered species list. Higher efficiencies need to be achieved, energy recovery methods must be increased and new water treatment toys need to reach the market. I am hopeful bright minds will continue focusing their attention on water treatment technology and thwart the water crisis facing our children.”

About the Author

Rebecca Wilhelm