By Denise M. Roberts
Talley Water Treatment Company believes in guarantees, even in the face of uncertainty in life and the industry. With a deep sense of faith, Warren Talley accepts the challenges of providing quality and service without taking shortcuts to reach his goal.
As a member of the C12 (a group of Christian business owners and CEOs), Talley learns with and from other CEOs who aren’t in the water business. “The group gives me scriptural solutions for everyday problems. There’s tremendous value in continual improvement and accountability,” he says. “I am unashamedly a Christian and my business has given me an opportunity to share my views with people I would normally not come in contact with.”
From humble beginnings
Talley and his sister Nancy launched the business in 1982, operating out of her apartment. The first thing he did was visit as many of his competitors as possible to establish new contacts and determine what water problems to expect. This gave him valuable insight into how his competitors operated their businesses as well.
The company’s main focus is well water because local city water has a TDS of less than 75 ppm; a carbon filter will usually correct the taste and odor objections for most customers. He tries to stay away from new construction and prefers to deal with wells that are three-to-five-years old.
In 1989, the business was moved to a business park in Greensboro, NC to better serve its customers, who are located within a 75-mile radius. Because the most prevalent problem in the area is pH issues in the 6.0 to 6.3 range, acid neutralizers are company’s biggest seller.
“We started out as a multi-level company selling NSA filters,” said Talley, “and eventually evolved into what we are doing today. I have stayed in the water business mainly because we are good at what we do and it provides a decent income.”
Although the majority of sales come from customer referrals, Talley recently hired North Star Marketing-Communications and has re-evaluated all of the company’s advertising. This resulted in drastically reduced yellow page advertising and increased focus on the web-based opportunities.
Doing it differently
Talley has a laundry list of specifics for becoming and remaining a successful water treatment professional. It all boils down to good customer service and a willingness to step outside the safe zones of doing business. In fact, to show prospective customers the company is serious about service, all after-hours phone calls are forwarded to his personal cell phone.
Talley Water Company’s extensive customer support policies include three of its most important factors: in-house financing, equipment buyback and equipment warranty. Customers are instrumental in setting payment terms, amounts and monthly due dates. If a customer wants to get rid of their equipment (no matter how old it is), Talley will buy it back, regardless the condition of the equipment. And, the company’s own equipment warranty is actually stronger than its manufacturer’s warranty.
To maintain a more personal touch, Talley doesn’t sell equipment over the Internet or over the phone. “We will personally visit the job site and do our own water test or we will probably not sell anything to the prospective customer. It has everything to do with our values.”
“While profit is important, it is not the driving force behind our business,” said Talley. “We strive to keep our word no matter what the cost, to deliver a dependable product at a reasonable profit and to treat our customers as we would hope to be treated ourselves.
“The accumulation of money is not my primary motivation for being in business. For example, if we see someone who has our competitor’s equipment and it’s not working, we try to use as much of the existing equipment as possible in order to fix the problem at the best cost. We don’t go in and scrap everything they have when some of it is still functioning properly.
“Our main objective is not just to sell equipment, but to sell solutions to water problems. I truly want to help people improve their quality of life. In fact, we are not shy about talking someone out of a piece of equipment if we feel they don’t need it.”
“We set service calls prior to getting customer requests for service, much like heating oil companies do. I’ve learned that the foundational business model is far more important than the four walls of the business. If you help your customer get what he or she wants, you will usually get what you want.”
Competition in the real world
According to Talley, his competitors are a source of the company’s strength. “I’m thankful for having some strong dealers in the area,” he said. “If it were not for them, I would probably get sloppy and take my customers for granted. I thank God for my competition.”
Talley has noticed a more concentrated effort recently to sell non-traditional treatment devices on TV and over the Internet. “As established dealers, we must become more knowledgeable concerning the limitations of these units,” he said. “We need to position ourselves as an information source to help people filter out all the misinformation surrounding these ‘silver bullet’ devices.
“As an industry of local providers, it’s easy for us to take our eye off the ball. Personally, I’m not really interested in water treatment in India or Great Britain, nor am I particularly interested in desalting ocean water. The water I treat either comes from a well or the local municipal treatment plant.
“Real-world challenges that affect local dealers sustain my focus: treating for arsenic, radon, pharmaceuticals and staph-type infectious diseases that may be resistant to chlorine and other bactericides. This is where we live. This is where I focus.”