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.

Cupcakes versus water well drilling

“Barriers to entry” is a marketing term that sounds sophisticated, but all it really means is, “How hard is it to get into a business?” Barriers to entry are simply those things that keep someone new from entering a market.

Barriers to entry take many forms. One of the most common is simply a high amount of capital ($$$) required for someone new to enter a market. The airline industry is a good example here. Related to a high amount of capital is scale, or how large does the business have to be in order to be profitable. The automotive industry is a prime example. Other barriers to entry are an entrenched and loyal customer base (think Starbucks or Harley Davidson), or even legal and regulatory hurdles (think liquor stores).

Obviously, if you’re already in a market or industry (the marketing books call this the incumbent), you want the barriers to entry to be high in order to keep competition out. But if you are starting a business (that’s the entrant), you want the barriers to entry to be low. However, the problem with markets with low barriers to entry is that in the long-term, it’s very difficult to make a profit. That’s because even when you’re first, everyone quickly sees that youDrilling day2’re making a profit and it’s easy for them to jump in.

Here’s a great example: cupcakes. Cupcake shops have been all the rage the last few years. But I ran across an article the other day about the “cupcake bubble”. Come to find out, the cupcake market has reached saturation and even been overbuilt in many regions. Many shops are going out-of-business. There just aren’t enough people to support all those cupcake shops.

So why a cupcake bubble? Because the barriers to entering this market are so low. There are always hurdles to starting any business, but opening a cupcake shop in the scheme of things is pretty easy. So, lots of people saw a profitable trend with low barriers and jumped in. But as a result, it became difficult for most of them to make a profit over the long-term.

So what does any of this have to do with water well drilling and the water systems industry? Well, if you’re a professional water well contractor, the barriers to entry for someone who wants to enter your market are fairly high. It takes specialized equipment that represents a significant capital investment. It also takes specialized expertise and knowledge and experience to be successful. There are also regulatory barriers dealing with licensing and DOT regulations. And chances are you have a loyal customer base.

The point is that not everyone can do what we do as an industry and what you do as a water well contractor. We are unique. And when you couple that with the value and quality of the product we deliver at a very reasonable cost, you start to realize that once again, we’re in a great industry.

Ten things I wish the public knew: the final four

IMG_1599We’ve finally arrived at the third and final installment of my short series on the Ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. The last two posts covered one through six (Ten things #1,  Ten things #2). So current sporting activities notwithstanding, here are my final four:

7. Most well owners love their water systems.

Ask most private water systems owners what they think of their well water and they will tell you “I love it!” They like the taste, especially as opposed to chemically-treated public water, they like being in control of their water system, and they like the feeling of not being tied to the whims (and invoices) of a water authority. To many, a private water system symbolizes independence and self-sufficiency–and good, clean water.

8. That bottle of spring water you’re drinking? … It’s well water.

You know those bottles of water you buy at the store  labeled natural spring water? That label makes for good marketing, but the truth is that is spring water is simply groundwater, and there’s a good chance that water came from a well. Private well owners get all the natural spring water they want virtually for free–straight from their well. Of course, labeling a bottle well water just wouldn’t have the same ring to it.

9. Even where groundwater isn’t perfect, we can usually fix it.

In certain regions, the groundwater may naturally contain high amounts of iron, sulfur, or other minerals, making it less appealing for drinking and household use. In these cases, there are plenty of safe, effective, affordable technologies out there to address and remove these components, leaving the homeowner with a high quality source of water. These technologies don’t have to involve chemicals, either (e.g. reverse osmosis, filtering systems, etc.).

10. Well water makes environmental sense.

One might believe that having a common water infrastructure in the form of public water would be a more efficient delivery system than lots of private water wells. The fact is that it’s not, and there are two big reasons. First, it takes a lot of energy to move water through all those miles of pipes–pipelines that in many cases don’t exist today. Second, pipes have lots of leaks. It’s estimated that literally millions of gallons of water are wasted each year due to the aging infrastructure of public water. Pumping groundwater right from a well at the source is far more efficient and, well, greener.

There you have it. It may evolve or expand over time, but that’s my current list of the ten things I wish the public knew and understood about groundwater and our industry. I’d love to hear your commentary.

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?

Not just solutions, insight

lossless-page1-671px-Two_people_talking_tiffOn several occasions, I’ve emphasized how all of us in the water systems industry are salespeople in one form or another. And as a professional contractor, you are out there week after week selling our industry’s products, services, and expertise. The customer may be a homeowner, a business owner, a farmer, or a municipality. So given the importance of selling in our industry, whenever I see a business article about what makes a successful salesperson, it always gets my interest. In a post last year (Know your stuff), I highlighted a research study done by two PhDs that I thought stated the obvious. They identified eight different sales personalities and concluded the most successful type was what they categorized as “the expert”

I recently ran across a similar study with somewhat different conclusions. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The End of Solution Selling”, the authors identify and evaluate not eight, but five sales personality types. There are:

  1. Relationship builders, who take the approach of always being the good guy and focusing on exactly what the customer says he or she wants.
  2. Problem solvers: These sales types dive into a customer’s problems and work diligently to solve those problems.
  3. Hard workers treat sales as a numbers game with a mentality of “if I make more sales calls than anyone else, I will be the most successful”.
  4. A fourth type is the Lone Wolf. As the name implies, these salespeople are very independent and use everything at their disposal, sometimes at the expense of their employer’s policies and procedures.

What was interesting was the fifth type. In their study of 6,000 salespeople, the authors identified this type of sales personality as by far the most successful in today’s business environment. They call this type the Challenger. Challengers are debaters. They have a specific view of what their customer needs are beyond what the customer tells them. They actively share that view with their customer. They don’t simply acquiesce to what the customer is telling them, but instead take the approach of “I’m here to provide you insight and guidance on the issues and problems you don’t know you have”.

The Challenger approach leads to “insight selling” and the big idea of the article is that “solution selling” focuses on the problems that customers tell you they have, whereas “insight selling” focuses on problems customers don’t know they have. It’s important to note that Challengers don’t cross that line of becoming obnoxious. But they are assertive in their opinions of what they believe the customer truly needs.

So, what does any of this have to do with water systems? Even though I’m always dubious of academic articles on the topic of selling, I think the authors are actually confirming what many of us already know. When it comes to water systems, most end-users have no idea what problems they really need solved. Ask a homeowner during a typical service call what their problems are and they will tell you, “I’m out of water, fix it!” The solution selling approach would be to simply get them back in water. However, the Challenger says, “Okay, I will do that, but here’s why you are out of water and here’s what we are going to do to improve your water system.” Maybe the contractor then explains why they need a larger pump, constant pressure, or dry well protection. Once again, the approach is to use expertise and experience to offer insight and guidance.

At the end of the day, you obviously can’t force something on a customer. But you can take control and offer a firm opinion on what you know your customer needs, not just what they are telling you they need. The result will probably be a better, more reliable system for your customer and more sales for you.

Auld lang syne

Thanks to Randy Woodland, a Franklin Field Service Engineer based in Colorado, for providing this post.

OldDrillingI participated in the installation of a new solar pumping system last month as part of Franklin Electric’s commitment to field test new products before they are commercially offered to customers. As with any trial installation, we had a few issues. The most annoying one involved the flow switch “talking” to the controller, but we were able to solve it without incident.

After everything was running well, the contractor commented, “I miss the old days, things were a lot simpler to install and troubleshoot when we didn’t have all of these new products to offer.” I immediately agreed with him; pump installations seemed a lot simpler twenty years ago. I’m not too proud to admit that at times I’ve even wished I didn’t need to constantly learn new things in order to do my job.

The more I thought it, however, I realized something. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. In order to stay in business, we have adapt to new products and new ways of doing things. It’s that simple.

Then I remembered a training seminar I attended at least ten years ago. The presenter said something that has stuck with me ever since. “The last buggy whip manufacturer in the United States probably made the best ones ever, at the lowest cost, with fast delivery and excellent customer service. So what? His market changed when automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. Being the best at something doesn’t matter if that something is no longer what the customer wants.”

We are no different in the water systems industry. VFDs take the place of large tanks and valves, electronic protection devices take the place of fuses and heaters, a web page takes the place of an ad in the Yellow Pages, and so it goes.

That guy was absolutely right. It really doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. If the customer asks for it, we have to provide it. In today’s age of readily available information about any product or process, the consumer will find out what is available. If your company or mine continues to sell and service buggy whips, our business will suffer for it.

What any industry wants to sell doesn’t matter if the customer wants to buy something else. If you don’t offer it, your competition will. Don’t forget that today will be someone else’s good old days.

Suddenly learning new things doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.