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December 2001: Volume 43, Number 12

Braving the Cold Winter in Coal Country: Advanced Water Treatment of West Virginia
by Ronald Y. PĂ©rez, WC&P Senior Editor

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Like many water treatment dealers around the country, Gordie Amsdill, CWS-VI, CI, CSR, owner and president of Advanced Water Treatment/EcoWater Inc., recognizes why sales this year won’t meet his expectations. The Hinton, W.V., water treatment dealer sums it up in a word.

“The economy,” he says. “One of the other problems is that we had a major flood that wiped out a lot of southwest West Virginia in the summer. Of course, all of the terrorist stuff has got everyone paranoid, and sales are dropping.”

More than most states, West Virginia is affected by the economy as its three major industries -- coal, lumber and tourism -- have been dealt a big blow. It seems economic conditions have forced even the general public to tighten its purse strings.

Taking the brunt
“Basically, (people) are holding on to their money and staying home. They’re afraid of getting laid off,” says Amsdill, 49. “As these factories lay off, production is cut back and coal sales come down. Meanwhile, builders aren’t constructing new homes, affecting lumber sales. All three industries are really hurting.” Eighty percent of Amsdill’s business is residential, 15 percent commercial and 5 percent industrial. His primary pieces of residential water treatment equipment are softeners, and iron and sulfur filters. Among his commercial clients include state government agencies, coal companies and lumber companies. Still, residential is his fastest growing segment, he says.

One part of the business Amsdill would like to increase would be his rental number, which currently stands at 5 percent of total revenues. He explains that it can be difficult to stay on top of which customers are paying on time and who aren’t. EcoWater has a rental program that places the responsibility of bill collection and equipment maintenance on the individual dealer.

Serving half the state
Hinton is located in the southeast corner of West Virginia. Amsdill’s business covers 18 counties and a radius of about 200 miles from Huntington to Snowshoe and all points south within the state. A great majority of his customers (90 percent) are on private water sources, which mainly consist of wells and springs. The remainder is municipal water. He quickly adds, “We’re actively trying to increase the city water customers.”

With municipal water, Amsdill encounters chlorine and hardness. One of his more popular systems is a chemical-free pump air system that’s used on low to moderate iron and sulfur levels. Water refiners and softeners are also used for hardness. West Virginia is home to plenty of limestone (creating hardness issues), high iron and sulfides, and low pH. For upper iron and sulfur levels, Amsdill frequently uses a chlorination process.

Since 1994, EcoWater has provided Amsdill with most of the equipment used on his systems. For those occasions he must go outside EcoWater, he turns to Ecodyne, Watermaster, Hydrotec and Mountain Filtration, among others. Prior to 1994, Amsdill—who has a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from DeVry’s Institute of Technology—built his own systems.

Making the rounds
Logistics can also be an issue, Amsdill admits: “Being a coal state, iron and sulfur are everywhere. There are often strips of coal on the mountains. A 20-to-25 mile service call can take 45 minutes because there are no straight roads and it’s a matter of going around mountains and rivers.”

With 1,500 accounts currently, that can be a lot of traveling. Before starting his own business in 1988, Amsdill spent six years in the Air Force in power production and seven more years as an electronic field service engineer.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I wanted to be outside and meeting people. I’m not the office-type person,” he says. “I had been following EcoWater for a few years before 1994. I really liked their product. I bought out the existing dealership from another EcoWater dealer.”

Presently, Amsdill has six on staff including a certified installer, two service technicians, an office manager and his wife, Valerie, who’s vice president. Advertising is done through word-of-mouth and a steady complement of direct mailings, space in various phone books, and radio advertising on three stations that cater to the baby boom generation (’60s and ’70s music).

No room for mistakes
Amsdill explains his philosophy when he says, “Do the water treatment right the first time and word-of-mouth gets passed around about the (not-so-legitimate) companies that can only result in just unhappy customers. Word-of-mouth is your best advertiser anyway. If you do it right every time, that’ll take care of the skepticism some people have.

“We either do it right the first time or we walk away. We don’t do anything halfway and I’ve lost business because of that.”

One way that Amsdill makes his business more accessible to the general public is by attending Water Quality Association (WQA) shows and several local home shows. Along with the state fair every August, Advanced Water Treatment looks to six shows during the springtime as “beneficial” to his business’ reputation and bottom line.

“With any show we attend, it’s a great symbol of awareness for people and to get them thinking about water,” says the eight-year WQA member. “People are hearing more about it on TV, radio and magazines. Even with the city water scenario and all this chlorine and chemicals and terrorist-type stuff, we’re starting to get calls about that, especially in the major metropolitan areas.”

Conclusion
For the short term, Amsdill has grudgingly accepted the numbers for 2001. His goal was $750,000 in sales; he will fall significantly short of that mark. Last year was his best ever when final sales figures topped $708,000. To make matters worse, his slow time of the year is now, between mid-November and the beginning of February. Still, the fire continues to smolder inside him. “I am not going to accept where we’re at now,” he promises. In 10 years, he sees a business twice the size with twice the customers.

Advanced Water Treatment/EcoWater Inc.

P.O. Box 847
Hinton, WV 25951
(800) 985-2000 or (304) 466-2000
(304) 466-0405 (fax)

Owner and president: Gordie Amsdill, CWS-VI, CI, CSR

Founded: 1988

Staff: 6; vice president; one certified installer; two service technicians; and an office manager

Sales: $708,000 in sales in 2000; a 15 percent drop is expected for 2001

Quotable: “I’ve always been into environmental-type stuff. Water treatment is doing something good for the environment. It’s also doing something good for everyone we contact. It’s saving them money on plumbing and improving their health. All of that combined makes you feel like you’re able to help people’s health and saving money in repairs.”

—Gordie Amsdill