A constant annoyance versus constant pressure

photoA couple of weeks ago, I spent four days hanging around a hunter jumper horse show at one of the largest facilities in the country for these events. Overall, it’s a first-class facility and billed as one of the most beautiful anywhere.

Like any event, there’s always some complaining and over the course of this extended weekend, I heard the usual grumbling from the competitors: “that one judge is biased, the food’s expensive, the events are running behind schedule“, etc. But do you know what the number one complaint was?

“The water pressure here is awful.”

“They’ve got plenty of wash racks but there’s not hardly any water if more than a couple of people are using them”

“It takes forever just to fill a watering bucket.”

It was frustrating to hear, because I knew it didn’t have to be that way. There are numerous pressure boosting products available that could address this or at least make things a lot better. But from what I could tell, a single 6-inch submersible with an undersized pressure tank is supplying the entire facility and all those acres. And beyond the pump house, it’s a hodge-podge of PVC piping that’s been put together over the years as the facility has expanded. Even without knowing all the details of this system, it’s obvious that a few variable-speed or simply single-speed pressure boosting systems would work wonders here. And the cost would be trivial when taken into the overall expenses of managing and maintaining this facility.

Once again, the competition in terms of constant pressure and pressure boosting isn’t necessarily between manufacturers. It’s the alternative of doing nothing. And here’s another case that by doing nothing the owners and management of this otherwise very nice facility constantly keep their customers annoyed.

Next time I’m there, I’m going to track down their maintenance folks and their contractor and get a conversation going. This water system can be better. A lot better.

“How did we live without ________?”

Wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a washing machine and dryer that was one unit? A single appliance with a single door that you put your dirty laundry into and when the cycle was complete, the clothes were clean AND dry. I read recently that the appliance companies have been looking at this for years and in the not too distant future, an integrated washer and dryer may be a reality. Whenever that happens and we all have those, we may look back and think about how ridiculous it was to have to move a pile of wet laundry froFrigidaire-Affinity-Laund08-lgm the washing machine to the dryer. But until then, we just accept the way things are and never give it a second thought.

Looking in the other direction, there are tons of examples already in our lives today. Who knew we needed smart phones, microwave ovens, or cruise control on our cars? But in every case, up until we had those products, we didn’t know the difference.

What about our industry? I would suggest that variable-speed, constant pressure systems fall squarely into this category. I know this because if you ask a homeowner that has upgraded to constant pressure, they will tell you that they will never go back to a conventional system. But for them to get there, their water systems contractor had to lead them there. Not a single one of those homeowners woke up in the middle of the night thinking, “Boy, I wish someone made a water system that got rid of that large tank and gave me better, more consistent pressure.” They just assumed that for all the advantages of being on a private water system, these were just things they had to live with. They didn’t know there was a better way until they got to experience it for themselves.

Not everyone has a smartphone and likewise, you won’t sell an upgraded, constant pressure system to all of your customers. But to those customers that you do, they won’t be able to imagine going back to their old system ever again.

In the meantime, I think it’s time to go move my laundry from the washer to the dryer.

Hibernate or cultivate?

winterBaby, it’s cold outside.

In the winter months, the ground in much of the country is frozen. Construction gears down and moves to indoor projects, fields lie dormant with no need for irrigation, and no one fills swimming pools or plays in garden hoses. The reality of our world is that we gear up for “the season” and then hunker down to weather the off-months until the next one comes around. There just isn’t much new installation work in those months, so we sit around waiting for something to break. That’s just how it is.

Or is it?

I would argue that the off-season presents a tremendous opportunity to cultivate rather than hibernate. When the business slows down, we have a chance to reach out to people, build relationships, and add value in ways that can help balance out the cyclical nature of the water systems business. Consider the following:

  • Offer a total system check, following an example often seen in the HVAC business. $99 (pick your price) for a comprehensive evaluation of water system health, including tank charge, pressure switch review, and motor resistance. Is your home ready for summer? Don’t run out of water when you need it most.
  • When people have had a full house for the holidays, they often expose the limitations of their water systems. Not enough water pressure or fluctuating water pressure may have surfaced as an issue during heavy use. While the memory is fresh, this is a great time to suggest an upgrade to a SubDrive controller or an Inline 1100 whole-house pressure booster. Did you have to schedule your shower time when Aunt Mary and her family came to visit? Make sure your system is ready for guests with SubDrive/Inline 1100! (On the flip side, you can gear up for the holidays in the same way.)

With a little creative thinking and proactive bustle, you can turn even the winter months into a profitable period for your business. Who cares if it’s cold outside?

Water Well Wednesday

Last week at the Kansas Groundwater Show in Hutchinson, Kansas, I met Bruce Reichmuth of Hydro Resources (formerly Henkle Drilling) out of Garden City, Kansas. Bruce is in a small and unique club in our industry: once a week, he goes on the air at KIUL Radio 1240 AM and talks about water wells, drilling, pumps, and just about anything else having to do with groundwater.

1240It all started a few years ago when Henkle Drilling changed their name to Hydro Resources. To make sure that their customers knew about the name change, Hydro bought a few spots on KIUL. That relationship lead to the host of Mid America in the Morning to ask Bruce to be a one-time guest on the show to talk “a little bit about water wells.”

Pretty soon it was once a week, and two years later, Bruce is still at it. Every Thursday morning around 9:40, Bruce is on the air at KIUL to talk about a groundwater topic. Topics range from seasonal considerations, drought conditions, how pumps work, simple trivia, drilling methods, and even constant pressure systems – anything that educates the audience about groundwater. Sometimes Bruce will bring a guest with him such as a fellow employee or even an unsuspecting pump salesman. On yesterday’s show, Bruce discussed the Kansas Groundwater Convention and shared some of the McEllhiney Lecture (underwritten by Franklin Electric).

Bruce says he keeps asking the station, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? This is all very interesting to me, but are you sure it’s that interesting to your listeners?” The reply is always the same, “YES! What you’re talking about is critical to this area and our listeners want to hear and know more about it.”

It’s actually been interesting enough that Bruce’s expertise has generated another show on KBUF 1030 AM. That show is called “Water Well Wednesday” and airs live during the “Today in Agi Business” program by John Jenkinsen. This is the live broadcast from Hydro Resources’ offices once every other month.

Granted, Garden City, Kansas is a unique market area and Bruce’s radio segments wouldn’t garner the same amount of interest in Chicago or Atlanta. But it does show how important it is to provide the general public with expertise and knowledge on groundwater. Just a few minutes a week is going a long way in western Kansas.

WE DON’T COMPROMISE! Well actually, you do

There’s a truck advertisement out there with the tag line of “WE DON’T COMPROMISE!” That sounds good, but actually they do. Are there other vehicles that have a better ride or a lower cost or better fuel economy or the option of putting the top down? Of course there are; they’re generally called cars. That truck manufacturer has compromised those other benefits for the major benefit of hauling stuff.

All products are compromises, and with any product, the trick is finding the perfect balance between matching the need with everything else, including the ability to actually manufacture the product at a competitive cost.

Which brings us to a commonly asked question about Franklin Electric’s variable-speed, constant pressure SubDrive product, “Can I repair the components inside?”

The answer is “no” and the reason has everything to do with balancing size, manufacturability, cost, features, and reliability. As with any electronic-based product today, to get there requires state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. This is exactly what we have at Franklin Electric’s facility in Grant County, Indiana where SubDrive is manufactured. This manufacturing technology is same or very similar as to what is used in your cell phone or computer and it results in a small, very reliable package at a competitive cost. But much like your cell phone, the end product, as good as it is, is not repairable.

Could SubDrive (or your cellphone) be made totally repairable, right down to the component level? It could, but your customers wouldn’t be able to afford it, it would be terribly unreliable because of all the connections, and it would physically be so big as to take up the entire bed of your truck. That truck of yours may be a compromise, but perfect for the job.

Matching their lifestyle

This week’s post comes from Bob McClain, Franklin Electric’s Technical Specialist, Drives & Controls

Just a few decades ago, the average new home was around 1,000 square feet, had three bedrooms and one bathroom (one and a half baths if it was an “upscale home”). The typical day consisted of dad getting up, showering, going to work and mom spending the day getting the kids off to school, doing some laundry during the day, and hand washing the dishes after dinner.

Fast forward to today. The average new home is more than twice as large, even though we have fewer children. There are at least 4 bedrooms, with 4 to 5 bathrooms. Mom, dad and the kids all get up in the morning within an hour of each other and take showers before heading out the door for work, school, or daycare. Then, the water system probably isn’t used for the next 8 to 9 hours. But come evening, it’s showers for everyone after ball practice, along with running the dishwasher and washing machine. Throw in lawn irrigation or a geothermal system, and you see that today’s water system needs are nowhere near what they were like just a few decades ago. Not only are the total requirements greater, but water demand is far more driven by peak demand.

So, more than ever before, it’s not a matter of how much, but how much when. An extreme example really illustrates this – On average, each person in North America uses 105 gallons of water per day. Doing some quick math, a 3 gallon per minute well and pump can produce 4,320 gallons per day. That’s enough water to supply a home of 41 people, but unless water the supply is very limited, no one installs 3 GPM pumps. The reason of course, has more to do with our lifestyles than it does with the math.

So, we have to size our water systems based on the consumer’s lifestyle, and especially focus on that one hour in the morning and those three to four hours in the evening. This is where constant pressure, variable speed systems really shine. By matching the performance of the water system to the demand placed on it, these systems provide the water delivery that your customers demand and matches their lifestyle. That’s a good deal for them and for you.

Expert advice

By many measures, Apple is the most successful company in the history of the world. What’s interesting is that they’ve done it by eschewing many of the business practices that are taught in today’s business schools, including the use of focus groups for market research.

Focus groups are a very common market research tool in which people in a group setting are asked about their perceptions, opinions, and attitudes toward a product, service, concept, or advertisement. Focus groups are heavily used in new product development, but they have a mixed track record. The classic focus group failure was ATMs. Focus group studies in the 1970s unequivocally showed that consumers would never, ever conduct any of their financial transactions via a machine. Today, there are over 2 million ATMs worldwide.

There was never any doubt where Steve Jobs stood on the topic of focus groups and market research in general. Apple has never used them and Steve Jobs had a couple of well-known quotes on the subject. One was borrowed from Henry Ford, who said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Steve Jobs also said that asking people what they wanted was pointless because they don’t know what is actually possible.

How does this apply to the water systems business? Well, a couple of years ago, I observed several focus groups of homeowners in which they talked about their private water systems. (They loved them by the way.) And, regardless of what Steve Jobs thought about focus groups, we gained some useful insights from them.

However, here’s where Steve Jobs was right: not a single homeowner complained or mentioned the pressure cycling that exists with a conventional water system. They couldn’t imagine it otherwise. Only when specially asked about it, did we hear things like, “Yes, the pressure fluctuates with the cycling, but that’s just the way it works. We simply schedule our water usage and don’t do two things at once.” Another homeowner stated that one of the perks of travel was the good, steady shower you get in a hotel. When asked if having their private water systems deliver consistent pressure would be a good thing, many said, “Well of course. That would be wonderful, but I don’t think you can do that.” 

These homeowners never asked for a constant pressure water system because they had no idea it was possible, let alone that it currently exists. As a water systems contractor–the EXPERT–you have a tremendous opportunity to not only sell a premium water system, but more importantly to surprise and delight your customer by showing him the impossible. As Apple has so often demonstrated, sometimes you just have to show him what you’ve got.

Your customer knows he needs water. You know how to make it happen.

Note: While Apple doesn’t flat out ask customers what they want, the company spends a lot of time observing how people use its products and trying to understand what they want to accomplish. Like Apple, don’t ever simply assume you know what your customer wants; figure it out by getting to know him and having a conversation–as I’ve mentioned in several previous posts.