January 2003
Volume 45 Number 1
 

A Strategic Vision for the WQA? Several Industry Leaders Discuss Their Views on the Association,
Part 1

by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor   Pages: 

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Ws the WQA Board of Directors and Strategic Planning Committee was meeting in Chicago in November to discuss reorganization of the association, WC&P posed the question to nearly 50 of its members: "What is your vision of what the WQA should be?"

We left it rather broad since we didn't want to sway anyone by the manner in which the question was framed. We tried to vary who we asked by geography (U.S. regions and international), business type (manufacturer, assembler, supplier, dealer, consumer products retailer), gender and ethnic background.

Of the 20 or so that responded by press time for this issue, less than half declined to participate. Reasons included: 1) they were members of the committee and felt it inappropriate to comment at this time; 2) they didn't want to unduly sway or influence the committee or the response to its conclusions; 3) they were too busy or didn’t want to write (although they were happy to discuss it), or 4) they felt as if their comments would fall on deaf ears.

The person who expressed the last opinion said: "I see the need for the WQA, but don't agree with where it seems to be headed. The focus is still on the 'captive residential market'… I haven't seen the 'powers that be' vary in years—no new faces on the homogenous white male board (save a person or two)… You can't grow or figure out what's wrong if you don't reach out to get others involved. The group ends up doing the same thing, coming to the same conclusions."

That was about the harshest statement.

This project is intended to try and broaden dialogue and, by so doing, allow a more positive discussion of the issue. Several others embraced the challenge. We asked them to write up to 500 words. Here's what a few of them had to say:

Jorge Fernandez

WQA board member and senior vice president for emerging markets at Pentair Water—WQA's constituency grew from being a number of mostly U.S.-based, mostly private and mostly small companies that mostly dealt in water softening for the residential market.

Like a young tree, this constituency grew many fold and branched out in every possible direction. So, now, coexisting with its initial core, there are players with a profile that's one or several of these: international, public, medium-sized to very large, technologically diversified and in markets that range from municipal to industrial to commercial on top of the residential that it once was (...and the residential market is now both dealer retail and mass retail).

I think WQA fundamentally is still its roots and I think that it should be more its branches. Let me explain.

WQA has the opportunity and challenge to represent in a fuller fashion the more diverse interests of a growing number of companies that operate in the larger and growing water markets of the United States and the world. Its own agendas and those of its committees, sections and ad hoc task forces can and should be broader to attract other water companies to come in... Otherwise, there would be much lost value if just one major player doesn't participate. There is strength in numbers as well as diversity.

WQA agendas can be made of topics of interest for a broader audience. These drive attention, attention drives participation and this drives how much members feel they belong to and own the association. "Ownership&qot; of WQA should be broader. In building these new agendas, we may have to "invest" in new areas (for example, commercial/industrial, ultrapure water or mass retail). There, some of our "root" membership may have a lower interest. But I trust these new areas will allow WQA to capitalize on new membership. At the end of the day, it is about membership we are talking about.

In my opinion, the challenge for WQA is to be "of interest" to more members. The reward for WQA will be greater participation and a sense of belonging by a larger number of parties. Our roots are valid, yes, but of limited interest... in the branches is the larger promise of WQA's future. We ought to reach there.

Gerry Dierolf, CWS-VI, CI

WQA board secretary and president of Gerry’s Culligan Water Conditioning of Winter Haven, Fla.—My vision of WQA in the coming years is one of change. You've started seeing some of the change already in terms of the way our Mid-Year Leadership Conference was set up and you'll also see a change in this year’s convention in Las Vegas. You may notice some scaling back in areas that were very expensive yet added little to the overall convention, but a lot more bang in areas such as education and content.

In my view, however, the biggest change needs to be in who we are. We've always tried to be everything to everybody. I no longer think we can afford to do that. We need to do the things we're really good at and leave the rest to someone else. Things like insurance programs, Visa/Mastercard programs and employment locating programs need to be done by those who specialize in them. We need to focus our efforts on government relations and technical issues as well as educating our members.

Just by the nature of our industry, we're always going to have one government agency or another looking over our shoulder. After all, what we do in our industry (treat water that people drink) can have an effect on people's health and well being. We need to be in the forefront working with government agencies, showing them how we're a group they can trust and turn to when they have problems. I don’t think we have to be adversaries, although some times we will. I think we should be taking a proactive approach and work with them instead of against them.

I also think we need to work harder to bring more small dealers into our association. The gap between the big dealers and the small dealers is widening. Most of the larger dealerships are represented in our association, but there are a ton of small dealers that, for one reason or another, never get involved. We need to address this issue, whether it’s by lowering the minimum dues or just giving them more of a reason to join, we need to find a way of bringing them into the WQA.

I’m excited about the future of WQA. I’ve been around for a long time and have seen WQA evolve into what it is today, but as I look to the future I see an even brighter picture.

Jenny Christensen

Marketing manager for innowave inc., a division of the Mutual of Omaha in Omaha, Neb.— The WQA will be most effective if its members get involved and create a dialogue, enabling it to address the issues that are important to its membership. One of the most important areas is that of government relations, which affects the industry’s ability to do business in certain states and nationwide. Developing productive, proactive relationships with the USEPA, AWWA and IBWA will help us work in concert as we address the nation’s, small systems' and individual’s needs in making their drinking water the best it can be.

Testing and certification need to be made consistent and affordable for manufacturers, and manufacturer members should be strongly encouraged, or required, to have their products tested. NSF and WQA need to make the testing and certification process both standardized and user friendly. This will level the playing field for manufacturers and give dealers better products to sell based upon a common marketing platform. Along these same lines, the WQA Gold Seal program needs to be promoted so that it's relevant to consumers.

Perhaps the largest role that WQA can play is in the area of education, both for its membership and the end consumer. The credibility of the water treatment industry is reliant upon having quality, trained personnel at all levels of manufacturing, sales and service. A movement toward Internet-based training and certification would enable more people to become certified and, thereby, more knowledgeable. A research-based foundation of consumer data supplied by WQA would help its membership better serve its customers through its product design, sales and marketing efforts.

When it comes to consumer education, the relationship with other trade organizations is very important. Pooling both financial and human resources will be essential in an effective consumer education effort. Together, all participants in the water industry can properly educate consumers about water in a consistent and non-threatening manner. This will take years to accomplish, but a better understanding of water and treatment technologies will benefit utilities, manufacturers, dealers, consumers and the trade organizations that support them.

In the membership and organizational structure, WQA needs representation and involvement from all participants in the channel. If we take a "ground to glass" orientation and involve people from all facets of the industry, we'll be better able to solve problems, develop better products and give consumers better water at a price they can afford. This will entail getting people involved in committees, events and projects that will help to move this industry forward. Too often, people are quick to criticize the role of their trade organization in their business without becoming involved in implementing change.

WQA is at a point where it needs to redefine itself. The water industry is highly fragmented; there are many conflicting agendas and we've driven the consumer into a fetal position when it comes to them dealing with personal water issues. WQA can be a driving impetus in initiating change within itself and for the entire industry. But the organization needs the input and support of its membership to instigate these changes.

Troy Ethen, CWS-I

Ex-president of Marmon Water's Spectrum Labs of St. Paul, Minn.—The WQA needs to confine its efforts to those most effective at promoting industry growth; and its individual members need to support all such efforts, not just those that fit their parochial concerns.

The WQA, like every business, needs to define its mission and determine what's needed to make it happen. They purport, and I agree, that their mission is to grow the POU/POE water treatment industry.

To be successful, I believe the WQA needs to rationalize the services they provide. This involves determining whether the service supports the mission and which services are most important in achieving the mission. Survey results definitely help in that determination, and based upon the data I've seen, I suggest the WQA should limit itself to government relations, education and technical assistance. If the membership sees enough value, the association could maintain its testing lab, as it does generate some revenue. Likewise, the WQA should continue with the annual trade show, as it provides much needed revenue.

What the WQA should not do is partially fund all their current services, as they'll just end up with a lot of ineffective services that everybody wants to be better. This especially applies to public relations (PR) efforts. PR should be fully funded or dropped. When it comes to effective execution, the WQA must tell its dues paying members, "You can have anything you want; you just can’t have everything."

I do not think the WQA is blind to the suggestions above. I believe the leadership of the WQA appreciates and understands the issues; however, added difficulty comes in dealing with the disparate demands of members. In my 14 years in the industry, I can only recall majority support for WQA efforts to protect the status quo. Although these are battles that should be fought, defending the status quo doesn't grow the industry; it just keeps it from shrinking.

The WQA does not get majority support for opening the association to greater retail participation, increasing municipal use of POU devices, regulating questionable sales tactics, developing alternatives to cation exchange, enforcing performance standards and other issues that would grow the market. Industry members do not support the effort if there is not a direct benefit to their company. I think this is shortsighted, as greater acceptance of POU/POE products and services of any sort increases public awareness and grows the entire market. Although a competitor may have an advantage related to the specific issue at hand, all companies benefit from incremental growth in the market.

The WQA must change in order to gain support from its members. Likewise, however, the membership needs to change to support the association. The WQA staff cannot do it alone.

More views to come
WC&P will continue reporting these vignettes of perspective in a series that will continue through two more issues until the March convention. That's when the WQA Strategic Planning Committee and consultant Lynn Kahn will present results of their determination of whether the WQA should go in positioning itself for the future.


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