By Ronald Y. PérezWC&P Senior Editor

What if you could obtain everything from activated carbon to water softeners from big-time industry players such as Ionics Inc., USFilter and even the U.S. Navy? All at the click of a button? Allow me to introduce you to www.watersurplus.com, the ebay of water treatment equipment and supplies. There are other sites that target the industry in a similar fashion—waterwares.com comes to mind—but, as you will see, watersurplus.com adds a couple of built-in components that make it unique in the world of water treatment dealing online.

With a vendor list that hovers around 8,000, the site is barely two years out of the bag and less than a year old in its present state. John Barelli, who has degrees in chemistry and biology, is president of Surplus Management Inc. of Rockford, Ill., and mastermind of the site. Along with his extensive knowledge of the industry and a resilient entrepreneurial spirit, he also considered the environmental aspect of numerous companies “blindly pouring things into landfills” with recyclable and often reusable equipment. He was astounded by the “millions of dollars that get tossed.”

In an attempt to help alleviate the amount of equipment discarded and make it worthwhile for companies of all sizes, the site offers industry leaders an opportunity to provide third world children with access to potable drinking water through a “tax deductible inventory donation program.” The idea is to deliver equipment—primarily industrial—to those around the world that need it the most. Evolving, the site hasn’t realized its full potential and has yet to tap the individual dealers. As Barelli said, “Get the vendors, and the dealers will come.” He added that watersurplus.com is in stage two of three. For now, smaller dealers are relegated to a few items including resin and 4-inch membrane products.

With that in mind, we take a journey into the site’s pluses and minuses with regard to the small dealer and what indicators to look for down the road from watersurplus.com.

www.watersurplus.com
From the start, you’re greeted with three constant, interchangeable photographs of various equipment on the home page. The images seemingly never go away. At least in this instance, the pictures depict more industrial-sized instrumentation; not a big surprise after talking with Barelli for a few minutes. If you’re looking for flash and dash, you have definitely come to the wrong site. The home page greets visitors with a brief description of watersurplus.com, company contact information and a list of eight buttons superimposed on a generic shot of waves crashing against large boulders. Hmmm, where have we seen this before on a water-related website?

Without having to commiserate on the artistic value of the site, we can now concentrate on the meat of watersurplus.com.

Let’s begin with each button (not including Home), going from left to right. First, “Surplus Inventory” is fairly self-explanatory. It categorizes every piece of product available to the user/customer and divides them in an alphabetized order. Every category available is posted here with a total of around 20 or so. It’s already established that the site, as of now, heavily leans toward larger-use equipment or, at the very least, small dealers who are looking to enter that arena. However, one may be surprised about how many items on this site are of interest to various people. Reverse osmosis equipment, pumps and ultraviolet (UV) systems are just samples of what’s being offered to anyone with a credit card account.

Humble beginnings
Before getting grand illusions of having the world’s, or at least the country’s, yellow pages at your fingertips, a few clicks on the categories will wipe those hopes away. I tried about six or seven different categories and came away with between one and six specific products for each. Hey, I’m sure ebay started out like this.

Once a category is clicked, a list of specific products pop up on the screen. Each product is given a lot number (similar to a serial number), a model description and a one-sentence account of the equipment including manufacturer, i.e. Culligan, Basic Technology, Zenon Environmental. If visitors should have a request for a product that’s not listed, they’re instructed to fill out a “product request form.” Let’s say you do find something of interest, you can then click on the lot number and receive more information such as the price, the quantity available as well as a photo depiction. Down below, related vendors are listed along with their contact numbers (phone and fax).

Moving on, the second button—“Featured Products”—highlights the site’s category of the month, so to speak. On this particular occasion, it happened to be UV systems. Exactly one product was listed, which had one item available. Above the product’s box of information are three buttons: “Request Information,” “Related Surplus” and “Return.” Requesting information is as simple as filling out a standard form with the visitor’s name, company and contact information. “Related Surplus” provides other equipment that’s related to the featured product. Last, “Return” is a back function that takes you to the original featured product page.

Big and small names
The next button across the home page’s top is “Vendor List.” What the site lacks in information is made up here. Nearly 100 categories are listed, which provide links to many of the well-known (Alamo and USFilter) and not so well-known (Hood Mechanical Co. and Aqua-Zealite Sciences Inc.) manufacturers of the selected category. For instance, clicking on “ion exchange resin” produced an extensive list with names of companies, location of headquarters, phone and fax numbers and, for a few, a symbol indicating placement in what the site calls the “e-Mall.” One click here and you’re whisked to the particular company’s website to learn more about their products. It’s these types of functions with additional contact information that Barelli and his team are encouraging to drum up more interest, not to mention business, to the site.

The next button is “Buyer Want List.” This is directed at vendors who are interested in placing an ad. Categories are given that have current openings. Given the room for growth regarding this site, I am somewhat surprised to see that only four categories are listed. Perhaps these are ones determined by the amount of product request forms for such categories. In any case, if you’re looking to dump that piece of equipment serving as an eyesore, this is the button for you.

Charitable moves
“Asset Donation,” as discussed before, is one of the more appealing aspects of the site. The button goes into great detail on how companies can contribute by donating used and unwanted equipment to outreach programs. Companies are encouraged to supply much needed help for those in the underdeveloped world without access to safe and clean water. Watersurplus.com has non-profit organizations under its auspices that assist in these programs. In addition, goals and projects are outlined in detail and provide ways in which companies may get involved.

The “Company Information” button supplies the nuts and bolts of watersurplus.com’s mission and its goals for buyers and sellers.

Finally, the “Client List” supplies all companies that do business directly with watersurplus.com. Along with respected names in the water industry, some other names include IBM, Motorola, General Motors and Sony. Let it be said that the watersurplus name is out there in people’s minds. And they’ll need to build on a good customer base as more and more sites are entering the fray. Meanwhile, the Internet is being used as an increasingly profitable tool for many dealers and manufacturers in the water industry.

Not a month goes by that the marketplace doesn’t welcome a new player to the party. In December, the American Water Works Association launched its own marketplace geared toward water utilities and manufacturers. Nowadays, who doesn’t want a piece of the $40 billion water/wastewater golden goose? As reports of big money ventures filter in from all across the globe, the small dealer’s needs tend to get mired in all the exorbitant numbers. This only increases as we see smaller operations being gobbled up by the giants.

Conclusion
This idea is not lost on Barelli, who said he’s actively seeking water treatment representatives. “Eventually, I would like to make (the site) a dealer marketplace.” For now, it serves as a business-to-business exchange. Barelli has big plans for the site. He talks about “digital selling” and “outsourcing” and one can sense that the site is a long way from reaching its stated goals. If small dealers are looking to make the transition to servicing the commercial/industrial sector, this is one site that’s capable of helping that process. One must wonder how the idea of a growing presence of dealers would affect the bottom line, which even watersurplus.com and its philanthropic intentions can’t ignore.

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