Keeping It in the Family Makes Futuramic’s a Bigger Industry Player
By Denise M. Roberts
In 1969, Phillip ‘Phil’ Rhodes, Sr. moved to Omaha, NE and purchased the service files for a garbage disposal sales company; the seller insisted that he also take the water softener files. In a very short time, Rhodes recognized the potential of the water treatment business. Over the years, all of the owners of Futuramic’s have delivered salt, learned to service all brands of water softeners, and estimate and sell commercial and residential water systems.
Phil Sr. and Phil, Jr.
Forty-four years later, the family-owned, multigenerational business continues to stress good customer service and quick response to its clients. “We cover about an 80-mile radius around the Omaha and Council Bluffs, IA area but we will go further if needed,” said company spokesman Phillip ‘Phil’ Rhodes, Jr., who now runs the company. “The major cities include Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs, as well as many small communities. With our fleet of service vehicles, which include seven Dodge/ Mercedes Sprinters (on which we do full van wraps), two Honda Elements, one Honda CRV and one Chevy Trailblazer, we do both residential and commercial systems. We deal with multiple water issues, overall. The metropolitan areas average 10 grains of hardness and use chloramines to treat the water, so there is a good market for water softeners and drinking water systems. Our sales of RO systems continues to grow every year. Well water in this area varies greatly, with an average hardness of 20 grains, up to 90 grains. We see iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide, nitrates, sulfates and occasionally high sodium. A key niche market is high iron, manganese and odor. We have a very high success rate handling this type of water and when we fix these problems, customers talk to friends and neighbors. We use the Evolve Series Treatment systems with Crystal-Right media by Water-Right, which are very effective and reliable. We still service several old Crystal-Right units on river bottom wells installed by plumbers in the early 70s that are still going strong.”
Rhodes talks in terms of we for a reason. Truly a family business, everyone is invested in the success that has been created and maintained by the hard work and tenacity of each person. The company is staffed with several family members, including Phil, Sr.; sons Phil Jr., John and Jim; Phil Jr.’s wife, Mary; nephew Bob, grandsons T.J. Goepfert, Phillip Rhodes III and Mike Fischer. John runs installation and service and everyone sells, services and installs equipment. “We have very little employee turnover,” said Rhodes. “Phil Sr.’s first employee, Joe Osterlink, was hired in 1971 for service and just retired in August. And our sense of gratification comes from seeing the children and grandchildren of old customers becoming new customers, as well as seeing the pride and hard work every member of the family and our great employees put into the business.”
To stay on top of their game, all of the staff attend service schools offered by Water-Right. John and Phil Jr. have made a point to attend the last three WQA conventions and take advantage of the educational opportunities. “We joined WQA three years ago and plan to have all our sales and service personnel work towards WQA certification,” said Rhodes. “Our long-term plan includes a focus on excellence though education and training of everyone.“
Looking back over the years, Rhodes offered his insight on what has been most challenging for the company. “In the early days, there were many dishonest and unreliable water dealers in our area. It made everyone look bad. We had to work twice as hard to overcome the bad image those few created. We have been pleased to see the improvement of ethics and professionalism in our area and in the industry as a whole. Our commitment to going the extra mile for our customers has led to rapid growth (growing from four to 15 employees in the last 20 years), expanding the service area and increasing rental units. Challenges arose as a result, including reorganizing with growth, managing cash flow and continuing to provide a high level of customer service. We got through by hiring and relying on excellent employees, establishing relationships with top-notch suppliers and moving from a large nationwide bank to a local, small business-friendly bank.”
Futuramic’s Clean Water Center is preparing for a changing dynamic in the water industry. “The future looks bright,” said Rhodes. “Consumers are becoming more educated and more interested in health and the environment. Also, more people are being made aware of the need for water treatment through online resources, the media and national advertising. One caveat, though: with information comes misinformation. One of our challenges will be to provide an accurate, consistent message and help consumers sort through the avalanche of conflicting data. To offset the flood of online and big-box equipment, dealers will have to become more than equipment suppliers. There seem to be number of exciting prospects in the area of new technology, based on what we’re seeing in trade publications and at WQA Aquatech. If we are to be successful as dealers, we need to keep up on the latest advances and be ready to offer the newest and best when they are ready for the market. We will need to become a resource to our customers that they can rely on to answer questions, solve problems and be available when they need us.
“To meet these emerging issues, we’ve increased efforts in both conventional and web/social media marketing. With a new focus on sales, we hired a sales manager, our first employee that is dedicated to sales. Our intent is to build a sales team to market our experience and products in the areas we service.”