So…you want to start your own water business?
Owning your own business is as much a part of the American collective psyche as buying a house and eating apple pie. Every year, hundreds and thousands of people start their own businesses, brimming with entrepreneurial excitement; and the water treatment industry is certainly no different.
As a consultant, one of my favorite exercises to perform with the entrepreneurs that I mentor is to evaluate the 6 fundamentals of start-up success. These fundamentals help me and most importantly, the budding entrepreneur to envision the potential for success of their enterprise while highlighting potential deficiencies, and then developing a strong business plan.
A 2009 study conducted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation gauged the average cost of starting a new business from scratch at just over $30,000 which doesn’t even begin to assess the emotional stressors and family burdens that come with the uncertainties of entrepreneurship. Funding is further required for ongoing advertising, operational expenses, insurance, vehicles, fuel, etc… Something many prospective dealers also forget about is the money needed to facilitate equipment rentals and financing.
Entrepreneurs initially work much harder and for significantly longer than regular employees or those lucky few who inherit a business. The reward for this hard work, if properly executed, will be a lifestyle that few others can enjoy. You and your significant other should understand and commit to the fact that your business will require a significant investment of your time for it to succeed.
Going it alone is admirable, but you’ll soon realize that a healthy support structure is extremely beneficial. Every water dealership will benefit from a healthy peer network, trusted advisors, and reputable vendors. Surround yourself with positive people who want to see you succeed; avoid those who crush your dreams or focus on failure. When it is time to hire employees, the same general guidelines will apply.
Read, watch, and practice to improve your knowledge of water, water quality, and the water industry as well as business in general. Membership in the Water Quality Association as well as local industry groups will keep you abreast of the latest trends in our industry while exposing you to like-minded business owners. Trade magazines like this one will provide a wealth of free information and facilitate opportunities to evaluate current affairs.
Products and Services
You’re in business to make a profit. Read that again…It’s true; even though it won’t always feel like it. The only way to make a profit is to sell products and services that cost you less than you charge for them. Many people are vying for your prospect’s money these days, and it is very important to differentiate yourself from everyone else by having products that will work for the local water conditions and help you do a better job. The worst thing to be in today’s economy is ‘another brown dog in a brown-dog fight’. Your offerings should be unique and significantly different from your competitors to help your prospective clients choose you and your company to solve their water-quality problems. Along with diversity, a successful business model demands dependability – your products should work and work well. Your vendor/s can help you develop an effective preventative maintenance program to keep things running smoothly. When the unfortunate failures do happen, you need to have the internal and vendor-based resources to make things right for your customer.
Even with the finest goods & services to offer, your business will undoubtedly fail unless you learn how to attract and keep customers. In addition to attracting and keeping those customers, you must keep them continuously engaged with your company, so that you can continue to help them enjoy the quality of water that they deserve while keeping your competitors at bay.
One of the simplest ways to succeed in the Water Quality Improvement Industry is to participate in either franchised or independent dealer networks, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that attract different personalities, budgets, and skillsets.
Franchising is essentially buying access to someone else’s business model with license to use their branding, trademarks, advertising, products and other unique marketplace benefits. Franchise organizations usually charge an initial fee and then receive a small percentage of your operating income as royalties. The strength (and weakness according to some critics) of franchises is the relatively strict rules regarding the operation of your business; everything to advertising, sales presentations, and even how you dress are subject to franchise restrictions and rules. The strict rules of a franchise can be helpful if properly applied and supported. Dealer networks are similar to franchises, but typically without the associated fees and restrictions, taking more of a Laissez-faire approach to business. The freedom offered by dealer networks can be both liberating and frustrating, depending on your personality, skillset, and the capability of the network and their account managers.
The most obvious advantages of franchises and independent branded dealer networks are:
The largest benefit of buying into a franchise is the turn-key business assistance available. Most franchises, and some dealer networks provide tools like Operations Manuals, Motivational seminars, Mentoring, Business Consulting, and even legal guidance.
Franchisors and OEM Brand Managers spend millions of dollars in developing, promoting, and preserving their respective brands. You can benefit significantly by leveraging the power and presence of their brand/s to promote your business and make it easier for your prospects to trust you.
Proprietary Products and Services
Good franchise organizations and branded dealer networks invest significant amounts of money and time into the research, development, procurement, and refinement of technologies that make it easier for you to solve water quality problems, maintain the systems, and prevail over your competitors. In addition to innovative water products, they will provide you with methods and procedures to perform preventative maintenance, disinfect systems, replace filters, augment media, and even update operating software on compatible systems.
Many of today’s consumers expect financing to available for large ticket purchases and businesses often prefer to lease their processing equipment instead of purchasing. Valuable sales will be lost if you don’t have sufficient financing available to help your customers to afford the outstanding products that you offer. Inventory financing is also available through some organizations.
Corporate marketing experts will usually available to assist in creating a marketing plan and even provide creative guidance for your local efforts. Broadcast-ready TV and radio spots, direct mail pieces and sales support material, as well as Yellow Pages ads and retail newspaper ad slicks are often available for your use. Some groups will also provide matching finds or in-kind compensation to help you with your advertising and promotion efforts.
You and other dealers/franchisees will comprise a powerful buying block and many opportunities exist to secure discounts and preferential service from vendors across the business spectrum. These benefits can amount to many thousands of dollars of savings every year for your business.
When you affiliate yourself with other legitimate peers, you collectively share reputation and credibility. Perform due diligence to see what reputation the franchise or dealer network opportunity has. While collective reputation is usually great, occasional bad actors can bring collective damage and it is crucial to see how the franchise or dealer network mitigates these liabilities.
This is where the rubber truly meets the road, since how your vendors support you affects your ability to support your customers. Good franchise and independent dealer groups will not only provide good literature and manuals, but also facilitate ways to educate you on how to solve equipment and environmental issues that you will encounter as you build your business.
During this uncertain economic climate, it takes courage and imagination to start a new business. You deserve to succeed, and with the appropriate effort, disciple and support you can be successful. Dare to dream, and dare to succeed!
About the author
Greg Reyneke is Managing Partner at Red Fox Advisors, a multidisciplinary research, development, and consulting company with a strong emphasis on Water, Air, Microbiology, and Energy Projects. Greg also serves as an advisor to the ProFlow Dealer Network, a Pentair Platinum Partner.