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August 2002: Volume 44, Number 8

Getting an Education Up North: Water Wizards of Lindsay, Ontario, has the Midas Touch
by Ronald Y. PĂ©rez, WC&P Managing Editor

For someone who began working in a multi-level marketing capacity at a paint store before embarking on his present profession, Steve Scott places great emphasis on education in conversations and to customers of his water treatment dealership -- Water Wizards, of Lindsay, Ontario. In fact, Scott recalls an early discussion he had with a friend who later became his mentor. At the time, Scott was contemplating a career move into water treatment.

?He had a chemical engineering degree and had been in the water treatment industry for about eight years. His advice to me was perfect, ?Join the Water Quality Association (WQA), get an education in it and you?ll eclipse your competitors,?? Scott says. That was all he needed to hear. After promptly quitting his job as manager of a Benjamin & Moore paint store (his father owned the business), Scott began his first day as Water Wizards owner on April 10, 1989.

As for WQA involvement, Scott joined the association in 1991 and became a certified installer in 1993. He?s also a certified water specialist (CWS-I).

Finding the right one
Scott?s first order of business was to find a legitimate manufacturer of quality water filters. After attending a meeting where the host company turned out to be a bogus outfit, he conducted some research and found a Canadian Ametek distributor in Integra Environmental, of Burlington, Ontario. Shortly thereafter, he began buying his filters from the company.

?With the filters, I very quickly had people asking me, ?Do you do this out in the country? I?ve got a friend out there with sulfur and high iron, and can you take care of that??? he says. ?It started to get much more complex than I thought it would ever become.? Scott, 53, still sells Ametek carbon block filters, but it?s only a small part of his business offerings.

Aside from Ametek, Scott uses equipment from other manufacturers such as G.H. Stenner, Clean World Waters (reverse osmosis units), Structural Fibers (retention tanks), Calgon Carbon and Autotrol. He sells softeners, carbon filters (point-of-use and whole house) and RO within the city limits. Outside of Lindsay (pop. 17,000), Scott relies on hydrogen peroxide injection, especially since 1993.

Back at the farm
Though Lindsay?s population may not be significant, the surrounding farm community consists of another 45,000 residents. Scott was born in Toronto but his family moved to Lindsay when he was 7. Lindsay is about 55 miles northeast of Toronto with numerous lakes in the area. Naturally, 80 to 90 percent of Scott?s 1,000 customers are on rural water (primarily private wells and some surface water) with the remainder on municipal water. His business is 99 percent residential with very few opportunities available for commercial/industrial (C/I) accounts.

With lakes so prominent in the area, Scott faces the issues of sulfur, all five forms of iron, methane, limestone and saltwater. ?If you drill down deep enough, you?ll find 225 grains hardness and a total dissolved solids count of 40,000, which is basically untreatable water,? he says. For sulfur and high iron, he relies heavily on hydrogen peroxide and adequate retention. In addition, tannins are rarely found less than 1.5 parts per million due to high iron/sulfur readings. Also, surface water combined with the warmer temperatures in the summer make faucet-mount filters almost obsolete. This accounts for more public contact in the form of service calls as well as business for him.

With municipal water, he encounters aesthetic issues, a ?swampy? taste and trihalomethanes (THMs). He uses coconut shell carbons for THMs, which also proves effective against total organic compounds.

Inevitably, Scott gets back to the importance of education in his industry.

Dealer as teacher
?Seventy-five percent of my job is to educate people,? Scott says. He adds that customer maintenance and follow-up on an installed unit is vital to its performance.

Scott continues, ?What I tell customers is, ?If you have a question and take it to three different barbers, three different plumbers, three different architects or three different chefs, you will get three answers that are very similar. But if you go to three different water treatment dealers, you?re going to get three different answers that are so far off the wall you won?t know what?s going on.? I hear this from almost every single customer I talk to. They are very confused and it?s a problem because water treatment never came up as a guild. It?s only been around for 60 years or so.?

Emphasizing certification
As a result, he says one issue that threatens to damage the industry is the lack of interest for people to have a professional education in the business. Scott claims only 15 percent of water treatment dealers in North America are WQA members, and only 5 percent of all dealers making a living in the business have bothered to get a certification.

In an attempt to pass some of his knowledge down to his customers and other concerned parties, Scott came up with an idea to educate via the Internet. His brother, who is a ?computer whiz,? has offered his services in helping to design www.waterhelp.ca. Unlike other commercial-type ventures, the website ?will be a listing of potential water problems and water solutions. You will be able to email me for help or advice. This is the initial plan, but I am not sure how it will evolve,? he says. By Aug. 1, Scott expected there would be 20 pages of information available to visitors.

Conclusion
For the immediate future, Scott sees plenty of opportunities for business growth. He?ll continue to use the ?soft sell? approach that has brought him to this point, which means no ?cold? calls or phone solicitations. He says simply, ?They call me and I help them with their problems.? He?ll scale back his time spent on installations, but continue to do the brunt of water testing for customers.

Still, he predicts the number of his employees (currently three) will rise over the next five years. For Scott, though, it invariably comes back to educating the public about water treatment matters. ?The industry will do nothing but grow,? he says. ?We are able to test water about a 1,000 times more accurately than we did 10 years ago. I see the industry as public educators.?

Water Wizards
65 Albert Street North
Lindsay, ON K9V 4J7 Canada
Tel: (705) 878-0914
Fax: (705) 878-5829
Email: steve.scott1@sympatico.com
Web: www.waterhelp.ca

Owner: Steve Scott

Founded: April 10, 1989

Staff: 3 part-time employees (all installers, one is WQA certified)

Sales: $130,000 in 2001; too early to tell for this year

Quotable: "(Awareness) has increased greatly. People are more willing now to do something about their water problems. It's rare that I run into the mythical rich guy who says, 'I have a problem and I want to throw money at it and I don't want to think about it anymore.'"

-- Steve Scott