By Robert B. Ruhstorfer, CWS-V

Long before I had expectations of becoming president of the Water Quality Association (WQA), I was preoccupied with being a kid and learning all that I could about my father’s water treatment dealership located in rural Michigan.

When my dad, Robert Sr., was first considering getting into the water business, he picked up the phone and called our neighbor and local Culligan man, Gordon Miller, to inform Gordon that he was thinking about adding a line of water conditioners to his milking equipment business. He was impressed when Gordon said, without hesitation, “Great, Bob! I could use some good competition!”

Gordon was right, competition is good. Two people beating a drum are going to make more noise than one; four people beating drums are going to make people stand up and take notice, increasing awareness for our industry. Everyone benefits from fair, ethical competition—and the increased awareness that it creates.

Consumer perception
I keep those thoughts of years past close by as I begin my term as president of our association. Public awareness is out there about issues surrounding water quality and that awareness is growing daily. We must now build upon that awareness, and carefully consider the road ahead. Looking closely at the various ways we sell our products and services through the channel to market, it may be time for a fundamental change to the consumer’s perception of our industry. And such a change must be driven from within.

We must expand our focus of the industry from a technical, product-driven concentration to include consumer needs that provide solutions to quality of life issues. Through a new Consumer Data Project initiative at WQA—now in early stages of discussion—along with our ongoing public relations efforts, we hope to show the industry a new way of conceptualizing our products and services. We must define and clarify a new message for our industry; one that’s simpler for the consumer to comprehend, one that unites perfectly with the consumer’s quality of life proposition, and one that takes our industry out of the perception that water is something that’s broken and needs to be fixed.

Now is the time to re-examine our time-tested industry marketing practices. As long as we continue to market our products as something that consumers need instead of something they want, our market will remain limited and constrained. The current “need” is to correct water that they have already paid for—hardly a position of strength to market our industry.

Build Lake Mead
Years ago, farmers and ranchers located throughout the Colorado River valley had very limited resources for water and constantly battled over that limited supply. The market was limited, a zero-sum game. For one farmer to win, another had to lose. In 1927, the Boulder Dam Association decided to fundamentally change the nature of the market. They presented Congress with plans to build Boulder Dam—now Hoover Dam—and create Lake Mead. That was the first step. It took years to build. It didn’t happen overnight, but finally it was no longer a zero-sum game. There was plenty of water for thousands of farmers and ranchers and millions of people, plus economical electrical power to boot. As a result, there were only winners.

In order for our industry to grow, we need to build our own Hoover Dam. By investing in new consumer perception information and by providing our members with credible, accurate and reliable market research, we can begin to build upon the solid foundation we’ve already laid. How great is the potential? If we double our national market penetration from 10-15 percent—which seems low to me—to only 20-30 percent, we can more than double the size of our industry!

Worldwide standards
We hear it every day—the world is a smaller place. It used to be called the Atlantic Ocean. Now, it’s simply called the “pond.” The words are trite but true; the world has shrunk. Actions beyond our immediate borders have more of a potential impact on our businesses than many realize. With regulations in the European Community and other parts of the world being discussed and drafted, we as members must recognize the potential and very real impact that these regulations can have on us. We must ensure that our partners around the world implement standards that are based on credible scientific information. We cannot directly intervene in this process; however, we can assist our industry partners to make sure that rational standards and regulations are passed. We’ve all been exposed to the results of flawed science or faulty information—the consumer perception that sodium in soft water is always bad comes to mind. Information, good or bad, eventually gets embraced somewhere. We must be willing to assist our fellow industry members, no matter where they live, to do what we can to help pass reasonable standards.

A unified vision
All of these initiatives come down to one primary vision—build upon the investment that we’ve all made in people, products and certifications. This is the foundation for growth. Our association and industry have been positioned as a credible worldwide source of information and expertise. And our reach, our “shadow,” is much larger than our collective size. Now is the time to fill the shadow.

There are several key areas of strength from which we can build. Our Product Testing and Certification Program provides credibility for the consumer and ourselves. It helps us hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our Code of Ethics and Advertising Guidelines ensure professionalism at all levels. We have a strong foundation; now let’s build the house.

I’m thankful for all the people such as my dad, John Grayson, and many others who’ve shared their wisdom with me over the years and provided me with the tools to lead this association during the next year. I look forward to the challenge placed in front of me, the honor and opportunity to serve our association, and working with each and every one of you who help make this such a terrific industry.

About the author
Bob Ruhstorfer is president of the RainSoft Division of Aquion Partners LP, of Elk Grove Village, Ill. Ruhstorfer has been involved in the RainSoft organization since 1973. He holds the WQA designation as a Certified Water Specialist, Level V, served as past chairman for the WQA World Assembly Division and is on the WQA Board of Directors and Board of Governors. He’s also the recipient of the WQA Master Craftsman Award. He can be reached at (847) 437-9400 or email: [email protected].


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