Family-owned dealership grows from residential to primarily commercial/industrial services
Editor's Note: Do you know a water treatment dealer who deserves recognition for leadership in the industry, innovative ideas or successful business practices? Nominate them to be featured as a WQP Dealer of the Month here. Self-nominations are accepted.
Launched in 1999, Rainbow Water Purification is a family-owned business and its values reflect that. The dealership’s founder, Ernesto Varela, had a background as a welder for a company that made pressure vessels for water softeners. When the company was about to close in the early 1980’s, he went to work for another employee who was launching his own business in the water treatment industry. Twenty years later, however, when Ernesto’s three sons — Giovanni, Levi and Bryan — were set to graduate from high school soon, Ernesto took the plunge and opened Rainbow Water Purification. The business now has eight employees, four of which are family.
“Once we turned 18, on that Monday after prom or graduation, we had a job,” Giovanni Varela, sales manager for Rainbow Water Purification, joked. “Every two years after that we had a new employee — my brother and my other brother.”
Joking aside, the Varela sons chose to join the water industry and were each drawn to different facets of the business, such as customer support, sales and delivery. Giovanni is now the sales manager, Levi is the operations manager and Bryan is the service manager. Ernesto was also inspired to open the dealership by a desire to create an environment that treats employees well and offers opportunities for growth, Giovanni said. Having such a close-knit team sets the business apart.
“The difference is because we’re family,” Giovanni said about what makes the business unique at responding to challenges. “So we talk about [work] at night, in the morning, during lunch. Versus we know that with an employee where it’s only eight to five and that’s probably about it, so the next day he comes in and follows up. We have a little bit quicker response.”
Building a Business
Though the dealership happily boasts a busy schedule now, Giovanni cited getting the foot in the door and competing against larger companies as a small, minority-owned business as one of the key challenges when the business was initially launching.
That challenge was overcome through time by gaining customer trust. Giovanni recalled telling customers that “you don’t pay until you’re happy with what we’re doing,” which led to positive reviews and word of mouth spreading. Further, investing back into the company through trucks, tools, equipment and certifications contributed to customer trust. Giovanni speaks of the high standards the team holds the business to with pride in his voice.
“We’re very happy and very blessed to be able to be in this industry and to prove and show that we are the best at what we do,” he said.
Rainbow Water Purification covers a wide service area throughout Texas, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and Beaumont, so traveling to sales calls is often a long process. That wide service area comes with a diverse variety of contaminant concerns, though hard water is the most common concern, particularly because Rainbow Water Purification’s customer base are all commercial and industrial customers.
The dealership actually started working in residential, but after approximately five years in operation customer calls were more often for commercial systems than residential. Eventually, the team made the choice to discontinue the residential department and focus on commercial. Now, approximately 80% of the business is commercial and 20% is industrial. Part of the excitement in working in commercial/industrial is the challenges and the opportunities to learn new things, Giovanni said.
Thriving Through a Pandemic
Throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic, water treatment businesses were deemed essential and many experienced growth as residential customers worked on home improvement projects as well as stressed health and wellness. Rainbow Water Purification did not simply grow, however, it thrived. 2020 marked the business’ biggest year ever, where it doubled in margin and sales. Giovanni stressed that the business was always cautious about safety while working during the pandemic, but it managed to pick up numerous new customers by consistently showing up for potential customers when their previous vendors may not have.
Beyond the importance of family and the consistency of customer communication, continuous improvement and education sets the Rainbow Water Purification team apart. The team has monthly meetings to discuss challenges seen across departments, ranging from technicians to salt delivery drivers, and how to overcome them. In addition, Ernesto holds a water treatment specialist license class III. In terms of association and membership group involvement, Rainbow Water Purification is a member of the Texas Water Quality Association (TWQA) and maintains Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Certification through the state of Texas.
When asked about advice and the future, Giovanni offered straightforward advice to other dealerships that reflect the values of the business and the importance of customer communication.
“Be honest and don’t take advantage of a customer who doesn’t know the lingo or the vocabulary of the water treatment industry,” Giovanni said. “That’s the only advice I have is to be honest, but it will catch up with you if you’re not.”
On the future of the water treatment industry, “it’s just going to get more interesting,” he said. However, increasingly there is a need for more training opportunities for water treatment specialists, he explained, and he hopes there are more opportunities for education in the future, such as trade schools or additional classes.
Despite the challenges of the future though, there is a lot to be grateful for, especially for the team of Rainbow Water Purification.
“We’re blessed. We have a good time. We’re all family and employees. We take care of each other,” he summed up. “We’re honest with our customers. There’s no need to try to get over on anybody because we have more work than we can ask for.”
As for the two generations of family in the business, Giovanni hinted that a third could be on the horizon. Ernesto now has three grandsons, one to each of his sons. What the future holds is yet unclear, but the business looks to it with optimism.