Expanding Knowledge Base

AquaSourceGrowth through diversification using an existing customer base is how Steven Richards has expanded AquaSource into the go to solution for its 4,500 customers in the Finger Lakes region of western New York.

With a background in plumbing, Richards started AquaSource in 1988 as a residential and commercial well water treatment company. “I realized that I was building relationships and if your mix of services can grow, then they will choose you for their needs,” says Richards. “It’s easier to fulfill the needs of our current customers than to find new ones. If we are servicing Mrs. Jones’ hot water heater, then we can also provide services on septic pumping, heating system, our recently added geo thermal alternative energy and other services.”

Like our expert advises in “Explore, Dream and Discover,” Richards was diligent in his process. “We had an inkling that our customers would use us for all of their water needs,” says Richards. “But, we took the time to interview them about their needs and went through a thought process before branching out. We had customers asking us for referrals quite often for various needs that we didn’t perform at the time.”

“Customers are concerned about being treated properly,” says Richards. “It can be a roll of the dice to call someone you don’t know to service your water heater. We are the only company that I know of that provides for the care and water quality from the source on private systems right through to the discharge and everything in between.”

AquaSource Group Inc., the umbrella company, performs a variety of services including water testing, water well inspections, well and lake pumping systems and repairs, plumbing services, onsite wastewater and drain services, drinking water with reverse osmosis systems, microfiltration systems and other services.

Just with their onsite business alone, Finger Lakes Septic, they provide onsite system analysis and inspections, leach system repairs and installations and septic pumping and installation as well as onsite septic and aerobic systems design and installation.

They provide these services to a wide-variety of customers: wineries, hotels, mobile home parks, campgrounds, schools, senior citizen housing, residences and others.

To educate their customers about additional or newly added services, they use an inexpensive and great way to communicate with their customers. “We have our service technicians in dozens of homes daily. We may put a magnet on our customer’s fridge and give them a coupon to have their system maintained.

During an inspection, we may put our name on a well pump or other system so that the customer knows that we provide those services. I’m trademarking the phrase I say to my employees, ‘If you don’t tell it, you can’t sell it.’ As long as we are taking care of our customer, they will use us for all of their water needs.”

“We are very particular about taking care of our customers and preserving our reputation,” says Richards. “They trust us. We stay in contact with our customers through mail, email and personal contact. Our reputation is the most important thing in the world because 80 percent of our business comes from referral. We grow our business slowly. Our motto is to always meet our customers’ needs and exceed their expectations.”

That customer service starts with the ladies that answer the phone and extends throughout the company. “The girls in the office are very knowledgeable about the industry,” says Richards. “In fact, by July they will renew their certifications. Several employees are certified installers and have a wide knowledge base, we have certified water specialists and water quality certifications.”

This is in addition to Richards’ long list of qualifications as a water quality associate, CWS VI, a New York State License Grade C water system operator, an NEHI advanced onsite wastewater installer and a certified onsite inspector. All of which have given him a wide range of knowledge in the water and wastewater industries. Employees are able to cross train out in the field and receive formal training in AquaSource’s classroom at their main location. It’s worthy to note that these certifications are not required by New York.

“We have hundreds of miles of shoreline, which makes for a very sensitive environment,” says Richards. “Our lakes are clean and we want to keep them that way. Most of our residents, schools and others have to take care of their own sewage and it’s highly regulated. I’m not usually for regulations but this is one area where I think it’s important. We are looking at the quality of wastewater that we send back into the system. Our systems are approved by various agencies before being installed.”

As you can guess, AquaSource has little turn over. “Most of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years and one is moving toward partner right now,” says Richards.

However, finding good, qualified employees is one of Richards’ biggest obstacles to growth. “Most of the kids these days want to make video games,” says Richards. “We need more people getting into vocational jobs. I’ve talked to our superintendent about the importance of educating the kids about all of their options. Some of my plumbers make more than my attorney. The fewer people that are in the industry means the fewer jobs we can do, which means that prices go up.” Some of Richards’ employees have already retired. Despite the obstacle, Richards sees continued growth for his company, “slow and steady, like I like it.”

AquaSource did not expand overnight. “We had several years of track record before we started expanding so our bank was happy to work with us,” says Richards. “We didn’t go large and ask for $400,000. We bought an excavator, then a skid, then another excavator as needed. When we decided to go into the septic business, we did our homework. When we went to the Pumper Show, we made a deal on a piece of equipment and had it delivered about a month after that. We’ve reached a point that we are now looking into adding additional equipment again.”

Finger Lakes uses a Kenworth 2500 gallon tanker and a 500 gallon portable unit. “We went through Satellite Industries to put our pumping system together,” says Richards. For their excavation equipment, they prefer to use the CAT 70 and a 120 series machine as well as Bobcat skids.

AquaSource’s approach to business and their customers has earned them an A+ rating by the BBB, customer service awards from the fair business council and recognition by the better contractors bureau for their years of good customer service. Richards is also active in industry associations such as the Water Quality Association and involved in several water quality task forces and committees including one to definitively test the effects of water softeners on onsite systems through a Virginia Tech partnership.

Richard’s approach of slow and steady, of building his and his employees’ knowledge base and fulfilling his customers’ needs has turned into a diversification success story and he isn’t even finished yet. His next service expansion? Portable restrooms.

Resources
For more information:
■ AquaSource and Finger Lakes Septic, please visit www.nicewater.com
■ CAT, please visit www.cat.com
■ Bobcat, please visit www.bobcat.com
■ Satellite Industries, please visit www.satelliteindustries.com
■ Kenworth, please visit www.kenworth.com

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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