Water treatment dealer Bill McGraw doesn’t like to tread water in business, much less do a backstroke. When the economy nose-dived several years ago and many companies across the nation hunkered down to weather the storm, McGraw and his Houston, Texas-based Quality Water & Air (QWA) crew already were stepping up the pace. While sharpening the firm’s core sales efforts, McGraw was also aggressively looking into related home service products to expand the enterprise. And, they have succeeded on all fronts.

“We grew every year during the recession, and 2012 was our best ever by a little over 25 percent,” reports McGraw, president of the dealership founded in 1989 and owned by him and his wife, Tonya.

Success is measured in many ways at this Texas-based dealer of many services. One noteworthy accolade was bestowed last summer. In July 2013, QWA was recognized as the top dealer in sales among the RainSoft network.

While acknowledging that “we’re blessed to be in the city and the state that have the best economies in the country,” he also credits relying on their own initiative and capabilities. “We just did our thing, and we’re okay.”

Their “thing” amounts to more than adding product lines — one of which now accounts for over a third of total dealership sales — or pushing water treatment harder. It demonstrates keen market insights and ability to adapt proven sales methods that helped grow their water treatment business even during tough times.

 

Educating customers is key to selling in a soft water area

“Houston is a difficult market,” asserts McGraw. “Our water is relatively soft — only 3 to 7 grains of hardness and most dealers won’t even look at water unless it’s at least 10. People here think they have no issues with their water.”

Granted, no matter where you are, customers don’t go pounding on your door. Any dealer’s first and toughest task is to generate qualified leads. “If we sell 150 units in a month, maybe three of those people contacted us,” says McGraw. “We have to reach out and find the other 147.”

McGraw attributes QWA’s success to many factors, especially conveying multiple benefits of treated water to the most receptive household member.

“Women get it … things they notice daily like the water’s taste or the way it cleans. About 95 percent of our appointments are set with the ladies in the home. Many times, they don’t even tell their husbands we’re coming. We knock on the door anyway and sell about 45 percent first-call close,” he says.

 

Using technology and welcoming services to advance sales

In 2012 QWA representatives started using customized iPads for sales presentations supplied through its dealer network. Now, the dealer’s sales team can shift presentations from flip-charts to touch-screen. The interactive tool provides instant access to a wealth of data and system details, and enables household-related info to be input and compared on the spot.

As for helping with new leads, QWA reaches out to new homeowners in several ways, including “welcoming” services. “It’s like the old ‘Welcome Wagon service,’” McGraw explains. “Someone knocks on the door bringing local-area emergency numbers and info on businesses. We work with the ‘Welcome’ women on how to bring attention to water issues, and our arrangement encourages them to do so.”

In addition to these “welcoming” services, the dealer also benefits from a partnership with a mega-retailer to produce new sales leads.

 

Peer networking

Helping McGraw succeed from day one, he adds, are experienced insights, ideas and solutions from other dealers. And, he is not shy to share his experiences with newcomers. McGraw tells new dealers to “call three guys with any problem. This is what I did; I always found what I needed to come up with was a solution that worked for me.”

McGraw still practices what he preaches, noting that anyone can have a problem, or encounter something they haven’t dealt with before. When a dealer contacts him, depending on the issue, he may also involve some of his key marketing, sales or other staff. “They’re valuable resources and have been a big part of our success.”

McGraw regularly discusses business issues with other veteran dealers, including several years ago when he was looking to add new lines. “We all have a substantial customer base, with business systems and assets in place. We know how to find, qualify and sell virtually any type of home service product.”

Included in the company’s range of services and equipment offerings are generators and water heater systems. For example, about three years ago McGraw added tankless water heaters to the dealership mix. And, his knowledge of water treatment proved to be a valuable asset.

Mining QWA’s Houston-area customer base tapped into a wealth of prospects for on-demand hot water and energy savings these heaters provide. Even though the company has ventured into these new service and equipment offerings, the foundation of the company’s sales presentation, including the use of iPads and technology, continues to be an asset.

Water heater sales and service are part of the dealership’s generator side; sales reps and installers handle both lines. Other products, including a line of bottle-less water coolers and gutter protection systems, fill out the QWA water division.

“We currently employ 42 people full-time on the generator side of our business. But, that number easily doubles or triples each summer. Electricians and plumbers work with us for five or six months.”

Water treatment sales are consistent throughout the year, as is its employee roster with 75 current full-timers. McGraw notes that recurring service revenue from water treatment adds about 18 percent income annually on top of sales.

 

Continuing the journey

McGraw started as a sales rep in 1986 for the dealership over which he now presides. In 1987, he opened a sub-dealership in Conroe, Texas, buying equipment from the “home” operation. Two years later (1989) he purchased the Montgomery County territory (which included four other counties) and opened his own dealership. When the Houston operation became available in 1997, he found himself back home.

Within two years, they built another new facility to house Quality Water Systems Inc. Today, water treatment sales and marketing stems from there; administrative and installation services are run out of Conroe. The name changed to Quality Water & Air after air purification became part of their offering.

Diversification has spawned dealership facility signs that read Quality Home Products of Texas, a DBA under which Quality Generators and Quality Water & Air both operate.

“Later this year, a Quality Home Products website will reflect our full offering. We will also retain a Quality Generators site. Meanwhile, our primary multiproduct site can be found at www.qualitywaterandair.com.”

“We’ve been blessed in every way. Our children are grown now and Tonya says ‘where’s this retirement we talked about?’ It will happen someday. I could have retired several years ago. Instead, I started another business,” concludes McGraw.