New Hampshires Secondwind
prides itself on taking a different approach to the business of water
One of only five companies in New Hampshire that lists certified employees
with the national Water Quality Association, Manchester-based Second-wind
has nine people who hold varying levels of certification, including all
three owners. The other four list only one certified employee. Five more
companies in the state were listed as WQA members in 1999.
We set out to be the most technically competent company, said
company president Christine Peach Fletcher.
Prior to launching Secondwind, Fletcher and her husband Crispin worked
for Digital Equipment Corp., she for 12 years, he for eight. When the
computer company decided to shut down the New Hampshire operation at which
she was plant materials manager, offering a generous buyout package that
included two years salary and stock options, they took advantage of it
to fund the new business.
Crispin had been wanting to do something more related to what he
got his masters degree in, environmental studies, and this gave
us a chance to do thatsort of a second wind, which is how we came
up with the name, Fletcher said. The idea of getting your
second wind, rather than being burnt out by corporate America.
The company got its start in 1989 in Wilton, N.H., in the home shared
by the couple. It was his graduate work at Antioch Colleges Keene,
N.H., branch that led them to partner Jan Beauvais, who also studied at
Antioch, and to an interest in water purification. Together, the trio
decided to go into business, securing the necessary certifications and
licenses in areas like radon mitigation, water treatment operation and
small systems operation.
When we started Second-wind, we thought it was going to be an environmental
company, she said. Little did we know wed be selling
A decade later, Secondwind operates from newly renovated mill space along
the Merrimack River, with teams of technicians and salespeople making
the rounds through the Granite State in vans to see and serve customers.
The company payroll has grown from three people to 15, yet the owners
outlook on the business remains today much as it was a decade ago.
In the simplest words, we fix water, Fletcher said.
While Secondwinds role is to diagnose and treat common problems
in drinking water, the job is really anything but simple. The company
does everything from drawing water samples for outside lab testing to
designing and implementing purification systems.
Secondwinds clients range from individual homeowners to small public
water supplies like those at condominium complexes and schools or daycare
centers with their own wells. For such water supplies, Secondwind does
everything from act as the certified system operator to serving as the
sampling agent, regularly taking samples of the water, determining it
meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) drinking water standards
and filing the necessary reports with the USEPA and other regulators.
When necessary, Secondwind, an authorized Kinetico dealer, will also install
and maintain any systems to ensure water quality.
Our goal is to really give the institutions one-stop shopping and
take it off their hands, Fletcher said.
About 60 percent of the companys business comes from residential
work, while 20 percent is represented by small public water supplies and
another 20 by non-residential customers, such as commercial or light industrial
water systems, according to Fletcher. For residences, the average cost
of a system is about $2,250, and financing is available through Kinetico,
as well as options to lease or rent equipment.
The whole package is problem assessment, configuring the hardware
to match the building and the water use patterns of the building, andwhats
real important to uswarranty service, she said.
A multi-prong approach
Secondwind uses a variety of means to solve water problems including softeners;
reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection and radon mitigation (air stripping)
systems; and filters. Fletcher said Secondwinds use of the various
water remedies is split fairly evenly between those methods, particularly
softeners, air strippers and filtration systems.
She said the most common water problems in New Hampshirewhich has
naturally soft waterare radon, large amounts of iron and low pH.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas associated with lung cancer. The other
two can stain fixtures, dissolve copper pipes and make water taste metallic.
Secondwind went with Kinetico early on as its product of choice because
of its quality and efficiency, Fletcher said. The products tend to be
more expensive than some of the competition, she said, but are a good
value because they work better and last longer.
Fletcher says her company has no problem finding people in New Hampshire
willing to invest in a Kinetico system.
Weve grown from 10-to-40 percent every year in revenue,
Fletcher said. Gross revenue for 1999 was $1.7 million, which for
our business is pretty big, she said. With residential systems the
biggest portion of 1999s business, the new millenniums resolution
is to increase the commercial side.
Surviving the odds
Secondwind has beaten its share of challenges to survive over the last
decade, including its first
few years, which coincided with a deep economic downturn in New England.
When we started in the recession, no one was putting water softeners
in for fun, Fletcher said. Instead, the company was treating problems
like water that smelled so bad people would not drink it, bathe in it
or do laundry with it.
No matter what the problem, Fletcher said Secondwind always stuck with
jobs, trying more than one system to purify water when necessary. That
approach evolved, she said, into the companys total satisfaction,
The company views itself as marketing not just water treatment equipment
but solutions to water problems. Its guarantee, she explained, covers
not only the hardware but the applicationincluding unexpected occurrences
like a change in the quality of well water that requires a whole new approach
to purification. Repairs or replacement of systems are covered by this
guarantee if something goes wrong or if a different course of treatment
is needed to solve a water problem, including crediting customers 100
percent for what they spent on the first system if a new one is necessary
within two years.
The only limit set on the guarantee is the company wont cover problems
that result from events like a power surge, lightning strike or freezingor
improper use by the customer. And to help customers properly maintain
their systems, Fletcher said Secondwind carefully labels the systems
parts and provides detailed diagrams and descriptions for each.
We ended up with a very loyal customer base because we interpreted
that guarantee liberally, Fletcher said.
Seventy percent of Secondwinds new customers come from referrals
by former clients or real estate agents and builders whove heard
of the companys reputation for customer service. The company has
drawn in other business through participating in trade shows and advertising
but has taken a pledge not to use telemarketing, unlike many of its competitors.
Its really a philosophy, said Fletcher, who feels telephone
soliciting is too intrusive and has negative connotations because of overuse
by the residential water treatment industry. Instead, Secondwind opts
for direct mail to reach out to new prospects. I feel like thats
the least invasive.
Fletcher said Secondwind also does not use techniques like the bottle
dropwhere water companies leave a bottle on a door or mailbox
pledging a free water quality testbecause it rarely results in a
real water test. Instead, she said, companies just use the names and addresses
of those that reply to the offer of a free test as a way to see who in
a community might be interested in buying water products or services.
Our feeling is it is a little bit of a trick, she said.
Finding the fun
That customer-focused philosophy is one of the things Fletcher believes
sets her company apart. From its use of independent labs to test water
down to its guarantee and refusal to push hardware on customers, doing
business in an ethical manner is a priority for Secondwind. But doing
business ethically doesnt mean you cant enjoy the work. In
fact, you can enjoy it more.
The companys unique philosophy also extends to its employees, which
include technicians, water samplers, a customer service representative,
marketing manager, salespeople, bookkeeper and stock room help.
I think one thing that sets us apart is theres something about
working for Secondwind, she said. (The employees) have fun.
As a result, the company has very low staff turnover, which pays off for
Secondwind because it results in more skilled workers.
It takes a year for a salesman or a technician to get good at what
they do, Fletcher said.
Since the three founders were once the three sole employees, Fletcher
said theyve done every job in the company, which also helps them
relate to the current workers and vice versa.
The commitment to customer service and to employees is all part of what
the company calls The Secondwind Way. That commitment also
extends to the community, where Secondwind is active in projects through
its affiliate memberships in the Manchester, Nashua and Granite State
South boards of Realtors.
Fletcher said making people happy is one of the things she likes best
about the business.
I like the process of pleasing people, she said. Im
never, ever bored. I have not been bored in 10 years.
250 Commercial St.
Manchester, N.H. 03101
(800) 287-5767 or (603) 641-5767
(603) 641-8518 (fax)
Christine P. Fletcher,
CWS-Vpresident B.A., Middlebury College MBA, Boston University
New Hampshire Treatment & Distribution, Operation Level 1A
Jan Beauvais, CWS-Vvice president B.S., Antioch College
New Hampshire Treatment & Distribution, Operator Level 1
Crispin Fletcher, CWS-Vdirector B.A., Boston University
M.A., environmental studies, Antioch University
Founded: 1989 in Wilton, N.H.
Annual gross revenue: $1.7 million (1999)
Equipment: Authorized Kinetico dealer
Quotables: We kill ourselves to make it work...
Water treatment, its a combination of an art and a science,
not just science.
About the author
Christine Gillette is a freelance writer and the business and economic
development editor for the Portsmouth Herald and its parent company, Seacoast
Newspapers, based in Portsmouth, N.H. She is the U.S. Small Business Administrations
1999 Small Business Media Advocate of the Year for New Hampshire. She
lives in Dover, N.H.