By Denise M. Roberts
Mike Guidara, founder of Truckee Meadows Water Systems, began his water industry career as a manager trainee at Sierra Spring Water, a bottled water company. After the biggest client (the nowdefunct Reno Hilton) switched from bottled water to POU coolers, other clients cancelled service to switch to water filters. Then company stability became an issue after several buyouts, so he decided it was time to go out on his own. Guidara started Trucklee Meadows in 1993, operating out of his garage.
The business is now is tucked away in a Reno, Nevada industrial complex. Inside the 5,000 square foot building, Office Manager Brenda Tucker and Operations Manager Patty Moniz deftly handle myriad business details while closely watched by two pairs of Chihuahuas. Lilo and Dakota keep a close eye on Moniz, while Rusty and Peppy like to help Tucker greet anyone who comes through the office doors.
To maintain the family-friendly atmosphere, the company adheres to a Mondaythrough-Friday schedule, but doesn’t let it stop business on weekends if the need arises. Guidara offers his employees ‘motivational days’ throughout the year and almost-weekly trips to Frenchman Lake in Lassen County, California, about 45 miles north of Reno. The staff fits nicely into the company’s red convertible H1 Hummer (complete with orange flame details on the side) that is used primarily for events. Only the newest person stays behind to man the office. It’s a close-knit organization that retains its cohesive quality because of Guidara’s belief in balancing work and play.
The small, locally owned business is dedicated to providing northern Nevada and California customers with quality products at a fair price. It offers a full service menu of water treatment options to address the region’s primary issues of hardness, iron, TDS, arsenic, low pH and odor. Truckee Meadows Water Systems also manages the filter maintenance for the local Starbucks. From POU coolers to whole-house filtration and industrial DI exchange, almost any type of water treatment is available. “There are always new products that we have an eye on. We now offer nanofiltration and ultrafiltration,” Guidara notes. “We are also looking into the possibility of offering a brine recovery system on our softeners that will use 50 percent less salt than conventional softeners.”
Prompt personal service helps the company maintain its competitive edge. “Service is the key,” according to Guidara. “There is no substitute for personal contact; that’s why you’ll always hear a friendly, helpful voice when you call us. It’s our policy to treat each and every customer as if they are the first and only customer we have. That’s probably why 80 percent of our new customers are a direct result of a referral from an existing customer.” The company mantra traces its roots to an old receipt from the grocery store run by Guidara’s grandfather in 1930: WE WANT YOUR TRADE—If good, reliable products, lowest possible price, fair and square dealing and polite attention will get it, we can count on you for a customer. “We’ve been a member of the Better Business Bureau since 1995 and have never had a complaint. We’ve never had to pull equipment from a client’s home and issue a refund for their purchase. If and when you have a problem, we won’t hide from you. We take care of our customers, not abandon them after the sale.”
A few issues common to many businesses are on Guidara’s mind these days. Finding and keeping quality employees that are willing to learn the business is a problem made worse by very low regional unemployment rates. A welltrained team is of utmost importance; both Guidara and Service Manager Chris McClintock hold CWS-1 and CI ratings. To promote continuous training and education, company policy dictates that technicians must become Certified Installers in order to receive raises. If they wish to participate in profit sharing, they must also earn CWS certifications. The current staff includes service technicians Luis Tosada (CI), brothers Tony and Rich Long, Phillip Godbey, Jason France and warehouseman Michael Taylor. Three independent sales reps are also part of the firm. “If I could find a couple more good sales reps, our growth would increase quite a bit,” Guidara says. Educating employees and potential customers about products and their benbenefits is also a challenge. Ever-changing technology means choosing the best option available; to do so requires experience and education. “We’ve built up trust with our customers to the degree that many buy from us without shopping around,” notes Guidara. “We offset problems with incorrect or unreasonable expectations by providing customers the product education necessary for making good choices.”
Volatility in the housing market is also having an impact on the business. Guidara works with many local builders, though previously, the company had to stop providing softeners for tract homes. Due to the high cost of class action suits, the firm’s insurance carrier refuses to cover these residences. A 30-percent decrease in whole-house system sales due to the real estate market’s decline doesn’t dampen Guidara’s enthusiasm for future prospects. Many competitors have increased Yellow Page ads to offset those downturns, but he doesn’t think that approach suits his company. Instead, Guidara relies on current customers. “With a couple of thousand cooler rentals in town, we use our loyal business clients for new referrals.” He’s less objective about escalating fuel costs that are also responsible for recent price increases. ”We’ve started purchasing diesel vehicles and streamlined our dispatch procedures to make things more efficient. All of our expenses have skyrocketed, but there is more business out there,” he notes. The cyclic nature of economic downturns gives Guidara a sense of hope that the housing market will normalize and fuel costs will stabilize as well.
To ensure success in the coming years though, Guidara notes that some things need to be addressed individually by companies and collectively by the industry. Finding good, high-quality equipment is an area of concern. “It seems that everyone is moving manufacturing operations overseas and product quality has decreased,” Guidara opines. “I wish US manufacturers would produce top-ofthe-line products that may cost more, but will last a lot longer than foreign products. I think that’s still a viable market, though suppliers seem more worried about keeping prices low, sacrificing quality in the process.”
The future continues to look bright for Truckee Meadows Water Systems as Guidara actively seeks large contracts throughout the region. A recent agreement with Renown Medical Center for bottle-less coolers is a large contract for the business, which overshadows a previous agreement to install more than $100,000 worth of coolers at Fallon Naval Air Station in 2001. There’s much for Guidara to look forward to and he’s not going to sit back and wait for it to happen.