By Denise M. Roberts
Kinetico Quality Water Systems of Missoula & Ravalli
Hamilton, MT 59840
Tel: (406) 363-1782
Fax: (406) 363-1703
Service vehicles: Three
Kinetico Quality Water Systems of Missoula & Ravalli is a standard C corporation with company spokesman Archie L Thomas as sole stock holder. His staff includes two service/installer technicians. Bob Koch, CWS-1 has more than a decade of service with the company while Brandon Redman has two years. Chadd Robb, CWS-VI, also has more than 10 years of service. Office Supervisor Colleen McNally has five years of dedicated service. The company maintains its top-notch team through training on safety, Kinetico factory sales and equipment, job tasking, software and technology training. It serves Missoula and Ravalli counties of western Montana, an area that appears on a map as a land mass that hangs down like a stalagmite midway down the western border, surrounded by six million acres of wilderness and national forest land. Everyone believes in and lives by the company slogan, Your Water -Your Choice.
As licensed Master plumber and Electrician in the state of Montana, Thomas managed a plumbing and electrical business with his father for 24 years. “We completed a national review of possible equipment suppliers and chose to become a Kinetico dealer in 1991,” said Thomas. He closed the original business in 1997 to devote full time to Kinetico Quality Water. His longevity in the industry has been a personal choice. “I enjoy solving water treatment problems, developing and maintaining the business systems required to produce a great installation or service call done right, on time every time. And if that doesn’t always happen, we get to improve the system for next time.”
Thomas got started in the industry because he felt water treatment is a more focused and predictable business than bid commercial or residential construction services. “The reoccurring income from service and rental systems plus equipment sales makes managing economic upturns and downturns much more controllable,” he said. “Looking back over the last five years, I’m amazed that we are still here. But more importantly, we are more efficient, better at customer service and water treatment solutions, have less debt, higher sales volume and profits than before the recession. In addition I have a great crew and they get the credit. Without them nothing gets done.”
Thomas also made note of the many rewards of being a water treatment specialist and devoting his company’s efforts toward bringing the best solutions to clients. “The rewards are many but I will list three,” he said. “The first is knowing that even in a small dealership, we use contact management software, prep and post-installation and service digital pictures, sales management systems and integrated service history as well or better than the best and largest in the industry. If you are our customer, and call about your system, here is a partial list of electronically available details recorded since 1996: install date, raw and product water qualities at time of installation, equipment model, serial number and consumable supplies required to service and maintain the system, digital pictures of the installation ( bypass valves, drain connections and special conditions), rental and/or sale contracts and all service or supplies purchased for your system since installation. The second important reward is the confidence of knowing that even if a prospect does not buy from us, he/she is better informed about the water quality issues and solutions because of the even-handed presentation by my sales staff. And finally, the best reward of all is that of a job well done, as witnessed by customer comment cards about clean installations, complete explanations of systems, clean and presentable sales persons, installers and office associates.”
Products, service and solutions
Kinetico Quality Water Systems offers both residential and commercial equipment and services, including whole-house conditioning, RO, aeration and UV, in addition to treating iron, hardness, pH and CO2 issues. The company provides the normal gamut of residential water conditioners, iron filters and drinking water systems. “Low pH water (5.5 to 6.8) with 1 to 55 ppm iron (ferrous, ferric and colloidal), limited tannins, arsenic and low TDS waters in the 10 to 25 ppm range are the primary issues,” said Thomas. “First, we complete proper testing and define the exact water conditions present at the well head or water source. Second, we use a lot of standard, out-of-the-box filter technologies and ion exchange resins but the real trick is when to mix, match and layer reduction methods to achieve the best product water, the lowest equipment and maintenance costs. Finally, we use Kinetico’s twin tank, nonelectric, clean water backwash system as our core design product. We use a custom-built media tank evacuation and vacuum-fill system, which enables custom media mixing for special applications. Overall, our best selling products are water softeners, iron filters, colloidal iron systems, neutralizers/orthophosphate systems and K-5 Kinetico drinking water systems.” The company’s commercial applications include whole-hospital conditioning, including RO, DI, UV, dechlorination, supplying domestic, boiler, cooling towers and 18 megohm lab water. “We design and install various water treatments systems supplying metal fabrication plants, green houses and light manufacturing,” Thomas said.
The best and the worst
Thomas has encountered one of the stranger worst situations for a water dealer. “We found little bits of fur in a prefilter,” he said. “The source turned out to be several vertical feet of well casing filled with decomposing mouse parts, due to an open barn yard well cap. As best we could assume, they were trying to be lemmings or Olympic high divers, neither of which improved the taste,” he noted. “The best is knowing that Water for People and similar organizations apply simple sustainable water improvement technologies in under-developed countries around the world that improve or save lives.”
Big challenges for a small budget
“The major challenge of this business is how to stay right behind the cutting edge of the latest social and business trends affecting the business,” noted Thomas. “I use the phrase ‘behind the cutting edge’ because we do not have the money to waste by being on the cutting edge. Let somebody else be the guinea pig of change. We work to be early adopters of only new methods that work for us, are relatively cheap to implement, increase the customer’s sense of working with a well-organized company, increase each employee’s output without degrading their work environment and positively inflate our public and actual image of personal service. These methods must be downsized to fit our small staff size. This is a pretty tall order. A good example is digital photos married to contact management software. Our service techs can review photos before they leave the office. When customers call with a problem we can view the photos, review equipment and service records while on the phone, plus view rental, sale and original installation documents instantly.
“The latest on going challenge is how, when and at what level to implement and more importantly, maintain a web-based marketing and social media program,” he continued. “Like all fads that evolve into standard business practices, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Everybody says you can do it yourself, its cheap and easy. A better question may be, ‘Do exactly what and how often?’ I have coined the phrase ‘orchestrated word of mouth relationship’ to describe how I want to relate with my customers over the Internet and social media. This is an evolving business system for us at present, which is mostly trial and error. We get multiple offers from SEO companies that may do great work generating leads in cities with millions of people but are not so measurable or cost effective when extracting leads from millions of acres of wilderness and national forest lands within our service area.”
What to expect in the future
When asked what he expects for the future of the water treatment industry, Thomas was expansive. “We will see larger and more complex central water distribution and treatment systems than ever before and more consolidation in some areas of service delivery and manufacturing,” he said. “At the same time, similar to mass food production and its related quality control problems due to its concentration, we will move to smaller, less centralized water treatment and food production as a means to have more personal and local control over our water and food quality. The water treatment industry, like everyone, wants less regulation at all levels of business operations, unless a regulation requires or encourages greater sales as a result of a new or tightening of existing water quality regulations. The industry needs to consider the same cost-benefit questions applied to regulations increasing their cost of doing business, in the same way changes in water treatment standards increase the costs for our municipal and individual customers. Our taxes pay for the public infrastructure, which in turn reduces disposable income available to our individual customers. We need to ask what are the costs, benefits and consequences to economic trade as well as public health when considering new regulations or changes to existing ones.”
Making the next decade profitable
For the next five to 10 years, Thomas has a definitive plan: maintaining steady growth and increasing customer-defined quality while maintaining or reducing operating costs. “This may sound like pie in the sky (Big Sky, that is) but our market area has more potential for growth in the next 10 years than it has had in the last 20,” he said. “The reasons are a combination of mobile computing, the Internet culture, better transportation and technologies enabling business to take place anywhere, coupled with migration from urban areas due to the general degradation of urban lifestyles. It is no longer necessary to live where you make your living. Hamilton and Missoula are great places to run a business, live and enjoy the recreational opportunities and more people are relocating here every day.”