“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.

Ten things I wish the public knew: #2

Drilling day2Last week, I started my short series on the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry (Ten things #1) and covered the first three. Here’s this week’s list:

4. Groundwater expertise is different than plumbing expertise.

Not all groundwater contractors are plumbers, and not all plumbers are groundwater contractors. In fact, although some water well contractors and drillers provide plumbing services as part of their business, most of the time they don’t overlap. The groundwater industry requires a distinct knowledge base and skill set–and even different equipment. Think of it this way: someone who works on melting furnaces in foundries is not the same person who would on the furnace in your home, and vice versa. Some of the underlying science and mechanics might be similar, but these are really two different jobs requiring distinct expertise.

5. We work under tight regulatory constraints.

Groundwater is a precious resource and, appropriately, obtaining a license to access and drill into it is a formidable task. In addition, nearly all states require water well contractors to receive a certain number of hours of continuing education each year in order to maintain that license. Of course, given the size and complexity of a drilling rig, there’s a significant safety and driver training component as well. We don’t just punch holes in the ground; we have to be well-trained and ensure regulatory compliance.

6. The lowest priced water system may not be the best quality water system.

I’m a firm believer that you generally get what you pay for. Go to the internet or the Yellow Pages and you’ll probably find several options for water well contractors in any given area. Whether you’re installing a new system or simply need to get back in water, the lowest price isn’t always the best option. For example, one contractor may be offering an upgraded system that includes constant pressure, whereas another may be offering a conventional system. One may offer a tank sized to meet your needs today, but another may offer a tank sized to accommodate potential demand increases. Different prices may also be reflective of different warranty options or service agreements. In the long run, it pays to understand the difference.

Next week I’ll wrap up the series with 4 more Things I wish the public knew about our business. Stay tuned.

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?

Inspiring confidence, part 2

A year ago, I wrote Inspiring Confidence about the numerous benefits of completing a Franklin Electric 2207 – Submersible Motor Installation Record. Although a completed 2207 has technical benefits, the real value is the confidence it inspires when you hand it to your customer after the installation is complete.

If the 2207 covers submersibles, what about aboveground pumps? Franklin Electric offers a similar installation form for those as well. In this case, it’s not called a 2207, but–you guessed it–a 2208 Form – Surface Pump Installation Data.

Much like the 2207 form for submersibles, the 2208 form for surface pumps is very complete and can be used as part of the documentation process for returning a pump for analysis or warranty consideration. It asks for a lot of information, but also includes a checklist to help make sure you’ve covered everything. And although it’s three pages long, you probably won’t need to fill out the entire form for most installations.

An interactive PDF version of Franklin Electric’s 2208 can be found on Franklin Electric’s website in the Americas Water Systems section under Special Documents on the Industrial & Irrigation Surface Pumps page, but here’s a direct link: Form 2208.

Realistically, if you’ve got a 1/2 horsepower jet pump installation, completing an entire 2208 is probably excessive. But just like the 2207, that’s not the point. The point is how impressed your customer is going to be when the job is complete and you hand him that completed 2208. Once again, by investing a few minutes, you’ll leave a positive, lasting impression on your customer; he’ll know that YOU know what you’re doing. When that system needs service down the road, he will pull out that 2208 and call you, not someone else.

Nation’s water costs not rushing higher everywhere

You may have seen this USA TODAY front page headline from Monday:

USA TODAY analysis: Nation’s water costs rushing higher

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

While most Americans worry about gas and heating oil prices, water rates have surged in the past dozen years, according to a USA TODAY study of 100 municipalities. Prices at least doubled in more than a quarter of the locations and even tripled in a few.

Consumers could easily overlook the steady drip, drip, drip of water rate hikes, yet the cost of this necessity of life has outpaced the  percentage increases of some of these other utilities, carving a larger slice of  household budgets in the process.  Read the whole article here.

David Bumbalough, Franklin Electric Field Service Engineer, had the following reaction:

This is exactly why I recently had a well drilled. My average water bill in 2011 was about $47 a month. This year, it was at $72/month, a 53% increase for the same amount of water, about 7000 gallons per month. With my new well, I calculated that my one-half horsepower, 10 GPM pump will accumulate about 17 hours of run time each month for electrical costs of $2. I do need a filter, and that runs me $30 every 3-months. So, total cost to run my well is $12/month. I can pay back my investment in my well in just 5 years (faster if I figure in an increase).

And, I don’t have to put up with the smell of chlorine and the taste that comes with public water.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Simply by applying common sense thinking, David once again demonstrated why a private water system is truly the deal of a lifetime. When clean, fresh water is available from my own property, it doesn’t make sense to get it any other way.

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.