By R.E. Schingoethe
Timothy V. Randolph II has seen many changes since joining this RainSoft water treatment dealership in 1993 and becoming President in 1997. Challenges have escalated during recent years and, while overcoming US consumer and economyrelated market issues, he and his colleagues have transformed the firm into a multiple-product enterprise: Florida Energy Water & Air (FEWA). “It’s been a journey, to this point,” observes Randolph. “You have to constantly reinvent your business to reflect marketplace realities, building on your strengths in order to best serve customers.” The speed bumps in the road encountered by FEWA will be recognized by many home-service providers. How FEWA navigated them reveals considerations worth noting.
Strategy-driven growth from day one
The firm was founded in 1990 by Timothy V. Randolph I in Lakeland, FL, as Discovery Marketing & Distributing (DM&D). Having spent 10 years helping the Orlando RainSoft dealer become the second largest in the country, his new dealership’s systems were soon welcomed into thousands of homes. Just four years after its opening, DM&D was named RainSoft’s top distributorship worldwide, a distinction it has been accorded for 19 consecutive years. The company entered the new millennium as the world’s largest RainSoft dealer, and has amassed more than 100,000 water treatment customers. Even before Randolph II became President, they employed a ‘think global, act local’ philosophy to grow exponentially. “We expanded with full-service operations,” he says. “Each location had its own marketing, installation, service and financing.”
DM&D acquired sales territories southward to the Florida Keys and westward across the lower reaches of Alabama and Mississippi, to Lafayette, Louisiana. “At one point, we had 17 locations,” Randolph says. “We sold off the farthest—south Florida, Panama City and points west—to focus on core markets.”
Today their territory runs from Tallahassee down most of the state and from Sarasota on the Gulf coast, to Palm Bay on the Atlantic. FEWA operates out of Orlando, Tampa and Altamonte Springs, with 180 to 190 employees. The journey to this point, however, took a few sharp turns starting around 2005.
The disappearance of financing
“For years, virtually all business we generated started by cold-calling prospect lists,” Randolph reveals. “With the Do Not Call movement, that marketing strategy started dissipating late in 2004 and 2005, and became non-existent over the next few years. As a result, our marketing costs increased dramatically. Every person we call today has to have requested a call from us. It takes a lot more time and money to send mailers, attend shows, do retail marketing and canvassing to get people to sign a paper that says it’s okay to call, than to buy from list brokers for a few cents a name.”
With marketing costs up and cold-calling gone, the economic collapse of 2008-2009 arrived. In terms of housing, Florida was one of two states hardest hit. “Home values dropped 60 to 70 percent,” Randolph reports. “Suddenly it became very challenging to sell a water treatment system to people who owed $200,000 on a house, when a neighbor just sold essentially the same house for $70,000.” Another problem was getting buyers approved for financing. “Homes were under-valued; actual unemployment in central Florida was about 17 or 18 percent. It has improved since, but tighter finance-company requirements cost us sales.”
Fortunately, the dealership already was pursuing various promotional options and RainSoft leads the industry in providing materials easily tailored for dealer needs. Although telephone list-gathering was costlier than list brokers, it offered higher per-call potential for success. A new option came into play. An alliance between RainSoft and The Home Depot (THD) gives dealers access to stores in their area to generate leads for in-home presentations. “We were one of four dealers to pilot the program,” Randolph says. “It took several years and we tried lots of things in (about 45) area stores. Now we have four or five programs that work well; probably 20 to 25 percent of our water treatment leads come from THD.”
Selling RainSoft systems via THD Home Services also helps alleviate homeowner financing issues, because buyers can use their Home Depot credit card. Nevertheless, “we decided to make more dramatic changes and expand beyond water treatment,” Randolph says. With its strong base, FEWA was positioned to succeed with virtually any home service line, and their search focused on three factors:
- Energy efficiency. “Energy-efficient products save money and buyers often get energy credits or tax breaks.”
- Need-based products. “Even if a home is underwater, when the air conditioner breaks in this area, they’ll probably replace it.”
- Cross-marketable products. “Having generated phone lists through more expensive methods, we wanted to use them to sell more than water conditioning systems.” Products meeting one or more criteria quickly emerged to be vetted by the dealership.
Renewable energy options take hold and water treatment push pays off
FEWA’s first expansion was into solar-powered water heaters, one reason being that “the sales process is similar to water softeners,” says Randolph. This helped utilize in-place business assets and years of staff experience with RainSoft systems. They then added solar pool heaters and now offer several renewable energy, solar-power options, ideal for the Sunshine State. In 2011, they tapped into need-based products via residential air conditioning systems, then added insulation to the portfolio, another environmentally friendly energy saver. “All product lines are benefiting from slow but gradual improvement in the economy. One indication: higher water treatment system first-call closing rates. We’re at 37 to 39 percent,” Randolph says. “After dropping to the low 30s, we may soon be back to closing over 40 percent.”
Results are encouraging on all fronts. After just a few years, energy products account for about 15 percent of total sales and HVAC adds 10 percent, while RainSoft systems deliver 50+ percent. A healthy portion of annual income, about 25 percent, comes from recurring service revenue. “The vast majority is from RainSoft customers,” said Randolph, noting that after mining their customer base and cross-selling prospect lists, “we’ve driven the cost of marketing way down.”
Randolph credits FEWA’s strong core of employees with making it all happen, including about 15 managers in various departments who have been with the company for 10-plus years. Networking with other RainSoft dealers helps too. “The dealer organization is as strong as ever,” Randolph observes. Besides exchanging ideas at conventions and other events, “we’re in a smaller group; five of us regularly discuss marketing strategies, products and other issues. It’s helped us become the businesses we are. That means working smarter.” Employing remote training and other methods ensures top-level customer service, including less infrastructure. It also means new lines that complement environmental and family-friendly advantages of RainSoft water treatment. The official company name remains Discovery Marketing & Distributing, “but now everyone knows us as Florida Energy Water & Air.” Water treatment poured the foundation. Now FEWA’S journey to this point has paved the way for even greater success.
About the author
R.E. Schingoethe is an independent consultant and communication specialist who has covered commercial and consumer water treatment, home improvement and security issues for nearly 20 years in print media, web and other communication venues. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Headquartered in Elk Grove Village, IL, RainSoft, a division of Aquion, Inc., is an international company with over 150 authorized and independently owned dealerships in the US and 20 other countries. The company is dedicated to producing the world’s finest water treatment systems, all of them manufactured in the US and backed with the industry’s strongest lifetime warranties. For more information on becoming a RainSoft dealer, inquire via e-mail (opportunity@rainsoft. com), toll-free phone: (866) 4-RainSoft (4-72-4676) or by visiting www.rainsoftdealer.com.