Surviving hard times                                                     by Greg Reyneke CWS-VI

As we continue to hear bad news about the economy, many business owners are fearful that their current sales income and livelihood are in jeopardy. Hard times come and go, so instead of panicking like so many other business owners, take the time now to improve your business.

How well do you know your business? Do you know how much of each sales-dollar is spent on advertising, wages, commissions, fuel, communications, equipment inventory, consumables, insurance, liability claims, taxes, interest, etc.?

Learn how to read your balance sheet and profit and loss sheet (P&Ls). If you don’t know that information, you really don’t know your business. Take the time to understand where the money is going and why. Your accountant or business coach can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction.

Evaluate your entire business model; are you doing things just because ‘that’s the way it’s done?’ Be brave enough and honest with yourself to realize that sometimes change is necessary. A great book on dealing with change is Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, MD.

Manage resources wisely

Fuel prices have risen exponentially. Since most dealers perform work on-site for their clients, transportation expenses can sometimes be as much as 40 percent of a water dealership’s operating budget.

Keep your vehicles well maintained and teach your staff to drive responsibly – responsible drivers don’t drive fast. By installing GPS tracking systems, many dealers find that they’re able to reduce their fuel consumption significantly since fewer frivolous or personal trips are made with company resources if travel is being tracked.

Keep statistics on how well each of your marketing and advertising campaigns are producing revenue for your business. Be objective and analytical. Empower your employees to make necessary decisions and provide input concerning their sphere of influence.

They might be able to teach you something!

Customers first

Your customers are just as fearful about the volatile economy as you are. They want to make sure they protect their investment in water quality while spending as little money as possible to do so. When people don’t understand the value of something, they simply devolve to the lowest common multiple – price.

Our industry is not a commodity industry like gasoline or milk. Our industry is all about knowledge, relationships and service. As certified water specialists, we provide services to our clients that they can’t get from a big-box store, home improvement center, mail-order catalog or Internet-based reseller.

You’ll never succeed if you try to be the cheapest guy in town. Instead, you need to be the best guy in town. Shifting your sales priority paradigm to the following will help in improving customer service and maximize profitability.

  1. Give your clients better water to improve their lifestyle
  2. Create a lifetime service relationship with your clients
  3. Make a reasonable and sustainable profit

By putting the customer first, you’ll truly be able to give them the very best water quality and offer them the necessary products and services to keep their water feeling and tasting great every day. Retaining existing customers is far more economical to your business than constantly struggling to find new customers. Existing customers are also the best source of referral sales.

Put your customers first and the profits naturally follow. You’ll never appear ‘desperate for the sale’.

Be different

Your business must differentiate itself from everyone else clamoring for consumers’ business. Are you selling the same systems that can be bought online or at a wholesale supply-store for a fraction of what you sell it for?

Talk to your OEM and have them build systems that will help with local water chemistry, not just the cheapest system you can get your hands on. Choose base control valve platforms that allow complete customization of hardware and software to meet the demands of your local market and your unique marketing efforts.

Evaluate your product offerings. Could you explain your product line to a 10-year old? If you can’t, its highly unlikely you’ll be able to explain it to their mom and dad either.

Keep your product line simple and easy to understand. Sell the benefits, not the features.

Annual system updates

Many soft water dealers live under the misapprehension that softeners will somehow last forever and they often share that falsehood with their customers. This is the worst disservice you can ever do to your customer. All water softeners and conditioners suffer from natural performance degradation (attrition) and it is in your customer’s best interest for you to inspect and tune-up their system annually.

In addition to attrition, softeners can also be colonized by HPC (heterotrophic plate-count bacteria). If your softeners and conditioners do not include an automatic disinfection apparatus, they should at least be disinfected annually with an appropriate solution.

These annual services allow you to accommodate for changing water chemistry, system capacity-loss due to attrition and minimize bacterial colonization of the system. Annual inspection and tune-up services are beneficial to your business as you have the opportunity to strengthen the existing service relationship, and have the opportunity to present new product & service offerings to your customers every year. Customers look forward to keeping their system updated with the latest technology and they appreciate your annual visits to keep their water quality at a level that they desire.

Protect their investment

Ion exchange water softeners and conditioners require salt to clean at a minimum. Explore adding system performance enhancers & protectors to your line of product offerings.

Enhancers and resin protectors will clean the resin, descale the operating parts and help maximize regeneration efficiency. Some advanced compounds even include disinfectants to help keep the system and brine tank sanitary. Others feature chelating agents to ensure that ionic contaminants are properly removed from the bed during regeneration.

These consumables provide a great value to your customers and further encourage the client to maintain a close working relationship with you.

Go green

The environmental movement has changed from fringe to mainstream. Customers are actively seeking systems that have a minimal environmental impact, whether in materials of construction, recyclability or net carbon impact.

As the local water expect, you need to be knowledgeable about how to minimize the environmental impact of the systems you install and in how you’re running your business. Encourage your clients to upgrade their systems to up-flow metered technology with variable, proportional or fractional brining technologies to maximize salt efficiency and minimize waste.

Also evaluate your own environmental impact; compact fluorescent light bulbs should be used in offices to save significant amounts of energy.

Evaluate flextime and SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) arrangements for office staff. Recycle surplus plumbing parts and packaging materials. Use recycled paper and take advantage of paperless business automation services.

Explore and stay positive

Take an objective look at alternative softening and scale prevention technologies. Be careful not to get caught up in the hype; look for products that are at least certified by the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW) for scale prevention. This association is the leading test and certification agency for physical water treatment products in Europe, including descaling products.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure your vendor is prepared to back the product with a money-back guarantee until you have established that it actually works.

Your employees are just as nervous as you are about the economy. As a business owner, they look to your for guidance. Your positive attitude will do more for them than any good news in the media.

Make your employees part of the solution – train them on how to serve customers better and preserve company resources while maximizing revenue. Create a positive team environment.

This is a great time to be in the water industry. Technology is advancing, populations are exploding and water is getting dirtier.

Be creative, be optimistic and be realistic – Carpe Diem.