By Carlos David Mogollón
WC&P Executive Editor
Reduced support for franchise dealer networks in recent years—whether as a result of corporate consolidations or marketing priority shifts—has left the door open for independent dealers and alternative retail approaches in the residential drinking water treatment market to be more competitive, according to James W. “Jamie” Wakem II.
He’s taking advantage of that in his market, one of the tightest for water treatment products in the country—South Florida. That’s where Atlantic Filter, of West Palm Beach, has been writing its own rules since founded by Wakem’s father, Wallace, in 1952 as a small assembler of water treatment equipment for well drillers, plumbers and water conditioning dealers. At the time, the area was somewhat isolated from major manufacturers.
“In those days, we would have people drive in really from all over the Southeast and pick up product,” he said. “You’d be amazed. We had people that would drive in here from Jacksonville and Tampa. They’d come in the morning, drive back and install it that evening. In the old days, that was about a 10-hour drive. Now, with interstates, it’s about five to six.”
Wakem, the 1998-99 Water Quality Association president, notes his full-time involvement began in 1969 after four years in the U.S. Air Force (including a tour in Vietnam). His father retired in 1980, by which time Wakem headed the wholesale sales department. He and brother Peter ran the business until 1988, when Peter, who oversaw retail, left and started Clean Water America in Fort Myers.
In 1997, Wakem launched the first WaterPlex one-stop shop for consumer water treatment needs at Atlantic Filter’s headquarters. A second opened in 1998 and a third in 1999. A fourth is expected to open by year-end. He envisions the company’s $5 million-plus business, currently 60 percent wholesale and 40 percent retail, to shift to 80 percent retail—with higher related profit margins—within five years. He doesn’t necessarily see himself as strictly competition for dealers, though, because his advertising helps grow the pie for everyone.
The company does 15 percent of its revenue in commercial/institutional and industrial applications, but Wakem sees that as holding steady since it’s not an area he aggressively pursues anymore. He sees the consumer as his main customer and “big box” retail stores like Lowe’s, Sam’s Club and Home Depot as his primary competition. With overall growth at 10 percent, it should continue in the 8-12 percent range—very respectable figures considering the high-growth area’s competitive nature.
“Every time you turn around, there are new OEMs; so, though the pie is growing, it’s getting split up more every year… For us to have single-digit growth, I’m comfortable with that. It’s just a part of the business here that’s a constant, over-the-shoulder-type marketing philosophy. Who’s chewing on you this week?” he said.
While changes in the POU/POE industry in the last five years were more dramatic than those from the previous 20, Wakem said grooming supplier partnerships will be key for dealers to not just survive but flourish in the future. For his full interview, go to https://wcponline.com and click on the “Executive Q&A” button.
3112 45th St.
West Palm Beach, FL 33407
Tel: (561) 683-0101
Fax: (561) 684-1997
Email: [email protected]
Focus: Assembles and wholesales to dealers a complete line of residential, commercial and industrial reverse osmosis, softening and filtration systems under the Hero, Gulfstream, Clearguard and Atlantic Filter brands. In 1997, opened first of three WaterPlex retail centers in South Florida.
Management: Jamie Wakem, CWS-VI, CI, CSR, President
Douglas Haring, CWS-V, Vice President, Operations
Mark E. Kuyawa, MPH, Engineering Systems
Amanda Wakem, Controller
Employees: 22 (10 wholesale/marketing/administrative; 9 retail; 3 manufacturing)