By Denise M. Roberts
Family-owned Willmar Water & Spas was launched out of a single-stall garage in 1984 by Bob Fader. The steps he took to grow his business were daring and his road to a successful business venture had its share of bumps.
Fader entered the water treatment industry as a service and delivery person for a local Lindsay dealership. Newly married and with his first child on the way, he made a decision that might have turned out badly if not for his desire to make a difference.
Risks for rewards
Unhappy with the insufficient pay, Fader came home one day and told his wife Carol he had quit his job. Customers started calling his home to find out where he was; they were expecting him to service their equipment or deliver salt. This gave Fader the idea to strike out independently and ‘hustle up’ some salt accounts of his own. He borrowed enough money from the bank to pay for the first semi-truck load of salt that filled his garage.
After selling that load, Fader was able to pay off the first loan and then borrow for another load. He continued to get calls from past customers and decided to provide service to them as well. Fader placed classified ads and continued to get more business. The Faders then applied for a low-interest small business loan. They were told that only two of the ten businesses that applied for this type of loan would succeed. Willmar Water was one of the fortunate two!
Fader used the funds to purchase softeners for rental purposes, bought out the rentals from a local competitor and, about a year later, bought the accounts from his former boss. The success of his business forced him to find a bigger building to continue offering his customers a wide-range of services.
Moving on to bigger things
The company purchased a small 1,200 square-foot building for warehouse, office, showroom and shop activities. Continued expansion caused the company to outgrow the small space after 14 years. Fader delved into other markets and began offering a line of hot tubs. He moved the business to its present 15,000 square foot facility that allowed for even more diversification. In 2002, a water bottling plant was added during a remodeling project and Willmar Water & Spas began providing Glacial Blue H20 throughout the Midwest.
Located in central Minnesota, nine employees provide retail, service and delivery in a 45-mile radius of the headquarters. Fader is full-time, Carol is part-time and their four sons, Ryan, Lee, Trent, Mitchell) all of whom have been directly involved with the company at some time or another, still occasionally work for their parents. “Our business has always provided for our family, our employees and their families,” says Fader. “Our employees are key to us and we feel having good employees is a major factor in having a successful business.”
Create your own product!
Being in a strong agricultural community provides many water treatment challenges. Fader offers his own product, The Airhead, which is a chemical-free, air-injected filtration system that is very effective in removing sulfate, manganese and iron. Organic farmers like using the system because no chemicals are needed to oxidize it.
Fader created The Airhead system after becoming frustrated with the use of flow switches in water lines that contained high iron and turbidity and the constant maintenance issues that accompanied them. The Airhead device that can be used in conjunction with the air pumps or chemical feed pumps in use in the water treatment industry.
Fader continued to work day and night in perfecting The Airhead system to work trouble-free. After attaining a functional design, he applied for a product and process patent something he found to be very challenging. The exercise was very costly and time consuming but worth Fader’s efforts: after three years, the company was awarded the patent.
In addition to The Airhead systems, Willmar Water & Spas sells, services and rents water softeners, iron filters, RO systems, LindySpring Systems sanitizers and various other water treatment equipment. The company’s wholesale bottled water plant serves dealers from South Dakota to Wisconsin. The five-gallon bottled water business segment grew from just residential to wholesale. The company also sells, services and rents the coolers.
No time like the present
Fader attributes the growth and success of the business to thinking outside the box. “We continue to see challenges with products that react differently with different types of water issues. If the products we are currently carrying are not satisfying our needs along with our customers, we search for or develop new products that will.
“We foresee in the future that customers will demand more efficient and chemical-free solutions to their water problems. The move is on to become greener and water treatment companies need to make that a part of their future decisions.
“We at Willmar Water & Spas are already moving that direction with our airhead systems and by carrying the LindySpring systems. We’d also like to see wholesale business of the airhead products grow and, over the next five years, we hope to double our rental income and continue to build our bottled water business and improve it with recyclable bottles.”