By Denise M. Roberts

Greg Levine became interested in filtered water coolers while working for a corporate coffee service business that offered coolers as an add-on product. They featured a sealed reservoir, making the units better and healthier than what most people were currently using. The coolers were also more efficient: no heavy bottles or delivery men coming in and out of the office, no checking inventory, no bottle deposits, a much smaller footprint and an infinite supply of water. Price was the most appreciated benefit: the coolers were less expensive than bottled water nine times out of 10.

Right product, right partner
The experience inspired Levine to start his own company, with those coolers as a primary product line. He approached former co-worker Debbie LaRocca to be his partner in the venture. Levine recognized her considerable business talents and felt she would be the best person to join him in the new enterprise. The result of their collaboration was the launch of Aguaman in 1999, with Levine at the helm as President and Sales Manager and Larocca as the Operations Manager. (Levine’s father Howard, a retired dentist and businessman, acts as a consultant; although not an active partner, he has provided a wealth of helpful guidance.)

The duo’s combined expertise extends to all aspects of the business, from changing filters and cleaning equipment to telemarketing, sales and system installation. They regularly bounce ideas back and forth to gain better insight about new processes, techniques or different ways of doing business. That approach has broadened their capabilities and led to success. Levine and LaRocca are both longtime Water Quality Association (WQA) members and have taken advantage of the association’s certification programs; he is a CWS-II and she holds a CWS-III rating.

Service drives success
The firm is one of the largest point of use (POU) water cooler dealers serving the nearly 125-square mile South Florida tri-county area (Dade, Broward and Palm Beach). In-house service, a top priority for consumers, is a major focus for the company. “All water systems need to be maintained on a regular basis,” said Levine. “Many people have spent a great deal of money on their units; then found it difficult, if not impossible, to get service from the vendor. We put our customers on a preset service schedule so they are assured of getting proper preventative maintenance and, as a result, the system performance and longevity they expect.” Aguaman’s service team, comprised of 11 employees and four trucks, installs about 50 new units each month, most of them self-sanitizing systems. To date, the company has installed and actively services more than 4,000 units for a range of customers, from mom-and-pop stores to companies with over 500 employees using more than 15 units in one location.

Availability of equipment and supplies is another key success factor. The company maintains its inventory at an 8,000 square foot facility in Hialeah. Approximately 30 new and 100 used cooler units and about 500 filtration systems for new customers are stocked there at any given time. Supplies for everyday filter changes for existing customers are always on hand.

Residential prospects
For just a little more than an ordinary filtered system, residential consumers can get a water cooler that provides ozone or ultraviolet (UV) sanitization of the tank on a daily basis. Levine firmly believes people should be able to enjoy the convenience, health and cost benefits of purified drinking water in their homes as well as in the office. “A bottled water cooler may never be cleaned. There is security in knowing that with our coolers, the tank is being sanitized every day,” he emphasized.

At present, Levine sees a fairly low penetration of water treatment products into the residential consumer market. Although it sells only a few water softeners and home undercounter drinking water systems each month, Aguaman is actively pursuing expansion of this segment of the business. “One of our biggest challenges was convincing prospective customers that our systems were a superior product in every way,” he said. “Once we began more aggressive product promotion and advertising, better sales opportunities came our way.”

The company is expecting the market to move away from bottled water and into purification systems. Levine believes educating consumers about new technologies and products will help to effect that transition. “New financing programs are making it more attractive for homeowners to consider a whole house systems or other treatment options. As the systems become more affordable, it just makes sense that consumers will take advantage of the options. We will be well-positioned to exploit opportunity and we’re excited about the expansion of our customer base, both commercially and residentially.”

South Florida’s future = Aguaman’s growth
Understanding the quality issues of south Florida’s water has been pivotal to the company’s 20 percent annual growth rate. Levine credits everyone with the success the firm has enjoyed thus far. He expects to continue that trend by staying in tune with industry patterns and adopting new technologies. “We’ve benefited from well-trained, honest and ethical employees whose efforts have helped expand our product line by providing high-quality service. We want to be the name that south Floridians think of when it comes to water quality and we hope that 10-20 years down the road, today’s customers will still be with us.”



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