By Donna Kreutz
Brothers Randy and Jeff Keim ran a very successful development company for 20 years, building resorts, single-family home sites, condos, campgrounds, timeshares and more. They were doing business in eight states with 1,200 employees. But there was a downside. “For the last five years, I was on the road more than 240 nights a year,” said Randy. “We owned our own jet, which made it somewhat more tolerable. But it just wore me out. We had an opportunity to sell to a public company and we did so.”
After a few years, retirement didn’t take. “I was too young. I just had too much energy and got too bored. I had to find a purpose in life,” said Randy, the company President and spokesperson, who is the elder brother.
That’s when he turned to water. “In 2000, I decided to start a water conditioning business. I asked my brother if he wanted to join. We walked into the water conditioning business with no experience or knowledge. We were just happy this would be an opportunity that didn’t require much travel.
“We were looking at starting a traditional water conditioning business, with home sales and telemarketing. We had that kind of experience from our development days. I talked with my sister about our idea and she told me to reach out to this company called Aqua Systems. She lives in Indianapolis, IN and that’s where their headquarters are located. She didn’t have any ties to the company, just knew they were based there. She said, ‘Before you make a decision, check out this company.’
“So I flew there a couple of days later and made a deal with Pat Miller for us to be a full-branded Aqua Systems distributor. Pat is my mentor on the water conditioning side of the business. Aqua Systems offers tech support, product design, advertising and marketing, Internet and website assistance. We had to learn quickly and had tremendous backing from Aqua Systems: building plans, logos, infrastructure, back-office support, everything and anything I needed to open a distributorship. I wanted to copy everything they did successfully.” It was totally a turnkey setup. “I cannot think of one thing I ever needed that they couldn’t help me with. We have our own staff, our own computers, our own building and our independence, and we’ve been their Dealer of the Year every year since 2006.”
The Keim brothers have lived in Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast for more than three decades and operated Aqua Systems for the past 18 years, delivering bottled water and providing water conditioning services. They now serve five counties in southwest Florida. “We service residential and commercial properties in city areas such as Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Sanibel, Captiva, Lehigh Acres, Bonita Springs, Naples, Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte.” The business is growing on average about 10 percent a year. In 2017, growth was 12 percent over the prior year. “We expect to do $3.5 million this year,” Randy said.
“The water business provides us a great opportunity on a daily basis because there’s a lot of new construction. We have a partnership with a well driller. We have a tremendous amount of homes on well water and they all have hydrogen sulfide in them, also iron. Most wells have sulfur water from 5-30 ppm. To date, we have installed more than 5,000 of the Aqua Systems SmartChoice Eradicators, which come in a variety of sizes to treat sulfur water issues through air induction without using any chemicals. We offer a seven-year parts and labor warranty for that. We also experience iron water in shallow wells, so with a media change, the Eradicator allows us to use it for iron treatment as well.
“Some wells have high levels of salinity. We are seeing salt water intrusion in many of the deeper wells. It is very corrosive and destroys fixtures and appliances rather rapidly. A whole-house RO system is the only mechanism to remove that salinity. Southwest Florida is growing rapidly and people are always looking for ways to improve their quality of water. The high amount of chlorine and hardness in the municipal water makes the water safe but the taste does not appeal to many of the residents. That’s good for our business.”
One point of pride is that the brothers’ Aqua Systems company was selected to install the water system for the new Imaginarium Aquarium in Fort Myers, which includes a 3,200-gallon fish tank. The IMAG History and Science Center “selected us to put in a water system to provide the quality of water necessary to maintain the fish tanks.” Another standout is that “we don’t use any subcontractors. All our installation and service work is done by our well-trained employees. This includes on-site training provided by Aqua Systems. We are primarily residential but have always done commercial. Right now there’s a new firehouse being built in one of our communities. We’re putting in their well pump, a 4,000-gallon holding tank and a large RO system to supply water for the firemen and their building. We also do hotels, restaurants, private businesses.”
The company delivers bottled water, including its own private label, Mountain Valley Spring Water. For the past six years, Aqua Systems has been the exclusive distributor in southwest Florida of pure, native, premium spring water sourced in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains and continuously bottled at Hot Springs, AR for 100 years.
“We have both plastic and glass bottles, mostly glass, ranging in size from five gallons to 11.3 ounces. Most customers prefer glass. Drinking anything out of glass tastes better than out of plastic,” Randy said.
One challenge the brothers face: “We feel we have a great product to offer our customers but sometimes financing becomes an issue for them. We work closely with financial institutions and programs that assist these homeowners in getting good, clean water. Business has definitely been good, though it was slow to start. To help us grow at a faster pace, we acquired four other companies in our market. We just merged them in with the Aqua Systems brand. That included a small bottled-water company and three other water conditioning companies.”
For the two brothers, one of the best parts of their water conditioning business is this: “We work no nights, no weekends. We have no commission sales staff and we have the best warranties in the industry.”