By Bill Hall
Summary: Orphans are pieces of equipment with unknown origins that need repairing or installing. What to do? It has become a growing concern and one of many challenges facing water treatment dealers in today’s environment. It doesn’t, however, have to create undue difficulty if proper steps are taken.
Mrs. Robinson loved her name brand water softener. In fact, she loved it so much, that when she moved from Chicago to Muleshoe, Texas, she took it with her. A few months later, she needed service on her equipment. Much to her sorrow, she found there was no dealer in her area to service her brand of softener. There was a local dealer who told her he didn’t work on that brand because he couldn’t get parts. He offered to sell her a new softener. What is Mrs. Robinson to do?
This question can be heard again and again from dealers and customers around the country in similar straits. Is there a solution? The problem was addressed at a Water Quality Association conference—Breckenridge, Colo., September 2000. During a meeting of the WQA Manufacturer/Supplier Section, a local dealer asked the major brand manufacturers for help. Present were high level managers of these brands. They all spoke on the subject. They were emphatic that they would never abandon their customers no matter where they were located. A lot of good information was exchanged. However, the manufacturers also have obligations to franchisees and/or dealers in protected territories they must adhere to as well.
Keeping the faith
A brand manufacturer will never go around his own dealer in the same area. The first thing they’ll do when faced with this type of situation, is to try to find one of their dealers to take care of the customer. Remember that they’re under a contractual responsibility to sell only to their dealers in a protected territory. If you’re an independent dealer involved, it’s your obligation to try to help the customer make this contact. If you’re helpful, you should get consideration for any future sales the homeowner is considering.
Let’s assume there’s no brand dealer to be found in the area—say the brand’s local dealer went out of business, the assembler is no longer around or its supplier has been acquired and merged with another to the point lines of communication with appropriate service and/or technical personnel are thin at best. The sales managers of the brands promised they’ll work with a local independent dealer. They offered to sell them parts and furnish all information to ensure that the homeowner is provided with quality service. The big question in these cases is price. You won’t get the same discount for your purchases as one of their dealers. This may make the repairs you do pretty expensive for the customer.
Pick up the phone
One solution that seems to work very well is to have homeowners call the manufacturer themselves. Sometimes this will result in better service from the home office. Should you help out by providing the phone number of the manufacturer? That’s a good question. How helpful do you want to be? This is a question many dealers must answer for themselves.
What are other possible avenues that might be open to those who are trying to help? Very often it’s possible to ask for help from a friend who is a member of that brand family. One of the big advantages of being active in the WQA as well as your state association is the friends you make as a result of your activities in these associations. Some of you would be surprised at the help competing dealers give each other as long as they aren’t doing damage to their own or brand business. The friends you make while serving as an officer or on a committee are very real and satisfying. Not just in business but on a personal basis. I urge those of you who don’t serve in the national or state associations to get involved. All you have to do to serve on a WQA committee is to let someone know your areas of interest. Opportunities abound for possible service at the state level as well.
Then there are those orphans that no one claims to own. These are often in the commercial/industrial area. We often encounter equipment installations that come from who-knows-where and we’re at a loss as to what it is and how to troubleshoot it, much less fix it. Many times, the water treatment package came along as part of a package of other equipment installed in the plant. Unfortunately, the original seller of the equipment often either doesn’t know how or doesn’t want to service the water treatment equipment portion of the plant equipment they sold. Many times this is where your own technical expertise comes into play. You can be a very valuable member of your marketplace once you get a reputation for being able to fix anything. This usually takes many years of learning the hard way—by trial and error. Of course the easy way to learn is to attend training sessions as well as national conventions.
When you run into a strange piece of equipment, it’s nice to remember that you saw something like this at a show and you remember the manufacturer. Here, you can get lots of help because the manufacturer is extremely interested to have their equipment properly looked after or upgraded. They may have sold the equipment to a dealer in Indiana who in turn sold it to an OEM of other equipment elsewhere and the job was installed in North Dakota. These types of opportunities abound. You have to be well informed have a precious network of friends you can turn to for guidance. Often, these types of jobs can be very rewarding economically, especially if the plant cannot run effectively without good water treatment. Being able to troubleshoot and provide an effective solution can earn you additional business later.
But do you have the tools you need—the skills and knowledge on a broad range of equipment applications for a variety of products? Many of your suppliers hold training sessions. Do you hasten to go or are you among those who know it all and don’t participate? These training sessions are usually free and all you have to do is get there. Now, I realize that a small dealer cannot easily leave his business because there’s usually is no one else there to manage it. However, the best way I know to hurt your business is to get left behind while the industry and your competitors are forging ahead. Ask yourself when was the last time you learned something new. A new piece of equipment or a new technique can be invaluable under the right circumstances. We are never too old or too busy to learn. And with the prospect of sales competition from mass retailers, the Internet, water utilities and hungry players in our own market due to mergers and consolidations that seem to have realigned allegiances—having a broader base of experience from which to draw and leverage new business can only add to the stability of your bottom line.
There are many opportunities out there to expand our business by knowing how to take advantage of learning more than our niche business and being a true water treatment professional. Getting to know as much as you can about all facets of water treatment, multiple applications and the pros and cons of different equipment configurations makes good business sense. In this way, we can be of service to our community on any type of equipment.
About the author
William E. “Bill” Hall, Sr. is president of Amigo Enterprises Inc., in Azle, Texas. He is a consultant to the water treatment industry and has a long history of technical experience, including writing previously for WC&P. He serves on a number of Water Quality Association committees. He is also a member of WC&P’s Technical Review Committee. Hall can be reached at (817) 444-2327, (817) 270-3019 (fax) or email: [email protected].