March 2003
Volume 45 Number 3
 

A Strategic Vision for the WQA? (Part 3): Keeping It All Together Under One Umbrella
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor   Pages: 

Photographs that illustrate this article are visible in the .pdf file version of the article only. For the link to the .pdf file, scroll or jump to the end of the page.

This is the final installment on the series we began in January looking at different perspectives on the focus and structure of the Water Quality Association (WQA). The WQA began a strategic planning process a year ago to update and realign the organization to better serve the needs of its changing membership base and the point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) water treatment technology industry.

Once simply the household water treatment market, this industry niche now encompasses commercial, industrial and municipal/small systems as well as consumer products sold through mass retail channels. It includes bottled water and water vending. It includes conglomerates and mom-and-pop operations. It includes domestic companies and multinational corporations. In essence, it’s much more than what was created when the dealers of the Water Conditioning Association International and the manufacturers of the Water Conditioning Federation joined forces in 1974 to form the WQA.

Nearly 30 years later, the following views represent how opinions of that venture have changed—and stayed the same. Later this month, at the WQA convention in Las Vegas, a plan for a new organization of this association will be presented to the group’s nearly 2,500 members. This series was compiled to set the stage for that presentation.

Robert Ruhstorfer
Current president of the WQA and Aquion Partners L.P., of Elk Grove Village, Ill., whose divisions include RainSoft, Erie Water Treatment Controls and ClearWater Tech—Change is constant and one of WQA’s strengths. When WQA was formed in 1974, our industry was vastly simpler than it is today. Most of us made or sold water softeners. Technologies such as reverse osmosis, carbon and other filtration methods were uncommon. Water quality issues such as nitrate, THMs and arsenic were largely unknown. WQA’s focus was narrower, reflecting the industry at the time.

Today, the water treatment industry encompasses much more than we ever imagined 30 years ago. As the industry has developed, so has WQA. Its ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment is WQA’s greatest strength. As our issues have broadened, WQA’s reach has expanded. WQA has been our voice to ensure that the standards and regulations that pertain to our industry throughout the world are based on the application of sound science.

Our industry continues to evolve and WQA’s membership will change with it. We need a forum where the entire industry can discuss common issues, formulate positions and speak with a strong, unified voice. The battles of the future are just too large to fight alone. We’re all in it together—high-tech, bottled, commercial, industrial, POU/POE and community water systems. The broader the base, the louder our voice.

This is a natural role for WQA. We’re finishing the Strategic Planning process, which will restructure the WQA to better meet the needs of a 21st Century water improvement industry. WQA’s mission will expand. It will serve new constituencies. That’s what WQA has been doing since its inception.

But change doesn’t mean abandoning traditional values. For a relatively small, volunteer-led organization, the WQA casts a big shadow. WQA has been able to influence the marketplace and regulators very effectively because of the commitment of its members. Many of us are business competitors, but we come together for the good of the industry. WQA is only as good as those members who give it their time and effort. It’s a responsibility everyone in the industry must share.

My vision for WQA’s future is a bright one. We will continue to serve as reliable spokespeople on water issues, a forum for the industry to come together, and a vehicle for turning discussion into action. WQA has been and continues to be the most credible and effective organization of its kind in our industry anywhere in the world. Because of its adaptability and the dedication of its members, WQA will continue to be that strong voice in the future.

Rich Lorenzen, CWS-II
Vice president and operations director of Quality Water Services Inc., of Lincoln, Neb., and WQA board member—When asked to write on what I feel the WQA should be or what the association should represent, I was at first overwhelmed with many thoughts. I decided to concentrate on a few key areas that affect me personally, then our water treatment dealership and, finally, discuss what the WQA represents as a whole.

First, I started attending WQA conventions and regional meetings about 15 years ago with the goal in mind to become a Certified Water Specialist and to maintain my certification. Being a certified professional, I feel, lends me more credibility to the consumer and is a must for anyone in the water treatment business.

Second, the WQA is an invaluable source of endless information for our dealership. Items such as videos on basic water treatment to more complex water treatment fundamentals, books, charts and other media are great training tools for our employees. Other items such as consumer and business surveys provide information to make key decisions in the operation of the business. Attending WQA conventions is important for the educational sessions and seeing new technologies at the trade show. Also, by getting together with other dealers and manufacturers, I have the opportunity to hear how others are doing business.

Finally, as I see it, the WQA as a whole represents many different facets of the water treatment industry. Our industry, like others, is always changing. Just as I must keep an open mind for change, so must the WQA. This brings me to one word—unity. By being a unified industry we have a large voice in government affairs, nationally, regionally and locally. Government regulations are intruding on our businesses more and more each day, and the WQA keeps a watchful eye on them. People today are concerned about water and its quality, which is why the WQA should continue its efforts toward more consumer education and information. Again, association unity is a must, and we all need to get more involved in discussions, meetings and making the WQA the one unified voice for dealers, manufacturers and consumer goods.

Danny Taragan
President of Tana Industries Ltd., of Haela, Israel, and chairman of the WQA World Assembly Advisory Board—To date, the WQA has done an excellent job in giving technical service to its members. Research and development it helped foster gave us state-of-the-art technologies and market credibility. WQA has also created a professional code of ethics, provided statistics on the industry, coordinated public relations, provided laboratory services, remained involved in influencing standards, lobbied government, and united manufacturers and dealers into one effective organization. And it has endeavored to turn that into an international one.

The question is—where do we go from here? And to answer this, we need first to understand what we are missing. We miss international recognition but, more importantly, we miss legitimacy from the wider public to what we are doing and to the fact that POU and POE are the perfect solutions to consumers’ drinking water concerns.

In general, I believe, the WQA’s major role should be building the image and positioning of our industry. We should put our resources and efforts on building the public perception of an industry that improves the quality of life and provides excellent water to the world.

We’ve got to stop being ashamed of what we are doing. We have the best products and technologies to prove it, so we have to stop talking about carbon, UV, RO or ion exchange—pitting one against the other—but instead talk about drinking water and POU as multiple barriers toward better peace of mind.

We should have a global organization with a lot of members, including big manufacturers, that will see what leads us isn’t the narrow interests of a local dealer, particular state or country. Rather, it gives international legitimacy to our industry all over the world. That means they should have more responsibilities as well as more rights.

The WQA has to continue giving all its services to small companies as well, but must work hard on changing the vision and strategy so all understand they’re part of the same team. Only then will it be able to position POU/ POE products as the best solution to drinking water.

Bob Boerner, CWS-V
WQA board member and president of Culligan Southwest Inc., of San Antonio—The WQA has from its start, and by its nature, been an evolving entity. And, no doubt, this evolution will continue into the future. Hopefully, the association will grow and change to reflect the needs of its members as these needs change over time and as the membership and character change as well.

One major WQA focus has been the education and certification of its members—and this should remain a top priority. Treatment technologies have grown rapidly in scope and sophistication since the early softening-only days, and members must continue their education to stay on top of the field. The certification program has created credibility for the profession, and the promotion of this accreditation program in front of legislators, public health officials, and the public should continue to ensure the water treatment industry is recognized as a profession requiring advanced skills and knowledge, which indeed it does.

Another major focus since the beginning is in legislative and governmental affairs, which is extremely important as these officials hold our futures in their hands with their ability to pass laws and rules that can directly affect our businesses and livelihoods. We’ve recently had some experience with such capricious powers in Texas, where a rule banning softener and RO effluent from discharge into septic systems was passed by surprise, without our knowledge, at our state environmental agency with absolutely no scientific basis.

We Texans, with the help of the WQA, were able to open the rules-making process back up and are working on a re-write of the rule with an emphasis on softener efficiency via DIR (demand initiated regeneration) requirements, but the process is long and time-consuming. An early heads up on the original rule would have saved a lot of grief—and some business as well. The silver lining of the crisis is it woke up both our state association and the WQA to the importance of better screening of the legislative process, and now WQA operates a nationwide legislative watch service that will help get industry members involved before a real problem develops. Beyond this service, the WQA has a huge role to play in establishing and maintaining relationships with key legislators and agencies that could affect our industry. As water treatment specialists, we are involved in a public health arena and this fact makes our profile, image and perceived behavior and professionalism all the more important.

WQA should also make sure it addresses the needs of its member base by encouraging feedback and by querying members about issues in their states. Opportunities to get involved in WQA committees and projects should be widely known and easily accessible. Many dealers don’t have the resources to travel to committee or mid-year meetings, so WQA should design print, online and electronic communication to tele-involve these members and persuade them it can be possible to participate from a distance and still make a difference.

Dan Wyckoff
Managing director for Antunes Filtration Technologies, of Carol Stream, Ill., and past director of the WQA World Assembly Division—WQA has four primary functions that benefit both the supplier and the water user—product certification, education and training, trade show organizing, and public relations and advocacy. All of these are important functions fine-tuned over the life of the organization.

Its Gold Seal product certification program operates efficiently and helps temper the costs we would otherwise see from other third-party certifiers. In some parts of the world, the Gold Seal has better consumer recognition than the NSF mark.

Education and training is a valuable service that isn’t easily obtained from other sources. With the exception of a few large franchisers that have developed their own training programs, new-to-market companies don’t have a readily available source of education and training. It’s very important these new individuals and organizations are encouraged to improve themselves for the benefit of all. Today’s new service technicians and salespeople are tomorrow’s service and sales managers and CEOs. The faster they’re trained and educated, the faster they can contribute to the bottom line.

Aligned with education and training is the trade show WQA hosts annually. This is the only show of its kind and it draws people literally from all over the world. Nowhere else can a new dealer find so many products and services in one place. Nowhere else can a manufacturer or supplier talk to so many potential dealers and distributors (and potential future employees) at one time. It’s an inexpensive show when compared to other more general industrial and consumer products shows. Its attendance is flattening out, however, and consideration should be given to holding the show every other year rather than every year.

The large franchisers that don’t value the educational/training aspects of WQA do highly value its public relations and industry advocacy program. Some companies can afford to hire their own advocate, but they know their audience is much more receptive to a group that represents 2,500+ companies and employs tens of thousands of taxpayers than they are to someone that represents one company. Add to that their international membership in the World Assembly Division, and you have an organization with the potential to generate global influence for the benefit of the industry and the consumer as well.

All of WQA’s programs are as important now as they were when first established. The association needs to be watchful to keep its programs and materials up-to-date, but the basis for those programs is still very much valid. The way it communicates with its members and public will evolve as more people move away from print media to electronic information gathering and dissemination.

Issa Al-Kharusy, CWS-VI
CEO of KDF Fluid Systems, of Three Rivers, Mich.—The WQA, by definition, is a “trade organization.” This term has evolved into a different definition in recent history due to a true global economy. Water treatment companies are no different than the cross-section of companies representing other market segments. They find the entire globe an outlet to trade with at relative ease and speed, but not without a host of uncertainties.

My vision for the WQA is based on the challenges and opportunities posed by this global commerce environment. It’s no longer enough for a trade organization to facilitate and gather a group of companies in one common market. A strategic and tactical structure is needed to create a rapid response team of companies capable of transcending borders and cultures. I strongly believe in expanding and transforming the World Assembly section of the WQA, not to mention the emphasis of the entire organization in the direction of globalization. There are three crucial elements to initiate this transformation:

Education: The WQA is a crucial resource for all members when learning the science of water, water treatment technologies and testing methods. These topics are fundamental in nature and may not require much change. The broader subjects, however, must include resources to address geographical issues around the world such as arsenic problems in Bangladesh, cultural education targeted toward commerce and trade topics, etc. Marketing methods that work here in the U.S.A. may not work at all or could even be offensive in other parts of the world. We also should not forget to make certain resources available at the consumer level.

Lobbying & legislation: A good example of such involvement is the instrumental role of the WQA at the HPC Symposium in Switzerland last spring. Proactive involvement and preemptive drive of global water issues are the order of the day. The WQA must invigorate governments and international companies to participate in addressing water issues. We must create a dynamic cycle of legislation and solutions.

Inclusion: The WQA must embrace a policy of inclusion to all members. International members find themselves shortchanged when it comes to funds allocated to issues affecting their business. I know that the WQA and its members will benefit greatly in terms of monetary contributions from international members once their business is improved due to direct WQA involvement in local issues. Let us give higher value to these companies.

In closing, I wish to acknowledge that I didn’t highlight the risks and challenges in a global economy due to the brief nature of this article. In my humble opinion, the challenges dwarf the opportunities for all members. In the end, it really doesn’t matter, though—we must think globally.

Conclusion
A special thank you goes to Jenny Christensen, Gerry Dierolf, Troy Ethen, Jorge Fernandez, Ed Fierko, Tony Frost, Evan Koslow and Peter Cartwright—as well as those included in this article—for participating in this three-part series which began in WC&P's January 2003 issue. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.