Hague Quality Water International
Gary Battenberg is with Hague Quality Water International located near Columbus, OH, holding the position of Technical Director since 1997. He has over 26 years experience in the field of domestic, commercial and high purity water treatment processes. Battenberg has worked in the areas of sales, service, design and manufacturing, utilizing filtration, ion exchange, UV sterilization, reverse osmosis and ozone technologies.
How did you get started in the water conditioning and purification marketplace? What was your first job in it?
My job as a crane operator in the Texas oil fields came to an abrupt halt in 1981 when the work headed to the Kansas and Nebraska fields. I ran into an acquaintance that convinced me to look into selling water treatment. I told her that I was not interested, as I had already passed the tests and had been hired by ORKIN pest control and was to report the following Monday morning.
She persisted and I said OK, I would at least listen to the presentation. Within fifteen minutes after she began the presentation, I was fascinated and wanted to know more about how you could treat this liquid that, as far as I knew, was only hot, cold and ran down hill. So I met with the local dealer and I hired on as a ‘commission only’ salesman as my first job in water conditioning.
How/why did you start/maintain your professional involvement?
After learning the basics for the sales side of the business, I was tapped for management and was recruited to assist in opening two branch offices for this dealership. I felt very strongly that I had found the livelihood that I could build a career in because water is such a vital part of every aspect human life.
Part of my job was hiring service and installation personnel for the new offices and seeing to it that they were trained and equipped for their respective jobs. One day, the service technician didn’t show up for work so I picked up the service manual, service orders, fired up the service van and made the calls. That was when I found out that I had a flair for the technical side of this business.
Three months after opening the second branch office, I inquired about a full-time position in the service department and the dealer informed me that the department manager was leaving the company. He said if I wanted the department manager position, I would have to relocate back to the corporate offices and reestablish residence in that city. I jumped at the opportunity.
I realized that service was a very important factor in water conditioning because the appliances require routine maintenance to provide optimum performance. Residential customers are generally very critical of product performance and will let you know when they are not happy. It took several years to realize why this was so unique to residential water conditioning.
Residential water conditioning is not like lawn care or trash collection. In this business, you are dealing with the customer on an intimate level in that your products are constantly being scrutinized against what the customer was told by the sales representative…no more spots, bathtub ring, less soaps, detergents, cleaning products, clear ice and the like. Since those early days, I have constantly strived to learn more and be at least a little better each day by applying what I learned to what I already knew.
It’s like a college education…you never really quit learning, especially with the pace of new technological advances in our industry.
What are you most proud of in your profession?
I take pride in seeing those people in this industry who are involved for the right reasons. Building a solid reputation in the community and gaining a reputation as a company with great integrity. Additionally, those types of companies generally create a lasting legacy that is passed on to succeeding generations.
Customer care is evident in every aspect of their business and is confirmed by the customer loyalty fostered by these impeccable dealers and their personnel. Additionally, the pride in their business is clearly evident in the appearance of their service vehicles and their business establishment.
What are you least proud of in your profession?
I absolutely detest anyone who would exploit this industry and what it stands for with regard to predatory business practice. Where the only goal is to capitalize on (real or perceived) public need for the sake of making money only. That kind of mentality is destructive to our industry and undermines all of the good efforts of those who see water conditioning as their lifelong pursuit.
Those who would use devious sales practices and verbal trickery as a conduit to siphon money off the public with no remorse or twinge of conscience should be blackballed from this industry or any other service industry for that matter. In my opinion, there is a very special place in hell for unethical dealers and anyone associated with them. Our Code of Ethics is a good start but an industry oversight committee would be a very good thing and should be given consideration.
For example, police have an Internal Affairs Division; the legal, medical and insurance communities all have ethical oversight committees. It seems reasonable to me that since our industry is involved with the working and life support water of our customers, we should have a more stringent system of accountability to protect the customer from unscrupulous activity.
What gives you the most joy in your professional life?
Seeing the relief in the faces and contentment in the voices of dealers and their customers who live with extreme water quality issues that severely hamper a good quality of life. I enjoy assisting dealers in specifying reliable and sustainable water treatment options for those conditions that are beyond the average water problems our industry deals with.
Helping them attain proficiency in supporting those extreme water quality problems and providing prompt and efficient service to all of their customers. I hold in very high regard the dealer(s) who steps up to the plate to provide products and service for extreme problem water who would never consider abandoning their customer when the going gets tough. These are the real heros in this industry because of their dogged determination in constantly working to improve their craft.
What do you dislike most in your professional life?
Ambiguity! My definitions of this word…”The abuse of power by someone who does not even know the meaning of the word.” A good example of this is the recent attempt by the California Legislature to circumvent procedural rules regarding AB 2270 and force a ban on water softeners without due process.
Municipalities and special interest groups see the water conditioning industry as an easy target and a convenient whipping boy to advance their agenda. Well, we are not going to stand for it. Thanks to the PWQA, the WQA organizations and the many other voices that railed against this blatant affront to our livelihood, we survived to fight another day.
It truly is a sad day when our elected officials conveniently forget their obligations to us. It begs the question, ”would they give up their water softener or would they add insult to injury by claiming exception to the rule?”
If there were three portraits on the wall behind your desk, not of family, who would they be and why?
My first choice is the “Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” In that portrait are fifty-six signers of a formal statement to Great Britain, adopted by the Second Continental Congress that, the thirteen colonies declare themselves free of the King’s rule. Those men knew that they were participating in a pivotal display of civil disobedience, but represented the colonists’ refusal of taxation without representation.
The courage it took to face that oppressive authority is truly inspiring knowing that Great Britain would quickly move to quell the resistance to its rule by this fledgling democracy. Many of those signers went on to fight in the War of Independence and paid the ultimate price for our freedom. I believe it is that same sense of honor and courage combined with the love of freedom and our way of life that inspires our young men and women even today to answer the call to arms to defend this great country. Were I thirty years younger, I would, without hesitation answer the call to defend our freedom. All I have to do is look at that portrait and my insignificant problems are immediately put into perspective.
My second choice is Robert E Lee. Most Americans were taught and believe that Ulysses S. Grant won the Civil War. History certainly credits him with bringing an end to one of the most tragic events in our nation’s history, but look at the facts.
Lee and the confederates were outnumbered in men and war materials, starving and poorly clothed yet they dictated the tempo of the war and made Grant chase him all over the theater of battle. His surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse near Lynchburg, Virginia was not because he was defeated.
He surrendered because he realized that the war had reached a point where life as we know it today might never have been possible had he taken the advice of his subordinates and adopted ‘guerilla tactics’ to fight the war. He was the ‘bigger man’ and, in my opinion, he ended the war for the greater good of what we Americans know as the United States of America.
My third choice is Howard Hughes. He was a true entrepreneur who intuitively knew a good thing when he saw it and understood the long-term benefits of his vision. Coupled with his ability to attract the talent and capital needed to promote his innovations and technology, Hughes deserves the credit for much of the advanced technologies we enjoy today…air travel, satellite communication technologies, electronics and the like.
His ability to diversify and explore new and innovative technological frontiers made him a giant among other industrialists during the prewar and postwar eras. His companies, more than thirty years after his death are still in the forefront of technological advancements today. Proof positive that one man’s vision and corporate missions can establish a lasting legacy for future generations.
If you were not in the water conditioning and purification industry, what would you be doing?
I would most probably be an architect.
Why would you do that?
I have always been fascinated by the beautiful structures I have seen in pictures and in my travels abroad as well as the great expansion bridges and lighthouses of North America. The study of construction materials, load factors, soil friction tests and the mathematics involved in the design of large structures are just a few of the areas of discipline that must be understood to become an architect.
The science of water treatment, is, in its own way, a very daunting task as well. It demands a strict discipline to be credible. Water conditioning is a professional choice that I do not regret for one minute.
Polish up your crystal ball…what will be the three most important issues in our industry within the next five years?
I see decentralization (at the municipal level) of contaminant treatment like arsenic, BTX, perchlorate and other constituents that plague our water supplies, as an opportunity for our industry to step to the plate and prove that we are a viable and necessary entity. There exists a potential for some larger dealers to form an alliance with these municipalities to provide POE/POU products that could easily be added to customers’ utility bill. We will be faced with remediation of these and other problems for many more years to come.
Brine restriction laws will be a major battle for our industry for the foreseeable future. A critical eye should be given to other industries that contribute to the problems associated with elevated chloride concentration in municipal wastewater and reuse water systems. Some of the obvious suspects are companies that produce household cleaning chemicals. Septic discharge regulations are gaining momentum as well and the softener is looked upon as the leading culprit in the problems associated with the newer aerobic septic systems.
The green movement to reduce the amount of water used in American homes will see a strong growth for the foreseeable future. Rainwater harvesting and use is gaining momentum in those areas that historically see little average rainfall or struggle with water use restrictions.
There is even talk of some cities considering adopting requirements of new business and larger residential homes to include rain catchments in order to comply with proposed new building code regulations. Some builders are setting the trends regarding the green movement and those dealers who work with these progressive builders and the local Board of Realtors are the ones who will capitalize on these trends.
These problems are the new ‘wrinkles in the complexion of our industry’ and those dealers who meet the challenges created by these problems are the ones who will be here for the long run. They will have the discipline to pursue these opportunities of effectively eliminating new problems that are sure to present themselves.