By Denise M. Roberts

On the surface, broadcasting doesn’t appear to be the path to water treatment. Robert ‘Bob’ Hoey has proven otherwise.

HMI Water Specialists
dba Water Doctors Water Co.
8201 Old Central Ave. NE, Suite F & G
Spring Lake Park, MN 55432
Telephone: (763) 535-1800
Fax: (763) 535-1805
Website: www.waterdrs.com
Email: rghoey@waterdrs.com
Employees: 12 corporate and 50
outside sales reps
Service vehicles: five

Hoey was a ‘wannabe disc jockey’ when he met his future wife, Laurie, in 1983. Her sister was dating a water softener salesman and the men became close friends. Hoey’s frustration about trying to make a living in broadcasting was apparent to the salesman; he talked him into trying his hand at selling water softeners.

Hoey began his water industry career as a manufacturer’s representative for a Minnesota-based water softener company, mostly selling retail products through home appointments. He established a network of Twin Cities fine homebuilders and remodeling contractors and, by doing so, realized substantial individual sales. “I became the company’s top sales person in 1984 and 1985 and never looked back,” said Hoey. Over the next few years, he became frustrated with the direction the company was headed in and decided to start his own firm. His new business catapulted to financial success, surpassing all expectations by becoming a multi-million dollar enterprise in a few short years.

Hoey Marketing Inc. (HMI), established in 1984 as a one-man water softener sales organization, became HMI Water Specialists dba Water Doctors Water Company in 1992. Hoey used the Water Doctors name after people began to refer to him as a ‘water doctor’ when he earned WQA’s CWS and CSR certifications. “I started to use Water Doctors as a marketing angle to separate myself from the organization I was representing and eventually worked with an OEM to establish our own specific line of products. I developed a web site and secured our local marketing phone number, (952) WATER-DRS, to further brand recognition,” he noted. Hoey partnered with the best technicians and installers in the region and organized a sales team of family-oriented and ethical employees.

In early 1998, the company began marketing its products to builders’ supply stores and high-end kitchen designers, promoting RO products. In 2005, a tornado destroyed the building they were leasing. That resulted in HMI’s 2006 purchase of a new 6,000 square foot facility, complete with corporate showroom, distribution warehouse and sales offices, to accommodate the rapid growth planned in Hoey’s marketing program.

The family-owned business relies on Hoey’s wife Laurie in the accounting unit, daughters Jacquelyn and Kathryn (presently in college), who take part in marketing and reception at the corporate show room, 12 corporate employees and 50 outside sales representatives. Youngest daughter Krissy, a high school sophomore, helps out during the summer. The company serves the 11-county Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region, Rochester and surrounding townships in the southern part of the state and the St. Cloud market located near the state’s center. There are 17 dealer locations and products are currently available in three dealer showrooms located in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Louisiana. Hoey anticipates the addition of locations in California and Florida during the coming year.

The primary treatment problems in this region are iron and manganese. Products and services are offered to clients based on water chemistry and demands and the customer’s budget. The company carries many product lines, including its proprietary Fleck 6700 valve water softener and The Water D.O.G. dissolved oxygen generator.

For the foreseeable future, Hoey plans to continue expansion of the dealer network and controlling company growth. “We prefer to design and install each system. As we move into new markets, we need to find qualified installers and technicians to serve our customers. Through our appliance dealer network, we occasionally get inquiries for our products in areas we are not able to service; then we determine whether to just ship the product and hope for the best. Our most successful employee recruitment has been done by word of mouth. As a matter of fact, during this interview, I received a phone call from a licensed installer, at a competing company, looking for new challenges with a new company.”

Hoey offers this insight on the business climate for 2008. “I think we are going to find a very challenging market this year. Our Minnesota business is 50 to 60 percent new construction water softener/ purifier installations. As the sub prime mortgage crisis ravages the construction industry, we need to constantly be looking for new ways to go to market. Companies who are ‘reacting’ to market changes rather than being ‘proactive’ will have a hard time surviving.”

“I see blue skies ahead,” says the forward-looking Hoey. “We have always had competition from the big-box players and that will continue. As professional water treatment companies, we need to be sure our people and staff reinvest in themselves through organizations like the Water Quality Association. Certification and continuing education will ensure we can provide the value-added component that will separate us from the plumbers and big-box retailers.”

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