By Denise M. Roberts
Lifetime entrepreneur D. Ian Walker recently spoke to WC&P about the promising possibilities of water treatment in Hawaii. To him, finding success means taking a chance and reaching out in many directions.
Walker embarked on a path of entrepreneurial pursuits at the age of 19 and has maintained self-employed status throughout his life. Water has always been a big part of his professional venues. After 15 years as a boat captain who owned and operated a charter company and sailing school in southern California, Walker returned to his home state of Hawaii to tackle a new water-related career.
An advertisement in a local paper caught his attention in 1992. A small mom-and-pop water treatment outfit (Western Slope) needed a technician, someone they could train and eventually sell the business to when the time was right. Walker jumped at the chance. After learning as much about the operation as possible, it was time for him to strike out on his own.
Walker bought the domestic unit of Western Slope and began the process of turning it into a well-rounded operation that encompasses many facets of providing quality water and treatment. He built diversity into his business model with the goal of expanding the firm to include multiple services and products.
A true hands-on type of person, Walker notes that starting a business in Hawaii is not an easy thing for those who are unaware of the state’s cultural norms. In fact, most large water treatment companies are not found on the island. The far slower pace at which things get done isn’t something many large corporations find workable for their purposes.
Success by design
Walker makes water education a priority element of customer service. He believes consumers have the ultimate responsibility in determining what level of water quality they need and want. Although Walker remains deeply respectful of municipal water agencies, he says customers should know there is more to water than it flowing from their taps. The company recently launched its first ad campaign on TV to drive home that point.
When clients are aware of the options available to them, different facets of the Mountain Slope Water Company are noticeably impacted. A change in customer attitudes over the past few years has helped Walker’s two water stores expand their products and services to include RO-treated water, Water Boy bottled water delivery service, custom-label bottled water, water treatment equipment and supplies, flavored water and more.
The company claims title as the only one in the state that assembles its own RO equipment and offers a lifetime warranty. Walker notes that nothing in their whole-house and mainline filtration systems is pre-fab. They design and assemble each system based on customer needs.
The high level of expertise required to maintain such a diverse business is not lost on Walker. He only employs well-educated people who are trainable, willing to undertake his in-house certification program and have a desire to succeed. Walker’s training regimen grew out of a careful review of existing certification requirements and curricula from state agencies and water associations. With four levels of certification available, employees must invest at least five years to reach the highest level.
Island hopping the Walker way
Mountain Slope is about to expand even further, geographically, in the near future. Negotiations are underway to acquire space for another water store on the island of Molokai. Although inter-island travel between the islands to provide service can prove burdensome, the results speak volumes about the success Walker enjoys.
Through a budding dealer network, Walker hopes to have at least 20 statewide water stores open in the next five years. He is actively seeking those willing to become part of his network and will happily entertain new partners in the venture. Walker surrounds himself ‘with the wisdom of others’ and it’s apparent that has made his efforts in the water treatment industry stand out.