By Denise M. Roberts
Kelly Parks got his start in the water treatment industry in 1987 on a bet. While playing tennis with a neighbor, he bet the neighbor he could do his job. The very next day, Parks went to work for Rayne of San Antonio. He and his friend, Paul Edwards, made something of a game of it. They would hit the streets and canvas, schedule appointments and sell equipment. They were friends competing to outsell one another and their game benefited both Rayne and their own wallets. Rayne was sold to Culligan Southwest in the late 80s, so Parks looked around his hometown for water treatment options. He briefly went to work for a one-man operation and quickly realized he was not willing to charge a new customer for the glue it took to install it. Then Parks made a big leap, starting his own company, The Water Works. It was small and slow growing, but over the next several years, he learned an enormous amount about rural water and how to properly treat it. Parks read and researched everything he could about water and water treatment, interviewing and receiving guidance from many knowledgeable people in the industry. He has worked hard to know the business of water. In his nearly three decades in the water treatment industry, he has helped many ‘newbies’ with their questions and problems, paying it forward every step of the way. A current member of the TWQA and WQA Boards of Directors and a TWQA Past President, he has also taught classes and been a panel member for TWQA and WQA, as well as chairing TWQA task forces.
A new challenge
In 1995, Parks and his wife Lisa founded AQUA-MAN Water Conditioning. “We started the business with $400 and a lot of good credit,” she said. “We both bartended at night so we could pay our bills, and I was a full-time student. We put every dollar we made from water treatment back into the business.” Lisa graduated from University of Texas, San Antonio in May 1996 with a BBA in accounting, and six months later, the pair married after a 10-year courtship. “I had to finish raising him before I could marry him!” she said.
The majority of their customers are in the San Antonio and Texas Hill Country regions, but they have many customers throughout south Texas as well. The company sells, services and installs residential and commercial water treatment equipment, including water softeners, RO drinking water systems, whole-house RO and iron filtration,to name a few. “We design and manufacture systems for fracture water/produced water cleanup as well as selling, servicing and installing storage tanks, pressure tanks, rainwater catchment systems, pressure pumps, chemical feed pumps and many other water treatment products. In addition, we are a Hague Quality Water products dealer. We have consistently been one of their top 10 dealers for more than a decade. At AQUA-MAN, we buy only American-made products whenever possible so the Hague product line is a perfect fit for our business. We don’t want to sell filters or anything else foreign-made if it is avoidable.”
The company is also a BioGuard Pool Products dealer. “In 1998, we did a sizable water treatment system for a ranch in Medina, TX,” Lisa said. At the time, the owner could not find a pool company to come to his location and repair/replace his swimming pool equipment. He had a beautiful ranch with a frog pond instead of a swimming pool. The customer pleaded with Parks to help him with the pool. He contended that if AQUA-MAN could make nasty well water pristine, why couldn’t they do something with the water in the pool? Parks considered the plea to be a challenge, so he turned the swampy, smelly mess into a beautifully inviting swimming pool. “We hadn’t planned on being in the pool and spa business, but as the saying goes, the rest is history!” The company has repaired or replaced hundreds of pool pumps, cleaners, chlorinators and heaters in the past 18 years.
AQUA-MAN Water Conditioning is relatively unique in the water treatment industry. In addition to sales, service and installation of their own products, they also service most makes and models of water treatment equipment. Their motto is: “If it can be repaired, we can fixit.” To accomplish this, all service technicians are licensed through the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and are periodically trained on the latest technologies. In addition to continuing education, the company places great emphasis on safety. “We want our people to work safe and work smart,” said Parks. “We hold regular safety meetings to train and retrain on proper lifting techniques, safe driving plans and much more. Rushing costs money; it never saves! We have 10 employees and we use contractors for electrical and construction purposes. Our employees are like an extended family. They are our friends and neighbors; our children play and pray together. We treat our employees the way they want to be treated. We acknowledge birthdays and other special events in their lives. We pay well and provide many benefits,including quality group health insurance coverage. Our office personnel and service staff are our front line and very important to us. They are the ones who make the first impression and we need them to make a lasting one. Because 60 to 70 percent of our business comes from referrals, if the first impression isn’t good, we won’t be referred.
“Additionally, it costs a lot of money to train a new employee and we strive to keep those we have on board already. Our employees rarely leave us and we’ve never had an unemployment claim filed against the company. One employee has been with us for more that 15 years, another for 11 and several for over fie years. Our combined experience is about 125 years of water industry experience. That’s a lot of knowledge under one roof! We need that level of knowledge because no two wells or house installations are ever the same. Something is different with every job. Whether it’s something as simple as a faucet placement or seriously bad water requiring a special application, it’s important to have a plan for each job to ensure everything is done right the first time.
AQUA-MAN is a true rural water specialist company. They treat nine- to 214-gpg hard water, iron bacteria, sulfate-reducing bacteria, hydrogen sulfide,bacteria, nitrates, sulfates and sediment problems. The Texas Hill Country is beautiful but the water is not. Sometimes the hardness level is so high that the water will not boil. “We are fortunate in our area because we have water; even in times of drought, most wells still produce sufficient water,” said Lisa. “It’s such a precious resource and we must be good stewards. To ensure we do that, we sell highly efficient water treatment equipment that uses as little water as possible to operate properly.”
“The water treatment industry is nothing like it was, even 15 years ago,” said Lisa. “Good, old-fashioned door-knocking can now get you arrested, possibly even shot. Due to new technology and advanced methods of treatment, many prospective clients have multiple options available to treat their water parameters. Thankfully, long presentations and scare tactics no longer have a stronghold on the educated consumer. Consumers are more aware of the need for treatment than they used to be and the market is flooded with companies selling products to improve water quality, including Internet sites that offer water softeners for less than what dealerships pay for them. Often they are of low quality, have a short warranty and are incorrectly sized. We get calls weekly for service on new equipment that has been purchased online. Unfortunately, the warranty from the site rarely (if ever) covers the diagnosed problem. Consumers are quickly learning what to buy and not buy from these websites.
“The need for water treatment will continue to grow with the construction of new housing developments and increasing populations. Additionally, as consumers take better care of their health, which includes better quality water, the need for our services and products increases as well. Offering affordable solutions to consumers will help ensure longevity in this highly competitive marketplace. We can expect savvy consumers to shop around, seeking strong warranties and highly efficient systems. Delivering excellent customer service before, during and after a sale will help keep loyal clients coming back for more of our expertise and high-quality products. Our customers are our family, friends and neighbors. We treat people the way we want to be treated; we are fair, honest and kind.” That sounds like the best recipe for success and the Parks family makes sure these principals are practiced with every customer, every day.