Volume 43 Number 5
Slow Going in Rapid City: Bud’s Gets Wiser in the Black Hills of South Dakota
1514 Racine Street
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 388-0688 (fax)
Owner: Ted Denton
Founded: Originally established in 1969 by Bud Hurd. Gus Bomford bought the business outright about 15 years ago. Denton became the owner in 1999.
Staff: 2 (including Susan Denton)
Sales: Revenues for 2001 are expected to be 10-15 percent over 2000.
Quote: “Families are close knit here. They usually live within a few miles of each other. The people, especially the tough ranchers, are self-sufficient because they understand someone may not always be able to get out to you. There’s no fun in telling customers you can’t fix their water -- so we get there when they need us.” -- Ted Denton
Some people spend a good part of their lives looking for an opportunity to start their own business. Once in a while, it comes looking for them. For Ted Denton, opportunity knocked one day in the summer of 1999.
It wasn’t as if Denton was dissatisfied with his lot in life. As a millwright at a PVC pipe factory, he liked living in the Seattle/Tacoma area of Washington state. He had worked at the plant for 15 years -- 10 as a millwright -- and was happily married with two children. Denton’s wife, Susan, ran an in-home day care center. Aside from the absence of a white picket fence, this picture could qualify for the American Dream.
Grass on the other side
“It kind of sprung on me,” the 39-year-old Denton said. “Things like that don’t come around very often.” Before packing for a nice, long drive, Denton sought out his family for feedback. Susan and the kids showed enough support to convince Denton he should at least look into the idea.
For the health of it
Not sure what to expect, Denton arrived in Rapid City in July 1999. His father-in-law, Gus Bomford, was there to meet him and promptly whisked him away on service calls for a week or two. Denton’s first impression?
“Everybody was so nice. You could talk to them. Since Gus knew them, they would carry on real conversations and not just small talk,” recalls Denton. “He told me to pay attention to what they said and try to understand where they’re coming from. So, the next time you go back, you can ask about their families.”
Pack up and go
One thing Denton dared not change was the name of the business -- Bud’s Water Conditioning. Like the people of Rapid City, the name symbolizes simplicity and resilience over time and circumstances. Who's bud, you ask? Denton laughs when asked to recount story as he's heard it many times.
Bomford and Bud Hurd worked together at a Lindsay dealership -- later EcoWater -- in Rapid City. In 1969, Hurd decided to branch out on his own. About 17 years later, Hurd persuaded Bomford to join Bud’s Water Conditioning as the primary salesperson. Bomford also performed installations.
Eventually, Bomford bought out Hurd, who wanted to retire. Still, the moniker of the business remained the same. There’s something to be said for name recognition.
On shaky ground
Still, Denton prides himself on helping those customers who other dealerships are hesitant to service because of logistics. He says he has a 200-mile radius, including a big chunk of rural area, around Rapid City as his service boundaries. These parameters often take him to southeastern Montana, eastern Wyoming and southern North Dakota.
“I work far enough out that I can get away from (the competition),” he says. “The roads are so crummy, I go where the other guys won’t go. That’s an advantage for me. The price (customers) pay for the unit involves the service and the service is what sells it.”
Behind the 8 ball
“The equipment was pretty simple (to understand) after being in the business I was in,” he says. “It’s been a little bumpy. I have a lot to learn about water quality issues. So I rely on Gus for that part. It looked like a challenge. I could see lots of possibilities. It’s a good way to go for a family business.”
Denton readily admits he took water quality for granted in Seattle as much as he did clouds in the sky. Sure, he attached a small filter to his kitchen faucet to remove chlorine, but that was the extent of his exposure to the industry. Water was naturally soft and total dissolved solids were low. All that changed once he drove past South Dakota’s state line.
Up in the Black Hills
If he needs something fast and can’t wait, Denton will call on USFilter for a quick fix. By working out of his house, Denton can ill-afford to have a lot of inventory sitting around. Susan chips in with bookkeeping and accounting duties. Even Gus goes out on installations when the urge hits him. Denton says, “I listen real close to what Gus says.”
Ninety percent of his business is residential with the remainder as commercial accounts. Denton’s advertising is limited to the yellow pages and his business relies heavily on referrals. Rentals, which make up a third of revenue, bring stability to his bottom line.
Sell, sell, sell
Bomford advised Denton that “sometimes you have to look at the person and already have in mind what you’re going to sell him. If you give him a choice, it makes it hard. If you give him one choice and a price, then you can dicker about the price. But sometimes he needs options.”
Replacement parts play even a larger part in Denton’s business because most units he currently services are old. He adds, “The industry is innovative and comes up with solutions quickly and in a non-conventional manner. They’ve got so many different products.”
If Denton can survive his first two years, he acknowledges, there seems to be very little that can prevent his progress. After that, he expects he might even add a white picket fence to make that picture of the American Dream complete.