By Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor

In Stanley Kubrick’s cult film, “Dr. Strangelove,” actor Slim Pickens, cowboy hat in hand, jumps on a rocket and rides it like a bucking bronco out the chute.

Aim that rocket at the moon and you’d have Leigh DeGrave’s position as president of Water Tec International Inc., of Tucson, Ariz. His family business has skyrocketed with triple-digit growth since opening a warehouse in Guadalajara, México, in 1998. As a result, Water Tec moved last fall into a larger building in Tucson between I-10 and I-19 off a rail spur an hour north of the border.

It was founded in 1967 by Leigh’s father, Richard, who moved from Wisconsin where he worked for a Lindsay—now EcoWater—dealership. Leigh, 34, joined after high school and became president by 1991. In 1992, Water Tec began assembling its own product to expand on business ties with México. It also distributes for Pentair, Osmonics and Clack there.

There are family ties as well in México. In 1985, Richard DeGrave married his current wife, Lupíta, a native of Guadalajara. They have lived there since 1996 and currently head the company’s Mexican affiliate, Water Tec de México. In January, it began work on a sister office in México City, which DeGrave expects to broaden its commercial/industrial market there and eventually in Central and South America. It works with a network of 200 dealers in México, passing on attempts by pharmaceutical, bottled water and beverage firms, such as Coke, to buy direct.

Leigh’s sister, Michelle, is controller in Tucson. His wife, Jennifer, runs the dealership, now independent as Water Tec of Tucson—growing a mere 25 percent a year, he jokes. Leigh oversees wholesale manufacturing, which—in U.S. sales—distributes mostly in the West through a network of appliance channels that work directly with homebuilders and independent dealers.

Today, Water Tec employs 50 people, split evenly between the wholesale and retail side of the business. The company expects to break $12 million in 2001—with 80 percent coming from the wholesale side.

DeGrave said he’s taken a bit of flack for being on “both sides of the fence” as an assembler/distributor and a retail dealership. He points out the dealership is exclusively in Tucson and, since it uses the same equipment as the company wholesales, it provides better quality control and shows his faith in its products.

The U.S. border with México runs 2,067 miles from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. Just as 300 miles of fences can’t stem the crush of people seeking a better life here, it also can’t stem burgeoning opportunities for U.S. businesses there, particularly since NAFTA passed in 1993. Lessons will be learned, but DeGrave says they’re worth it.

Water Tec International, Inc.
350 E. Irvington Road
Tucson, AZ 85714
Tel: (800) 840-0519 or (520) 790-3222
Fax: (520) 790-1514


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