As a business owner or manager, you often need to make important decisions regarding the level of investment in your employees’ market, product and application knowledge. Specific to the water treatment industry and its dealers, certification, taking advantage of manufacturer support programs and attending industry trade shows and events top the list of education advancing opportunities available to your company and its employees. Although committing to these resources requires an investment in time and money, some water treatment professionals can clearly outline a return.

As our industry’s dealers continue to compete against untraditional sources, such as big-box stores and overseas Internet shops, and as the past few years of economic hardship have supported, being built to last in this industry requires a keen sense of modern selling techniques and presentations, securing customer confidence and satisfaction and maintaining an employee base that has advanced market knowledge.

           

Cornerstones of the industry: Shows and certification

The Water Quality Association’s (WQA) Aquatech USA 2013 trade show and event, scheduled for April 2-5 with exhibition days on April 3-4, will be held in the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, Indiana. On hand will be manufacturers and their representatives with various expertise, recognized industry thought leaders, marketing gurus and a host of other water treatment professionals.

According to Chuck Minott, owner of Chuck the Water Man, attending trade shows can give a dealer a wider perspective of the market and a chance to catch up with peers. “Mostly,” says Minott, “what I like [about trade shows] is the camaraderie of seeing old friends. The local level in our industry can be a little cutthroat sometimes so it’s good to interact with people from around the country who we’re not competing with.”

And, from the manufacturer’s viewpoint, there is a priceless value being on the other side of booth visits, points out Adam McNeill, marketing manager for the professional channel at Pentair Filtration and Process. “The show is a gathering of core parts of our industry and assembling it all in one place,” he remarks. “It allows dealers to really understand what trends are happening in the industry and how best to take advantage of new products. From the manufacturer standpoint, it is a chance for us to hear directly from dealers, without any filters, what their opportunities and frustrations are and what new products they would like to see us develop.”

While networking and exposure to different manufacturer team members are important, equally important is how you schedule your time at the show and if attending education seminars and presentations are part of the plan.

According to Richard Verson, director of marketing for RainSoft, tradeshows are a valuable resource if dealers do their homework before the show. Today, he adds, you need to set appointments with key people you want to meet with at the show.

WQA offers educational sessions on and off the show floor, some even help toward certification, throughout the convention days. In the water treatment market, particularly the residential and light commercial sectors, a popular choice for certification is through WQA’s Certified Water Specialist (CWS) program.

If you would like to learn more about this certification, please either visit WaterTechOnline.com or wqa.org. Or, visit https://www.watertechonline.com/articles/ahead-of-your-class-with-certification.

 

Measuring the ROI on these investments

Similar to product certification, which typically signals to customers that third-party approval and criteria have been met, employee certification also provides a bit of customer confidence. But, in what ways can you measure a return on investment?

“Look at it from a consumer’s viewpoint. Becoming a CWS means you are knowledgeable and deliver more credibility. When a sales representative with CWS certification performs a water demonstration, the consumer sees that professional training at work and experiences peace of mind. For the dealers without CWS and the formal training, they will often have more buyback situations due to incorrectly diagnosing problem water situations,” says Verson.

“The other thing is,” explains Minott, “when you’re new in the industry, you make a lot of technical mistakes, especially if you work on problem water frequently. Ethically, it’s really incumbent upon you to get it right if you make a mistake — and not at the customer’s expense. So by becoming certified, you have better odds of getting it right more often than getting it wrong, which can have a big return on investment. By educating yourself and the people that work for you, you can maximize your ROI.”

WQA’s CWS program has several levels for experienced dealers looking to advance their knowledge and achieve a higher certification. After you or your employees achieve initial certification, it would behoove you and those employees to keep learning through the program’s advanced resources.

“Enhancing certification allows a dealer to be better prepared for some of the more challenging and more lucrative projects,” asserts McNeill. Therefore, as the dealer goes further into the training and certification, it opens up the door to service more complicated issues.

 

Proven products and valued support

While at the show this year and throughout the year, dealers will also have to make important decisions regarding what products and equipment they should offer customers. Product certification is important. Additionally, manufacturer support and training programs are also vital.

Verson reminds us that dealers need to select brands with strong name recognition or proven track records with their equipment lines. Furthermore, not all manufacturers offer similar warranties. For instance, he says, “I know some smaller shops may sell a tank with no certification. Know the risks associated and realize, in that case, there are no assurances if something goes wrong. There’s a huge range in the grade of materials being used in the marketplace today.”

In terms of sales, marketing and technical support available, selecting reputable manufacturers to partner with will help advance your business in several ways, including in the areas of customer service and increasing leads and exposure online.

Mark R. Howlett, marketing development manager at 3M Purification, notes a few support service benefits available to water treatment dealers. “Our authorized dealers receive a personalized marketing liaison that can coach and guide them through their particular marketing needs,” he notes. “For example, a dealer may have a website and advertising campaigns in place, but won’t know how to best leverage e-marketing and how to tie back to [our company’s] authorized water dealer webpage. So we offer specialized personnel who can help with that.”

In addition, Howlett adds, many of the advertising and marketing programs that his company offers to dealers have been optimized and refined by the experiences of other divisions within the company. “We also have a value added purchasing program that recognizes loyalty. The more that a dealer purchases, the more marketing support they receive and have at their disposal. We have pricing accommodations based on volume purchasing, which are offered to all authorized water dealers, large or small.”

Many manufacturers, including McNeill’s, offer dealers water-related educational seminars as well as training on new products, installation best practices, sales techniques, lead generation and more.

Dealers should not hesitate to use these resources and use them as often as needed if they are interested in building the business to last. Minott has noticed that a lot of dealers, especially new dealers, are somewhat intimidated by the corporate world of most manufacturers. These dealers are afraid to ask questions and, as a result, take advantage of the program or value added support.

“I take the mindset that when I purchase equipment from a manufacturer, I’m also paying for their knowledge, their service and their help,” says Minott. “So I don’t worry that I’m annoying them. I remind myself that I’m entitled to call and ask questions and get answers when I need them. I paid for it. Fortunately, I don’t need it a lot anymore, but when I do call I expect results and [my manufacturer partner] provides these results and has been a great support and partner.”

A personalized relationship is something that Howlett, Minott and others stressed to enhance supply chain relations. Still, Howlett reminds us that the new marketplace is “absolutely online.” Dealers need to have a wide range of understanding of how to best use these tools, he adds.

 

Building blocks to last

When times were tough, did you sit tight until business started to pick up or did you invest and seek the opportunities discussed in this article? Were those choices in the best interest of your company’s future being built to last?

Jeremy Kern, CWS I of Artesia Soft Water, notes that his company has seen tremendous growth over the past four years and attributes that success to moving forward and not sitting idle during recent uncertain economic times. “Water treatment dealers as a whole tend to suffer from herd mentality,” shares Kern, adding his company benefited from recognizing key trends as they evolved and taking advantage. “Where one goes the rest follow and we have gone against the grain. In our area, when times got hard, I got certified and the company joined the WQA.”

Kern adds that with hard work and intentional motivations, his company moved away from the sedentary style water treatment company only looking for the cream of customers to being a solutions driven business.

“Customers prefer to deal with someone who has shown to take their job seriously enough to go and certify themselves in their own field. Professionalism, training and proper service are the name of the game going forward in our industry,” concludes Kern.

Price is important, but today’s saavy customers want to purchase from a company that has deep roots and a quality reputation. Through investments in your relationships in the industry, trade shows, training events and certification as well as shifting with new trends in sales and marketing, dealers can cement a solid foundation for future success.