‘Tis the Season
The arrival of winter brings another year to a close (they seem to fly by faster as we get older). It is a time to slow down, appreciate family and friends, and celebrate the holiday season. 2019 has been an interesting year. The economy has performed differently than predicted and many dealers have experienced a significant uptick in business revenue. You’ve been busy and your people have been busy, but busy doesn’t always mean that you’ve had a good year. Now is a good time to reflect on your metrics.
Hopefully you’ve been tracking your profitability and having discussions with your accountant and business coach at least once each quarter; if you haven’t, it’s not too late. Some questions that are helpful to start with:
• What were our goals for the year? Did you have a strategic plan last year? If not, this year is a good time to start.
• Where did we succeed, and where can we improve? Were you able to pivot in response to challenges and opportunities? Where did you fail and what can be learned? When you succeeded, did you capture what helped to deliver the outcome?
• Who needs to be recognized and rewarded? Identify the members of your team who have earned special rewards and be sure to recognize (appreciation is often worth more than money) every member of your team that contributed to success this year. For the slackers on your team, shame on you for not helping them succeed! Come up with a plan for each one of them so that they can shine or find happiness with a new team.
• How’s our company culture? Are you creating and sustaining a supportive environment that helps all team members feel like they have opportunities to work, learn and grow? Do you and the rest of your leadership team encourage the team to serve your clients by improving their lives with better water quality? Does your team understand your company’s vision for the future and do you have a clearly defined mission statement to help guide them through the present? Have you defined a value statement to help the team understand what you believe in as an organization? If you don’t carefully build your company culture, it might evolve on its own into something that you don’t like.
• What did it cost us to do business this year? I still see too many business owners who have no idea what their total burdened labor cost is. Look at everything from advertising, marketing, commissions, wages, owner’s compensation and everything else it took to operate this year. Understanding actual overhead and true labor costs will empower you to charge to correct pricing for your products and services so that you can serve your clients better and provide fair compensation to yourself and your team.
• Did we make any money? You’ll need to review the three fundamental business financial reports:
— Balance sheet shows your business’s assets, liabilities and equity.
— Income statement helps you quickly see if your business is profitable by itemizing your revenue and expenses, and whether they ended in a gain or loss of money.
— Cash flow statement shows you where the money went. You’ll want to see cash flow from operating activities (revenue and expenses); cash flow from investing activities (assets purchased and sold) and cash flow from financial activities (loans and loan repayments). Once you’ve examined these, dig a little deeper by checking your current ratio, total debt ratio and profit margin. It won’t take long with a little help from your accountant.
• What do we want to achieve next year? Look at your own goals and align them with broader company strategic goals. This is good to discuss with your leadership team and then communicate to the entire organization so that they can understand the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how.’
Once you’ve completed your analysis, work on what needs to be improved and don’t forget to assess your performance at least every quarter and make appropriate adjustments as needed. In addition to a year-end business review opportunity, cold weather in northern climes can also present several operational challenges and complications.
Winter equipment considerations
Water temperature has a dramatic effect on the capacity and functionality of many water treatment processes and equipment. It is important to understand the influence of ambient temperature and water temperature on the effectiveness and longevity of the water quality improvement systems that you sell, install and maintain. As a covalently bonded hydrogen compound, water behaves uniquely when temperatures drop. As it cools, water’s density tends to increase until it reaches the anomalous expansion range of 4-0°C (39.2–32°F), at which point its density will decrease. This unique behavior gives ice its ability to float, which prevents lakes from freezing solid and of course allows for water to burst plumbing pipes and potentially wreak havoc on water treatment devices.
Backwashing filters. Increasing water density means that less backwash flowrate is required to lift the media in a tank. Consult with your distributor about designing equipment with enough freeboard and appropriately sized backwash flow controls to ensure that no media is lost from the system during cold-weather operation.
Membrane separators. Since water increases in density before reaching the anomalous expansion range, membrane flux in RO, nanofiltration and ultrafiltration systems will decrease significantly when water temperatures drop. Make the appropriate adjustments and compensations recommended by the equipment manufacturer to deliver the maximum amount of permeate without causing premature membrane failure.
Water softeners and conditioners. Cold water slows ion exchange kinetics and increases the time required to dissolve salt. Slow kinetics will cause a significant decrease in operational system capacity, which usually results in hard-water bleed-through, unless the dealer makes appropriate programming compensations. Many dealers will have to lower the system capacity by as much as 30 percent if it will be exposed to water colder than 40°F.
Winterization procedure for water softeners
There are many opinions on winterizing water softeners. Some believe that since most softeners installed in cold climates are in basements that they require no winterization. I also believed that, until I witnessed ambient temperatures in Montana basements hovering at -10°F (-23°C) during January in unoccupied vacation homes. These low ambient temperatures can cause a fiberglass resin tank to split as if opened by a zipper, which is a catastrophe when everything thaws back out in spring. Winterization is normally only performed when the home/business will be unoccupied and marginally heated during winter. Here’s a simple and generally safe, effective single-tank water softener winterization procedure:
1. Start a manual regeneration cycle.
2. Advance manually to the brine/rinse cycle.
3. Draw a saturated brine solution into the softener along with your favorite resin cleaner and disinfectant into the mineral tank (five gallons of brine mix per cubic foot of resin).
4. Bypass the system and terminate the regeneration cycle. If the building will be unheated and piping blown out or drained down, the following additional steps should be performed instead of just bypassing the system:
5. Inject compressed air through the brine port at a maximum of 20 psi until all brine has been purged from the resin tank.
6. Advance through each remaining regeneration step to allow water to drain from the control head.
7. Leave system in service (do not bypass).
8. Disconnect and remove the float from the brine tank; drain and store in a safe place.
9. Drain down or blow down the home as per normal winterization procedures.
Some dealers perform winterization by introducing antifreeze into the mineral tank with a pump. When using antifreeze, be careful to use only propylene glycol (food-grade) antifreeze. Ethylene glycol antifreeze is highly toxic and should never be used for winterization of potable water equipment. Springtime startup procedures should include a rigid disinfection and rinsing protocol along with testing to ensure that the antifreeze has been fully rinsed out
Winter driving and work zone safety guidelines
Driving in a work truck doesn’t automatically make you safer, in fact it usually impairs your visibility and mobility. Here are some good general guidelines:
• BEFORE winter, check battery, tire tread and windshield wipers, keep your windows clear, put no-freeze fluid in the washer reservoir, check your antifreeze and change your vehicle’s oil.
• Keep emergency supplies in the vehicle, like a flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material (sand, kitty litter), folding shovel, snow brush and ice scraper, road flares, blankets, food and water.
• Practice cold-weather driving in a safe area when your area gets snow and learn how your vehicle handles in winter driving conditions.
• Know what kind of brakes your vehicle has and how to use them properly. In general, if you have anti-lock brakes, apply firm, continuous pressure. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, pump the brakes gently to stop.
• Stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go if you find yourself in a skid. Stay off the pedals (gas and brake) until you can regain control of the vehicle. Steering into the skid will bring the back end of your vehicle in line with the front.
• Check to see that windows and mirrors are clean of ice and debris before driving.
• Drive with your headlights on.
• Put your cellphone down.
• Keep both hands on the wheel.
• When working in the field and on job sites, remember that cold weather makes your hands less sensitive and your body move more slowly. Consider the following guidelines:
• Layer your clothing. Multiple layers of light clothing allow you to adjust protection based on current temperature. Remove layers when you get too warm and put them on when it gets colder.
• Bring a change of clothes and socks in case you get wet. Dry clothing keeps you warm.
• Even though it’s cold outside, stay hydrated by drinking water or warm drinks. You will still lose body moisture when working, even in those cold temperatures. Avoid caffeine and alcohol since they tend to dehydrate the body.
• To avoid slipping on ice, wear winter boots with a strong tread. Spread sand, ice-melt or rock salt on sidewalks to provide a rough surface for footwear to grip and reduce the chance of more ice formation.
• Carry winter-appropriate shoe covers to use when working inside a client’s home or business.
It’s been a good year, let’s keep it that way with a sensible, thoughtful approach to winter so that you and your team remain safe while providing your clients with the very best water. Remember to take a breath, relax and have some fun before we start it all over again!
About the author
Greg Reyneke, Managing Director at Red Fox Advisors, has two decades of experience in the management and growth of water treatment dealerships. His expertise spans the full gamut of residential, commercial and industrial applications, including wastewater treatment. In addition, Reyneke also consults on water conservation and reuse methods, including rainwater harvesting, aquatic ecosystems, greywater reuse and water-efficient design. He is a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee and currently serves on the PWQA Board of Directors, chairing the Technical and Education Committee. You can follow him on his blog at www.gregknowswater.com