By Denise M. Roberts
American Pure Water, Inc., (formerly American Water Treatment, Inc.) a family-owned firm that’s been in business for over 25 years, serves clients in a 70-mile radius of Rockford, IL. The company offers residential, commercial and industrial services, including sales and rental of water softeners, iron and sulfur removal equipment, RO and UV systems, DI exchange service and salt and water delivery. For very large industrial system contracts, the firm partners with another company.
Russ Piper, President, Founder, Service Technician, chief cook and bottle washer, got his start in the water treatment industry while working for an electronics manufacturer, operating their DI plant. He then was hired by a local water treatment company and when the wholesale division was discontinued, Piper saw an opportunity to fill that niche and went into business for himself. He soon found out that it wasn’t as easy as he anticipated and changed to a retail business model. “What I find most rewarding is correctly diagnosing a difficult water problem and offering a long-term economic solution while standing ready for any service that should be needed in the future,” he said. “The best thing about my business is working daily with my family, though it can also have some drawbacks.”
This small (subchapter S) corporation employs the talents of a close-knit family group, headed by Piper. His wife Sherry is Office Manager; son Eric is an installer and service technician; daughter Cindy Pope is Director of Marketing and Sales while son-in-law Chad Pope handles all water and salt deliveries and RO service. And not to be left out is Biscuit, the family’s five-year-old Golden-doodle, who works part time as a (way-too-enthusiastic) greeter. Providing customers with a wide range of treatment options requires a competent workforce. Piper emphasizes this to employees and encourages participation in comprehensive training, which includes courses from GE, Pentair, North Star, Water-Right, Osmonics, Alamo and Hague, as well as WQA seminars. Both Piper and Cindy are WQA-certified, CWS-II and CWS-I, respectively.
To meet its client’s needs, American Pure Water offers treatment options for a variety of common issues, including hardness (from 20-40 grains), wells with 5-10 ppm ferrous iron and hydrogen sulfide, as well as some coliform and nitrate problems. “Our bread and butter systems are GE’s Avantapure and Pentair Logix softeners and Vertex RO systems,” Piper said. “Having the support of great suppliers, like International Water Werks, Good Water Warehouse, Water-Right and Vertex are the best part of the business. We also put in a lot of single- and double-tank aeration/oxidation filters of our own design to rectify iron and hydrogen sulfide problems. And, whenever possible, we try to offer non chemical solutions.”
Rising above the economic fray
Every dealer interviewed over the past two years has cited the ongoing challenges of the economy, changing regulatory requirements and keeping up with technology as major hurdles in doing business. Piper has not gone unscathed. “The biggest challenges have been the collapse of the housing industry and the subsequent problems with consumer financing,” he said. “We have been able to weather this storm by increasing our networking activities, both on a personal level through networking groups, chamber of commerce involvement, partnerships with complimentary businesses and social media presence.
“We have also participated in a lot more fairs, shows and expos, increased our Internet presence and sponsored a local radio program. We are members of the Better Business Bureau and have received multiple complaint-free awards helping to inspire trust in potential customers. As for the financing area, we have continued to maintain good relations with our financing provider, but we have done a lot more cash/credit card sales, in-house financing and rentals.”
As with most dealers, the Internet and big-box outlets provide a constant challenge. To effectively offset that as a problematic situation, Piper noted the company has become authorized (often preferred) servicers for most of the products that they sell. “This gives us a chance to repair or replace them when necessary, and often sell additional equipment due to their misapplication.”
The worst situation Piper has had to contend with generally comes back to ethics. “Dishonest dealers who give lifetime warrantees then close the business, leaving their customers without service make it very difficult to build trust and respect,” he said. “One dealer in our area has done that four times, just since we started our business, and he advertises 30 years of experience! I also am concerned that with the help of the Internet and other mass marketing venues, many consumers may be being lured into buying ‘easy snake oil solutions to their water problems.”
These are issues that lead Piper to believe that increased government regulation, which would have a negative impact on all dealers, will arise. “The only solution that I see would be for dealers as well as manufacturers and industry groups to do more to educate consumers,” he said.
Piper will continue doing business as usual and keeping his customers happy. The results of American Pure Water’s efforts so far have been to make the company stronger and more focused on moving into a wider area of operations. “We plan to buy or build our own building and continue to expand our rental and commercial service base by adding additional sales and service staff,” said Piper. That positive outlook, coupled with a vision to make progress rather than maintain the status quo should help American Pure Water reach their next goals easily.