‘Didn’t You Say You Could Fix Water?’
Bill Certain is passionate about water. “I found that something as simple as water intrigued me and I couldn’t get enough of it.” He and his wife Chris own and operate Certain Water Service in Port Charlotte, FL. “I think what fascinates me about water is it’s always different. I can go to a job site or a customer’s house and every single day it is different. I never know what I’m going to get into. Water chemistry is different from one place to another, one street to the next, even for those on city water, and it is not simple by any means.”
Regional challenges include salt-water intrusion, hydrogen sulfide and sulfide-reducing bacteria. “We use whole-house RO for our local wells that are showing signs of salt intrusion. I would say we have more than 200 of these systems that we’ve installed (and service) in our area. We use a custom RO unit built for us by a local manufacturer, FSHS, Inc., that is next door to our shop. Another thing we do is circulate ozone for disinfection so that we don’t have to add harsh chemicals back into the water. Hydrogen sulfide is everywhere in southwest Florida. If you have a well, it is the number-one treatment you have to master. We like to use air-injected filters with KDF and ozone most of the time. Ozone has become a big part of our water treatment.”
Born and raised in Florida, Certain left when in his early 20s because “I just couldn’t make a living here. I had an interest in water treatment at the time but thought the refrigeration sector had more to offer.” He moved to northern Indiana, “got a good taste of winter,” completed a degree in refrigeration and air conditioning, worked for an HVAC, plumbing and electrical company, then for a Kinetico dealer. Certain and his wife lived there for 20 years, raising five children. Once the kids were grown and moved away, he was drawn back to warm, sunny south Florida “where the fishing is endless.”
Their move was not well timed. “I had several jobs in various fields, such as HVAC, pools and water treatment. I wasn’t finding myself fulfilled in these positions and when the economy crashed around me, I found myself unemployed with no jobs anywhere.
Rising from the Great Recession
“Then a friend unexpectedly called and asked, ‘Didn’t you say you could fix water?’ I said, ‘Certainly I can fix your water.’ They were so satisfied with my work and knowledge that they told their neighbor and their neighbor told someone and so on. My passion for water (and treatment of water) has come full circle with the start of my own business. In becoming more involved in my community, I joined the local chamber of commerce and the BNI chapter (a business networking organization). Until recently I also served for five years on the FWQA board.”
The birth of Certain Water Service came about in the fall of 2009. “The economy at the time was dying around us. It was a step of faith that our business would thrive and become successful,” he said. And succeed they did. Today, the family-owned company provides water treatment and well equipment services to Charlotte, Sarasota, Desoto and parts of Lee County in southwest Florida. Certain is President, his wife is Vice President and Controller and their daughter, Kelly Potter, handles data entry, purchasing and dispatching. With seven young grandchildren, they hope the third generation will grow up to run the company.
Certain Water Service is built on the old-fashioned values and work ethic that the owner learned in his youth. “We stand on these beliefs: answer the phone, show up when you say you will, do what you promised, listen to customer needs above your own and have a fair competitive price. We’ve continued these same practices ever since we formed the company and we love it. I think what truly defines a company is how you react when a mistake is made. We are all human and sometimes we just make mistakes. Admit it, fix it and do everything you can do to make that customer happy. We’re proud to offer a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee,” he said. The company’s slogan is: “We can do anything with water—except walk on it.”
“While building our company from the ground up, one of the challenges we faced was when to add more personnel. As a business owner, I find that you are at your busiest and enjoy the most success right before you need to make a change, so it is always difficult to take that leap of faith. We analyze the workload compared to how our existing employees are handling their roles to determine what is needed both for them and our customers. It takes patience and being in tune with your business and what is needed to make the next transition. We have been fortunate in making the correct decisions in this area and have wonderful employees.”
Securing the website
Another challenge is paying attention to every detail. They had optimized their website and were tracking about 30 calls a day. Then the calls began to drop off—down to fewer than 10 a day and most of those were existing customers, not new ones. What was going on? It turns out their website had been hacked. “Someone was using the back end of our site to sell pirated movies of all sorts.” As a result, Certain Water Service was no longer showing up in the top searches for water treatment companies. “We have completely redone our site and are on our way back to the top. So my advice, after going through this, is to make sure you have the proper security on your website portal, use a good hosting company and if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to talk to other business people. You will soon find out who is the best in town to help you.”
Water treatment in the future
“In regard to the water industry, we are working with a company that can desalinate and purify water with zero liquid discharge. Imagine that, no filters or pretreatment, just crystallized salts discharged. The concept blows my mind. They are able to use any source—seawater, fracking slurry, wastewater of any sort—and purify the water. A few months ago I would have laughed, but now that I have seen it, I’m excited. There are endless uses for this type of system. This could really change the way we think in the water treatment world.
“I also would like to see a water treatment certification or licensing program put into place in our state. Here in Florida you have to have a license to install irrigation, be a handyman or lay sod. Yet in water treatment, we have an exemption from licensing,” which means anyone can open a business regardless of skills or experience. “Water is a consumable product that needs to be treated seriously by us and our local government. There is more to water treatment than just installing a standard softener or RO system. Understanding contaminants in our water guides the industry to know how to properly treat that particular water. It blows me away that just anybody can treat the water that you consume.
“I used to be comfortable with our exemption until a few dealers got cease-and-desist letters from the state.” After numerous phone calls and emails, Certain talked with the state Director of Code Enforcement, who told him that one of their officers had been overzealous. Then he apologized and the dealers were back in business. “But now I am concerned about relying on an exemption,” Certain said. As a result, he is in the process of obtaining his plumbing license.
“This will open up another realm of water service for our customers, such as water-heater installations. I also qualify to get my HVAC license. So in the next five years, we are going to blow the doors off this place and will be looking for a lot of good qualified help to fit in with our team.”