By Vivekanand Gaur and P. A. Shankar
Milton B. and Ruth Hauser began a family legacy when they opened a Culligan dealership in 1949. Three generations and nearly six decades later, the company motto is still the watchword in the Hauser family. Today, it is posted on the company’s website: “At Hausers Water Systems, we are committed to providing the highest quality products and services to our customers. Water is all we do. And we do it well.”
Son Charlie Hauser entered the business as a route driver and worked his way up the ladder; he bought the company in 1973. Charlie’s son Sean joined the company in 1984 as a route driver, advanced to household service technician and then transitioned to the commercial and industrial department. He purchased the business, just as his father had done 25 years earlier. Sean’s brother Chad started as a route driver in 1994 and in 2005, became a partner and Household Service Manager.
Today, Sean heads Commercial and Industrial Sales; Chad is Commercial and Industrial Service Manager. Sean’s daughter Kara, primarily in charge of commercial and industrial accounts, helps with routing and scheduling. Of significant importance to Sean is his staff of key employees who have a combined total of more than 60 years with the company. Charlie, now retired, is always available for advice; he visits the office almost daily.
This isn’t a typical third-generation business. The company changed vendors as a cost-cutting measure, gaining a new line of residential equipment that has proven more reliable for the customers and more profitable for the business, much of which is based on rentals. Sean noted that a major contributor to Hausers’ success was the continued support of suppliers. Also, by employing positive sales tactics, the company does not rely on recurring income from existing customers; it is always seeking new business in both the residential and commercial markets daily. Complacency doesn’t fit into the business plan.
Hausers Water Systems provides a variety of services to customers in eastern Iowa, southwest Wisconsin and western Illinois. It delivers more than 200,000 gallons of bottled water to homeowners and businesses in Iowa each year. Residential clients are offered household water conditioning devices and equipment rental programs with customer-site maintenance, often with rent-to-own options. Factory-trained service technicians provide 24/7 year-round support for the diverse needs of the firm’s large customer base. In addition, Hausers services most brands of treatment equipment and works for a substantial commercial and industrial client base across the region.
In rural areas, Sean said customers often must get past media hype to understand what problems may exist in their water. The company approaches these customers by educating them about actual local quality problems and solutions, leaving the decision to the consumer. “You can’t out-spend big companies and government agencies when it comes to educating the public. The best we can hope for is that customers make the best choices possible without unfounded fears pushing them in the wrong direction,” Hauser said.
While profitable and growing, the range of services and size of the company’s service area contribute to a common concern. Rising fuel costs dictated re-routing customer deliveries twice to geographically consolidate calls. A third redirect of deliveries will happen as the company’s newest facility, with more operational capacity to provide even better service becomes operational. Residential customers know that technicians will make as many stops in their area as possible in an effort to hold down service rates. This may mean a short delay but customers are very understanding. Commercial accounts and emergency service calls are handled without interruption or delay. To further eliminate unnecessary service calls, route customers that miss two scheduled deliveries in a row are dropped. The company is also attempting to eliminate ‘will calls’ with regularly scheduled service and deliveries.
Hauser explained his vision for the company’s future in positive terms, despite higher fuel costs and a tighter regulatory environment. “I see state and federal regulations regarding water softener discharge as a major concern. I believe this industry will go the same way farming did: there will always be small operations but the major growth will be through acquisitions. We look forward to continued growth by providing quality service and products to our customers and through future acquisitions, locally and regionally. Commercial/industrial products and services for a large client base spanning the country continue to be a major focus. Bottled water production and residential sales, also on the increase, will remain a prominent part of our core business.”
The marketplace remains volatile on several levels, with softening sales noted by many dealers and manufacturers in several industries. That may be a gloomy view for many, but Hauser is treating it as his ‘bump in the road’ to better times.