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August 2001: Volume 43, Number 8

All About Water Treatment--EcoWater: Adjusting to Times in the Grand Canyon State
by Ronald Y. PĂ©rez, WC&P Senior Editor

When Dave Crissman isn't busy serving as president of the Arizona Water Quality Association (AWQA), he and his wife, Joyce, oversee the operations of All About Water-EcoWater, of Gilbert, Ariz. The company sells reverse osmosis (RO) and water softener equipment to residential customers in the metropolitan Phoenix area.

Dave, president and vice president, is responsible for the service department and also is a member of EcoWater's Service Advisory Board. EcoWater has approximately 400 dealer locations nationwide. He teaches service-related classes in Minnesota to other company employees. Joyce, secretary treasurer, keeps tabs on All About Water's bookkeeping and administrative functions.

Keying on diversity

In addition to RO systems and water softeners, which encompasses 99 percent of equipment sold, the company promotes the bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) water service and services orphan (or generic brand) equipment. "I feel you have to be more diverse and as service-oriented as sales-oriented to sustain a business," Joyce says. "You have to be able to adjust and change with the times."

To that end, All About Water entered an agreement with General Electric in August 2000 to be a service provider. This allows EcoWater to get in on the ground floor as more and more homebuilders are installing water treatment units, some with the GE name, into new homes. Along with GE, the company carries household appliances in its showroom from Bosch and Fischer Paykel—turning the tables on appliance makers getting into the water treatment business. The idea is to show customers how EcoWater equipment can improve the quality of water and, at the same time, displays appliances such as dishwashers, clothes washers and refrigerators for sale.

She adds customers are also more willing to give water treatment equipment a second look if they know the nearby appliances are priced affordably.

Refining the market

Another idea for boosting interest in EcoWater is re-introduction of the refiner, which allows the customer to remove chlorine throughout the whole house. In the Phoenix area, this is especially important considering most potable water is municipal and thus treated with chlorine. As a result, the water tends to have a funny taste. Other issues facing water treatment dealers in the valley include hardness and high total dissolved solids (TDS), 90 percent being from salts. In the latter case, All About Water usually recommends an RO system.

Along with diversification of product lines, another important ingredient in the company's success is that Dave has learned to delegate authority, which allows him to find time to handle his business, AWQA and teaching duties, Joyce says. Currently, Dave's top priority is to revamp the company's sales department. The service department is supplying the bulk of All About Water's revenues for the time being, Joyce adds.

Strength by association

Furthermore, Joyce stresses the importance of regional groups like the AWQA to step up more and pick up where the national WQA has left off in terms of strengthening the industry and its members locally. She said lawsuits in California over attempts to ban water treatment equipment and the issue of magnetics, to name a few, have made the national association somewhat apprehensive in involving itself in regional matters.

All About Water has 17 full-time employees and six part-timers. Projected sales revenues from 2001 are expected to be about 10-15 percent down from 1999 and 2000, with each year grossing just under $2 million. Sales manager Jack Reilly thinks he knows why. During a downturn in the economy, he reasons, "people have a mind-set. When they get hit in one area, they put the brakes on luxury spending. As much as we like to feel that it’s a necessity, some people still feel it's a luxury to have good water in their house."

All About Water has finished second in the country among EcoWater's dealers twice—in 1994 and 1999. In one of the fastest growing communities in the country, it carries some 10,000 accounts.

Past helps the present

The business has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Before the Crissmans were married and All About Water launched, Dave worked with Culligan in 1976. Meanwhile, Joyce worked seven years as an office manager with Household Finance. That experience assists her now in reading a sales contract, determining debt ratios or deciphering credit bureau reports. Together, they founded a professional installation company and serviced Lindsay and Miracle Water customers in Phoenix. In the early 1980s, they ran a Rayne dealership in northern Phoenix.

Once in Gilbert, they began a water store operation. Their first store, in 1991, was a 1,000-square-foot facility. Later, they began selling EcoWater water treatment equipment. They've enlarged the original building into a 3,500-square-foot structure for the bookkeeping and service departments. In addition, a 7,500-square-foot warehouse holds equipment in need of service and serves as an assembly center.

Nearly all of the company's business is residentially based with a few commercial projects such as the Scottsdale Central Arizona Project, Glendale Reclamation and Glendale Water Caustic Waste Project. Pool supplies are also a potential source of revenue for All About Water, Joyce says.

Conclusion

As far as expansion, Joyce foresees EcoWater having five dealerships in the valley within five years. Phoenix, according to her, is a healthy enough market to support that number of locations.

Their son, Jeremy, also helps out with installations and service. Joyce hopes that someday he'll take over the shop and carry on the Crissman affiliation with EcoWater and the point-of-use/point-of-entry water treatment industry.

BOX:

All About Water--EcoWater
1430 West Warner Road, #C138
Gilbert, AZ 85233
480) 892-7556
480) 635-9424 (fax)
email: ecowater@msn.com

Owners:

Dave Crissman, President
Joyce Crissman, Secretary Treasurer

Founded: September 1991; started as a 1,000-square-foot water store in Gilbert, Ariz.

Staff: 17 full-time employees and six part-time

Sales: 1999 and 2000 each produced about $2 million in gross revenues; 2001 is projected to drop 10 to 15 percent due to a national economic slowdown

Quotable: "We are able to compete with the Big Boxes (retailers) at their prices. The main reason we focused on doing that is to get people into the store to see water-related appliances. We then get the opportunity to talk to them about water treatment. It started slowly. Sales have steadily improved over the months. In the long run, I think it will really pay off for us."

—Joyce Crissman