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.

It’s show time

OLike me, many of you are headed to Virginia Beach this weekend for the South Atlantic Well Drillers’ Jubilee. And many of you aren’t.

There are dozens of reasons not to go this year: the weather is good and you could be in the field, you don’t want to spend the money to get there, you’re apprehensive about the change in venue. I very firmly believe, however, that every one of those reasons is counterbalanced by a reason TO GO–and then some. I’ve written about a few of them in the past, so rather than reinventing the wheel (or the blog post), I thought I’d re-post it here. Before I do, I also want to share some comments from a colleague, which I think sum it all up.

Bring people together who share interests–vendors and customers alike–and give them a chance to share ideas in non-threatening, small group settings. Create opportunities for enrichment. Solve problems. Send people home feeling as if they accomplished something and eager to return the next time.

So here’s my own post from a few years ago. Think about it. There’s still time to get to Virginia Beach. The National Groundwater Expo is coming up later this year in Nashville, and chances are that your own state’s show isn’t too far off either. Which one will you attend?

The South Atlantic Jubilee was held a few weeks ago in Myrtle Beach. Like most trade shows in recent years, attendance was down and the usual theories were passed around as to why. These included: the economy in general, the sad state of the housing industry, and at the other end, “it’s so dry that everyone is out busy working.” I also heard that between the state shows, distributor open houses, and national shows, contractors are just simply weary of trade shows in general. However, the most interesting comment came from an attendee who said, “I used to come here to gather the latest product literature, but I don’t think I need to anymore. You guys have it all on the web”. True enough, but that got me thinking of all the other reasons to attend a trade show.

To begin with, if you’re there to look at product, there’s no better place. The web is terrific, but there’s nothing like looking at new products in person and interacting with the manufacturer’s personnel. You can touch and feel, ask questions, and then perhaps, wander over to their competitor’s booth to compare their products and talk to their people. The web just doesn’t provide that opportunity.

Of course, most states require some type of annual continuing education. There’s generally no better place to get that than at a trade show. It’s 1-stop shopping. This year, the South Atlantic Jubilee offered over 2 days of non-stop classes. And, the feedback that is collected every year on these came in at an all-time high.

Finally, trade shows are a chance to get away from the daily routine for a while and interact with the many other professionals in our industry. And, when you get home, the web is still there, with all the literature.

“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.

It pays to pay attention

One of our Hotline Engineers at Franklin Electric came very close to being on the receiving end of this accident earlier this week. The driver of this vehicle pulled into her parking spot too quickly and hit the curb hard enough to jump it. At that point, the driver panicked, hitting the accelerator instead of the brake, and resulting mayhem ensued. Thankfully, this wasn’t a serious accident and no one was hurt.

Right up until the moment of impact, my colleague was enjoying lunch at a table directly on the other side of that window. He could have been hurt, or at the very least covered in glass, but he was long gone by the time the car came through the window. That’s because he saw the whole thing unfold from the beginning, anticipated what might happen, and was already out of the way when the car arrived.

467551_4957447183034_91358143_oReflecting on it later he said, “You know, ever since I can remember, I’ve always been really aware of my surroundings and what was going on around me. That made a difference here.”

There’s a repeated point to be made about safety here. Safety has lots of components – proper equipment and training and good habits to name a few. But all the training and equipment in the world is no substitute for simply paying attention to what’s going on around us. Are there power lines overhead? Is the power really locked out? Who’s in the area? How tall is that overpass? Will it clear my rig? Is that the neighbor’s kid coming to check out my rig while it’s running?

Paying attention is hard to teach but you never know when it will pay huge dividends. Just ask my colleague.

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: #1

In my job, I do a lot of airline travel. Although I’m generally a limited talker with whomever ends up next to me, I often get the question, “So, what business are you in?” From these and other random encounters with the general public, I’ve built up a sizable database of its perceptions of water wells and the groundwater industry.

Drinking_waterWhat follows isn’t a revelation by any means, but I’m continually amazed at how little the general public knows about groundwater and the groundwater industry. Even end-users such as homeowners and farmers who have their own private water systems generally have little knowledge of how water gets to their tap.

Given this, I’ve decided to write a short series around the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. You’ll find the first three below, with the rest to follow in subsequent posts.

1. Chances are, your water comes from a well, even if you don’t know it.

I consistently hear: “I’m on city water; I don’t get my water from a well.” Actually, there’s a good chance you do. For example, I live in a good-sized city with several water sources, including a river and a couple of reservoirs. However, my city also has numerous large water wells, and a significant amount of our water is supplied from those wells. But ask any of my neighbors where their water comes from and they would never think that it comes from a well.

2. Groundwater is important. So important, in fact, that we literally can’t live without it.

The general public has no deep appreciation of groundwater’s importance, and therefore the importance of the groundwater industry. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater and of that, 69% of that is locked up as ice at earth’s poles. What’s left is surface water and groundwater. Between the two, surface water comprises only 0.4% and the rest of groundwater. That’s not nearly enough surface water to supply the needs to humankind. Not only does much of our clean, fresh drinking water come from the ground, we have to have it to survive as a civilization.

3. Groundwater contractors are experts with unique professional knowledge.

Not only do groundwater contractors have to be good business people, they also have to have very specialized technical expertise. Drilling contractors, for example, often maintain more than a million dollars worth of equipment, with more bells, whistles, levers, and buttons than most people can imagine. They have to understand geology and hydrology. Pump installers have to have an outstanding working knowledge of electricity and hydraulics, and more often than not, electronic technology as well. Not everyone can do this job.

Stay tuned for more Things I wish the public knew  next week.