By Emma H. Peterson
Franklin Water Treatment (FWT) was conceived in May 2021 from a web of acquisitions and merging companies. FWT is a business unit of Franklin Electric (NASDAQ: FELE), which manufactures pumps both in the water industry for wells and in the oil and gas industry for fuel delivery. “No matter where you are, there’s a good chance that there’s a Franklin pump pulling that water from the ground or delivering fuel to your car,” said Patrick Miller, Vice President of FWT Indirect Sales Group. FWT is made up of brands such as Aqua Systems, Hellenbrand, Puronics, Waterite, B&R, and Sterling. FWT is the aggregator of these brands, providing the strategic direction and resources needed to assure customer needs are served.
Led by Don Line, former President of Aqua Systems and now President of FWT, the business unit serves both residential and commercial markets producing products in water treatment that include, but are not limited to, water softeners, reverse osmosis, filtration, disinfection, and solving other issues related to problem water. Since FWT owns and operates numerous retail locations and has distribution in virtually all markets in the Americas and Canada, the company encounters all types of water problems and has developed solutions to meet these needs. Its primary products continue to be water softeners, iron, sulfur systems, drinking water solutions, and even bottled water in select markets.
Searching for a New Challenge
Miller became interested in the water treatment business in the mid-1980s when there was much attention and concern regarding water contamination. Regulations were much less restrictive, and pollution was arguably worse than it is today.
“This was during a time when Time, Newsweek, and other major consumer magazines dedicated entire issues to the challenges of cleaning up coastal areas and drinking water supplies,” Miller said. Although he owned a business in a different industry, Miller was looking for a new challenge that would be “long term and stable.” After weighing his options, he decided that water was the most logical choice given the growing demand for clean water.
In 1987, Miller began independently marketing water treatment systems. This led him to become a regional sales representative for Water Factory Systems, a California-based innovator and manufacturer of reverse osmosis systems. While working with dealers and marketing the products from various manufacturers around the country, he met Bret and Lou Petty—the founders of Aqua Systems. They had a different business model that did not include commissioned salespeople, and they marketed themselves at a value price.
“I began to engage with them about allowing me to set up a dealer program, and after about a year of begging and pleading and selling the case, they said, ‘Okay, let’s try it,’” Miller said. He started working with the Pettys in 1989 and began setting up a dealer network for Aqua Systems. “In 1990 we decided to fully commit to building a group of dealers that would go to market with Aqua Systems products and under the Aqua Systems name. At that time my position was National Director of Sales,” Miller said. This change led to Aqua Systems growing to become a significant entity with over 300 national dealers today.
Under the leadership of Line, then President of Aqua Systems, Miller was promoted to Director of Business Development. In 2019 the company was big enough to acquire Hellenbrand. In May 2021, Franklin Electric acquired Aqua Systems, spreading the company’s facilities and brands further throughout the US and Canada. Franklin Electronic had already purchased Puronics, Waterite, and Sterling at this time. “They were looking for a management team and a company that could take Franklin Water Treatment and grow it even further,” Miller said, “Now we have this whole water treatment division that we are integrating.” The brands under FWT are already well-known names with a great following, but Miller and the FWT thought, “why stop there?”
Supporting Dealers Effectively
As a large international company, the resources and power that FWT brings to the industry are unmatched. With its multitude of distribution facilities, the company can serve different customers facing a variety of challenges. “One of the benefits at FWT is when we talk to a dealer about a business problem, not necessarily just a technical problem, we have a large number of stores out there doing the same things they do every day. So, when they have an actual business problem, like ‘I have competition issues’ or some other problem in the marketplace, those are things we have a great deal of expertise helping them with because we operate a number of company-owned stores,” Miller said. Growth at FWT is patterned on continuing to expand the services the company offers to support the dealer network and future acquisitions.
At FWT’s Aqua Systems branch, employees will assist dealers with everything from creating websites to mailing advertisements to pay-per-click marketing. This branch is committed to giving these dealers the materials and resources needed to be successful. Essentially, the branch is a partner to their business. The goal is to create a more profitable and sustainably successful business for the dealer, whether that means helping set margins or looking at their position in the marketplace. “We can provide real, solid, intelligent support,” Miller said. “What we do is run marketing tests through our own retail stores to gauge the effectiveness of them. When we find something that is effective, we disseminate the approach to all our dealers; it’s something that nobody really does in the industry.” As Miller likes to say, “Be in business for yourself, but not by yourself.”
Miller believes the future of water treatment is continued growth. “That’s what I believed 30-plus years ago when I entered this industry. It has proven correct, and I see nothing that will slow the opportunities and growth that still lie ahead of us,” he said. “Water is a finite resource that is essential to our everyday lives. Additionally, groundwater hardness and impurity contamination are ongoing natural processes that have no end. Lastly, people are more aware than at any previous time in history that water quality can affect health beneficially or otherwise and is one of the easiest, most accessible things you can do to improve your health.”
FWT will continue to grow geographically, including plans for acquisitions. The company is on a mission to be the leading provider of water treatment equipment in the US and globally. FWT is constantly developing more efficient products as well as business assistance for its dealers and improving the retail customer experience through the operation of numerous company-owned retail locations. “We will be growing through our existing dealer network, and we continue to look for acquisition opportunities for OEM and at the dealer level,” Miller said. “I’d sure want to hitch my wagon to the company that has the intent to be number one in the industry!”
About the author
Emma H. Peterson, is a student at the University of Arizona, majoring in journalism, with a minor in natural resources. Throughout her college experience, she has developed a following for her photography and photojournalism endeavors. After graduation, Peterson intends to broadly expand her creative/ feature writing and photography prospects, as well as pursue her personal interests in skiing and rock climbing.