Volume 44 Number 7
Where the Grass is Always Evergreen: Cascade Quality Water Center of Wenatchee, Wash.
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Centrally located in the state known for its apple orchards, George Ising has a luxury that many water treatment dealers wish they could share -- he has a large customer base without a glut of competitors. Ising is the owner of Cascade Quality Water Center, of Wenatchee, Wash., a predominantly residential water treatment business that opened its doors in 1987.
While the local agricultural economy may be shriveling under drought, layoffs and plant closings, he is riding a tide of optimism that’s expected to last at least throughout this year. “We’ve been bursting at the seams,” Ising says. Expansion is certainly in Cascade’s future and Ising has his eye on a new building across the street from his current facility. He can see the company moving there within the next two years.
Farming it out
Cascade is an 80-85 percent residential-based business, as the area isn’t a hotbed for commercial/industrial applications. Greater Wenatchee -- with a population of about 50,000 -- is mainly agricultural and, in particular, timber. Much of that industry has been “wiped out” recently due to the economy, says Ising. One of the more lucrative staples of this part of the country, apples, has also fallen on hard times. Ising, 58, reports that several packing plants have shut down for good while two other large ones are in receivership.
Outsourcing the water
So how did this affect his business? For one thing, water softener sales and drinking water systems both experienced a sharp drop in sales. Add to this the fact that many people have individual wells and it was clear to see why Ising re-evaluated his business strategy. His solution was to diversify and step up his efforts in a revenue source that had always been healthy -- bottled water delivery. Now, he says, bottled water makes up for “about 50 percent of our business.” The local decision to tap other drinking water sources hasn’t affected his customers’ desire for bottled water.
“We’re not doing a lot of anything, but a little bit of everything,” Ising says. “Customers can sometimes resent the fact that they have to get a water softener for municipal water. With bottled water, that’s something they want. So it’s a different attitude by the customer.”
In addition to delivering 5-gallon water bottles (the first local company to do so, says Ising), Cascade rents water coolers to its customers. Ising says one water store, owned by another company, exists in the four-county area and “it’s not doing well.”
Keeping an eye out
Nitrate problems also exist due to fertilizer usage and many units are being installed in agricultural applications. Cascade uses ultraviolet light because of surface water being utilized as a drinking water source. Trojan and Pura are UV companies approached by Cascade. For individual wells, hardness, sulfur and iron are the main water problems. At high elevations, low pH is an issue. According to Ising, Cascade is the only local water treatment business that tests customers’ water. He adds, “We won’t take on a well unless we test it first.”
Why he does it
Meeting customer needs more easily is one of the main reasons why Ising went independent in 1987 after working for a big-name water treatment dealer since 1978. “It opened up some opportunities for us. We found that the calls we received greatly increased. This is before (many franchises) got into bottled water, and we wanted to get into bottled water,” he says. Ising’s father began in the water treatment industry in 1947 with a Livermore, Calif., business that carried the same franchise name as his son’s.
Cascade Quality Water Center
Owner: George E. Ising
Staff: 7 full time and 1 part time
Sales: Increased 20 percent in 2001 from 2000; currently up 10 percent, expected total increase of 20 percent again this year
Quotable: “It’s going to be more and more difficult for the ‘mom and pop’ operations because of the more technical nature of the things we’re treating. Things like nitrates and arsenic mean people have to do more research and be more aware of the products. You need a wide variety of equipment. I would think there is a lot more bottled water than RO out there at the moment. It’s certainly the case here.”