From Water Tec of Tucson to Water Tec International: How global expansion fuels growth at home
By Nate F. Searing, WC&P Managing Editor
Water Tec International Inc.
350 E. Irvington Road
Tucson, AZ 85714
Tel: (520) 790-3222: Fax: (520) 790-1514
Management: Leigh DeGrave, president;
Richard DeGrave, vice president; Jennifer DeGrave, manager; Elizabeth Stark, Water Tec de México manager
In March 2001, WC&P sat down with Leigh DeGrave, head of Water Tec International Inc., to talk about how he had set his sights on the Mexican marketplace and Water Tec’s plans to reach into Central andSouth America. (See www.wcponline.com archives for the original DeGrave Q&A, March 2001).
Now more than three years later, we invited DeGrave back to take a look at the successes, large and small, that have made Water Tec de México an industry leader. From expanding the company’s reach to more than 340 dealers in Central America to opening new offices stateside, the Water Tec name is now stamped on products in every country from the United States south to Argentina.
“We ship to a lot of Central and South American countries, just about all of them actually… it’s a growing market,” DeGrave said.
Water Tec opened its first international office in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1997. With its manufacturing and corporate offices located in Tucson, Ariz., just 70 miles from the U.S-Mexico border, Water Tec today does about 50 percent of its business in Central and South America and the remainder in the United States.
Unlike many firms that have moved production to places like Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor supply, Water Tec has manufactured its products in the same location for nearly 40 years.
“We’re backwards, keeping our manufacturing stateside and shipping across the border,” DeGrave said of the company’s organization. “Labor may be more expensive … we’re not always going to be the cheapest, but we are going to be the best.”
Today, Water Tec de Mexico operates offices and warehouse facilities in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Mérida, Monterrey and Hermisillo, and is cautiously optimistic about opening a new location in the country. The result, DeGrave said, is the ability to provide dealers in any part of Mexico with Water Tec products within 24 hours, a feat that few of their competitors can match.
The clout has also helped the company expand in the United States, opening additional offices in Phoenix and Las Vegas, as well as expanding its product lines by venturing into pool products throughout Latin America.
Most of the products, however, still fall into the commercial and light industrial category, DeGrave noted, with the majority of the company’s business coming from filtration, ultraviolet and RO equipment.
However, like many international businesses in Mexico, the future success of Water Tec hinges on its ability to take advantage of a residential market poised for explosive expansion.
“As you start to see more middle income consumers, you will start to see residential products become the norm,” DeGrave said. “The (current) goal in Mexico is to improve water quality, but more from a safety or health standpoint … but as the middle class becomes more prominent, a whole lot of the creature comforts that have had little or no prior presence in Mexico are really going to take off.”
And with name recognition and a reputation for quality already established in the new marketplace, Water Tec de México is a perfect spot to take advantage of that demand, DeGrave said.
To read more about Water Tech de México and its plans for future expansion, as well as DeGrave’s comments on the role of customer service and product education in international business, visit www.wcponline.com and click on the “Executive Q&A” button.