By Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor
Still a relatively fledgling business, Eau Canada Inc.—established in 1996—is now only a small part of a larger effort, focused not just on residential water treatment but pool water care, testing products, water vending machines, beverage carbonation systems, international export and Third World disaster assistance.
It’s part of a newly evolved parent company, WaterOnNet Corp., that’s not only going online to make its push to tie together these disparate leanings comprised of four subsidiaries—Eau Canada, Enviro-Science Laboratories, Home Beverage Supply and International Water Products—but preparing to go public by year’s end as well.
“Of the four, two are in place and two others are in the process of being activated—the last two. We started with the first of these companies, Eau Canada, which actually entered into business about four years ago,” said Frank R. Varseveld, WaterOnNet president and CEO.
Varseveld launched Eau Canada with three partners. The sole other remaining member of that quartet is Arjun Rawla, CWS-V, general manager of Eau Canada, who has eight years in water treatment. The name plays on the French origins of the country (translating to “Water Canada”) as well as the national anthem, “Oh Canada.”
From tiny seeds…
“We had three employees initially and our customers were chiefly homemakers,” said Varseveld, a native of Nelsen, British Columbia, who earned his degree in forestry and engineering from the University of Idaho.
After 21 years in the forestry business, he and a couple of partners decided to venture into the world of water treatment. His last position was business development director for Crown Forest Industries (now TimberWest) of Vancouver, where he was introduced to water improvement for industrial applications in wood products such as pulp paper mills.
“As a water quality products dealer, we were pretty much a run-of-the-mill water purifier/filtration company—whole house systems, reverse osmosis, carbon filters, etc.,” Varseveld said. “We did consumer products as well as custom designed systems for commercial jobs such as restaurants and some industrial applications.”
Eau Canada also designed a system for special needs in developing countries after being contacted by a Pentecostal church to assist with a boys orphanage in Honduras.
“This was immediately after Hurricane Mitch,” said Varseveld. “We designed and built a unit in a week and, to test it, used water from the Fraser River. It gets a lot of industrial and municipal waste and is comparable to many rivers in the Third World. After the unit passed Canada’s drinking water guidelines, we shipped it off.”
At that point, the business was roughly 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial and institutional.
…big trees do grow
The shift for the company took place a little more than two years ago, when Bill Vander Zalm, an ex-premier of British Columbia (1986-1991), came on board and—with a significant investment—became chairman of the organization. Varseveld, who handles day-to-day operations, notes Vander Zalm was “doing similar work only in the beverage area.”
Vander Zalm’s business, Home Beverage Supply, dealt in carbonation systems and various flavor mixtures, including nutritional drinks. The objective of the merger was to jointly develop a national franchise network for marketing water purification and specialty beverage products nationwide, as well as to get the company listed on stock exchanges.
“We started manufacturing a water purifier dispenser, a compact unit that goes into convenience stores for dispensing water into consumer containers as well as apartment complexes as a source of purified water anytime,” Varseveld said. “It’s a standalone unit for inside use. The key point is, it’s compact—a third smaller than units you see outside a supermarket. Convenience stores don’t use large models since they take up too much space.”
Eau Canada continued to build its consumer and industrial business, with a bit faster growth in the latter. As a result of an ad in a newspaper, it then got an opportunity late last year to acquire a business that had 10 years experience in water protection, Enviro-Science Laboratories, whose founder wanted to retire.
Doubling their size
Enviro-Science, headed by general manager Timothy Knight, has two primary products—Polydex and Blue Magic. Both are based on disinfection properties of dissolved copper held in ionic suspension through a proprietary chelating agent, takes advantage of the metal as an algaecide, bactericide, fungicide and herbicide.
Polydex, Vareseveld notes, is used in “dugouts” and reservoirs for potable water and wastewater treatment and is approved by Health Canada for those purposes. It’s also used in agriculture for control of noxious gases and odors in animal waste and slaughterhouses—reducing risks of E. coli contamination such as that which claimed several lives in May in Walkerton, Ontario (see Update: E. coli box).
Blue Magic is used for pools and spas in place of chlorine. It controls algae and bacteria, requiring less attention because it doesn’t evaporate or precipitate, he added. A computerized pool management system—one each for consumer and commercial use—also helps reduce guesswork in maintaining pools. He even claims customers say the water feels softer.
Vareseveld said Enviro-Science is now 60 percent of the overall business and plans are to use an expanded dealer network of Eau Canada (to be developed over the next year) to market its Blue Magic line across the country. Still, he sees Polydex, because of its applications in horticulture, agriculture, municipal water and wastewater, as the most important product to the company in the future.
“We envision establishing dealers across Canada for all of our products,” he said.
Expanding through export
The Home Beverage Supply name figures prominently in plans for the franchise chain as well, although its activity was still relatively subdued this summer. The same could be said for International Water Products, headed by President Stan Stanley. But that’s expected to change soon.
“He’s the guy that’s jumping all around the world making connections for us,” Vareseveld said. “Things are happening in Europe, India, Korea and Mexico; and we’ve got inquiries from a number of other places. That’s eventually going to be the company builder allowing us to go overseas.”
Stanley, who has 20 years in water treatment, is working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as relief entities and international health agencies, promoting the unit developed and honed in Honduras.
Today, there are eight employees under the WaterOnNet umbrella and residential business makes up only 40 percent of Eau Canada—with growth in the overall business at 400 percent over four years.
“We’re anticipating very solid growth in what we’re doing,” Varse-veld said. “In consumer products, probably not too much will be happening in the next year; whereas, in the Enviro-Science line, we see a number of things taking place. We’re right now building a marketing organization and will be increasing our staff substantially.”
Much of that effort will be through WaterOnNet.com, the initial version of which is to be uploaded onto the Internet in September (the company currently is listed under www.aglicide.com) with product catalogs, related articles and
Board of directors member Rob Hutchison, a founder of Charge Corp. (a Seattle firm that’s pioneered online e-credit and e-phone applications), figures prominently into WaterOnNet’s strategy as technical advisor.
Going public is the tool to leverage these strengths for the future by opening the company up to outside investment and access to capital for rapid expansion, according to Varseveld.
Managing a company for growth is one of the biggest challenges faced by any business. With so many irons in the fire and an action plan that calls for speedy development over the next couple of years, that’s an even bigger challenge for Eau Canada, its parent WaterOnNet and sister companies.
“It’s exciting,” Varseveld said. “Our main challenge—as a leader for our group—is to keep all our people focused. There are so many opportunities for us right now. I’m sure every day someone comes up with a new idea for a product or market for us. The challenge, like I say, is to stay focused on where we can get the best returns.”
Residential water treatment will remain a significant component of that, but it’s taken a backseat to national franchising and international export for now.