By Donna Kreutz
Mark Williams began his career as a field engineer testing farm equipment, eventually working his way up to managing a large retail motorcycle business in Harrisburg, PA. With a child on the way, he and his young wife Nichole were looking for a change of pace. As Williams tells it, one of their motorcycle customers owned a struggling water treatment dealership in York Springs, in south central Pennsylvania, which covers 133 acres and had a population of 836 in 2016. “We don’t even have a traffic light!” he said. A few signatures later, there they were—the proud new owners of a failing water treatment dealership. “I knew absolutely nothing about water treatment, but was open to any venture that would better suit raising a child,” he said.
The downside for Williams and his wife was the financial struggle. The upside was he quickly developed a keen interest in the engineering, solution-oriented aspect of the water treatment industry. Every day presented itself with a different challenge. That was 26 years ago.
Williams and founding co-owner (and wife at the time) Nichole Yiengst, who both have science backgrounds, discovered that treating problem water was and still is their life’s passion. Not only do they understand water chemistry, they have the education and real-life training to solve virtually any water problem in the region. Williams and Yiengst have four employees including Scott Hoak, who was employed by the previous owners, Danny Sentz, who’s been with them almost five years, Kevin Mullen, who’s been a part of the team for one year and P.J. Hipp-Varner, who started last April, round out the team.
“For decades, we have been the ‘go-to’ company for solving water problems others could not,” commented Williams, adding that, “we have developed a reputation for being the number-one source for solving the most challenging water problems professionally, efficiently and economically throughout all of York and Adams Counties.” And NicMar has had its work cut out for them over the last quarter of a century. This region of Pennsylvania has no shortage of water challenges. Iron is known to be one of the state’s biggest water problems, as is bacteria, low pH water (also known as acid water, which is corrosive), nitrates and fertilizer runoff, hydrogen sulfide gas, as well as pharmaceutically contaminated water from oral prescription drugs in wastewater.
The duo ran the business as EcoWater Systems for a number of years, but they eventually divorced, concluding that they made much better business partners than life ones and changed the name to NicMar Water (for Nichole and Mark). A Pennsylvania native, she studied chemical engineering and completed a degree in small business management at Shippensburg University. Williams grew up on an Ohio farm and holds degrees in applied science and industrial thermodynamics, along with agricultural mechanization and systems engineering, from Ohio State University. He also earned the highest possible water treatment industry ranking: WQA’s Master Water Specialist certification. “I find I am calling upon my engineering education and my experiences growing up on a farm more than had I done in my two previous careers,” Williams said. The challenges keep coming almost every day.” Recently, they looked at each other and said, “Okay, that’s enough problem water for today. Let’s do some hard water.”
One thing Williams and Yiengst do not specialize in is marketing. Through one of their product manufacturers, they met Eric Steven Stahl of Insytive, “a Los Angeles, CA-based strategic marketing firm with a great deal of experience in the water treatment space nationally, as well as the digital world. “We felt we had to take an out-of-the-box approach to our old-school marketing, understanding full well that the marketplace and consumers have changed dramatically in this Internet age. We brought in Insytive to help us navigate these uncharted social media and YouTube waters. They truly understand how our evolving client base has gone about making purchasing decisions and helped us reach our key demographics in ways we would have never thought of.”
In a few short years, Insytive has made NicMar the dominant player in south-central Pennsylvania on Google and YouTube. They’ve made NicMar Water virtually ubiquitous on the web where consumers go searching for water treatment solutions these days, according to Williams. “We turned over all marketing to Eric and his company. We just follow his direction. Basically we outsourced our marketing and it worked. It’s nearly impossible today to do old-school, in-house demonstrations. Most people go to the Internet first, then decide. Visitors reach the NicMar website and immediately see a live-chat option: Hi. May I help you? Online Water Specialist. Click on that and you’ll connect to Yiengst. “Yes, that goes to me personally. Day or night. It dings my phone,” commented Yiengst, who sometimes gets queries in the middle of the night.
Williams feels that they overcame the market challenges with a track record of guaranteed results and first-class service, combined with their own brand of testimonial-driven marketing and sophisticated Internet presence built on honesty and integrity. This has been their unique selling proposition. “We offer old-world service with new-world know-how.”
Random Helpful Hints from 25 Years of Experience
Mark Williams, NicMar Water
- A dental-pick type of device works great for O-ring removal.
- Wear shoes that have a tread pattern that does not hold mud or other debris. On sales calls, have shoelaces untied and loosened so you can easily take them off at the door.
- Velcro pockets on your shirt prevent glasses, pens and other objects from falling out when you bend down to work or pick things up. Outdoor sports and fishing supply companies sell these in a variety of designs.
- Make sure your phone has a waterproof case, for obvious reasons.
- Never speak negatively regarding your competitors, no matter how much they may deserve it.
- Have someone with sewing expertise create a large soft-cloth roll with partitions to house the dozen or so common UV bulbs. Using this, I have never had a UV bulb break in more than 25 years.
- Take the opportunity to speak at schools and civic functions regarding water quality issues. Be careful to stick to scientific data, not speculation.
- On a service call, always test the water first before heading to the basement and spinning wrenches. Test both cold and hot. That comparison tells a story to help you solve the problem.
- Try to put employees in jobs they do well and avoid areas where they struggle. They will be more productive that way.
- Be involved in continuing education, whether it is getting government credentials, certification for operating systems or challenging yourself with testing through organizations like WQA. It will do a lot toward keeping your interest in the science and industry of water.
- Answer your cell phone when it rings, unless you’re at someone’s house on a call. If it’s about a problem, it will be less of one if dealt with as quickly as possible.
- Corrosion-resistant small tools like needle-nose pliers, side cutters and scissors can be found inexpensively at those fishing supply places where you got the Velcro shirt pockets.
- Have two options on your sales quote: monthly and a straight-out purchase. List the monthly first. If the customer can afford the straight sale they will, but the option for monthly will help reduce possible anxiety or embarrassment about not being able to buy outright.
- Smile, even if you’re not normally a ‘smile’ person.
- Be friendly to pets. It’s important to your customers.