By Denise M. Roberts
Vermont Water Inc. thrives in a rural, problem-water market by emphasizing quality work and technical expertise. Providing technical excellence in water quality solutions since 1973 and satisfying customer’s needs are the hallmarks of the company, the oldest and largest non-franchised dealer in Vermont. This business philosophy has led to continuous growth since President John Beauchamp (CWS-VI, CI) purchased the company in 1996. Even with the recent economic downturn, Vermont Water has continued to grow its customer base, with a 50-percent increase in business since 2010. “We’re on track to break another sales record this year by doing quality work, treating customers fairly and being responsive to their needs—these seem to be techniques that have stood the test of time,” he said.
Vermont is a small state with limited industry and around 626,000 residents; about 40 percent of these are on private water supplies. Consequently, the majority of Vermont Water’s business has historically been in the residential, problem well-water market, with some customers getting their water from shallow-dug wells or directly from lake water. Water quality varies greatly in Vermont with naturally occurring hardness as low as one grain and as high as 210 grains per gallon; pH values can range from 5.0 to 9.5. “Some sources have TDS under 25 mg/L, while other wells might have over 5,000 mg/L. The solutions we provide have to work with the ‘grain’ of the water, taking into consideration the amount and composition of the mineral content,” Beauchamp said. Other water contaminants Vermont Water regularly deals with include coliform bacteria, arsenic, radium, uranium, as well as high levels of iron, manganese and sulfur. The company has also recently seen increasing interest from customers on city water who want a filter to reduce chlorine, chloramines and other potential contaminants.
Beauchamp stated: “Nearly every water source we work on is different with respect to quality and quantity, resulting in a unique set of circumstances for each customer, and often requiring a custom-specified system designed to address their water quality problems. As an independent dealer, we have the freedom to choose the best products available in the market to recommend to our customers, but it’s our knowledge and experience that helps us choose the best approach to meet the needs of customers.” His passion for the technical aspect of water treatment led Beauchamp early on to design customized systems, including gasoline remediation systems for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Hazardous Waste Division. About 50 of these mobile, skid-mounted systems have rotated through hundreds of sites with contaminated wells for over two decades.
Experienced expertise: every customer’s solution
Beauchamp places great emphasis on technical knowledge of water treatment and has 26 years of experi- ence in applying that knowledge to local water problems. He values certification of individuals over certification of products because a certified product “only works as well the person who applied it properly.” “I’ve been a Certified Water Specialist since the early 90s and I really feel that education and training have been instrumental in my success as a dealer,” he said. As members of WQA since 1988 and more recently the Eastern Water Quality Association (EWQA), it is the company’s policy to pro- vide WQA-based training and certification to employees. According to Beauchamp, “WQA is an invaluable resource providing a multitude of benefits, including research, government and consumer outreach and an annual industry convention where members can learn about new products and get training.”
Developing a reputation for excellence
In the later 1990s, Beauchamp served on WC&P’s Technical Review Committee and wrote 10 articles tar- geted to help dealers, some of which provided WQA CEU credit after taking a short quiz. He also chaired techni- cal round-tables for dealers at several national conventions during that time. In 2011, he was recommended by the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and appointed by the Governor to the Technical Advisory Committee for Water and Wastewater. His participation has allowed him to help shape some of the policies that relate to water quality and wastewater in Vermont, and to help keep him in touch with people from the regulatory community and other related fields. “I have had the privilege to provide input on the new testing protocol for private well-owners in Vermont and help prevent regulations that would have required homeowners on private wells to hire an engineer to design a system for the removal of the most commonly occurring health-related contaminants” he said.
Beauchamp has also helped broaden the discussion among state policy makers surrounding water treatment backwash flows into on-site septic systems, so that interested parties have a better understanding of what actually happens, from which better policies have ensued. “Instead of policy being developed by relying on anecdotal stories about septic failures that are not always grounded in a scientific approach to the problem, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to explain about filter and softener backwash flowrates and salt discharges. The release of WQA’s septic study earlier this year was extremely timely, and helped support what I and others representing our industry had been saying for some time.”
Beauchamp was also able to learn something about the many new innovative and alternative septic designs being used in a very green and environmentally sensitive state, by attending a full-day course on the topic. “A couple of things became clearer to me that day. One is that the septic designer community in our state is really trying to do the right thing, but their industry is only just beginning to become more technically oriented. It reminds me of where our industry was 25 or more years ago,” Beauchamp said. Another important thing he heard was that the quality of the influent can have a significant impact on the types of problems that can develop in the septic. “I came away feeling like there may be things that our industry can do to help make the septic systems work even better, in terms of how we design our potable water treatment. It’s like we are providing the basic broth from which the soup is made, and many of the things in that broth affect how well the septic can digest the soup.”
“Ultimately,” he says, “septic designers and water treatment professionals working on private wells with on-site septic systems have a huge opportunity to collaborate and make the whole-water and wastewater puzzle come together. Someday, there may even be businesses that provide one-stop shopping for both water supply and wastewater in an integrated approach.
Securing the workforce
“One of the largest challenges for the business has been finding high-quality employees with the ability and willingness to learn something new that requires time and effort: the field of water treatment,” he said. He recalled asking Joe Harrison, formerly of WQA, how other dealers were able to grow their businesses given the lack of qualified, trained individuals available for hire. “He told me he saw better dealers taking the approach of hiring good people and helping them grow into water professionals using the WQA training programs combined with real-world experience to get them there.” While Beauchamp believes in this approach, he noted that it takes “a lot of patience, time and financial investment.” He recently hired Justin Arzberger, for whom he has high hopes, and has been training him in many facets of the business; Arzberger has taken the Certified Water Specialist exam and is now officially a CWS-I.
“I think the future of our industry is bright because good water is essential to all life,” Beauchamp noted. “As water treatment professionals, we have the means to improve water quality. The supply of good water is limited and decreasing, and this is a long-term winning proposition for us to not only increase our success, but improve the lives of others as well.”