As we transition into a new year, it’s time to reflect on 2012. While many believe major strides were taken in the water treatment industry, there are still others who feel there is much more work to be done. One thing is for sure, the effects of the Great Recession have changed the way we think and execute in any business. Many in the water treatment industry were struck hard and have displayed that suffering through various articles published in Water Technology over the past several years, which can be found on WaterTechOnline.com. But, an overwhelming number of industry leaders have slowly started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Confidence moving forward
The increasing demand for health through providing clean drinking water has given the industry a boost of confidence in the past year as well as for the future. More people are looking to attain equipment that will deliver a higher quality of drinking water for homes and businesses. This growing demand has helped lift dealers and manufacturers out of a porous economy. The new executive director for the Water Quality Association (WQA), Dave Haataja, expresses his view on where WQA will be focused in the upcoming year to make sure people continue to become aware of the importance of safe drinking water.
“One of our key topics will be the Final Barrier," says Haataja. "We are already working on the legislative level to make POU/POE systems more attractive to policymakers throughout the world as people struggle to find safe drinking water in the face of infrastructure and economic challenges. At WQA Aquatech USA 2013, we’ll have an opportunity to re-evaluate Final Barrier strategies and imagine new ways to put forward the industry’s products.”
During our annual industry benchmarking survey in July 2012, we asked our readers what kind of change they had seen in their companies’ revenues. The majority – 31 percent – noted they had received an increase of 10 percent or more over the previous 12 months, while only 20 percent saw a decrease. Twenty-three percent noted an increase by 10 percent or less, and the other 26 percent's revenue remained the same.
<Side box: You can find the entire results of this survey in our July 2012 issue of Water Technology>
Those numbers were slightly up from the year before when we conducted the same survey, which shows that there is reason for confidence moving forward as we continue to grow from the past few years.
“If you look at history you will see that everything is cyclical in nature,” explains Kelly R. Thompson, CWS VI, owner and president of Moti-Vitality LLC. “We have weathered several years of struggle and now we are about to enjoy several years of prosperity. The pendulum always swings.”
As our numbers indicate, this theory seems to remain true. And, as dealers and customers become more confident in spending and equipment, those statistics should rise even higher as the entire water treatment industry continues to recover.
In last year's survey, we asked our audience what keeps them up at night or what has them worried about the future of their business. An overwhelming 59 percent of those who responded answered the economy.
So, while there has been a significant increase throughout the industry, our wavering economy still strikes fear into the hearts of owners. And, after an election year where much of the focus was on ways to help fix our economy and our nation’s health, it will be interesting to see how much more, or less, confident industry leaders will be in 2013.
This leads to our next issue, which focuses on customer spending. Is there a relative measure of growth for customer spending? Do owners and presidents of major businesses see an increase in spending? Is it becoming easier for customers to gain financing options?
We all know that without customers there is no business. And, for many years now those customers have dwindled as many people haven’t been able to spend freely. This has forced dealers to be more creative in their approach to selling products to customers who have become tighter with their money. Solutions such as dealer support programs have become increasingly popular. In the October 2012 issue of Water Technology the article “Searching for value” describes many of these programs and how companies are using them to help customers.
“Dealers who are creative and focus on the consumer’s need for their product will make the case and continue to increase their business,” notes Dale Filhaber, president of Dataman Group Direct Mail & Telemarketing Lists.
Based on changes in revenue responses, the indication is that customers are willing to spend again. But, it also appears that it’s not necessarily easier to make a purchase. Those who responded to our survey noted it’s more difficult to obtain financing in the previous 12 months. Only eight percent of respondents answered that it was easier to obtain financing.
Thompson gives us some understanding of the feeling from customer spending in the last year. “While we have not yet seen a significant increase in business, we are seeing a lot more inquiries. As a consultant, our business is based on the confidence of our clients. They have to see an opportunity for growth before they hire us to help them grow,” he says.
And, that is the key for success and growth moving forward. We touched on confidence before, but as Thompson illustrates, the desire to spend is there for customers. Dealers and manufacturers need to be working with customers to make financing options available and easy.
Thompson adds that even though his business has struggled in 2012, he has “seen signs of growth and my feeling is that economic stability is a very likely in 2013.” That growth begins and ends with customers’ willingness to spend money. As the economy levels out — as we all hope — and financing becomes more available, the future of customer spending becomes brighter.
From the feedback we gained from the experts contacted for this article, there is optimism for a successful 2013. Even if your company didn’t achieve much success over the past year, it’s still important to focus on those aspects of your business that can help you trend upward.
“Our most successful strategies has been in online, using services like Constant Contact, and also actively participating in the state and national trade organizations, such as WQA, conventions,” asserts Thompson. “We are also focusing on 'wowing' our existing clientele with service so that we do not go backwards. After all, these clients have already trusted us to serve them. If we continue to do so with superb commitment, they will continue to allow us to serve them.”
Three integral parts of that quote really stick out. The first being customer service. It’s a topic that has been harped on before in this publication and something I’m sure many people are tired of hearing about because it’s so obvious. But, quality customer service can go a long way in developing long-lasting relationships with current and future customers.
The next thing Thompson points out is online services. Our world, including this industry, is becoming more technologically advanced every year. Those that aren’t able to keep up with these changes are going to be left behind. Make sure your company is doing its best to deliver a strong presence on the Internet.
“Our focus is on making sure that we serve our existing clientele to the fullest of our abilities. That means making the services we offer more convenient and affordable. Online technology has tremendously helped in this effort. We are offering more webinars and telephone support,” notes Thompson.
Lastly, Thompson mentions participation in trade organizations such as WQA. Haataja already mentioned WQA’s focus of its annual Aquatech convention, which will be held in Indianapolis, Ind. on April 2-5, 2013. Shows such as these become increasingly more important as technology advances and the need to see each other in person decreases as a result.
It is still important to get out and spend quality time with others in the industry. Not only will it allow you to grow your business' presence, but you can also gather great information from these events that will guide you in the upcoming years.
Another effective solution to help sustain success in the coming year is through lead generation, which can be attained through trade shows, online, phone, social media or mail. Branching out to attract different leads can be an added boost.
“A big component of taking advantage of this uptick in home purchases is lead generation, and businesses need to help develop strategies that attract high-quality leads,” notes Filhaber. “The decline in the number of available telephone numbers has made each qualified phone number more important than ever before since telemarketing still remains the number one method to set appointments. The Internet continues to play a big role in how consumers discover and engage with brands, and dealers need to understand how digital marketing and social media will play a role in their success. Direct mail will re-emerge as a leader in lead generation, allowing dealers to reach into their best prospects’ homes with a compelling offer that focuses on need.”
Adding these strategies to your 2013 game plan will allow your business to grow and flourish, ultimately setting you up for sustained success.
What to look for in 2013
Now that we’ve put 2012 behind us, it’s time to start focusing on what 2013 is going to look like. Will we see some growth or has the industry leveled out?
Thompson gives a stern “no” when asked whether or not we’ve reached a new normal. He believes the industry has become more professional and now delivers a higher quality of standards.
“The economic struggles of the past decade have forced companies to refocus on service. Work ethic has begun to come back,” asserts Thompson. “The importance of maintaining our existing customer base has been critical. The poor economy has weeded out many of the unscrupulous or unprofessional competitors leaving a higher quality choice for our customers. As the economy strengthens again, we are at risk of becoming complacent once again. This can be avoided and I am confident that our industry will emerge stronger and more professional than ever.”
With a new year comes new challenges, and even as most predict that our economy will continue to recover, there will still be obstacles that businesses will have to overcome and adjust to.
“Regardless of the marketing medium, 'same-old' just doesn’t work,” says Filhaber. “2013 will not just be a new fiscal year, but a new marketing frontier that focuses on brand, quality, necessity and customer service.”
How to deliver those marketing efforts will be key in determining how well you’ll succeed in the upcoming year. By using methods such as social media, Internet and customer based advertising, you’ll be able to establish your brand and products on multiple levels. There is little doubt about the future of the water treatment industry as the public and customers become more aware of its importance. With these ideas in mind, it’s time to develop a plan that will best serve your company for 2013. This market is poised for growth if the right steps are taken.
Haataja adds, “There are exciting things happening at WQA, and one of my chief responsibilities is to work with the members and the board to paint a vision for the future, establish priorities and then lead our resources to make them a daily reality.”
Whatever type of business you may run, 2013 brings hope of a new beginning. Whatever your plans may have been in the past, the moment has come to make those goals a reality.
“The water treatment industry is bigger than any of us,” concludes Thompson. “The level of commitment, professionalism, education and involvement literally has global implications. As the economy strengthens, we have an opportunity to strengthen our industry with it.”