Katie Johns is associate editor for WQP. Johns can be reached at [email protected].
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.
Joe M. Bridge, and his son, Joe E. Bridge, had a remodeling business when they tapped into the water industry.
One of their suppliers told them when business was slow in the winter, they should sell water softeners. Their response was, “What’s a water softener?”
They had a well that Joe M. had drilled that now they say was not very good, but they did not know it at the time. After some research, and installing their own water softener and reverse osmosis (RO) system, they could not believe the difference.
Fast forward, and the Bridges opened Water of Life, which is a full sales and service company for water treatment in southwest Wyoming, in 1994. Eventually, they stopped their remodeling business as their water business picked up. Not being super familiar with the industry, Joe M. read various industry magazines and tried out new products to teach himself all he could. At first, Joe M. just offered water conditioners and RO, but as he learned more and became more familiar with the industry, he added more to his business.
Water of Life is located in Evanston, Wyoming, a small town that Joe M. said had about 2,000 people in it when he started his business. To grow his business, he relied mostly on word of mouth. He said business did not necessarily explode, but it grew steadily over time, similar to how he feels the water industry has grown.
“Word of mouth has always been the top of thing in a small community,” Joe E., said, echoing his father’s sentiments. “If we don’t do good business, everybody hears about it. If we do good business and take care of people, it gets around.”
While Joe M. worked the business full time, Joe E. worked for the business part-time while had a full-time job for a glass company. Eventually, he did join the family business, and today, he is the owner. About four years ago, his son, Albert, joined the business and works as the main service tech and installer. Additionally, Cherise Bridge, Joe M.’s daughter, works as the company’s office manager.
Joe M. never intended for this to turn into a family business, just like he never really planned to work in the water industry.
“I was just a desperate guy trying to pay my bills,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it being a family business, although my son and I are very close, and we share a lot of talents and interests. I loved working with him after he left his other job and came to work with me.”
Working with family does bring its challenges, but the family works well together, they say.
“I think we do pretty good,” Joe E. said. “Family all has a good sense of humor and that really helps working together. We know that we aggravate each other and just accept it, so we try to laugh about it and take care of what we need to take care of.”
As for future ownership, no one is certain what will happen. For now, Joe E. said he is going strong, but they know it is a possibility for Albert to take over. Albert travels around southwest Wyoming meeting clients, changing filters and maintaining complicated wells and doing other service jobs. He said he likes to tell people they have their own treatment plants in their garages when they use multiple stages of equipment. He said his favorite part of the job is putting everything together, no matter how technical it might be.
“...Getting underneath people’s houses and actually running lines and doing physical labor and putting it all together and stepping back and being like ‘yeah, I did that,’ and it’s professional and to my standards, and I didn’t need anybody to look over my shoulder and tell me how to do it, it feels pretty good,” he said.
Cherise Bridge said a big bonus of working in a family business is talking with clients who remember her father. She said because the company started out as a small family business, a lot of customers, some considered family friends, trust them to take care of their water and treat them fairly.
“We’ve been in business long enough we’ve replaced some equipment that our dad installed many years ago when he first started because our business has literally lasted longer than some of the equipment out there,” she said.
Overtime, Joe E. said the local population they serve has changed in the mindset of doing things on their own and not relying on a service company, to utilizing Water of Life as a regular service provider. Along with that, Joe E. said he has watched the industry keep up with the technology and science of learning more about water, which provides him, as a water treatment dealer, with a lot more opportunities.
“That has definitely changed, which has made our business able to be a standalone business, not be a garage business or rely on something else to keep us going,” he said. “So the attitude among people has definitely changed the need for better water quality and the understanding that there’s a lot more contaminants in the water than people realize. There’s a lot of things that weren’t known that are now known.”
And, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on the necessity of some changes. In November 2020, Water of Life added an air purification line to their business. Joe E. said they had looked at adding ozone filters a few years ago but decided to just focus on water treatment. When the pandemic started, it seemed like a good time to add the air purification line. Aside from that addition, though, he said the pandemic has not affected business too much.
“Part of it was WQA got us deemed essential immediately, so we were able to continue to operate,” Joe E. said, “We’ve always had sanitary practices when we go and take care of people’s service, so we amped that up a little bit and let people know that we were doing that and pretty much operating as normal.”
As for how the pandemic might change the industry, Joe E. said there will be some positives to come out of this challenge.
“I think that difficult things often push us to find new avenues, new ways of doing things,” he said. “And so I think that despite hardships and troubles with it that there’ll be some good that we can get out of this too as an industry.”
Joe E., who is a certified master water specialist with the Water Quality Association (WQA), said the entire water industry has a family atmosphere to it with a lot of willingness from others to help. That willingness to help is something the Bridge family strives for in their work.
When the business was first established, Joe M. got inspiration for the name Water of Life from his relationship with religion and eagerness to better the lives of others. He said providing a product that people need is something to feel good about.
“There was one time at home we were discussing what is it in the world that God has made, and made us, [and made] that man should work for a living? What’s the significance of that? And part of the answer is that to provide a meaningful service or useful product for somebody is a pretty good thing,” he said. “It’s not the answer to life, but it’s not a bad thing …”
Making a difference in somebody’s life is one of Joe E.’s favorite aspects of being in this industry. Recently, he had a conversation with a client who told him they feel spoiled now having their own purified water.
“That’s the top of it for me, when you know you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life,” he said. “Our company motto has been ‘Better water. Better life.’ for years, and that’s because that’s what we’re actually providing. We’re not selling a water softener. We’re trying to sell a higher quality of life.”