Volume 43 Number 4
A Journey from Cuba to Miami: Eagle Water Continues to Soar in Florida
This may seem dull to some people, but they wouldn't know Jose's story.
Land of the free
FYI -- Mariel Boat Lift
In the beginning, the father supported his family by being a truck driver and later working at a popular restaurant. Then came the job that would serve as the breakthrough move in a career change -- Jose's father started selling water filters door to door. He did it for two years. He was attracted to the job because it came with flexible hours.
Eventually, he ventured on his own. In 1984, Eagle Water Corp. was born. Jose was never far from his father's business, helping out frequently when he wasn't in school. Fast forward to 1990 when Jose studied architecture and received his associate degree from Miami-Dade County Community College. After graduation, Jose took some marketing classes at Miami's Florida International University. Around this time, he heard about the Water Quality Association (WQA) for the first time and enrolled in some certified water specialist (CWS) courses while working with his father full time. Jose is presently a CWS-III. His days at FIU were over and the passion for water treatment clearly transferred from father to son. The reins of the business were given to Jose last year. His 70-year-old father remains active as the company's accountant/bookkeeper.
All places at one time
He learned his work ethic well from his father. When Jose visits customers' homes, however, he prefers the incognito method of doing business.
"I don't tell anyone that I'm the owner. If you tell someone you're the owner, it makes you look more like a worker. I treat everybody nice. I sell a lot using that approach. I send letters to my customers every month to change their water filters. They give me a lot of referrals. Last month (January), I got eight sales from referrals," Jose says. "Besides, when you go into a house and they know you're the owner, they think you're rich. Since I'm a young guy, I don't look like I own the company. I've been seeing my customers for 10 years; they've seen me grow up."
Wanted: good help
"Sales reps here (in Miami) are not professional," Jose says matter-of-factly. "I interviewed one guy not too long ago and he didn't want to work with a sales list price. They want to sell anything to anybody for any (amount of money), and I don't go for that. I have a list price, and if a unit costs $500, you have to sell it for $500." He has encountered some who have tried to increase the unit price in an attempt to accrue more commission -- they no longer work for him.
Because of a small staff, Jose relegates his business area to the Dade and Broward counties, in particular for service calls. His advertising dollars are spent with the yellow pages in addition to relying on word-of-mouth. Eagle Water had a website for a year before the idea was nixed six months ago due to insufficient response. Still, Jose says the most effective advertising is door to door.
M.O. is mostly RO
Also, 90 percent of Miami's water is municipally supplied, and Jose says Eagle Water occasionally works on wells. Hardness of the water is about eight-grain and chlorine is added to it. Jose uses carbon and RO against chlorine. With high organic content of a tropical environment, ammonium and tannins are another problem associated with water in Miami. He says water can be found at 10 feet below ground, which can present more complicated obstacles for well owners because of the influence of contaminated surface water runoff.
For 20 years, Jose has seen shifts in how customers in the area react to potential water problems. "In the '80s, it was the booming era for the carbon filter," he says. "Now, people are learning to use water softeners. We (sell) eight to 10 units a month. People are becoming more aware of their water's hardness."
All of Eagle Water's filters are under-counter as opposed to countertop varieties. Customers' systems are two-stage with sediment and carbon. Each year, sediment cartridges are replaced. Jose receives eight to 10 calls a day regarding filter changes.
With a customer base of 2,500, Jose sees service contracts as an increasing part of his business. He has dedicated himself to more service contracts and equipment rentals for this year. Hence, less emphasis has been placed on sales. In the last two years, Jose has tallied about 50 contracts and an additional 60 rental accounts. Revenues break down to 60 percent sales and 40 percent rentals.
Jose makes it a point to participate in the roundtable discussions at national WQA-sponsored events. Jose's been a member since 1993; he's not a member of Florida's WQA. Jose would like to invite his father, but the older Paulin is not as comfortable speaking English.
Names of suppliers
"We came into a country that we didn't know, and we started a business which (my father) didn't know. Selling was not a problem. Finding the right people to buy from was -- the right contacts. I started going to these conventions and meeting the right people. The first four or five years were hard. After that, the business started growing."
Industry in transition
There is a downside, he admits. When water treatment businesses fail, the whole industry suffers the consequences. "I have a lot of people who bought units from people who went out of business. So when you walk into their house, they look at you like you're going out of business, too."