Maintaining community communication to diversify business

Feb. 3, 2014

Water treatment dealers that get involved locally can reap rewards.

Most small business owners know that efforts to increase brand awareness and word-of-mouth marketing are key ways to compete with bigger companies and help to level the playing field. In fact, water treatment dealers across the country have taken numerous steps to get involved in the community to grow their presence as a locally focused business. However, in addition to sponsoring a local sports team for a season or getting involved in the town’s annual festival, as examples, water treatment dealers have a significant amount of knowledge to offer that can help a community in several ways for years to come. Therefore, your company’s community involvement should not be considered a short-term marketing strategy.

Furthermore, these word-of-mouth strategies can also help grow your business as long as you and your employees prepare properly. In this article, we take a look at some common services and fields that dealers are having the most success venturing in to. We often profile a dealer or a water treatment professional in the news and many have found success in the areas that will be covered here. And, surveys that Water Technology has conducted over the years have helped to validate these trends.

Building business on a larger scale

Most readers of this publication are serving residential and light commercial customers with point-of-use (POU) and point-of-entry (POE) equipment and products. These successful water treatment professionals have a keen sense of what contaminants affect water, health and our environment. Experts say that this understanding of water chemistry alone is a crucial step to diversifying the business into other logical areas, including larger scale water treatment and indoor air quality services.

On the surface, dealers that are focused on residential and light commercial business should be able to seamlessly transition to selling into other areas of water treatment, such as commercial, industrial and municipal applications. The goals are the same, the equipment is similar and guidelines are well-documented.

However, there is a difference between growing in these areas the right way and losing it all by trying to grow too fast. For example, many water treatment applications outside of the residential and light commercial fields operate on a continuous basis at flow rates that are not common to traditional POU/POE dealers. Furthermore, more regulations and different operational requirements can vary among water treatment applications of larger scale.

If the dealer does not commit the time and resources to grow in these areas correctly, it can set the business and its reputation back considerably. For many municipalities, for instance, there is a comfort when dealing with a water treatment supplier that is familiar and committed to that field so dealers looking to grow in these larger scale applications need to be aware of the obligations needed.

“I think that due to the regulatory environment that the municipal market is pretty isolated and my perception is that most municipalities are pretty comfortable with the ‘niche’ suppliers they currently rely on,” says John McEncroe, who is utility director for the Town of Morrison in Colorado.

Traditional POU/POE water treatment dealers must also understand that serving industrial customers, for example, means being on call 24/7. As opposed to a residential customer who may be able to wait for service, industrial, municipal and commercial businesses and facilities rely on fast fixes so expenses do not pile up.

If you are a dealer looking to expand into larger segments, in order to be successful you should communicate with like-minded peers who have also found success in the transition. Committing the time and resources for long-term success might mean adding a division within your current company to provide the maximum customer support and understanding of these markets’ unique needs.

Practical verticals to pursue

We have also noticed some practical areas of growth for water treatment dealers looking for a more modest risk/reward outcome in the short-term with long-term potential. For instance, offering ice and indoor air quality services can prove to be successful add-ons that can be infused into the company’s core business almost immediately.

Americans’ interest for ice is growing. And, today, there are more drinks in which to include this product. Thanks to the advent and success of coffee stores, in addition to other products and restaurants driving growth for ice sales, Americans and people around the world will now pay a higher price point for once considered cheap beverages.

Water treatment dealers can use their expertise on water quality to leverage ice sales. Often, restaurants now need more than one type of ice, such as flaked, cubed and chewable. Prospect customers who are not familiar with water’s effect on ice need to know that hardness, high sodium, high TDS and other factors will influence the taste of the overall drink.

Recently, author Roy Parker from Pentair wrote an article for Water Technology that details how water affects ice quality. In case you missed it, the online article can be found here:

Providing indoor air quality is a service that has the potential to reap vast rewards for traditional POU/POE dealers looking to make an impact in the community. Recently, our Managing Editor Jessica Rhodes provided “Just the facts on indoor air quality.” As referenced in that article, “The natural links between the water treatment and IAQ industries make it easy for water treatment dealers to expand their reach with IAQ equipment and services. Some of the technologies are similar, the basic business model is the same and the type of customer is also usually the same.” Read that entire article here:

Spread the word throughout the community

When done the right way, a dealer can present itself as an expert in the community on several fronts for years to come. When done irresponsibly or in haste and the outcomes could be detrimental to the business and its employees. Furthermore, when looking to elevate your community involvement and communication, do not get discouraged if immediate returns are not realized.

In time, through these local efforts, most small businesses will separate themselves from the competition and also enjoy some other benefits, such as loyal customers who can carry out your word-of-mouth strategy and happy employees. According to a 2013 study conducted by Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of U.S. consumers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) when deciding which products or services to buy and who to buy them from.

In addition to attending town events and meetings and speaking regularly with your neighbors to understand their critical needs, dealers should also speak with other water treatment dealers at industry trade shows and events. This peer-to-peer communication can help you avoid some pitfalls and wasted resources in your locale.

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