For Joe Holstein, president of California-based Quality Home Services (QHS), along with his partners and 100-plus employees, the phrase “walking on water” could more aptly be termed “running on water.” Since 1985, when water treatment sales veterans Bart Richey and Donna Holstein founded B & D Quality Water, the firm has grown exponentially.
Four central California locations serve customers from Frazier Park in the south, north to Sacramento and essentially span the state east-to-west, from Nevada to the Pacific Ocean (San Jose and Monterey area). When they outgrew their home facility several years ago, QHS designed and built new headquarters in Fresno and upgraded their internal systems, including computer hardware and software.
Basic business assets for when times are tight
“We moved into the new building late in 2008, just when the market crashed,” Holstein says. Similar to nearly every business, the dealership experienced tough times in 2009 and into 2010. While today’s economy is steadily improving, QHS has been regaining strength at an increasingly rapid rate. “Water treatment sales were up 27 percent in 2012 and we are on track to do even better this year.”
Orchestrating that comeback called for more than a little fore-thinking early in 2009 and extended beyond water treatment. “New homeowner lists and other major lead sources were way down,” Holstein says. “People were losing jobs, money was tight and our own financing options were impacted. After boom years in home construction, California was one of two states hit hardest by the housing bust.”
Nevertheless, Holstein and QHS didn’t consider downsizing an option. Instead, they employed a strategy that can work in any economy. “We looked at our existing operation and overall business assets,” Holstein says. “We have the building and systems infrastructure. We know how to market, we know how to qualify and we know how to close a sale. We can use our in-place assets and experience to sell and service any product for the home. We also looked at taking on new lines to expand our business and get more bang for our marketing dollars.”
Choosing new lines
They found a relatively easy bolt-on in tankless water heaters, offering customer’s on-demand hot water for multiple, concurrent daily uses with up to 40 percent energy savings. “It’s a nice complement to [our] water treatment [offering],” Holstein notes. “Our salespeople could get their arms around it without a lot of effort. And it was a ‘natural’ for mining our existing customer base, a definite plus with so few new homes being built.”
Solar energy was next. “Solar was more of a stretch for us,” Holstein acknowledges. “It was and still is a hot topic, and solar-powered electricity seemed to offer tremendous short- as well as long-term growth potential. Since we basically know how to approach, follow up and sell the in-home marketplace, we focused on solar-specific learning.
“Keep in mind there are two critical aspects of learning,” he cautions. “The first is gaining an understanding of the industry, and closely evaluating optional products — the technology, product quality and everything associated. Just any make won’t do. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, ‘Would I want to buy what I think I want to sell?’”
The second “learning” phase involves actually getting your sales force and, ultimately, installation and service teams up to speed on the particular line. How much assistance does the manufacturer provide? This includes basic education on the advantages compared to competitors, to lead generation and sales presentation material.
Evolving to a new company
On the solar energy front, Holstein says, they did a lot of research. “I brought in someone with experience in the field to help us get started. We did some test marketing, and then we hooked up with [a] top solar company in the country. They had seminars as well as online and instructor-led classes, in which we invested a lot of staff time and energy,” he adds. “This really brought us up-to-speed. We became [their] dealer in 2010 and sales have been pretty good. We doubled 2010 sales in 2011, and doubled that in 2012. Our strategy is to double again this year; but that remains to be seen.”
As the firm added lines, the original B & D Quality Water moniker proved to be limiting.
“We changed the name a couple of years ago,” Holstein says. “We kept the ‘Quality’ (no pun intended) and turned water into ‘Home Services.’” They continued to take on more products: Insulation, for one; and last year, QHS added generators to its offerings.
Other changes, too, have come about as their multi-product firm has grown. Although there are synergies among all lines with financing, paperwork and so forth, QHS has basically created two divisions within the company: Water Treatment and Filtration, including air purification, and the Energy Division (water heaters, solar electric, insulation and generators). “We save energy and create energy,” Holstein observes.
In lead generation, qualifying and sales, “initially we used the same staff,” Holstein reports. “As we grew and expanded, we added division and product-specific people, reaching the point where we now have different staff for each division.”
Certainly one of the best lead generation venues has been brought about through the company’s various partnerships, including one with RainSoft.
Holsteinalso expects new in-home sales presentation tools, such as industry-specific selling apps, to play a larger role in the company’s success moving forward. “It’s a dynamite presentation,” exudes Holstein, referring to an app his company is currently utilizing. “It’s very interactive and ideal for involving customers, helping them sell themselves.”
After a couple of tough years, concludes Holstein, following 21 consecutive years of growth, his dealership is again rapidly gaining more momentum. Among other factors, he credits his success to his partnerships in the industry, diversifying his business and using modern selling tools and techniques to close sales.