By Donald A. Mounce

Over the next few months, as WC&P celebrates its 50th anniversary of publication excellence in 2009, this column will take a special look at some of the leading executives, companies and organizations of our industry. We will focus this month on the second part of our story with Vince Kent, President of Abendroth Water Conditioning and the pending 2009-2010 WQA President.

“When it comes to new products, Abendroth Water is very fortunate to be located close to many of the major water treatment manufactures, OEMs and suppliers,” says Kent. “This gives us the opportunity to work with them on field testing new products, enhancing existing products or just sitting down to listening to consumers needs and wants.

“We are constantly working on ideas for new products, or positioning the present product line in a different manner. We are presently involved with some new product designs that cannot be discussed right now. Pending production and testing results, we hope to be displaying a prototype of a new product at this years WQA Aquatech USA 2009 Convention in Chicago.”

“The plan drawn up for Abendroth Water over the next 10 years has not changed drastically from previous years,” notes Kent. “We are not a company that is set up for growth by making large acquisitions, mergers, large sales staff and high- priced products.

“We focus on what more can we do for our team members and what are some additional services, benefits and features that we can provide to our customers with little to no cost to them. Our plans are to ‘toe the line’ and deliver what consumers want. Incredible service at a great value when they want it.”

“A business plan is easy when all you focus on is cutting expenses, decreasing employee benefits and driving home the need to sell more. We are just not built that way,” according to Kent. “One other thing we live by; it is not what you sell it for, it is what you buy it for.

“Most companies increase profits by taking away and increasing prices. Abendroth finds that increasing prices only prices you out of the market. You need to buy the products better. The beauty of our country and the free trade system is that there are many suppliers for a single product; so do your shopping.”

Economic challenges
“Our business has not faced a lot of major challenges due to our management focus,” notes Kent. “The current economic conditions have been the largest challenge we have faced from a residential market standpoint.

“We think we are handling this downturn quite well. But time will tell.”

“A few years back there was an article in one of the trade publications debating the issue of renting versus selling,” notes Kent. “This article started a lot of controversy that continued in some online chat long after the article was published.

“Many of the ‘sales-only philosophy’ proponents now wish they had learned to rent equipment. Unfortunately, if you have never been in the rental business, it is now extremely difficult to jump into the marketplace.”

“Having recently spoken to many of these dealers in my pending capacity as WQA President, they have said to me that we need WQA and other dealers to get involved in helping to get the financing companies back in the game,” adds Kent. “With the declining availability of financing, such ‘sales-only’ companies are having a hard time making sales.

“They asked, and WQA delivered! WQA Executive Director Peter Censky brought together some of the industry’s top lenders to have them share their focus on the financing of water treatment products today and how dealers can still get financing. This session was great and members may still listen to the audio of this by logging on to the WQA website.”

Supporting the organization
As he will be wearing many hats over the next year, Kent maintains a number of varied perspectives that support his selection as WQA President. “As a dealer, and trying to remain impartial, the industry starts from the ground up. And the future for the water conditioning industry as a whole will begin and end with the dealer.

“If there are no dealers to sell, rent or service the products for the consumers then the manufacturers only have the hardware or ‘big box’ market outlet. This eliminates the OEM arena and this market alone will not support our industry.”

“The dealer is also the voice for what consumers are looking for and what is needed,” adds Kent “Most of today’s product enhancements and developments have been the result of manufacturers and OEMs sitting down with dealers to find out what they and the marketplace want.

“Certainly there are many challenges to our industry and there will be many more. Most of these challenges are going to be in the area of chloride discharge, wastewater usage, salt-free systems and the continued attempts to ban water softeners in certain markets.”

“This is also the primary reason why a dealer, manufacturer or OEM today cannot afford to not be a member of WQA,” adds Kent. “When you choose to not be involved, you have lost your voice on defending against many of these government issues.

“You have also lost your communication avenue with what is going on in your industry. WQA continues to protect the industry…your industry…in these areas and many others.”

New technology
“New technology advancements are going to be a must for our industry to overcome these many challenges and hurdles,” notes Kent. “It is time for the manufacturers and OEMs to sit down with dealers and find out what is needed. But more importantly, it is time for them to act on what ideas they are given, which I will push as WQA President.

“Our industry has had a lot of new products over the years. UV, ozone and ultrafiltration come immediately to mind. Yet when it comes to the water softener, we have not really done anything new.

“We have advanced the control valve from manual to automatic and we have added digital displays, colored lights and the like. But all we have really accomplished is dressing up the same old doll with different clothes,” says Kent.

“What we still have is a mineral tank, a brine tank and a control valve. I can count on one hand how many customers I have that can tell me what color the lights are, or how many different ways the softener can change its regeneration positions. I can, however, tell you that I don’t have enough hands of how many customers want to see salt-free softened water and zero-waste regenerations.”

“I prefer to use the term salt-free softened water, as there are many products on the market that claim to be salt-free but that do not soften the water,” adds Kent. “These products are often anti-scale media; the water goes in hard and comes out hard.

“Presently there are no NSF, WQA or ANSI standards for testing and certifying these anti-scale products for the performance and capacity of softening the water, which should be an industry priority. Consumers also ask about the use of potassium chloride, but this is still classified as a salt.”

Ethics and involvement
“Ethics is a large area that will change the landscape of our industry, especially during tough times. This area can also be damaging to our industry,” adds Kent. “As a dealer, I can say I have truly benefited from the unethical practices of others. Yet we need to follow the ethics guidelines of the WQA.

“Continue to be a whistleblower against those companies who make unethical claims on products, services and our industry. And stay away from unethical advertisements, gray areas or misleading sales practices. Instead, get to know your competition, understand how the products work and then produce ethical comparisons to promote your products.”

“It is my suggestion that everyone in the industry become involved in WQA. I have taken away from WQA more than I have ever given,” notes Kent.

“Now, more than ever, a company or a person involved in water treatment should be involved in WQA.
”I understand that especially as a dealer this may be one of the easiest expenses to cut; but in doing so you are also cutting out the lifeline to your business. By not participating, you lose your voice in the industry, your professional lead generation tool and your communication to the industry.”

“For less than $450 a dealer can have an entry level membership in WQA,” adds Kent. “That covers the cost for an organization that drives the industry, and promotes, defends and sends sales leads to your competitiors who are members.

“The lead generation tool ‘Find a Professional’ has actually more than paid for my membership. It produces over 300 ‘click-throughs’ to my Web site for pre-qualified people looking to buy water treatment products.”

“Lack of involvement helps place your competition a step ahead of your own dealership,” concludes Kent. “And I truly do believe the success of our industry starts and ends with the dealer.”



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