By Nate F. Searing
Andrew Wilson, the owner of Angel Water Conditioning, says the success of his water dealership in northwestern Chicago is grounded in the fact that it is a small family business with values that customers respect and tell their friends and neighbors about. But for Wilson, the concept of a ‘family business’ means more than just passing the company from father to son: it’s about the relationships and traditions he has developed with his employees, his friends and the founding family behind Angel Water Conditioning. It’s about preserving those traditions—so that even if Angel doesn’t end up in the hands of his family after he’s gone, the spirit of the company will always endure.
Angel Water Conditioning was founded more than 35 years ago in Palatine, Ill. by Bernie Haggard, Sr. Haggard’s wife, Jackie, suggested the name ‘Angel Water’ as a way of reflecting the purity and quality of their product. His son, ‘Bern’ Haggard Jr., assumed ownership upon his father’s retirement 14 years ago. The company moved to Barrington 30 years ago.
Wilson joined the family affair early on in Angel Water Conditioning’s history. A close childhood friend of the Haggards, he even worked for them while a teenager before going to college to pursue other interests.
He returned after college and in January of this year, purchased the company from Bern, who has since retired. “It was the natural progression for the business, I think,” Wilson said. “I had a business background and Bern had the lifetime of knowledge about the industry.” The combination was a success and today the company serves nearly all of suburban Chicago with water conditioners, drinking water systems and sulfur/iron removing systems.
Well water and Lake Michigan
Like many dealerships in the greater Chicago area, Angel Water Conditioning has had significant success in providing residential water systems to suburban residents, without a significant operation inside the city. According to Wilson, this unique situation arises from the fact that residents of Chicago receive their water from Lake Michigan, which is naturally soft, making the need for treatment options extremely limited.
“Its interesting to compare to other major cities in U.S., where you hear horror stories about hard water coming out of municipal systems,” Wilson said. “That simply isn’t the case here. It’s once you get outside the city that you start finding water softeners in every house.” This is because most of the suburban areas west of Chicago survive on well water and the region has very high iron levels, hard water and odors. The result for Angel Water is a significant presence throughout the northwestern Chicago area and a throughout the remaining suburbs, including Rosemont, the site of this year’s WQA Aquatech show.
Attending WQA Aquatech 2006
While Wilson has attended the annual Water Quality Association trade show and convention many times before, he said he is extremely excited about this year’s show, which will take place just 20 miles south of his hometown.
“In the past, I’ve traveled alone to the show. This year will be different—we’re taking everyone so that they can attend the educational sessions and see all the new products for themselves,” he said.
In addition to attaining WQA certifications and perusing aisles of new water treatment equipment, Wilson said his goal for the show is to identify new office technologies that can help his small business run even smoother.
“I’m always interested in seeing the latest conditioner or RO system, but this year I’m really looking for some software innovations. Angel Water has gotten to the point where we’re pushing the limits of what we’re using for accounting and tracking and I’m hoping to find answers to my more business-related questions, not just my water treatment ones.”
A WQA member for about a decade, Wilson credits the association for much of his success in the industry.
“Just about every time I call (and I call them a lot) I’m immediately put in touch with a water treatment expert,” Wilson said. “That ‘on tap’ expertise has helped me to make the right decisions when looking at new products to sell as well as troubleshooting our customers’ water problems.”
That commitment to education is evident in the way in which Angel Water interacts with each of its customers, Wilson said. The company works to educate every client, even potential clients, on the basics of water treatment technologies and the water problems inherent to their geographic area.
The goal, Wilson said, is both to reaffirm for the customer that the salespeople, installers and repair staff are knowledgeable and reliable and to establish a rapport that builds trust and translates into greater word-of-mouth referrals.
“Those referrals are our livelihood,” he said.
For Wilson, the strength of Angel Water Conditioning has always been its steady growth, which, while incremental, is anchored by good word-of-mouth and a commitment to customer education that many other dealers overlook.
“We’ve been able to consistently grow and expand our presence in our market,” Wilson said. “One of the things we’ve been able to do really well is to maintain that growth while not losing sight of our focus.”
Angel Water is currently exploring growth opportunities in a number of sectors, Wilson said, including a recent expansion into five-gallon bottled water delivery and sales of 12-ounce PET bottles at local grocery stores and other shops.
“The Angel Water name has been out there for 35 years and it resonates with our community,” Wilson said. “It’s taking a little time for that to translate into recognition on the store shelf, but we’re confident that in the next year, that aspect of the business will experience significant growth.”
Disappointed with the current quality of salt tanks, Angel Water, Inc. is also investigating manufacturing opportunities, which would enable the company to take control of this important aspect of water treatment.
The company is even looking at the possibility of an acquisition or opening a second office to better facilitate growing business south of Barrington. Combined with a renewed interest in providing moderately larger treatment systems for local restaurants, the continued success of Angel Water Conditioning is safely secure, Wilson said.
“Angel Water Conditioning remains very much a family affair. Bern and I are like family, so many of our employees are part of our families and everyone in the company is a part of the broader family and I can’t imagine Angel Water Conditioning any other way,” Wilson said. “In that sense, we’ll be a family business forever.”