By Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
Broussard modestly boasts of itself as a little covenant community of 7,000 residents just a city-limits sign away from Lafayette, La., and 55 miles west of Baton Rouge. But just because Broussard is small doesn’t mean its natives don’t know a good thing when they see it.
Akin to the gumbo and jambalaya that’s served in earnest throughout the state, Cajun Country knows the quality of its water treatment dealers and they can pick out a fly-by-nighter a mile away. Perhaps that’s why a homegrown boy and his business, Judice Water Refining Inc., seem to be as popular as the Tabasco and Red Devil brands of hot sauce, which are naturally based in Louisiana.
Keeping your word
Keith Judice was raised about 20 miles from Broussard, a fact he emphasizes when approaching potential customers about their water quality. It serves him well as Louisianans aren’t known to be nomadic types and, in these parts, your word is your bond. “Most of the people tend to stay in this area,” Judice says. “It’s not a very mobile area like a lot of other places in the country. I think the nature of the French heritage is one of the reasons. A majority of our competitors are also local people.”
And like any self-respecting Cajun, Judice takes great pride in one other thing besides water treatment service─cooking. The Lousiana Bayou is home to some of the best food in the country, Judice says, and he claims he and his wife, Vickie, are two of the best chefs in the area. He laughs and then adds, “We try not to cook too often so as to watch the ‘schoolboy figure.’”
Another reason why Judice, 55, and his wife may not have as much time to cook is the fact that business is heating up faster than the swamplands in July. Judice is the president of the company while Vickie is secretary and treasurer. Grant Gondron, Judice’s stepson, also serves as general manager. In all, Judice Water Refining employs five people.
Growth by expansion
“We have seen steady growth just about every year. A good economy and growth spurt have occurred for a number of years in this area with a lot of building and construction going on,” Judice says. “We are in the heart of the oil industry and we have seen a lot of expansion from the oil industry into the medical industry. It has brought in a lot of new jobs to the area.”
And more jobs equal more new homes that need solutions to their drinking water problems. Because oil refineries and large medical facilities are such a growing presence in the Broussard area, Judice’s commercial/industrial (C/I) accounts have expanded accordingly. Currently, residential is still the bulk of business at 60 percent but Judice envisions the day when C/I make up half the business’ customer accounts. He explains, “We pride ourselves on being able to solve technical problems, and we have built up a lot of confidence in our C/I customer base.”
Covering about six parishes (the equivalent of counties in other parts of the country), Judice Water Refining consists of a standalone, 4,000-square-foot office in an industrial business park with a minimal amount of walk-in business. Some of the equipment offered by Judice Water Refining includes reverse osmosis (RO), carbon filtration, ozone, ultraviolet (UV) and water softeners. Their manufacturers include big industry names such as DuPage (Judice’s biggest supplier of softening and filtration equipment), Nelsen Corp., Charger and Ionics.
Always on the go
The business also sells water vending equipment as well as rents softeners and water filtration equipment. Rental customers total about 450 to 500 at any one time, Judice says. When asked how many customers are presently on board, he replies, “Thousands. We are so busy on a daily basis that we don’t have time to really tally the total. In the morning, we got to hit the ground running.”
Along with running to stay ahead of his competition, Judice has also learned to diversify his business and change with the times. He uses a presidential administration analogy to make his point.
“When (Bill) Clinton was in office, you could get a rural water system just about anywhere in the country by just drilling a well,” Judice says. “It was like shooting fish in a barrel because wells were being drilled everywhere. Now, it’s a different case, but that is where our C/I work has taken over.” And in a big way.
In Judice’s part of the state, there’s plenty of filtration re-beds and remediation. Some area companies do collections of their wash-down water and they use treatment equipment to prevent contaminants from flowing out into the waste streams, he says. Some of the company’s C/I customers include gas plants that need their deionization tanks changed out, salt mines, gas manufacturers, car washes and sugar factories, especially right before harvest season in September.
Judice knows first-hand when the harvest season is for sugar factories because he once owned and ran a 750-acre sugar cane farm prior to his career shift to water treatment, but grew weary of the slower periods in profitability do to the nature of commodity pricing. One day, he chatted up a friend in the water treatment industry who said Judice should give it a run for the money. Soon, Judice was through tilling the land.
The ‘people’ industry
He admits, “These kinds of things just seem to work out for me. I started selling product and everything seemed to fall in place for me; and then I had a few bad years so I was in both industries for several years.” It was only later that he ended up selling the farm and went into the water treatment business full time. He calls the water treatment business more of a “people” industry that takes advantage of his “salesperson personality.” It also helps that Judice has been a member of the Water Quality Association for 15 years, he admits.
On the residential side of things, Judice remembers the days when “I couldn’t give an RO or water filter away and now there is a big demand for them.” In the same time, he also saw a marked increase in consumer awareness of water quality, but more work needs to be done to promote that. “They are more aware now, but there’s a long way to go,” he surmises. “A lot of consumers out there believe if they turn the faucet on and the water looks clear, then everything should be fine.”
This phenomenon has also reached into the commercial sector, Judice discovered. He recently spoke with a technical representative from Hobart, a dishwashing and restaurant equipment distributor that gets a lot of service calls, who says customers complain about white scale that forms on equipment. “They think it’s the equipment but it’s actually the water,” Judice says. “They let the equipment fall by the wayside due to a lack of water conditioning or treatment so both commercial and residential customers may not be educated about their water.”
Local water problems
Some of the things people in the Broussard area should be concerned about are chlorine and hardness (about 8 to 11 grains) in municipal water. This is low in relation to some parts of the U.S. West where it runs between 20 and 40 grains. Judice says there’s a small amount of iron in city water, whereas rural areas encounter iron and acid problems as well as low pH (corrosion). In addition, a little sulfur is found in groundwater (1.5 parts per million) and frequently treated with ozone or air injection of some kind.
In a moment of reflection, Judice makes a surprising assertion―he would never think about getting into water treatment in its current state. “I don’t know how all of these dealers are making it,” he wonders. “I wouldn’t even think about starting from scratch today. It was easier 20 years ago because things weren’t as costly as they are now. The overhead costs never stop going up. You need to do a certain volume of business before you put that extra man on. In my business, I know I need to make between $100,000 and $150,000 to support one employee with insurance, benefits and the like.”
His advice to a young person who has a family business would be to start slowly. “My son, Grant,” he adds, “will be able to build this business more than I ever could because he has a foundation to build on.”
Here, the discussion naturally gravitates toward the future of Judice Water Refining, and Judice sees vast potential for growth: “We have to expand and grow. Perhaps the Internet (and an e-commerce component) will be an area where we can grow.” He says that the company is looking into some business contacts overseas, which he won’t fully divulge but calls the proposed deals “promising.” These discussions have apparently been in the works for some time now, and “that may be a big boost for us.”
Whether it’s in the kitchen with blackened fish and Cajun spices or installing a complex, multi-stage water filtration unit, Judice seems right at home and in control of the final product. In both situations, it seems, the end result is a tasty treat for Cajun connoisseurs and water treatment customers alike.
Judice Water Refining Inc.
Broussard, LA 70518
website: http://www.judicewater.com (under construction)
President: Keith P. Judice, CI
Sales: Same in 2003 as 2002—and a 20% increase expected in 2004
Quotable: “There has to be something in the water industry in the future if General Electric and all the big boys are doing everything in their power to invest in the business. They must see something in this industry that we don’t, huh? They are pumping billions of dollars into the industry and that’s because water is an important commodity.”