By Denise M. Roberts
With our nation’s early history as a backdrop, the annual Water Quality Association (WQA) Mid-Year Leadership Conference was held in Williamsburg, VA in mid-September. With a full slate of committee and task force meetings, certification opportunities and leisure activities, those who attended were in top form for making decisions and moving the organization forward. The salty sea air greeted arrivals in Richmond and Newport News, and as they made their way to the historic colonial settlement, WQA staff was already in high gear, readying for an intense week of leadership activities.
Tuesday, September 9 could be called a ‘light’ day as the activities were few (Nominating Committee Meeting, Board of Directors invitation-only strategic planning session, followed by a closed reception) in the later afternoon hours, when most attendees were still making their way through the beautiful Virginia countryside. Even after a full day of travel for many, members settled in their rooms and then headed to the lounge where a large crowd gathered for an impromptu social hour (or three). Everyone knew that Wednesday would be a combination of meetings and fundraising events, not all work, of course, but the day would start early as usual.
Business and leisure
First on the schedule was the Membership Recruitment and Retention Task Force meeting. The total number of member companies increased (2,592 as of August) and retention increased from 87 to 92 percent. International numbers were up slightly, while US memberships were down slightly; the Task Force noted there was a more aggressive program to retain existing members while also expanding their recruitment efforts. Task Force Chairman Denise Heskett Al-Kharusy noted that perhaps the 350 new-member goal may have been too high, as only 39 percent of the goal had been reached by this time. WQA Director of Education & Professional Certification Tanya Lubner explained that one of the best value-added benefits for members was the new Modular Education Program (MEP). Through the MEP, a company pays for the program and all members of that company have access to it. Lubner further explained the one-time, one-week-free trial offer, which new members could expect as a benefit. More effort should be expended to overcome the attitude that MEP isn’t just “moving books online,” Lubner added, and a lively discussion of the program ensued. The basics (operational for candidates to begin using now) will soon be followed by the installer series. Josh Kingsley noted that he found the new education program to be easy to follow and very beneficial. Kurt Gruett requested more information on the mentoring requirement that is an inherent part of the program. “How are the courses mentored?” he asked and by whom. Doug Haring said current Masters may be available for mentoring others. Lubner said that mentors don’t have to be certified and that answers for the program’s questions were available in the Knowledge Base. She also noted that for currently certified individuals, going forward, a certain percentage of activity must come from the MEP in order to maintain certification.
WQA will continue to reach out to new members to make them aware of the importance of the certification programs. The re-designed website, launched during the conference, also was noted as a benefit for members. It was mentioned that WQA plans to create an online process for both sign-ups and renewals. Renewal notices will continue to be sent out by email and regular mail, as well as fax to international subscribers, until online renewals and payment can be incorporated into the online functionality. In addition, task force members discussed advertising for recruitment purposes, saying that an expansion of efforts to include other industryrelated venues would be helpful, such as placing renewal reminders in those organization’s newsletters, for example. Mike Mormino asked how the new membership flyer was being used and if there was a more effective means of reaching out. Membership recruiters have been using it and ads have been placed in WC&P as well. While there appeared to be a loss of momentum for recruiting new members, no negative feedback has been received on the higher dues. Discussion included consideration of a renewal discount, testing a less-than-$500 cost or offering a rate lock-in. And, although individuals may become members, they are categorized as allied members and not listed on the website as member companies have been. That wasn’t under consideration for change.
By noon, everyone was ready for a break as two fund-raising leisure events beckoned: the WQRF Benefit Golf Tournament and the WQRF York River Cruise. As attendees dispersed to ready for their chosen event, a sense of relaxation wafted over the Williamsburg Lodge. A total of 41 duffers hit the links around noon to show their skills off for charity. The winning team included Doug Horner (ENPRESS LLC); Bob Maisner (Paragon Water Systems); Mike Mormino (ENPRESS LLC) and Shawn Talley (Pentair). John Foley (RWS Corporation/Rayne Water Systems of Santa Monica) took Closest to the Pin honors while ResinTech, Inc.’s Frank DeSilva nailed Longest Putt. Clif McLellan of NSF International excelled with the Longest Drive. Sixty-two people took advantage of the opportunity to relax on the Alliance and Serenity schooners for a most enjoyable cruise in the York River. The crew enlisted the aid of several to help raise and lower the sails and it was with a sense of purpose that they enthusiastically joined in to assist. The weather was warm, the water calm and the crew was well-versed in the history of the area. With snacks and beverages, everyone enjoyed the respite from the grueling meeting schedule, returning to the lodge a little tired but happily so.
Meetings and more meetings
The Board of Directors meeting was shorter than expected, since most task force and committee meetings had not yet occurred. Each group’s representative gave a short synopsis of what would be discussed or has been accomplished and urged attendance. The Code of Ethics has been updated, finances are sound and stable and booth space numbers for international members were up significantly for the 2015 show in Las Vegas, NV. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant has been approved for the WQA/NGWA joint project on private well testing. Professional development is on budget and on deadline for MEP. There has been a strong pickup in certification and recertification and Bret Tangley asked all board members’ companies to sign up for the MEP program. Government Relations said a more aggressive outreach effort is in the works for next year and is watching the California drought situation closely.
Deputy Executive Director Pauli Undesser, International Section Chair, said the regulatory database revision has been focused on EU regulations and standards and will shift to other regions when completed. Govind Bommi announced that it took six years of hard work, but on October 10, the first India WQA meeting will take place. The Convention Task Force reported locations being considered for upcoming conferences include Nashville, TN and Anaheim, CA, for 2016. The Dealer Section would engage in a Q&A format and the Industrial Section said it would review its mission statement and re-focus its direction, possibly on light and medium industrial water treatment. WQA has undertaken a process to learn how to better understand consumers and reach out to them. Sustainability programs have kept forward momentum as companies have been encouraged to seek the certifications and make consumers aware of these products.
Chairman John Packard gave a glowing report on WQRF activities, especially the unexpected and overwhelming early success of the new fund-raising campaign. To date, $1,023,000 has been counted, more than half of the established goal. Of that total, the majority has been provided by 26 donors in a campaign that Dar Watts kicked off with a flourish last year. Packard noted that many more commitments had been received but not yet inked. He cheerily said it was the first time he had ever had people calling him to ask when they were going to be called, an exciting proposition for him. Packard also congratulated Peggy Blazek, WQA Member Relations Manager, for raising a record $26,695 in golf sponsorships. The importance of research to the water treatment industry and the organization could not be overstated.
During the Market Development Committee Meeting, the audience was drafted to convene one of three focus groups to address specific questions. Two set their sights on Final Barrier while the third discussed customer outreach. WQA acknowledged the organization and members needed to take a more proactive approach with consumers to enlighten them about the need for quality water treatment and who would best provide those in need with the right service and equipment. It was determined that the term final barrier had a somewhat negative connotation and may need to be modified for consumers to understand it better.
In addressing the Toledo, OH and West Virginia water crises, WQA announced improvements to its contamination rapid-response process. In addition, developing new partnerships with municipal elements was discussed to ensure the water treatment industry offsets the enmity that has been prevalent. Action on multiple levels (starting at the legislative front) will be taken. The organization understood that it needs to present the water treatment industry as a qualified body of experts, develop and maintain alignment with municipal elements, plumbers and others who are associated with the water industry as a whole. Additionally, the focus groups determined a new path of reaching a larger audience would likely require the dedicated resources of a PR firm, especially during water emergencies, to ensure the public knows who to turn to for guidance.
Outreach efforts that were high on the list included creating viral videos; adopting a slogan that could be incorporated into the logo; promoting the Water Treatment for Dummies book on a consumer portal on the website; being more inclusive of rural areas and focusing on the quality aspect of water treatment in addition to taste and convenience. A multitude of good ideas were presented and discussed in the groups and all members were enthusiastic in their participation.
Attention dealers…more coming your way
The Dealer Section meeting was advised by Stuart Mann, CWS-VI regarding product types covered under the new Sustainability Certification Program and which product types are under development. He indicated that threats to the industry also present opportunities, which build partnerships. Thirty-six percent of dealers have added green products to their business. The certification standard, S803 Sustainable Drinking Water Treatment Systems, in partnership with the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, will continue to drive the adoption of new products.
Coolers, dispensers and UV modules will be added to the standard and in Phase III, RO, softeners, ion exchange media and non-carbon products will also become part of the standard.
Eric Yeggy discussed the results of a commercial water survey in which the first part identified sectors for which WQA could be helpful. Restaurants topped the list as a starting point, with hospitals/clinics noted second, followed by hotels. Members felt that with the fierce competition on filter replacement, the categories should be revised to hospitality industry rather than restaurants and hotels being separate. Discussion included the broad range of variables in each and the overlapping elements. It was noted that water specialist training is not focused enough on the plumbing side and members contemplating a jump to the commercial environment would need to know the pitfalls as well as the benefits.
Food service was considered an easy step into light commercial while hotels would be more problematic. WQA was seeking ideas for light-commercial training. Bret Tangley noted there is a great deal of chemical treatment, but boiler treatment was an option. Jamie Wakem said a concentration on filtration was needed, taking small steps. Don McGhee noted that commercial sizing would be a great tool for dealers. Kelly Johnson advised everyone to read Dealer Wins in the Commercial Market, by Dennis Rupert, and said dealers need good mentors and good training, as well as networking in small commercial environments.
Looking forward to next year
Many more meetings took place and much was discussed. The committees and task forces will continue their discussions in additional meetings throughout the year and at the next WQA Aquatech USA show, which is scheduled for April 21-24, 2015 in Las Vegas, NV and WQA Mid-Year Leadership Conference scheduled for Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, AZ August 31–September 3, 2015. Mark your calendars now. As the industry changes, it will be ever more important to know what WQA is doing on behalf of the membership to address the many issues and challenges that will come our way.