by Dave Duren, North Star
A long time ago, around the ripe old age of 24 I had joined my father as a manufacturer’s representative. It was the summer of 1986 on a day when I was making a sales call to a wholesaler called Peerless Supply in Clearwater, Fl. There in the purchasing chair was a gentleman named Ray Alger. After general sales stuff conversation, Ray asked me if we’d be interested in a new line. Being young and new to the business this sounded great and I equated a “new line” with tons of tons of money. Of course I said “YES”, then said…oh by the way, what kind of line? He said a water softener line called Bruner, out of Milwaukee, WI. I said OK but was does a water softener do? …and from there, as they say, the rest is history. So from that day on, I attribute my entry into the wonderful world of water, to Ray Alger. Ray had come from Connecticut to Florida and had a business as a plumbing and water treatment contractor. He always brought a world of hands-on knowledge to the industry and always loved to share his past experiences with others. He truly was a great spokesperson for the industry and I believe Ray’s ultimate goal in life, is to teach others to be successful.
In the early years, Ray taught me all about softeners. How they worked, installation, troubleshooting and about the water treatment industry in general and how it fit into the plumbing wholesale world. He always said the plumbing contractor had a huge advantage in selling a water treatment system as he was already in the house and dealing with the water & waste system. He and I would sit together and try to figure out new ways we could get the contractor to add this segment of the business back into his everyday mix of plumbing services that he offered. Many times we both sat there dumbstruck as we tried to figure out why so many were “afraid” of water softeners and water treatment in general. But I guess we are both alike in that we have never stopped pitching the concept. It wasn’t that Ray just wanted a guy to get into the business for the sake of it, but the truth was Ray was trying to show contractors the major profitability of this segment, water treatment. I understood exactly what he was saying. I remember long ago standing at a wholesaler account of mine, waiting to see the owner when the following happened. A plumber was at the counter picking up some supplies when he got a call on his cell phone. I could understand what he was talking about as he said something to the effect of “I can beat his price on the heater installation by X dollars…” and went on conversing with the potential customer who had called him “for a price”. In my “new in the business” young mind, I was wondering why they fight over these installations when I could show them how they could make 5 times the profit from selling and installing a water softener! The old adage it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks seemed to have some merit.
Ray went on and kept pitching the products regardless of the reception and never got disheartened long enough to slow him down. And due to our friendship and knowing that we were both headed in the same direction together, we met much business success along the way. Partners in this industry are like a blueprint for success. One thing I do know for sure, when your water treatment business has a “champion” driving the sales, training the troops, offering assistance, and simply leading this segment of your business, your sales will start to take off. But without anyone leading and without a point person, don’t plan on your water softener and treatment business to go very far. I’ve seen it time and time again. Even with our good wholesale accounts currently in place, if I don’t have some good quality reps out there to assist them and help them learn to sell water treatment and if they themselves have not put a person in place to “own” this segment within their company, they will eventually find themselves out of this PROFITABLE segment of the plumbing industry.
As for my good friend and water softener mentor in this business, I’m sure Ray Alger will not just kick up his feet and call it quits. He has a wonderful wife and family around him that he’ll be spending time with, and enjoying those grand kids day in and day out. But I can see it now, one of the family members or maybe a neighbor or even a past business associate will call him and ask what the heck is wrong with my softener or say “I have terrible water so what can I do…?” and Ray will pause only momentarily until he jumps in his car and heads off to help one more person learn something they didn’t know before about the wonderful world of water treatment. To you Ray, I say thank you. So how about you? Do you have a mentor? Do you have a mentor within your company for your employees who can train and lead your team? Who can ever forget a mentor, they can change lives.