By Denise M. Roberts
Joe Bevins was the first ‘Culligan Man’ in Eugene, OR, offering water softeners and pumps in the early 1960s, with his teenage son Laurrie helping out. After a few years, the elder Joe opened his own store, Salem Water Conditioning. One of its biggest sellers was the Autotrol 155 five-cycle valve, which helped garner much success for the small dealership.
Laurrie learned a pivotal lesson from his father when he was told, “Put your feet up on a desk like a big shot and you’ll lose everything.” That wisdom became pivotal to Laurrie’s future success.
Joe received a job offer from Zero Soft Water of San Jose, CA, in 1971 but it was Laurrie and his two daughters who moved south. While there, Laurrie made the acquaintance of Arthur and Guy Webber, owners of Webber & Webber. They handled warehouse distribution for Kinetco in addition to training for the manufacturer’s valves.
In the mid 70’s, Laurrie was introduced to Kinetico’s Model 30, a new revolution in water treatment. The product was everything he thought a water conditioner should be: non-electric, twin tanks and 24-hour service. Laurrie stayed in California for another five years and learned everything he could about Kinetico. He even received personal hands on training from company founders Jim Kewley and Bill Prior.
Laurrie was then sent to Sarasota, FL to work for another Kinetico dealer. Unfortunately, he found that not all dealers cared about their customers and this was not what he expected.
Back to Oregon
Returning to Oregon in the early 80s, Laurrie was graced with two more daughters (one of whom is currently and proudly serving in the Air Force in the Persian Gulf) and went to work for The Water Doctor, owned by Arlan Hart. Hart, a former Lindsay Water man, had become a very proud Kinetico dealer. Together, the men sold and installed 30 to 40 pieces of equipment each month, a very good showing for a two-man team.
Hart was new to the Kinetico product line, but Laurrie had already learned much. He yearned for the day when he would be able to better his prospects and open his own company.
A few years later, Laurrie decided to move to Eugene and work for his brother, an Ecowater dealer. The fit wasn’t as good as expected and the arrangement lasted less than a year.
The solution to this dilemma was Laurrie’s decision to start WaterMasters, Inc. in 1991, with the help and support of his wife Margo. Success as a Kinetico dealer came quickly; the company was soon looking at annual sales receipts of more than $800,000 (USD) and operated three retail stores.
For years, WaterMasters made a good living replacing big-box store equipment. “When I asked customers where they purchased these systems, most said Home Depot stores,” he said. “When I told them to have the retailer fix the equipment, I was told there’s no service offered with the sale.”
As a result, he took in many of these ‘orphan systems’ and replaced them with Kinetico products. “I’ve been in this business for more than 35 years. All treatment systems work, but if you can’t get service, they are worthless,” he noted.
Laurrie’s path altered yet again when Sweden-based Axel Johnson Group acquired Kinetico. He wanted to be independent and because he wasn’t quite satisfied with the changes being made, he decided the time was right to make his move. Laurrie’s customers (friends and neighbors in the communities he served) trusted the dealership completely and this made the transition much easier.
The transition required some downsizing; the company now operates one store. The five-member staff includes Margo (she can pull a pump out of a well on her own!); 10-year employee Nadine Core and her husband Tom; loyal employee Brian Foster and son-in-law Michael Pierce (married to Laurrie’s eldest daughter Tanya). Part-timer Greg Rolfe (who has worked off and on for the company over the past 15 years) and Rosco the ‘wiener’ dog (under Margo’s supervision three days a week) round out the team.
Each person has the ability to do whatever is needed. As in the past, there are ‘cold and hot days’ but the effort to make a difference in the lives of the community propels the staff forward.
The licensed, bonded and insured company builds and sells its own equipment, offers well pumps service. Salt sales of 80,000 pounds generate even more income. As a result, WaterMasters is enjoying more than moderate success as it serves Lane, Linn and Douglas counties. It maintains a solid reputation for quality products and service and Laurrie Bevins continues to look toward the future of water treatment with positive expectations.