By Karen R. Smith

Year-end musings
Hard to say yet what kind of year 2007 has been for the water treatment industry. I’ve attended a bevy of events lately and most participants tell me business is good. There are plenty of orders on the manufacturing/OEM side and plenty of customers on the dealer side. So if we’re all so busy, why aren’t we happier?

For good reasons, actually. On the waste water side, global warming means reconsidering greener ways to treat used water. On the potable water side, finding new sources—whether desalination or reclamation—is becoming critical in more and more places. Who’d have thought the American southlands would find themselves staring at the bottom of Lake Lanier? And between those two ends of the bigger water world, there’s us—impacted by those factors, both positively and negatively.

While municipal water meets or exceeds EPA mandates here in the US, the declining taste/odor qualities in many regions due to aging infrastructures have driven many to seek home treatment, which is good for us. But since the most common home treatments either increase water use (RO) or discharge brine (softeners), we often become the only possible target (the proverbial low-hanging fruit) when either conservation or TDS levels become critical for regulators. Bad for us. The homebuilding boom of the past five years meant lots of business for those in growth areas—good for us; the decline in that market has hurt those who specialized therein. (You get the idea.)

How we as an industry respond to the changes in the other aspects of water will in large part dictate our role in the future. In regions where the average customer is connected to the municipal water supply, it is the quality of that delivered water—or more importantly, the perception of quality or the lack thereof—that determines whether they call their local water softener/RO dealer and arrange for POU treatment. I know of no dealership mounting an advertising or public relations campaign that tackles this head-on. Most note the problems consumers are likely to encounter—rust stains in the driveway, or clogged shower heads, or dingy laundry—rather than acknowledge that the city’s water supply is such that ancillary treatment in the home is desirable, if not downright necessary.

This being the holiday season, let’s put those factors aside for just a moment. Whatever 2007 meant in your business, take the time now in the fullness of the season to decide what you want next year to be. Because if we have learned anything in the past 12 months, it is that planning ahead can mean the difference between success and failure; that long-range goals can be achieved with long-range planning and that now is the time to determine the course you will follow in the weeks and months to come.

I hope your plans will include reaching out to the communities where you do business. One of the best promotions I received this year came from my Realtor® friend, Mary Diaz. It came with a book of 2¢ stamps and read as follows: I just wanted to remind you that the price of stamps will be going up 2¢ beginning Monday, May 14th. Here is a book of 2¢ stamps to save you the trouble of waiting in those long lines at the post office. If you know someone who would like my ‘2¢ worth’ about real estate, please let me know. I promise that I will make you proud that you sent them to me. I am eternally grateful for your continued support.

I put that handy book of two-centers right on my desk and each time I wrote a friend or paid a bill using an old 39¢ stamp, I grabbed one and thought of Diaz. It kept her name right out front in all the months since; as a result, I have referred all who have crossed my path looking to buy, sell or rent a house. That’s a perfect promotional piece. What was yours? Did it succeed as well? Or are you reading this sheepishly admitting you didn’t reach out to your customers in any creative way at all?

Make this coming year different. If not with a book of stamps—perhaps with a bottle of water? Or a coupon for a free car wash so folks can enjoy spot-free water at another of your installations? Find a way to be memorable—and to get them to refer enough new clients for a month of Sundays.

From all of us here at WC&P, we wish you Happy Holidays and a New Year of peace, joy and prosperity.

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