May 2004: Volume 46, Number 5
APW`s Bechtold Bests the Field
by By Carlos David Mogollon, WC&P Executive Editor
Jerry Bechtold joined the water treatment industry during his senior year in high school, working part-time for a Servisoft dealership in Gary, Ind., in the late ’50s. He wound up as manager of the dealership a few years later and bought it in 1967. Two years after that, he sold it and headed for Florida.
In Vero Beach, he opened a retail-assembly dealership that, at its height, had two stores, 1,200 rental accounts and moved 50 softener units a month. Whenever he ran across a problem, he would jot down ideas on equipment and other remedies to solve them in a notebook. In 1980, he decided to launch Automated Pure Water (APW) Inc. to begin putting some of those ideas into production. After his son, Jeffrey, came on board in the mid-'80s to manage the retail operation, he concentrated on manufacturing and selling the retail side in the early '90s.
'That notebook is what still to this day we're working off of, though. All of the different, unique things that we're doing have all come out of that notebook,' Bechtold said.
Today, the business is a $3-million-a-year operation that provides an array of products designed to offer dealers flexibility and unique, simple ways to handle solutions for largely rural water treatment problems. And since production is handled in Taiwan, Bechtold, 62, only employs three people at APW.
'What I'm doing is finding little niches in this market no one has ever bothered to fill,' he said. One is a clear tube-like unit used to expel old resin from a tank using pressure from a garden hose. Another is a baffled tube for mixing chemicals. Then there's a tank unit for separating and settling out sand, particulate and oxidized organics. Bechtold said he's discontinuing an inverted-pyramid funnel unit that's used to feed resin or media into a tank, not to mention many durable adapters he's developed to allow dealers to assemble systems using just about any tank, threaded or unthreaded.
None of his products have NSF certification because none are completed systems. They're designed to be integrated into a system, for instance, that incorporates a whole-house carbon filter or softener. Bechtold said he’s not interested in providing softeners or any equipment other than what his company makes.
'My business philosophy--and keep in mind, I'm not trying to make the last buck I can get out of a dealer--is I want to sell products that are my products,' he said. 'I don't want to sell products for which I actually represent another company. All our products are our own ideas and we are responsible for getting them to market one way or another.'
About 30 percent of his business is overseas with most of that for a tablet chlorinator that's popular in Third World countries because it's mechanical and requires no power source. His equipment, which is sized only for piping up to 1-1/2 inches, also can be 'manifolded' for larger commercial applications such as a recent shipment of eight retention tanks for a hotel-casino project in the Bahamas.
Automated Pure Water, Inc.
4350 5th Street SW
Vero Beach, FL 32968
Tel: (772) 567-2488; Fax (772) 567-2503
Management: Jerry Bechtold, President
Revenues: Under $3 million annually; doubles every 3-4 years
Operations: Contract manufacturer of a variety of water treatment equipment solutions such as chemical-mixers, retention tanks, chemical feeders, Sand Trap, Mineral Extractor and a variety of adapters for different size threaded and unthreaded tanks
And now for the interview:
WC&P: How long have you been in business and how did you get started?
Bechtold: I went to work in 1957-58 on a part-time basis with a water conditioning company, a little rinkydink outfit up in Gary, Ind. I was, at that point in time, a senior in high school, working a half a day. I believe I got there actually about 12 o'clock and I would take care of a full-day's work. I'd usually finish up around 7 or 8 o'clock at night. It intrigued me. The water treatment business really intrigued me. At that point in time, there was a lot of questions I had about water that I wanted to have answered, because prior to that I had no knowledge whatsoever about water softening and the problems you encounter with water.
WC&P: Being a senior in high school then, that's not hard to imagine.
Bechtold: Yes. So, my curiosity kept me around there quite a few years.
WC&P: Are you a native of Gary?
Bechtold: I was born up in Chicago. Northwest Indiana is where this business was in Gary. But I spent most of my life up in the northwest Indiana area, Gary, Crown Point, Munster, Hammond, Highland...
WC&P: I'm actually from Indianapolis myself.
Bechtold: OK, then you know the area?
WC&P: Oh, definitely.
Bechtold: The uniqueness kept me there. This business had three employees, me being one of them.
WC&P: What was the name of the business?
Bechtold: It was Servisoft.
WC&P: OK, the old metal tanks.
Bechtold: Right, it was an exchange tank business and I had what was referred to as a half a route, which I would start around noon and finish up anywhere between 6 and 8 o'clock at night. And, of course, at the same time, I was still learning the regeneration process of reclaiming the resin and things of that nature. And it really intrigued me. The manager of that company left.
WC&P: This is a franchise dealership?
Bechtold: Yes. That's right. The manager quit and, at that point, I'd been there about three or three and a half years. I stepped up to the plate. I was asked if I wanted to go at it from a different standpoint as far as the business goes. And I took over the management of it. At that time, foreseeing the possibility that I might be interested in it, I also tied a sale price to that at that point in time. In 1967, I bought that business for the agreed price back when I negotiated this thing. I ran it under my ownership. I hocked everything I had to do that. In fact, the funny thing is I was I used to like to play with automobiles and rebuild them. So, I put myself in hock right up to my eyeballs; and, for two years, I did nothing but work on cars to literally make ends meet. After I bought it, I got involved in sales and, over a course of time, I became pretty proficient about it--to the point where, when I sold the business in 1969, it was worth about two and a half times what I paid for it.
WC&P: Wow, good deal! And I imagine you got it at somewhat of a discount, considering you locked in the price earlier.
Bechtold: That's correct, because the work that I had done for the period of time while I was in management was actually to my advantage. The 2-1/2 times factor actually figured in on about five years' worth of effort on my part.
WC&P: Sweat equity we call it.
Bechtold: Sweat equity, that’s about right. Believe me--that's what it was. I paid my dues that way. Then, in 1969, I could see the handwriting on the wall in that I did not want to be a franchise dealer. I wanted to go in a different direction than that. So, I sold my business up there, relocated to Vero Beach, Fla., started a retail company and, at the same time, went into the assembly manufacture of my own equipment. That grew to the point where I eventually started supplying dealers to a small degree in a regional area. After probably, seven to eight years of that, I continued to assemble my own equipment...
WC&P: What kind of equipment were you putting together?
Bechtold: We were assembling no name brands. We were using Fleck and Autotrol heads, which were basically the two powers-that-be at that time.
Bechtold: Right. I was doing quite a bit of co-op purchasing with other people down here. Going back to those times, there were basically three assemblers in the area, myself being one of them.
WC&P: Who were the others? Are they still around?
Bechtold: Yes. Actually, one of them was Atlantic Filter in West Palm (Beach). That was Wally Wakem, Jamie's dad. You guys probably know Jamie.
WC&P: Oh, yeah. We actually have a photo going into the May issue where he looks as if he's about 18. It's part of a new feature we started called 'FlashBack,' where we pull photos out of our archives going back to the '50s and say, 'Remember when...' It's got Jamie Wakem and Dean Spatz in this particular photo.
Bechtold: There you go. Everything was a number's game then, the same as it is today really. By us guys working together, rather than being brutal enemies, we were all able to benefit from the purchasing power we had all together.
WC&P: What was the other one?
Bechtold: I can't recall his name right now. He was on the west coast (of Florida). I didn't have a lot of direct dealing with him.
WC&P: Not the Flowmatic people?
Bechtold: No. In fact, the Flowmatic people weren't even in business at the time, to my knowledge. Earl Brane, which is the grandfather, and I go way back as well. But that brings us up to the point in retail operations where I had basically seen that I did not want to go into the direction of manufacturing water conditioning equipment or assembling it. Even back in those days, the margin was shrinking. Some of the other companies were coming down here.
WC&P: How would you describe how you positioned your company then?
Bechtold: Well, the advantage I had was in assembling my own equipment, which gave me a much better position in the retail market. The other equipment that I was selling to the dealers was just kind of an add-on or plus factor numbers-wise.
WC&P: Describe what you mean by retail, if you could, please.
Bechtold: Retail is where I would sell a piece of equipment to an end-user in the home. That's a retail dealer. It's the guy who actually buys the equipment from somebody, installs it in a person's home and that is his retail customer.
WC&P: So, instead, you were assembling your own equipment and not buying a ready-made system set to be installed without much tinkering.
Bechtold: Exactly. I'm actually being an assembly-manufacturer as well as a retail dealer. Our retail store grew into two stores. I'm jumping up a bit here.
WC&P: OK, bring me up to date. What year are we talking about now?
Bechtold: In our first store, the growth factor that we saw there, we got as high as 1,200 rental accounts at the peak of it. That would be probably at the height on the retail selling standpoint would have been probably an average of 50 units moved a month.
WC&P: And you opened the second store when?
Bechtold: Let's look back a bit. I sold it six years ago and I had the second store for about 10 years. So, that would mean about 1988. Does that sound right?
WC&P: If those numbers are correct, yes.
Bechtold: No, I didn't have the second store that long. It was probably more like 1992--six or seven years--or maybe 1991. Yes, 1991 would be much closer to reality. The second store was opened when my son was actually running the retail operations for me.
WC&P: What's your son's name?
Bechtold: Jeffrey. He graduated college in '86 or '87.
WC&P: So, he's my age or a year younger--40 or 39.
Bechtold: No. Jeffrey's 42. He had five years at the University of Alabama.
WC&P: Did you ever attend college?
Bechtold: Actually, I did not.
WC&P: There's lots of millionaires out there without a college degree.
Bechtold: Actually, in my own mind, I figured I'd wind up in college, until I run into this. Basically, my game plan was that I would like to see what I could do in this business and the curiosity led me in that direction. It took off like wildfire, so I never thought I needed to cancel that out to go to college. I have taken college courses that pertained to what my needs were as far as being a businessman. But did I go full time, no. Did I graduate, no.
WC&P: OK. Bring us up to date, if you could. What's new at the company? You mentioned selling the second store. Do you still have the original retail store?
Bechtold: No. I sold both six years ago.
WC&P: At that point, you shifted gears?
Bechtold: Actually, when my son took over, that's what I did. One of the things over the course of the years in being in a retail business, every time I had an idea, a unique idea, I didn't have time to mess with it. So, I put it down in a notebook. That notebook is what still to this day we're working off of. All of the different, unique things that we're doing have all come out of that notebook. Automated Pure Water, I started in 1980. And I became full-time on development of the products I referred to when my son took over the retail operation. That was the reason I shifted gears there, because I wanted to devote that time to doing the things I'm doing now.
WC&P: So, when did he start running things on the retail end?
Bechtold: It was when he got out of college, so '86 was when that happened. That's when I really went full time into this business. And the development of the Mineral Extractor, that was my first unique product. That's the device that you can pump a unit, take the resin out of a unit. The second thing was I went into my tank adapters. What I'm doing is finding little niches in this market that no one has ever bothered to fill. And some of the other things that we developed was a large funnel we called the Super Funnel. We've pretty much saturated the market with that.
WC&P: What is it?
Bechtold: It's just basically a large funnel that will hold a cubic foot, because it's hard to put the minerals in that tank when you need to put mineral in. Then, we hooked up a little spray bar to it that washed the media into the tank. The next thing would be the Model 400 chlorinator. We developed that.
WC&P: It's a pellet chlorinator?
Bechtold: Yes, it's the chlorinator that we advertise. Now, you can go to my website, www.apwinc.com, and pull the technical information on all of these products if you want to go into depth on them or answer any question you may want to ask. After the Model 400 chlorinator came the retention tank, the device which has equaled or will actually outperform a 120-gallon conventional retention tank. We're doing this with a 12×60 tank.
WC&P: OK, wow.
Bechtold: A conventional 120-gallon tank is a monster. Next came the Sand Trap, which is a tank that allows us to separate sand or particulate from water without the need of filtration through cartridge filters, backwashing filters, things of that nature. This is a unit which allows it to settle to the bottom and then just blow it off periodically.
WC&P: Now, when you first started the company in '80, you said the first product was the Mineral Extractor. Who were you targeting your product at?
Bechtold: Our products are all targeted at the retail dealer or a supplier who sells to the retail dealer. We don't really want to sell the onesys and twoseys so much as sell to a distributor who then handles that for us. In other words, we would much rather sell them by the case than we would by the piece. But we will sell to the dealers as well.
WC&P: How many employees did you start out with?
Bechtold: Started out with one, me. There's actually now, with part-time help, three of us.
WC&P: And what was your income like the first year?
Bechtold: God, I don't know. Keep in mind, I've always had other interests. I've never really taken any money out of this thing. I've always reinvested.
WC&P: OK, well what type of growth have you seen in recent years?
Bechtold: We have probably doubled this thing every three to four years. That would be over the last 10 years. Keep in mind, when I started this thing, this second company was started as a tax write-off.
WC&P: Automated Pure?
Bechtold: Yes. What we were doing at that point was I was buying things through Automated Pure Water acting as a distributor and selling it to Automatic Water, which is the name of my retail companies at that point in time. So, it was just basically to keep us in the right tax brackets.
WC&P: Does your son still work with the company?
Bechtold: No, when I sold out six years ago, he had become a partner in that through sweat equity. And when we cashed out, he elected to go to Colorado, went into business in Colorado, bought a laundromat, which he has done phenomenal with. This thing, it's a real cash cow. It's a manned laundry which opens at 7 o'clock in the morning and runs until 10 o'clock at night. There's an attendant always there. They do wash-dry-and-fold. He also does dry cleaning. And then after the laundromat is closed to the public, he brings in people in the wee hours of the morning and he has a commercial laundry business that he uses to do basically the same thing. But these people are doing it for his clients.
WC&P: What's the newest thing at Automated Pure?
Bechtold: The latest is the Sand Trap, which we released about eight or nine months ago after field testing and so forth. That's the latest product that we've released.
WC&P: Who do you target that at?
Bechtold: There again, all of our products are directed at basically the retail dealer, directly or indirectly.
WC&P: What type of dealers, though? Rural dealers, urban water...
Bechtold: These are dealers that would be treating well water. Most of our products are directed at the well water market.
WC&P: How many units do you move a year?
Bechtold: I don't know, honestly.
WC&P: Enough to keep you busy?
Bechtold: Yeah, they keep us busy. You know, my objective is to--as an example, the chlorinator--once that's perfected, we do not do any of the manufacturing for that. That thing is molded for us so that we're basically putting a label on a box and shipping it. It does have our patents on it, which control the effectiveness of the unit. That's what makes it work is the patents that we have. I guess it works too well because we've had some people that have copied it down almost identically with the exception of the patents, which is what makes it work. They've had some major problems with their unit. I don't really want to get into talking numbers. I'd rather not say how many units are sold a year, for instance.
WC&P: That's why I'm saying moreso percentages and things like that. We like to give readers some sense of the largesse of a particular enterprise. So, if you were to rank your company, it would fall between what and what? This would be to offer then a broad number under which your company falls.
Bechtold: You mean dollar volume?
Bechtold: Annually, we'd be under three million.
WC&P: When did you roll out the chlorinator, the Model 400?
Bechtold: That was actually right behind the Mineral Extractor. That would have been 12 years ago, I guess. That would have been '92.
WC&P: How many different products do you have?
Bechtold: Well, you get into an area like the adapters that we make, when we say we make an adapter, we say we make an array of different adapters within that category. I've got 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch, 1-inch adapters. I've introduced here--oh, about four years ago--an inch-and-a-half adapter for a 4-inch threaded tank. There again, this'll all come into play and you'll understand this when you get on that website. There's a product that says Touch-Flo wrench that you'll see, which is a faucet wrench. These are little things that are helped the dealer or a product to help fill a dealer's needs to get an end result. Almost all of our products are components that will be added to another component to make a system. The chlorinator, as an example--with that, we chlorinate the water. Well, with that, you really should have the retention tank to go with it. But then, on the outgoing line of that, you really need a carbon backwashing tank to take that chlorine out after it's done its job. And then that water, in most cases, would need to be softened with a water conditioning system, which we do not make. We do not make that--don't want to. My business philosophy--and keep in mind, I'm not trying to make the last buck I can get out of a dealer--is I want to sell products that are my products. I don't want to sell products that I actually represent another company. All of our products are our own ideas and we are responsible for getting them to market one way or another.
WC&P: And your products are basically designed to make a particular job easier and whatever other products go along with that design to solve the problem are that dealer's or supplier's responsibility. If there's a headache involved it's their headache or that of that other manufacturer or supplier.
Bechtold: That's true to a point. They have to do the servicing of it. Our [NOTE: missing word - norel?] adapters, the reason I went to bat and made those was that, at the point in time when I decided to do this, there was a plastic adapter on the market that was busting, it was cracking and it was creating all sorts of problems. I said I know how to make this, I know how to design this, I'm going to design one that's totally indestructible. And that's basically what we've done here. We've put a 5-year warranty on this thing. My first customer was a DI person who beats these things to death. I mean literally. They're on ion exchange tanks, so they're putting these on, taking them back off repeatedly. The tanks are getting banged around. We brought this thing out and put a 5-year warranty on it and they guy says: 'You're crazy!' But, there again, we made it with polypropylene, 20 percent glass fill, which is strong. You could take this thing out and bounce it in the parking lot as high as a two-story building. You're going to scuff it and you're going to distort it--but you're not going to break it.
WC&P: Since you don't do the manufacturing yourself, who do you work with on that?
Bechtold: I have a molder who I work with when I come up with an idea. We make a design, which in essence becomes a mold; then the mold is processed, we get a product, we run our evaluation on that; and, when we get it to the point where we're ready to go to market, then we start running product.
WC&P: Where is the molder located?
Bechtold: I do all my molding in Taiwan. I have for the last 13 years.
WC&P: Has that presented any challenges for you at all? You're a three-man operation getting your production handled overseas...
Bechtold: I have not had a problem with it. Actually, I only go over there when I absolutely need to. I have not been over there for nine years. I haven't had a need. You know, the key to my success in what I'm doing right now is I get an idea, I take that idea to a machinist and let him make me the component--whatever it is that I'm doing--right down to the nitty gritty. I mean it's absolutely perfect. The tolerances are perfect. Everything else is too. So, when I give it to the people over there, all they have to do is copy it. There's no guess work in there on their part. They have a finished widget in their hand that they can cut apart if they have to in order to find out what it is that we're wanting to do. Now, I just sent him over another adapter that we would be making a new mold for...
WC&P: This is for what again?
Bechtold: This particular adapter is one that will convert a non-threaded tank to receive any conventional 2-1/2 No. 8 thread of any water treatment valve in our industry. See, there's tanks out there that are manufactured by some companies that do not have threads on them. The reason being that they do not want people changing the valve. They always want them to come back and buy their valve. This gives the person who has that or the servicing technician the ability that when that valve needs to be replaced, he has an alternative.
WC&P: It gives him more flexibility, in other words.
Bechtold: Not only that, but the valve that we're talking about is not the best valve in the world. Sears is a good example. This is used on Sears units. You probably know what I'm talking about now. But just talking about the non-threaded valve, why did I decide to do this mold.
WC&P: This is coming out right now?
Bechtold: Yeah, I'm getting ready to tell you the story there. What we do when I'm not sure what kind of a market I've got, I will go ahead and bite the bullet and pay to have a machinist make these things. Once I've determined that there's enough market there that I can make a mold and it would be advantageous to have one, that's when I move forward with this. Now, I've already been through this with the non-threaded tank and we found a tremendous market need for this. So, that's why actually Friday I sent the actual finished component part over there for a price on the mold.
WC&P: I asked earlier if there were any challenges in having these done in Taiwan. If you had to point to a major challenge that you or your company faced and how you overcame it, what would you say?
Bechtold: The biggest challenge is the cost of the mold. As I said, I started doing my injection molding over there 12 years ago, 13 years, something like that. We were finding that the cost was so much out of proportion based on the cost in this country. The difference being, these products I could have never brought to market if I'd had to make the mold and produce that product here. It's a heck of a thing to have to deal with, but the truth of the thing is the molder that I'm using over there has now become one of the major molders molding a whole bunch of stuff for different people in our industry. It just so happens I happened to be one of the first ones to find him.
WC&P: Like pretty much every big player, or what?
Bechtold: I would say 60 percent of the companies in our industry are now molding a good percentage of their parts--and that's just a ballpark guess on my part--over there. Not with the particular people I'm using, but just with other molders over there. I would say 60 percent of our injection molded products are being made over there. That'd be my guess at this point in time.
WC&P: Well, Pentair bought K&M Plastics last year and one of the first things it did was move part of the production to China.
Bechtold: Yes. And actually, Structural Fibers, what they call their FRP tank is now I understand being made in India. In fact, I just got the first shipment of tanks from them. Our Sand Trap, we initially started making it with that tank. And I think we'll probably be changing that and going with a manufacturer here in the states, being Park International in California, which is now owned by Pentair.
WC&P: Which also owns Structural.
Bechtold: True. When I came into this business, the major product being sold was a semiautomatic water softener. I saw the initial automatic softener basically be born that was practical to sell to the retail market. I mean they were around before that, but I'm talking...
WC&P: The one that broke it open?
Bechtold: The one that made it practical for people to buy. It was about 1959.
WC&P: So, you've seen pretty much most of the evolution in the industry being that you've been in the business since high school.
WC&P: How old are you now, if I can ask?
Bechtold: 62. I got in it when I was 17 years old, so that puts me in there with a couple years under my belt.
WC&P: I'm sure it gives you lots of stories to fall back on.
Bechtold: Oh, god, yes.
WC&P: Tell us if you could an interesting anecdote or story about your experience in water treatment? It can be a funny story, an interesting story, a scary story...
Bechtold: I think I'd probably have to pick up on the scary one. The scary part to me is the way that our industry is going with the accumulation of the smaller companies owned by the conglomerates. It kind of stands the hair up on the back of my neck as to where the heck this industry is going.
WC&P: It's been sort of a steady consolidation for the past several years now.
Bechtold: Yes, that's for sure. The funny part is these companies are buying, but the bottom line is that the retail dealers that are out there in the trenches and the retail sales people and service people that are out there with them are the people that made this business. And they're also the people that will keep this business afloat. There's no doubt in my mind. You can't sit in an ivory tower and dictate to this industry what needs to be sold and what doesn't need to be sold and how the product should be changed. That's because there's regional problems in our water and we have to this on basically a regional basis. What works in California doesn't necessarily mean it'll work in Florida or Minnesota or New York.
WC&P: That's one of the things I've learned. I always enjoy going to the WQA convention because I get to spend time with a lot of the dealers that I've made friends with over the years. We spend a lot of time during a lot of the year working with manufacturers or consultants or people doing technical articles on this or that. And it's difficult sometimes to get the dealers to write on that level. They're so busy usually. There's a few that we've grown to rely on. One's a good friend up in Vermont. And I always enjoy talking to him because you get a very down-to-earth understanding of the ins and outs of the applications of equipment that's being marketed left and right. And you hear practical nuances to how they're used. I was out to dinner with a few and they were talking about where they got their UV tubes, which cost more or less and why they went for this lamp over that lamp. You may hear these guys are putting a lot of money and effort behind marketing that, but what you really want is this because it's not as expensive and it really works. Or they may say you pay a little more for this, but it's worth it because it never breaks down.
Bechtold: Right. And the guys that can answer those kind of questions are the ones that are out in the trenches.
WC&P: Well, if you had a story about someone like this that you worked with and could recall something that they did with a product or manner they applied it that made you stop and think; or a problem in how they handled a particular product or how it got solved--what would you say?
Bechtold: You know, I'm going to have to give that one some thought. Nothing comes to mind offhand.
WC&P: I imagine it was interesting the first time you went to Taiwan. Before that, who did you do your molding with in the states?
Bechtold: I never did have it made in the states.
WC&P: So, you just went straight overseas. I assume you priced some things first.
Bechtold: Yes. As I said, I tried to get the mold made here and the original two molds that pushed me over there were the in-and-out adapter, which became the Mineral Extractor, and the big one, which was the mold for the Model 400. It was just too expensive.
WC&P: The Mineral Extractor does what?
Bechtold: It takes the media out of a tank when it's expelled to the point where it has to be replaced. It's a very simple device that you hook a garden hose up to and it literally pumps this stuff out.
WC&P: So, when the resin’s exhausted, this pulls it out?
Bechtold: No, when it's exhausted to the point where it won't exchange, it's wore out--that's when this comes into play.
WC&P: What's Taiwan like?
Bechtold: Quite unique. It's a very fascinating country. I enjoyed every minute of it. It's just another world. Believe me, another world. And I've made quite a few trips over there through the years. As I've said, I haven't had to go over there for quite some time. Basically, I only go over there when I have an absolute need to.
WC&P: How did you handle the language difference?
Bechtold: They speak English.
WC&P: I'm thinking of the recent Oscar-nominated movie with Bill Murray, 'Lost in Translation,' and picturing you stuck in a hotel in Taipei.
Bechtold: No. It's not like that. When I get over there, they pick me up at the airport and I have a driver and a car at my disposal. That driver is also my translator. When I have to go over there, I don't stay in the hotels that the average tourist stays at. I stay in their hotels, like their Holiday Inn--whatever they call it. And my interpreter/driver, who happens to be the brother of the fellow that owns this company, him and I have become quite close friends. So, he just kind of hangs out with me the whole time I'm there. They've been bugging me to come visit. I probably need to go over if for no other reason than just to go.
WC&P: Take the wife--enjoy a vacation.
Bechtold: Oh, but the last time I came back, it took me 33 hours. That's with all my layovers and so forth.
Bechtold: It took me five weeks to get over the jet lag completely. That last one just tore me up. I wanted to sleep all day and party all night.
WC&P: Do you have any inspirational stories, people that maybe inspired you to stay with the industry?
Bechtold: There was a fellow that actually gave me the ability to sell product. He was probably thebest salesman that I'd ever come into contact with. His name was Frank Hoover and he worked for Servisoft Water Refining back beaucoup years ago. Frank grabbed this greenhorn, wet-behind-the-ears kid that had some mechanical ability and took him out and taught him how to sell product. And he taught him also that, in selling a product, the more knowledge you had of that product, the better off you could become as far as being a salesperson. That's not necessarily trying to sell the nuts and bolts, but having that knowledge gave you an upper hand on any salesperson you might become in direct contact with or across the table selling from. This is the guy who taught me how to become a professional salesman the right way.
WC&P: Was Frank working for Servisoft corporate?
Bechtold: He was at that point in time. This goes back into the early to middle '60s, I believe. That's the guy that got me wound up. The uniqueness of this industry hooked me and Frank Hoover taught me enough about how to make money so that I could stay around for a while.
WC&P: Well, from your perspective in the market today, where do you see the industry going?
Bechtold: I see a need for water treatment as far as I can see. It might change. New products and innovations might come and go. But the actual problems that we're dealing with, they're not going to go away. They're just getting worse.
WC&P: What are some of the problems as you see them?
Bechtold: Pollution. The calcium and magnesium contents in water seem to be increasing. The chemical application into the municipal waters is something that needs to be dealt with. The purification of water is something that will always be dealt with. Consumable water, our industry is very strong in treating water for consumption. Actually, our industry has broken water down into three categories. I think that goes back to even before myself. Utility water, that's the water you buy from the city or get out of the ground that you can wash your car or your house with. Then, there's household water. Now, of course, under utility water, most industries would use that water as well.
WC&P: Process water.
Bechtold: Process utility water. Utility water that needs to be treated in order to be used. Then, there's home use water, which needs to be treated as far as softening and so forth. Then there's consumable water, which only represents about 1 percent of all the water that we use in the household. But, that's got to be the highest treated water because of the chemicals and impurities that are in the water--and bacteria and other things. You know all the things that our industry does. We need to always remember that we're dealing with different qualities of water for different applications and that will never change. And that's why they future of this industry is out there for as long as you want to look down the pike, from my estimation. That's my thought on it.
WC&P: There have been also a lot of interesting issues in the news that have popped up in just the time that I've been involved with the magazine, which is eight years now. We've gone from consolidation issues, which you mentioned earlier. We've gone to dealer consolidation issues. There's been all these emerging contaminants, MTBE, perchlorate, etc. These are things we didn't really hear about that much five or more years ago. Now, you've got arsenic, radon/radium issues and the big old story out of DC on lead in drinking water. The implication in Baltimore was that's a broader problem than just DC due to increased chloramine use and the D/DBP Rule.
Bechtold: Oh, yes, I agree with that. There again, we're talking about lead in water. For the most part, it won't hurt us if we're cleaning the house with water that has it. But if you're talking about consumption, we need to deal with it. There we go back to that one-percent, high quality drinking or consumable water is becoming more and more of a question mark. You'll always have the need for all three of these types of water.
WC&P: Tell me something real quick if you could. I've got two questions. One is how far and wide your products are marketed geographically. And the second is are your products used beyond residential uses.
Bechtold: Oh, yeah. First of all, we're shipping product all over the world.
WC&P: How much is destined for outside the U.S.?
Bechtold: I would guess, at this point, probably 30 percent vs. 70 percent domestic.
WC&P: And of that 30 percent, where are some of the bigger concentrations?
Bechtold: A lot of it is our chlorinator because it's mechanical with no electric requirements, so a lot of it is going into Third World countries for disinfection of water for purification purposes. And, there again, the majority of that is done in conjunction with someone else putting that on or incorporating that into another system.
WC&P: What about commercial/light industrial applications, etc.?
Bechtold: Our products are adaptable to any type of water within reason. I mean we go into 1-1/2 inches in terms of as big as we get for adapters. The chlorinator will work on a line up to 1-1/2 inches. When we get into our retention tanks, they're 1 inch. But you see all of our products can be manifolded so that the water volume just means you need multiples. You get into a 4-inch or a 3-inch water line, as an example, and you'd have to work out the logistics as far as what is needed in terms of gallonage and things of that nature. You might need four of our retention tanks and four of our chlorinators mounted on a retention tank to get the end result you're looking for. But not to long ago, we shipped eight retention tanks over to the Bahamas for a dealer who was working on one of the big hotel-casinos there. I don't know which one because, there again, what we did was only a small part of the package that he put together for them.
WC&P: Do you ever get approached direct?
Bechtold: No, not very often. Very rarely do we ever get a big commercial solicitation. We will get to them through their suppliers who know about us. "We need Jerry to supply us with this and we need this company to supply us with this and that company to supply us with that. And we'll put it all together and ship it over there..' That's generally how it works.
WC&P: What's the one hot-button issue facing water treatment dealers or the industry that you think will have the most impact over the next few years?
Bechtold: Government control--the government stepping in and trying to set standards that are ridiculously out of proportion to the problem. I think that's probably one of the things that's going to be a hot button for us. It has been and it probably would continue to be.
WC&P: What examples would you offer there?
Bechtold: California. Look at some of the things that are going on there. They're coming down the pike and it seems that what happens in California trickles down to us.
WC&P: Are you talking about--brine efficiency, discharge, salt, chlorides?
Bechtold: All of them. Any of the things that you know have been a hot button in California seem to always work down into the rest of the country.
WC&P: Are there issues in Florida that stand out, since that and the Southeast are likely your strongest areas?
Bechtold: Well, see there again, it's hard for me to say because we're not selling a completed system.
WC&P: What are the questions you hear, i.e., will it deal with this or that?
Bechtold: That's pretty much universal all over the country. Will it deal with bacteria, will it deal with iron, will it deal with hydrogen sulfide? What are the limitations that we have with this system? These are primarily the questions that are asked of our chlorinator and retention tank.
WC&P: The latest thing to come over the wires WQA-wise has been the alliance with RAI that will revamp their convention next year. They just signed an agreement to basically create a whole new show in partnership with the people that organize the Aquatech Amsterdam show and expand it to include additional niche market areas, i.e., industrial, wastewater, chemical water treatment, etc. Do you have a perspective on that?
Bechtold: I think it could be a positive thing because there's a lot of stuff that these industries could cross over with. And I think that would be a very positive thing if and when it happens. As you said, it's supposed to happen next year. Hopefully, it will. Of course, it also opens up a situation where our industry, our controlling factor for WQA, will be in a position where it can grow for its needs as well. I would hope it's a very positive thing.
WC&P: Are you a WQA member?
Bechtold: I am on a local level. I am no longer a member of the WQA. I am still a member and will continue to be a member of FWQA, the Florida Water Quality Association.
WC&P: What are issues that you deal with through FWQA?
Bechtold: You know, you'd probably answer that question better by getting ahead of Larry Eaton, who's the president of that. We're due to have a convention here in June. I don't know what the local or regional issues are that have popped up here of late.
WC&P: What's your perspective on the strength of the regional WQAs?
Bechtold: I think they're very, very important because they usually deal with things on a statewide basis and each individual state usually has its own little quircks or needs or things they have to deal with. Usually, it's got to do with government trying to put controls on us that are ridiculous.
WC&P: You don't deal with the septic tank issue, do you?
Bechtold: No, I do not.
WC&P: Then other issues are usually related to somebody getting red-tagged or a system not passing plumbing codes. What message would you offer to the dealer on these?
Bechtold: I don't really have a message. I don't know how any of us can overcome some of these other than through our local associations and WQA, fighting these ridiculous laws that they come up with. That's probably our biggest button for the entire industry--to keep the control factors to a minimum. That's what these organizations are striving to do.
WC&P: As well as maintain the right of the consumer to improve the quality of water in their home.
Bechtold: Right. You know, some of the stuff they come down the pike with are good. It's good for the industry. It's good for the consumer. But some is just so far out in left field that it's just ridiculous.
WC&P: What are some of the things you think have been good?
Bechtold: Standards on water treatment equipment.
WC&P: To establish uniformity and reliability that claims are true.
Bechtold: Yes. When a consumer compares equipment, he can know that if they're meeting a certain standard by WQA then that means this will do such and such. I think that, to a point, that's been a good thing.
WC&P: Do you pursue certification?
Bechtold: We do not because, there again, we're not softening. We're doing that type of thing. That's out of our area.
WC&P: There's no specific standards for the equipment you produce in other words?
Bechtold: Not really.
WC&P: OK, well, I think that's about all the questions I had. Is there anything you'd like to add?
Bechtold: Not really. I'm anxious to see what all you come up with from our little talk here.