By Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
Carla Aguiar is 3,400 miles and an ocean away from America’s eastern seaboard. Yet, she has managed to achieve a designation of Certified Water Specialist, Level V (CWS-V), while being technical director of a growing water treatment business in Albarraque, Portugal, near Lisbon. How did she do it? Has the Water Quality Association begun some online correspondence courses? Not quite. We let her explain it.
“When I finished my college degree eight years ago in agricultural economics (from the Superior Institute of Agronomy, a state university), I started working for a company called Hidragua and when it closed in 2000, I came here,” she says. “Here” happens to be CWG Portugal Ltda.
Aguiar, 34, continues, “I have always worked in water treatment. When I worked for Hidragua, they gave me the opportunity to go to the United States and complete my exams for the Water Quality Association so I could learn more about this area since, in Portugal and Europe, we don’t have such an association.”
One view of Americans
In the past, she has attended annual WQA conventions in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Fort Worth, Texas; Long Beach, Calif., and Chicago. Aguiar has visited Minneapolis as well as Osmonics’ headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn. She did get to see enough of the United States to make some generalizations about the people in certain states, though. “I really liked the United States but it is very different from one state to another.”
A WQA member for eight years, the Lisbon, Portugal-born Aguiar would like to see more technical information provided by the WQA at its conventions. “For me, it is very difficult because I am so far away. So, I go once a year to study and attend seminars,” she says. Hence, Aguiar rarely gets to see any of the actual trade show.
CWG Portugal is equally diversified among the following market sectors—residential, 40 percent; industrial, 20 percent, and semi-industrial, 40 percent. Aguiar describes semi-industrial as “not residential, but not industrial.” She quickly adds, “We will try and improve the industrial part this year.” Among the technologies used by the company include cartridge filtration, manganese greensand, activated carbon, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet (UV) light, softeners (to remove nitrates and iron), dosing pumps, controllers for dosing systems, valves, vessels, resins, media and membranes.
Where the pool is cool
The company occasionally tests water for customers but it doesn’t have a lab on site. CWG Portugal only sells equipment; there’s no renting of any kind. That’s primarily because its largest customers just happens to be a household name in the United States—Pentair, and more specifically Pentair Pool Products. Very few people may think of Portugal as an aquatics capital, but Aguiar says swimming pool treatment is a huge market for her company. In fact, CWG Portugal’s swimming pool department accounts for roughly 30 percent of its sales. Plus, it’s the fastest growing segment of the business, but with one caveat—it’s a seasonal market niche whereas water treatment provides stability throughout the year. The company’s biggest competitor is Asgral, which has locations all over Europe but that doesn’t offer conventional water treatment.
Not one to be outdone, CWG Portugal also has an arrangement with a company called Cergkin for spa water treatment. Though CWG Portugal’s main supplier is Pentair and its product lines of Fleck, Structural and CodeLine, other partners include Italian supplier Sita for UV equipment, USFilter, Erie Controls, Rohm & Haas for resins, Bayer, Osmonics’ Desal for membranes, and Italian-based Aqua for filters.
“We’ve been dealing with these companies for a long time,” Aguiar explains. “As I changed companies, I still contact the same suppliers so we continue the relationship I have had for seven years now. Because I know the products quite well, it’s easier to work with familiar people.”
The most glaring difference between CWG Portugal and Hidragua, where Aguiar previously worked for 5-½ years, is that the latter company sold directly to the end-user. In addition, Hidragua distributed equipment for water treatment and was the official representative of Fleck valves, Trojan Technologies and Portugal-based Omnitek.
Jacqueline of all trades
As technical director of CWG Portugal, Aguiar has a variety of responsibilities. She oversees half of CWG Portugal’s 350 customer accounts; the other half is swimming pool accounts. In a nutshell, customers let her know what they want by way of a system and she designs it to their specifications. She also provides technical assistance. Frequently, CWG Portugal arranges training sessions for customers on water treatment, which undoubtedly involves Aguiar, who sighs, “I am drowning in papers.”
Overall awareness among customers (end-users or not) is increasing, she says: “Many people don’t trust the quality of municipal water. The end consumer is more concerned about water quality than he was before.” About 50 percent of CWG Portugal’s customers are on public water and the other half is on private water (groundwater). The southern part of the country experiences high hardness, which CWG Portugal combats with softeners. Aguiar says, “Even the municipal water has high hardness; the people don’t drink from the tap.”
In the north, iron is more prevalent. That usually leads to manganese oxide, zeolites, nitrates and manganese greensand as remedies, but many people don’t want to deal with potassium permanganate.
Aguiar continues, “People are getting more information from several sources—television, magazines, etc.—and they are more worried about the environment. They also become more sensitive when we talk about water quality.”
Things to overcome
This isn’t to say that all is sunshine in Portugal. Due to political and economic uncertainty, along with the unsettling situation in the Middle East, the country is experiencing a transition and this has affected CWG’s perennial growth. “In Portugal and Europe as a whole, we are facing a tough recession. Over here, the government is cutting in a lot of areas and there are things that they are not quick to address. The last six months of last year were more difficult because the government changed here, and I believe this year will stay about the same because salaries overall will not grow by much. Yet, prices will still go up and our level of life will not improve,” Aguiar says.
“In the news here, you hear that people don’t buy cars or houses because times aren’t that easy. And the government doesn’t help young people to buy houses. They also don’t hire new people to the public sector. The new government is being very strict, downsizing the federal payroll and reducing the deficit. I don’t know how you would say it in English but we are getting thinner.”
As a partner with many American companies, CWG Portugal also has a language barrier to overcome when distributing their instruction manuals for its equipment. “We have to send our customers the instructions for equipment in Portuguese,” Aguiar explains. “That is not very easy because our suppliers are all American and Italian.” The company has a local supplier for brine tanks, PVC pipe, small pumps, but the rest of suppliers are outside of Portugal, which leads her to say, “It’s easier to buy in Europe than the United States.”
Playing catch up
Europe, in turn, has its own set of parameters that carry obstacles for a small business like CWG Portugal. “Being part of the group that uses the CE (Euro currency), we are trying to catch up to the other countries that are more developed,” Aguiar says. “The economy is open so everything comes in and goes out freely so the competition is stronger. We are trying to organize and grow like the other countries.
“Our main competition is Spanish companies. There are many water treatment companies in Portugal but they are not ‘solution’ companies like us.”
For those who may think that “big box” is only an American phenomenon, Aguiar is here to enlighten you. A chain of supermarket stores, French-based Aki, has entered the water treatment market, she says, and plans on expanding in Portugal, adding: “With equipment like softeners, it won’t be a problem because it’s not easy to work with them if the end customer is not familiar with them. Customers will have difficulties installing (larger) equipment.”
When talk turns to CWG Portugal’s future, Aguiar is optimistic but also understands a lot hinges on the country’s economy. She says the company will continue to grow in the next three to four years along with possibly more staff. If things stabilize, then she sees CWG Portugal thriving well into the next decade. That should give Aguiar enough time to attend technical seminars, maybe become a CWS-VI, and perhaps get to actually see a few more American cities.
CWG Portugal Ltda.
Empresarial Sintra-Extoril V
Armaziem E22 Capa Rota
Albarraque Sintra, 2710 Portugal
+351 219 108 570; Fax: +351 219 246 060
email: [email protected]
Owner: Pollet Water Group (see www.pwg.be)
General manager: João (John) Couchinho
Staff: 7 (commercial director, general manager, warehouse person, technical director, two account department personnel, and administrative person)
Revenues: 40 percent more last year than 2001; this year is expected to have 20-30 percent growth
Quotable: “Water treatment is an industry that has a future. It will diversify to other areas. I think microfiltration and ultrafiltration will become bigger. People will start to use DI (deionization) systems. The tendency is to use cleaner technologies. I think, in the future, we will need to be more careful because water is a resource that will become scarcer. We will have to recycle it and not send so much water to the drain.” —Carla Aguiar, CWS-V