DAVID TRAUT, MGWC, CVCLD
Water treatment as a diversification opportunity for water well system professionals was the topic of a
workshop at 2016 Groundwater Week.
“What Contractors Need to Know to Successfully Treat Water” was presented by Greg Gruett, regional sales manager of Water-Right Inc. in Appleton, Wisconsin. He used the success story of Mark J. Traut Wells Inc. in Waite Park, Minnesota, as an example of a company dedicating time and resources to diversifying into water treatment.
The company, located in central Minnesota, formed a water treatment division in the mid-1970s to overcome seasonal downturns in business. David Traut, MGWC, CVCLD, vice president of Mark J. Traut Wells and Board Director for the National Ground Water Association, was hired at that time because he had previous water treatment experience. A state- certified water-testing laboratory was added in 1985 to test for a wide range of water impurities. Through the years the company has made
modifications, hired key personnel, and continued to promote training for its field service technicians to be adept at water testing and treatment.
Today, all of the company’s service trucks and drilling rigs are equipped with a water test kit in them. A drill rig doesn’t leave a jobsite until the water is tested. The company has six service technicians who are trained and qualified for doing water treatment installation and servicing. It also has one person doing retail water treatment, looking for sales leads.
Water Well Journal caught up with Traut to gain practical advice on diversifying into water treatment.
Water Well Journal: For those water well system professionals who are thinking about diversifying into water treatment, what would you say to them?
David Traut: In a nutshell, I see a lot of well drilling companies that attempt or try to start doing water treatment and it doesn’t quite work out and then they drop it. I’ve learned from years of experience and from beginning at the ground floor when treatment first started decades ago, there are two things
that I think are still true today.
You must have one person where their focus must be understanding water treatment. Secondly, that person must be of the mind-set they can help the customer because if they’re not the person designated with that, it seems like it’ll take backburner status. Then soon it’ll be something you offer but never have success selling. You should take a year or two and say we’re going to have a focus and an individual whose primary focus is going to be water treatment without adding on to it.
From an economic perspective, we don’t even have to have much of a conversation about that because it’s a nobrainer. You already jumped in your truck, already drove to your customer’s house, already broke open your toolbox, and are already hauling the water tank to the basement with a twowheeler
or carrying it by your back, whichever you prefer. Another 30 minutes on site and you can basically add another $1500 to $2000 to your gross sale and your investment is a couple of fittings and an extra hour of time.
You don’t have to do the math for very long to see it’s a win-win deal. I’m surprised more drillers don’t do it automatically because it’s a no-brainer.
WWJ: Water treatment can bring with it an intimidation factor that can prevent professionals from jumping in right off the bat. How do you see it?
David: There are several manufacturers around the country like Water-Right where they will assist in difficult water situations, meaning if you have a well that has water chemistry where it’s going to be difficult to treat, you don’t want to venture out on that by yourself because you can get yourself in
Winter or whatever offseason you have is the perfect opportunity to designate the individual go to a water class or water school so they can get a basic understanding of water treatment but still have a backup resource such as Water-Right or a company like that. It’s beneficial to have that at times
where you have a well you’re testing and you’re not sure what to do with it. They can provide some guidance.
Even though we’ve done it for decades, there are a lot of times we’ll come up with a water chemistry set on a certain well that’s problematic and we’ll bounce it off Water-Right. We’ll say, “Okay, is there anything new out there in the industry as far as resins or procedures or oxidative filters or whatever
that can better treat this?”
There have been considerable evolutions in water treatment in the last decade that were not there before and it makes treating water easier than it was 10 years ago.
If the customer trusted me enough for me to come and fix their pump as opposed to calling somebody else, then they probably would trust me when I talk about their water treatment.
WWJ: What are your thoughts on the economics of investing in water treatment?
David: The Water Quality Association conducted a report a year or two ago where it basically said three in 10 water conditioners out there today aren’t working or aren’t working correctly.
If I’m a pump man and I go to your house to fix your pump and I don’t ask any questions about any troubles with rust stains or hardness of water or anything when I’m done fixing your pump, shame on me. Chances are good if it’s not old and in need of replacement, it at least needs a tune-up, some cleaning, and some adjustments. It’s not that difficult but you have to start somewhere. You might have to grab a manual for help to dig into it and get a tutorial and figure it out.
When it comes to the market, it’s always going to be a growing market because water treatment is like an appliance in your house: no appliance will last forever. There is a certain amount of attrition that happens just because of your piece of equipment having too many birthdays, and then there is a slice
of business right there. And then there is of course the new well. I don’t think you want to focus just on one because if you’re getting up in the morning and you’re going on a service call, there is an opportunity there.
My experience has been this: If the customer trusted me enough to come and fix their pump as opposed to calling somebody else, then they probably would trust me when I talk about their water treatment. But of course, I may have to bone up on my skills first and they may not be ready to replace the water
treatment today. But you know what, six months from now they’ll probably remember, “You know what, he’s right, he mentioned something about that,” and then you end up with a sale later.
WWJ: Can you share some common challenges?
David: It’s difficult to discipline yourself when you know there is another service call laying here and you got to get to it this afternoon. How do you take the time to spend time to work with solving your first customer’s water treatment needs which doesn’t take a real high priority compared to the next service call laying on the dash of your truck where the guy is out of water and wants to know where the heck you are? That’s a real challenge. It happens to us even to this day.
As my service technicians get real busy, sometimes water conditioning and water treatment equipment sales suffer because they aren’t spending the time to talk to the customer to find out what their needs are, but rather they’re worrying about hurrying up and getting to the next service call done so they can get home before 10 o’clock at night. But again, it’s the reality in the drilling and pump world. It’s what happens.
WWJ: Lastly, is there a water treatment tool that stands out in your mind for being most helpful?
David: That’s regionally driven because problems I have probably aren’t the same for someone in Iowa or the western states. In some parts of the country pH correction is a major thing; I don’t have that problem here. We have nitrate issues, which reverse osmosis is doing a good job of treating.
Arsenic is just coming onto the radar right now. It’ a little challenging but the federal drinking limit went from 50 (parts per billion) to 10 ppb, so that’s opening up new doors. It’s a little bit of a struggle trying to find the right exact piece of equipment because arsenic comes in different balances, so you need to pay attention to that. It’s a work in progress but they’re evolving.
There are ion selective resins, so things are happening. That’s where you need people in the industry who have global resources because there are people around the world dealing with water problems. For example, in India arsenic is a major issue. Well, they may develop a water treatment device that we
never thought about, so it’s important to have global contacts.
Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price produces NGWA’s newsletter and contributes to the Association’s quarterly scientific publication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.