By Denise M. Roberts
When James Hellenbrand started Hellenbrand Water in 1967, it set the path for future generations; sons Kevin, Terry, Jay, Jeff and Paul learned the water treatment business from the ground up. Kevin worked for his father until venturing off on his own; he started family-owned KH Water in 1992 as a Hellenbrand dealership. Said the younger Hellenbrand, “My father taught me the importance of being honest with customers and giving quality service. Never tell someone it will never need service.”
Hellenbrand always knew he wanted to have his own business. “Being my own boss allows me to try things I would not be able to do if I worked for someone else,” he said. “We not only do things that a normal water conditioning company does, we also wholesale to plumbing contractors, something I learned from my father. Working with the plumbers allows us to get product into more homes. My business is unique in the aspect that we do not only retail, but also wholesale to plumbing contractors. We do not have commission sales people. If we talk to a customer about equipment, we try to find out who the plumber is. If it is one of our plumbers, we tell them they can get a price from the plumber also. Although our margins are lower with plumbers, my goal is for the plumber to buy from us for all their jobs. I have been selling to the same plumbers for 15-20 years.”
Sue Hellenbrand, his wife, joined the office in 2000, handling accounting and payroll. Paul Beres, an 11-year company employee, has 20 years experience in the industry. Scott Martin, with seven years under his belt with the business, has 12 years in the well drilling and pump installation industry. Brett Husted, with 30 years of industry experience, has worked for the company for five years. To ensure that clients are getting the best possible service and systems, Hellenbrand has focused on training. He earned CWS-1 certification from WQA and sends employees to Hellenbrand, Inc. for training in sales and service for residential and commercial equipment.
Hellenbrand’s team of professionals serves southeastern Wisconsin, offering residential and commercial service. “We have been a Hellenbrand dealer from day one and use ProMate Softeners and ProMate Iron Curtains,” he noted. “KH Water specializes in iron and sulfur removal for very large homes needing 25-50 gpm (94.6-189.2 liters/minute). Our service technicians are also our installers as well as our sales force. They ask our customers several questions to learn more about their water and how they use, then make recommendations. All our customers with iron filters and drinking water systems are scheduled for maintenance and filter changes. We also deal with hardness and arsenic issues in this region.”
As with most businesses, nothing has come easily. The challenges of misinformation on the internet and misleading sales people have been the most obvious obstacles that KH Water has had to overcome. “We do what we do best in spite of those problems and there are rewards,” he said. “The best is seeing a customer who has not been able to use their water effectively but notice the difference immediately in washing clothes and drinking water after we install the properly sized equipment. It looks like we’ll be dealing with more problem water, chemicals, bacteria and other contaminants in the future. Working with Hellenbrand, Inc. allows us to tackle problems many other companies have to walk away from and as more companies consolidate, we feel it will be more important to emphasize service.”
As he looks to the future, Hellenbrand noted that the company will continue to focus on building its wholesale business to plumbing contractors as well as the retail/rental business aspects. To overcome the many challenges the industry has faced and KH Water has endured, he has adhered to the tenants of behavior and ethics taught by his parents. “I want to make sure that my mom and dad get credit for showing me the right way to treat customers. I also want to stress my business is only as good as its employees, and I am fortunate to have great employees.”