By Denise M. Roberts
In the sleepy little down of Bowman, ND, population 1,466, Abique Water’s Harvey Merz sells health. He believes it is his fate to bring down health care costs through promotion of a healthier lifestyle, primarily by offering consumers better water options.
Merz got his start in the water industry with Big Iron Drilling of Bismarck, the company that also manufactured Springtime distiller systems. In 1990, Sales Manager Rod Gwyther left to start his own business, followed by Merz four months later.
Gwyter and Merz purchased RO systems for their respective businesses together as a cost-savings measure. Merz sold six and another three a short time later, getting a good start and laying the groundwork for future sales. He added greensand filters and occasionally, whole-house systems.
Merz covers a sparsely populated region, primarily an agriculture economy, comprised of farms and ranches with private wells. It takes a lot of driving across North and South Dakota and parts of Montana to serve his customers’ needs.
Abique Water customers, on the whole, experience higher concentrations of sodium, sulphur and TDS than those in other locations. Most water sources have a TDS range of 800-1,1000 ppm. Sodium at 400 ppm is common, as is sulphur. Across the state line in Ekalaka, MT, TDS is often over 3,000 ppm.
The high concentrations are often considered the cause of many maladies. “My company’s motto, Have A Life With Pure Water, reflects my belief that RO drinking water for everyone would dramatically reduce our current crisis management health care costs, currently projected as being one in seven dollars spent,” says Merz. He promotes his view at health fairs he gives for free, emphasizing the power of quality water for a better, longer life.
“Farmers and ranchers are more health-conscious than urban dwellers,” Merz says. “They are more receptive to the possibility of maintaining a quality lifestyle by focusing on a very necessary and basic component of human need: water.”
Two things challenge Merz: customer apathy and northern plains masochism. He believes the ‘super hardheads’ that have failed to grasp the significant health impact of good water have died or are in nursing homes but the next generation is more receptive to preventative health practices. Merz also believes RO is a status symbol for others.
To further promote water treatment, Merz says the industry should recruit sports figures and celebrities to pitch RO sales, focusing on pro-health benefits. “There needs to be more emphasis on education, the benefits of good water and healthy lifestyles,” he says.
The best way to capture the ‘green’ market, according to Merz, is to design and manufacture no-salt calcium removal systems that can achieve measurable results that consumers have come to expect from traditional water softening equipment. That would appeal to the more ecologically minded and product-savvy clients the marketplace is courting.
Merz thinks innovative technology should be marshaled more rapidly into the manufacturing and sales pipelines. Another element that needs more progress is disaster management and the health consequences of catastrophic events, such as Hurricane Katrina.
Merz sees it as an avenue for advanced technology to design and manufacture semi-trailer-contained RO/UV systems complete with power generators, power tools, food, medicine, tents and building materials to be air-lifted to crisis points. Current systems provide water purification and some power generation while other essentials must come from additional sources.
Overall, Merz is satisfied with his business and the ability to reach out to consumers. His message is one of importance to the health-conscious, helping him to maintain his ledgers in positive numbers while promoting his products.
Merz encourages WQA to take a more direct approach in promoting the image that an informed water consumer is cool, smart and sexy. In addition, more constructive contact with government departments to advance the health benefits of water treatment would be beneficial to dealers, manufacturers and suppliers alike.