Volume 44 Number 4
Carrying on the Blake Name: AquaAir Technologies of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Changes with the Times
With a background in accounting and finance, Marilyn Blake never thought she would have to learn so much about the water treatment industry. Sure, her husband was in the business for 30 years but her interest in that line of work would often be relegated to dinner table conversation. Then one day, several years ago, the whole picture changed for AquaAir Technologies, of Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Marilyn’s husband, Serrhel, became ill in 1994, thus leaving Marilyn -- who was prospering in her own career as owner of a manufacturing business of creams and lotions -- to pick up the pieces of a business that, by her own account, wasn’t “busting at the seams with customers.” Five children and mounting medical bills made the situation even more taxing for Marilyn, 57. She made her mind up that there was only one thing to do.
“I thought to myself, ‘OK, you got this business and you got to keep going or you don’t eat,’” she says.
Marilyn admits, “I knew nothing about water treatment at that point in 1992. So I’ve been on a fast learning curve ever since.” Marilyn agreed to run the office operations side of things while Serrhel concentrated on the technical side. Little did anyone know that Serrhel would become ill two years later, which incapacitated him and forced Marilyn to run the business by herself since 1994. “With five children about to go to college, I had no other choice,” she says.
“In the beginning, I was very enthusiastic and then this (the illness) happened. As I became more involved, I found that the company he worked for didn’t train him enough and had not kept him updated very well. And I recognized that even if he were the world’s best salesman, the technology know-how wasn’t there.
Since I had more time (due to a lack of customers), I knew I could read more about water treatment as well as asking him some questions. It was basic OJT (on-the-job training) and book learning.
Alamo provides most of the company’s equipment and Osmonics will occasionally handle custom-design work. EcoWater and Enting are used when residential equipment is necessary.
As owner and president, Marilyn has adjusted well to market trends. She has big plans for the future and is hoping to carve a niche in the local market. “The economy in this field is still good. We just have to change our marketing strategy,” she says. “Over the last two years, I was not able to be out in the field as much, but that will change here in the next six months.”
Emphasis on hiring
There are currently five people on staff including Marilyn -- two chemical engineers, one part-time secretary and one service technician. Sales in 2002 are expected to reach $500,000 and steadily increase from there, she says.
Tracking the water
Marilyn estimates she has about 15-to-20 competitors in her market. Both RainSoft and EcoWater have commercial accounts. She says all of them plan to benefit from higher sewer costs to local customers. Because of state and federal regulations, her customers are paying about 30 percent more for their water. “Plants that once used bag filters are now having to go with RO or other types of filters,” she says. Marilyn has also seen an uptick in water conservation projects at various plants in the past few years.
She adds, “We’re banking on people coming back to regional companies rather than the national ones. With 9/11 and the economy, people are looking for a reduction in the full-service contract.” For someone with little experience in the industry, Marilyn Blake seems to be making all the right moves and staying one step ahead of the game.
Owner/president: Marilyn Blake
Quote: “When I first started the business, price was my first consideration. I always wanted to be the least expensive. I found out that doesn’t work well. Now, I don’t mind going to a customer and telling them that it will cost them $20,000 to do this right. I’ve learned that’s what the customer really wants to know. My salespeople get tired of hearing my motto, which is, ‘Establish the value and the cost is no object.’”