Dealer of the Month: EcoWater of Central California

Jan. 3, 2017
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue as "People Person"

About the author: Bob Crossen is managing editor of WQP. Crossen can be reached at [email protected] or 847.954.7980.

Editor's Note: Do you know a water treatment dealer who deserves recognition for leadership in the industry, innovative ideas or successful business practices? Nominate them to be featured as a WQP Dealer of the Month here. Self-nominations are accepted.

Ken Steitz did not lack ambition when he took his plunge into the water treatment industry. He knew nothing about water treatment, but he understood people. His background working political campaigns in Hawaii, followed by his Honolulu real estate career, gave him that experience. Then, from 1997 to 2001, he held a position on the Fresno, Calif., city council that furthered his people skills.

So in 2011, when a friend noticed a local water treatment dealer struggling financially and made a pitch to save it, Steitz grabbed the reins and drove EcoWater of Central California to expansive growth.

“We’re probably the largest dealer in the country … the largest in the sense of square miles,” Steitz said. “Our area goes from Sacramento to Bakersfield in central California and the central coast of California from pretty much Cambria down to Lompoc. It’s well over 100,000 sq miles.”

With such a large area, the opportunity for growth is great, but so are the difficulties in treating water across such varied geography.

Ken Steitz has found success with EcoWater and PWQA. 

Complications in Geography

Upon taking over the business, Steitz immediately joined the Water Quality Assn. and Pacific Water Quality Assn. (PWQA), where he diligently networked. He quickly ascended to the role of PWQA president. He also got certified as a Master Water Specialist (MWS). With more than 100,000 sq miles of communities to cover, Steitz believed a foundational understanding of water treatment was critical in helping his clients, many of whom use private wells.

Landscapes in the dealership’s service area range from foothills and mountains to coastlines and agricultural land, presenting myriad challenges for water treatment. Water in the foothills and mountains, for instance, has more iron, sulfur and uranium, while coastline water has higher calcium, magnesium and chloramine content. In agricultural areas, nitrates are more common. Keeping products and systems readily available to handle these varied water quality needs can be complicated.

“A lot of the water, even within certain communities, differs greatly. That’s why we go out, water test and make sure we’re sizing and putting the proper system in the proper location,” Steitz said. Some of the worst water quality in the area, he said, is near Naval Air Station Lemoore, located south of Fresno.

“I don’t think a lot of people would even believe how bad this water is,” Steitz said. “It has sulfur. It’s got hardness. It’s got tannins in it. It has a wide variety of issues that take a number of different tanks and systems in order to make that water really workable in the house.” Explaining those systems requires strong communication skills.

Effect of Understanding

Courtesy and transparency are the two words that guide Steitz’s business philosophy. For him, the water treatment industry is about people—people who have water issues they want to resolve, and who look to dealers for the know-how on how to resolve those issues.

Despite knowing nothing about the water industry when he took over the EcoWater dealership, Steitz is now an MWS, and his employees regularly seek certification. While certification lends credibility, Steitz believes effectively relaying knowledge is far more important.

“We’ve been in a crash course of learning water,” Steitz said, “but the bottom line—from what we’ve found out—is you can know all you want, but if you don’t treat your customer [right] and get on that customer service aspect of it, your water knowledge means nothing.”

Steitz said he redirected the company philosophy away from a focus on making “one-and-done” sales and toward engaging customers and building life-long customer relationships; trust is not implicit, it is earned. That philosophy is reinforced by an A+ rating from the Central California and Inland Empire Better Business Bureau and a Costco Distinguished Dealer award.

“The business doesn’t exist unless you have customers,” Steitz said. “You can wish for a business in water treatment all you want, but the customer is the king.”

Information Highway

As he develops his water treatment industry knowledge, Steitz continues to learn about new business practices, particularly the use of computers and the internet. When he worked in Hawaii, personal computers were fresh technology. “I did operations for one of the largest real estate companies in Honolulu back in the late ‘80s. We were the first real estate company in Honolulu to have computers at the desks,” Steitz said.

Those machines were used specifically for word processing, and nothing was networked at that time. People take instant internet access for granted nowadays, he said, but noted it has become one of the most influential tools for business. The internet has opened new means for marketing a business while weaving into the fabric of its coverage area, including opportunities for social media and event sponsorships.

“We take pride in being a giving organization. Our staff and our company give a lot—thousands and thousands of dollars—to the community,” Steitz said. “When you give back to a community, you reap what you sow. That’s an important principle that we as a business should be following.” 

About the Author

Bob Crossen