By Denise M. Roberts
John Clements has seen it all, from the blazing deserts of Iraq to the frigid lower peninsula of Michigan. And everywhere he’s been, he demonstrates that service to family, community and country are the important things in life.
Clements Water Refining Service began more than 30 years ago when Roger Clements purchased the Miracle Water dealer rights from a local oil company in the spring of 1972. “It took guts for a father of seven to start a water business in his mid-40s,” said one of those seven kids, son and current owner John. “Most of the difficulties were overcome with lots of help from suppliers.” With the unwavering support of his wife Joan, Roger operated out of the Clements home for 19 years. In 1988, Miracle Water became part of the EcoWater Systems dealership network.
The younger Clements didn’t expect to take over the company. He graduated from Michigan Technological University in 1986 with a BS/BA in Industrial Management and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Reserve through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. After a few job interviews and checking out different opportunities, Clements decided to continue his father’s business into the future. “We were considering moving our well-established business into a new location when I was deployed to the Middle East for Operation Desert Storm,” Clements remembered.
Clements returned early from his deployment due to complications during his second daughter’s birth and life got very busy. Once home, he and his father found the company’s current 5,500-square-foot location. In 1991, Clements became a member of the Alpena Township on-call fire department, earning his Firefighter II qualification. He followed that up in 2007 with his EMT license after the township started responding to medical calls. In 1995, Clements and his wife, Lori, bought out Roger’s share and later acquired an adjacent 4,500-square-foot facility for the growing enterprise. Clements resigned his military commission in 1996 and concentrated on growing the business.
The company primarily serves residential customers within a 100-mile radius of Alpena, in northern lower Michigan. Bounded on the east by Lake Huron, the technicians must cover large distances on a regular basis. Clements is a strong believer in continuing education and encourages his employees to take advantage of the education programs offered through WQA, resulting in a well-trained team of certified professionals. “In business you have to keep ahead or you will be left behind.”
Clements, who earned CWS-VI certification, does most of the field testing/selling. Credited for much of the company’s modernization success, Lori is the firm’s home-based bookkeeper. Karen Parkinson, CSR, takes care of the day-to-day office operations with a little help from Michigan Tech freshman Tonina, the Clements’ daughter. Geoff LaHaie and Dan Aube round out the team. Both are certified installers who handle service calls and most of the salt deliveries. Due to the company’s large service area, it doesn’t have separate delivery and service trucks; everyone pitches in, sharing responsibilities and vehicles.
There have been two major challenges for the family through the years. The first and probably toughest was starting the business. With the help and support of suppliers, the learning curve was overcome, leading to the current challenge. “Michigan has a poor economic climate. We’ve been looking for cost savings in transportation and maintenance to help influence company growth,” said Clements. “With EcoWater’s products, the residential market will continue to be our strong suit. I’d like to see expansion of our softener rental fleet from its current level of about 500 and more activity in commercial market services.”
New technologies on the way, such as salt-less water conditioners, will change the scope of business. “Sales, deliveries, residual incomes, all will be impacted,” Clements predicts. “I see the consolidation of manufacturers as being a problem for the industry. With fewer suppliers, incentive for new technologies is decreased. There’s already a reduction in the availability of custom-ordered equipment. I also believe that the larger the business, the more likely accountants or stockholders control it. Both groups tend to focus on short-term gains and this is often achieved at the expense of customers and employees.”
Like many other dealers, he sees increased government regulation on the horizon. “While this is never welcome, it seems to me that it stems from a perceived lack of control on the part of the industry at large,” he noted. “An example would be that we are now able to pull installation permits. While there is some discussion about the differences in permit fees, depending on the entity to which it is paid, I have no problem with anyone checking our work. Hopefully, this will help the public feel more secure in their purchases.”
Clements remains confident in spite of the possibility of industry upheaval. After all, his life has been a series of trials that resulted in growth and success: market challenges are no different.