By Denise M. Roberts

In 1967, Bob and Nancy Hawkins (at the young age of 28) started Hawkins Soft Water, serving the northern Indiana and southwest Michigan area. The company grew and changed with the times, becoming a full-service company that includes complete residential and commercial services.

David Hawkins, CWS-III, became President of the second-generation, family-owned business after his parents retired. He and his brother-in-law Jim Freeze, CWS-IV, purchased the business in 2004. Hawkins started following in his father’s footsteps 31 years ago, delivering salt and portable exchange tanks and doing everything from sales to service, installation and purchasing. Freeze, now Executive Vice President, began his career at Hawkins in 1985 as a salt delivery driver and continued his education in water conditioning world with on-the-job experience as well as enrolling in the Water Quality Association (WQA) certification programs. Two additional employees have also earned WQA certification. “Being an independent dealer, there are many opportunities to develop good relationships with vendors, customers, other dealers and fellow members of the industry. WQA provides a great link to the larger industry,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins Water Tech is well known in the region for its ‘to-your-door’ sales and service, while offering customers the opportunity to view their wares in showrooms in Middlebury or Elkhart, IN. These showrooms feature the company’s full line of water softeners (different softeners apply to different situations) and allow consumers to chat with one of the experienced team members. If prospective clients think they have bad water, but aren’t sure just how bad, they can take in a sample for a free water test. Hawkins uses the water test to determine iron and hardness levels, along with other important information, to help determine the appropriate system for the client. “The industry is very rewarding, and solving issues for customers is tremendous fun. It is an industry that still has great growth potential.”

There are a number of drinking water issues for the company to address on a daily basis: nitrates, arsenic and some hydrogen sulfide are the main culprits. Hawkins Water Tech primarily sells water softeners and RO drinking water systems, as well as selling and renting POU and bottled water coolers. The company also provides RO water dispensing machines for grocery stores in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. In addition, Hawkins has a significant market share of commercial and industrial customers.

In spite of the difficulties many companies are experiencing, Hawkins expects growth in the industry to continue. “There are always many challenges, which run the gamut from to the slowing of the housing and new construction markets, to competing with the Internet and other mass marketers/ big box retailers” Hawkins says. “Different channels to the market and consolidation of the industry will have an impact on how products get to the market place; we will need to continue to evaluate all of those channels.”

“Also, customers are getting a lot of their information from the Internet and we need to do a better job of getting the proper information out to the customer. They are getting inundated with information that is not always correct,” he says. “We will need to look at continued educating consumers and end users about the benefits of treated water because many people do not understand what our industry can do to provide improved water quality.” WQA sees this as an important mission of the organization.

Changes are coming and Hawkins is getting ready. He sees particular trends that will require all dealers and manufacturers to pay better attention. “Wastewater from various technologies will continue to become a larger issue and new green-concept technologies will need better, more focused marketing,” he believes. “Additional consolidation at the manufacturing level and the influence from the Pacific Rim does evoke some concern about the what the future will look like. Advancements in membrane technologies will likely become an alternative to the conventional water softening. All of these things bear careful watching.”

“We expect to maintain steady growth and acquire more market share with new customers and new products,” Hawkins notes. “Prior to 2008, steady growth was a fairly normal part of the business. In 2009 we went out on a limb and built a new office/showroom in Elkhart. This has proven to be a very good move even in the tight economy. Now we will concentrate on developing new markets for our products and work at expending the current customer base.”

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