By Denise M. Roberts
Started in 1984 by the late Larry Cushing, Aqua-Aid Systems is a wholly owned subsidiary and separate entity of Cushing and Sons Company, a water well and pump installation and service business. The family- owned company is operated by Bart and Jeff Cushing, who have been in the water supply and treatment industry since they were 12 and 13 years old, respectively (and full-time since completing their college educations in 1979). Over the years, their dedication has reflected itself in service to the industry through a number of positions: President, New Hampshire Water Well Association; President, New England Water Well Association; Director, Vermont Water Well Association; Past Chair, New Hampshire Water Well Board and Treasurer, SW NH Home Builders Association. It is because of their dedication and hard work that the company has thrived and maintains an impressive reputation.
“After three years of research, we developed a relationship with Hellenbrand to represent its products and services in our area,” Cushing noted. “We did not take the change lightly. Although we were looking at the bottom line (since we no longer had to pay royalties), the quality of the equipment and manufacturer’s communications were paramount in the decision.” Since 1967, the Hellenbrand family has been producing high-quality water treatment equipment. Their products are renowned for reliability and the company has remained consistently dedicated to innovation while providing top-notch customer service. According to Cushing, the USA-made products are the most technologically advanced and have proven to be extremely low in costly call-backs due to manufacturer defects or design flaws. The varied line of Hellenbrand products solves the regional problems in order: iron, sulfur, manganese, acidic water, hardness. And, although Aqua-Aid is no longer a national franchised dealer, its staff is Hellenbrand, REPCO, Pentair and FPS factory-trained, and will continue to service all the equipment it has sold since it started.
Meeting the varied needs of customers in the tri-state region of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts requires dedication and loyalty as well as reputation. “We are very fortunate to have a team of long-term employees,” said Cushing. “John Nazer manages sales and installations while Steve Arsenault manages the service calls and installations. Richard Hayes handles new installations and inventory. Each of them have been with us for 20-plus years. Additionally we have cross-trained employees of the well and pump company who handle in-home salt and supply sales. Our office is staffed by Valerie Gray and Office Manager Bonnie Grenier, who are often the first contacts with our customers. We are very fortunate that all of our people give a damn about the work they perform daily—this is priceless.”
For Cushing, the worst challenge he has encountered over the years was having to keep customers happy via refunds and equipment upgrades when his company sold products that did not work properly.”Changing equipment brands has dramatically improved this situation,” he said. “The newest major challenge is to get our name known to the public in the Internet age. The days of just using Yellow Pages are long gone. The expansion of choices of media, from the old AM/FM stations to XM’s 130, using Google AdWords or similar applications, SmartPhones, on-line reviews, etc., all have made this a challenge but constant investment in and monitoring of these platforms has proven to be important.
“Just this past month, we had competitors placing their phone numbers or website on search results for our company. As an owner, you need to continue to spend on marketing but also spend dynamically and not just the old way. It’s been tough teaching this old dog new tricks. If you had told me five years ago that we would be getting our leads via the Internet, I would not have believed it, but I am a believer now. The Internet has become the no- cost phone book, so a web presence is crucial. I have an oft repeated saying: If we never get a chance to give a quote or bid on a job, then we will have a 100-percent chance of losing the sale. So why do we stay in the business? We have over $3 million invested in our rolling stock of equipment drilling wells and supplying people with potable water. If this enterprise helps to keep a positive image of our main company, we are ALL IN!”
Over the next five to 10 years, Cushing said they will continue to grow market share and improve their offerings. “Another long-term challenge is the reduced salt, service and supply sales, given the Hellenbrand line we are now carrying. Two things are happening. Though we operate salt routes two to three times per week, the newer Hellenbrand equipment has dramatically reduced our salt sales. The method and frequency of backwash uses much less salt. With several hundred installations to use as a guideline, the equipment has proven that it does not need service like the old line. Given our rural area and distance between calls, the reduction in these revenues will need to be replaced in some form.”
“In addition, we are seeing many changes in the water treatment industry. We believe more governmental oversight is coming and that it will be bad for water treatment, as it has been for the water well industry. The best way to combat this is vigilance in regard to governmental attempts to control the industry, and doing good work with high ethics. That said, if defective and questionable products are not weeded out, we, as an industry, are begging for oversight. All it will take is one high-ranking official having a bad experience to become an industry liability issue. Contaminants such as radon, arsenic and sodium are providing us with opportunities and the government will continue to be a helpful ally in promoting awareness of these issues as long as the industry produces competent and affordable options to solve these problems.”
As my brother and I approach our 60s with no immediate successor in the wings, the biggest challenge we see is a transition that will give continuity to all entities of the family business and to our (15) total employees. We maintain hope that the baseline we established four decades ago will prove our mettle and encourage others in our immediate realm to consider water treatment as a fine profession for which this business could be their springboard. Until that happens, we’ll continue doing what we’ve always done: be honest, show up for work every day and offer great service when called upon.”