This article originally appeared in the Water Quality Products December 2019 issue as "Top Dealers 2019"
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.
Each month, WQP profiles a Dealer of the Month, highlighting noteworthy water treatment dealerships both large and small. In the following pages, WQP celebrates not only the businesses recognized this year but also the people behind them.
The dealerships profiled this year have ranged from fledging businesses to multi-generational dealerships. Many are incorporating innovative business practices and all are deeply passionate about improving their communities. While they may be different, they all deserve recognition for their notable drive and passion for their work.
President, Atlantic Water Solutions
Cindy Killer, who comes from a family of well drillers, started Atlantic Water Solutions 15 years ago after her son’s health issues prompted her to leave her family’s business and start her own. Killer and her team strive to provide diverse offerings to their customers, including water treatment systems and pump and well services.
Education: Bachelor of Science
Professional certifications: Master Well Driller, Master Pump Installer, Water Radon Service Provider and Small Systems Operator
Past life: Killer has been a member of the water industry for as long as she can remember. “I started in this industry as soon as I was out of diapers,” she said.
Greatest accomplishment: Killer recently became a licensed water radon mitigator from the Rutgers University program.
Notable project: A notable project was the first commercial arsenic remediation job she ever did. “It felt like a huge accomplishment to break from strictly residential jobs to doing light commercial work,” Killer said.
Favorite thing about the water industry: Killer loves that the water industry helps people.
Industry gripe: She would like to see more young people enter this industry.
Greatest influence: Killer’s greatest personal influence is her parents. “They started a well drilling company when I was three, and I’ve never met anyone who worked as hard as they did,” she said. Her greatest professional influence is Scott Bradbury. “He is the one that first taught me water filtration,” Killer said.
Hobbies: In her free time, Killer loves to travel and hike.
Giving back: “I’ve always been involved in my kids’ school and make lasagna for the local community senior center.”
In five years: She will be continuing to grow her staff and services offered.
Words of wisdom: “Network and jump in because hands-on with some trial and error is the name of this game. Embrace the fact that every job and every day is never the same.”
David & Krista Brewster
Aqua Clear Water Systems
Lenoir City, Tenn.
David and Krista Brewster have left their mark on their hometown of Lenoir City, Tenn., since they entered the water industry almost by chance. Prior to starting their own dealership together, Krista was a registered dietitian and David was studying to become a pastor. When David unexpectedly lost his evening job in construction, a friend from church helped him find a role as a sales representative for Culligan. Later, David and Krista teamed up to open their own business, Aqua Clear Water Systems, and the rest is history.
What sets Aqua Clear Water Systems apart is the business’ emphasis on family and employee appreciation. Of 45 employees, many of them are family to the Brewsters, and those who are not family are treated like it, as David and Krista ensure there is open communication among their employees. Krista even cooks breakfast for the whole team most Wednesday mornings to kick off a weekly team meeting and bring the employees together across departments.
“I think so many times that service and sales are a lot of times even argumentative. One does not understand what the other does or appreciates,” Krista said. “I think that one part of our business that really makes us unique is that we really try to be a team from sales to service.”
Looking forward, the pair see the future of the water industry as bright. They cite an increased awareness regarding water quality issues in terms of both health and taste and predict the industry will continue to grow.
“Our tagline is ‘Let us change your water, it will change your life,’” Krista said. “You hear that so many times with customers is, ‘If I would have known how good this was, I would have done this years ago.’”
Mark St. Hilaire
President, H2O Care Inc.
Mark St. Hilaire formed Aqua Tech Water Systems in Middleton, Mass., in 1989, later to merge with Atlas Water Systems in 1999. At that time, St. Hilaire and his team led the residential systems group; however, in 2014 Quench USA acquired Atlas and no longer wanted to maintain the residential systems group. In response, St. Hilaire, with help from board member and advisor Norm Marowitz, purchased the division and named it H2O Care Inc. Since 2014, the new business has been able to expand to open a second location and become a community staple thanks to the experience and expertise of the seasoned experts that staff it.
“We need to be invited back into people’s homes year after year to provide service for the systems we sell,” St. Hilaire said. “Everybody here is focused on doing a great job so those people are happy to invite us back, and they’re happy to refer us to their friends, to their neighbors, to their families, because if they don’t, you’re done. It’s just keeping everybody positive and keeping everybody focused on the customer first that’s made the difference for us.”
Education: High school, followed by technical school
Professional certifications: Master and Journeyman plumber; Master and Journeyman pipe fitter
Past life: In St. Hilaire’s past life, he worked in residential and commercial plumbing, heating and gas fitting.
Greatest accomplishment: “My most important accomplishment is the development of this company and bringing this great group of people together to solve water problems and deliver great service to our customers.”
Notable project: St. Hilaire cited too many notable projects to chose just one.
Favorite thing about the water industry: He loves that there is always a new challenge. “Love the day-to-day troubleshooting, training and problem solving,” he said.
Industry gripe: If he could change one thing about the water industry, it would be less consolidation of the manufacturers. “Not enough manufacturers in the business [are] focused on doing business for the right reasons any more,” he said.
Greatest influence: St. Hilaire cites his wife as his greatest influence. Professionally, he lists Jed Roth, Simon O’Leary and Norm Marowitz.
Passions: He is passionate about his family, friends and coworkers.
Hobbies: When he is not working, St. Hilaire can be found boating, wake boarding, biking and spending time with his family and friends.
In five years: In the future, he hopes to continue working diligently to continue to grow the company for the benefit of its customers and staff.
Words of wisdom: “Do everything to the best of your ability for the right reasons. Always put your customers and your employees first!”
Director of Sales & Marketing,
Shiloh Water Systems Inc.
Mount Angel, Ore.
Located in Mount Angel, Ore., Mike Lowrie founded Shiloh Water Systems in 1999. While Mike did have more than 20 years of experience in the water treatment industry at the time, he did not have any prior experience operating a business. However, his previously established relationships in the area helped him launch the business in the early days. The business now has 16 employees, including Mike’s son Nathan who leads the sales and marketing departments, and has leveraged technology to reach new heights.
Education: BA Communications
Professional certifications: Kinetico Certification, Water Right
Past life: Before entering the water industry, Lowrie worked in commercial aviation.
Greatest accomplishment: He takes pride that he helped build the sales and marketing department at Shiloh Water Systems, which helped triple the size of the company in six years.
Notable project: Developing a sparkling water bottling line was a notable project.
Favorite thing about the water industry: “Improving the lives of families and business.”
Industry gripe: If Lowrie could change one thing about the water industry, it would be marketing tactics. “Branding and marketing is decades behind,” he said.
Greatest influence: His greatest influence is his father, Mike Lowrie, owner of Shiloh Water Systems.
Passions: His passions include God, family, friends and career.
Hobbies: When he is not working, Lowrie enjoys surfing, early Ford Broncos, photography, the outdoors and archery.
In five years: In the future, Lowrie hopes to be working at a broader capacity within the industry.
Words of wisdom: “Find a niche and apply oneself.”
Vice President of Sales & Operations,
While American Aqua is more than four decades old, the minds behind the business are always looking ahead and setting goals. Founded in 1975 in Saline, Mich., as a “small, mom-and-pop shop,” the business is focusing on expanding into more specialty commercial and industrial clients recently. To do this, American Aqua focuses on setting and reaching goals, with a “$7 million in seven years plan.” The effort is paying off and may be a solution for the water industry as a whole.
Education: A Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry and a Masters in geology.
Past life: Before entering his current role, VandenBrink was a chemist.
Greatest accomplishment: “Led sales chemical sales division to revoked growth in three year period. Led 30% increase in sales at American Aqua in two years.”
Notable project: One noteworthy project was a large pretreatment equipment project at a major automotive company.
Favorite thing about the water industry: His favorite thing about the water industry is the ability to assist clients with solving complex issues.
Industry gripe: If he could change one thing about the industry, he would want a greater emphasis on design and engineering.
Greatest influence: “Tom Brown mentored me to be the sales leader I am today.”
Passions: He is passionate about family.
Hobbies: Outside of the office, VandenBrink enjoys skiing, yoga and tennis.
Hidden talent: His hidden talent is that he can play the trumpet.
Suprising fact: “I go to bed by 8 p.m. every night.”
Giving back: VandenBrink assists with youth athletics in his community.
In five years: In five years, he hopes to be leading American Aqua to continued growth.
Words of wisdom: “Measure everything and wake up before the competition."
Merle’s Water Conditioning
St. Paul, Minn.
Since 1959, Merle’s Water Conditioning has proudly remained a family owned business. When Merlin ‘Merle’ Regnier launched the business after his experience in the commercial laundromat repair business showed him the need to treat water at the source, little did he know the business would come to span three generations. The business has always been a family-oriented business and that philosophy extends to its customers, as well.
“We measure success in inches of smiles on our customers face,” said Justin Regnier, general manager at Merle’s Water Conditioning and Merlin’s grandson. “In this regard, I consider our business the most successful in the industry.”
Education: Trade school
Professional certifications: CWS, Small Systems Operator
Past life: Prior to entering the water industry, Regnier worked in the U.S. Navy and as an interior communication electrician.
Greatest accomplishment: He is proud of mentoring and training others in the water industry.
Notable project: One exemplary project he recalls was a nitrate reduction for a K-12 school. “It was the most memorable because it was the most challenging,” Regnier said. “My first plan submittal to obtaining required certification for maintenance.”
Favorite thing about the water industry: “Everyday presents a new challenge.”
Industry gripe: If he could change one thing in the water industry, it would be to increase truth in advertising and regulation on claims.
Greatest influence: His greatest influence is Matthew Wirth. “He has acted as my mentor and has taught me a lot of what I know in the water industry,” Regnier said.
Passions: He is passionate about the outdoors, wildlife, traveling and cooking.
Hobbies: Regnier’s hobbies include reloading ammunition, long-range shooting, hunting, fishing and hiking.
In five years: In the future, he hopes to be helping Merle’s Water Conditioning expand.
Water Treatment Division
Manager, Traut Cos.
Waite Park, Minn.
Twin brothers Marvin and Melvin Traut launched Traut Wells in Waite Park, Minn., in 1959, now known as Traut Cos. While a tumultuous economy forced them to close the business in 1982, Marvin’s son, Mark Traut, and Mark’s cousin, Dave Traut, restarted the company. Jim Gruenke, who had previously worked for a competitor, joined the business in 1996 to help expand the well driller’s water treatment division. Thirty-seven years after its inception, the company has weathered the years and expanded.
“On the future of the industry, again, we are going to have to keep coming up with more and more ways to be efficient as far as the ways we treat water because scrutiny of our methods will continue to become more and more prevalent as everybody is concerned with how we are affecting the planet as a whole,” Gruenke said. “In the future, the dealers that are going to thrive in this industry are going to be people that can be that specialty person that customers can go to.”
Education: High school, one-year trade school graduate-broadcasting
Professional certifications: WQA Water Treatment Fundamentals certificate, Water Right-Water Treatment Proficiency certificate, MN/ND Associated Builders and Contractors-Pyramid-level contractor
Past life: Before entering the water industry, Gruenke worked in TV and radio broadcasting,
Greatest accomplishment: “Entering the water treatment industry as a second career with no experience and only a promise of straight-commission compensation, then generating enough sales and revenue to stay with it and make a living.”
Notable project: “Working with Davis Family Dairies of Nicollet, Minn., on the Granby Calf Ranch and High Island Dairy facilities. We worked with this company on supplying water treatment to each of these locations–a 4,000-calf growing operation and a 1,200-cow milking facility. It is the largest project to date that I have worked on.”
Favorite thing about the water industry: “Showing residential consumers how they do not have to tolerate poor-quality water in their home and then improving their life by improving their water.”
Industry gripe: If Gruenke could change one thing about the water industry, he would “eliminate the ‘hucksters’ that promote water treatment ideas not based on solid scientific principles and that prey upon the ignorance of consumers who are willing to trust them for effective solutions,” he said.
Greatest influence: “Personally, my father, also a salesperson and a business owner, is likely my biggest influence. As an adult, time and time again, I have benefitted from the examples, lessons and encouragement he provided to me as a child. Professionally, I would name Conrad Overboe, a colleague of mine when I worked in broadcasting. Overboe taught me by his example how to conduct business with integrity, how to treat and interact with people and how to enjoy the work that you do.”
Hobbies: Outside of the office, Gruenke can be found canoeing, golfing, fishing, playing summer-league college baseball and traveling.
Hidden talent: His hidden talent is video production. “I have made numerous short ‘movies’ with simple home equipment and posted them to my YouTube and Vimeo channels.”
Giving back: Gruenke is involved in church and various civic organizations, specifically Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce.
In five years: In five years, he hopes to be nearing retirement.
Words of wisdom: “Learn all you can from experienced industry professionals. Get ‘outside of your box’ by talking to others in the industry to learn of their methods and ideas which may be quite different from what you are familiar with. Be open to technological advances and stay aware of new market opportunities when the industry evolves over the next few years as I expect it will significantly do.”
CEO, All About Water LLC
Based in Chandler, Ariz., Dave Crissman founded All About Water in 1974. The business has served northern and central Arizona for more than 40 years. The business prides itself on conducting follow-up surveys and maintenance with customers to ensure they remain happy with the services it provides.
The dealership has since expanded to employ 28 people and provide an array of services, including filtration and softening to residential customers. The business encourages and values team engagement, which carries over into its strategy for attracting young talent and retaining employees. All About Water prioritizes continuous learning and mentorship, which has contributed to its growth over the years.
Education: Associate in Arts in Business
Professional certifications: Plumbing Contractor
Past life: Before he began his career in the water industry, Crissman was a grocery business employee.
Favorite thing about the water industry: His favorite thing about the industry is the people he meets.
Industry gripe: “The misuse of the term ‘alternative water softener’ and the implication that hardness can be dealt without using salt. It confuses both government agencies and consumers.”
Greatest influence: Crissman’s greatest influence is Dave NanCarrow, a former water industry leader. “He always did what he said he would do.”
Passions: He is passionate about mentoring his staff.
Hobbies: When he is not working, Crissman enjoys dancing in his free time.
Hidden talent: “If I told you, it would not be hidden.”
In five years: In five years, Crissman will be retired.
Words of wisdom: “Make your own decisions based upon your own research.”
Founder & CEO,
Blue Ribbon Water
Blue Ribbon Water is still in its early stages–it officially launched in January 2019–but it has big plans for what is ahead.
Bill Cooper is the founder and CEO of Blue Ribbon Water, based in Newburyport, Mass. Currently, most of its work is done in the northeast part of Massachusetts in Merrimack Valley. Blue Ribbon Water has three employees and is a member of the Water Quality Assn. It also is a member of each chamber of commerce in every town it does business in to help “get their name out,” Cooper said. The company specializes in whole house water filtration systems for residences connected to municipal water systems.
As a new company, Cooper and his associates are always coming up with different strategies to help set the business apart from competitors. The company investigates each town to which it is marketing and selling. Visiting the municipal water department and seeing how it takes care of the plant is useful to the operation, as well as looking at the U.S. EPA database to understand what is needed to make water that is clean and healthy and also tastes good, he said. He then will apply the right filter to the particular municipality.
“What we find successful is if customers come through our website and do a positive outreach to us. They give us their name and address and they give us a little note about what they think their water problems are,” Cooper said. “A high percentage of those people turn into our customers. Other digital marketing techniques also work well.”
Executive Vice President,
Founded in 1962 by Gene Driessen, son-in-law of Emmett Culligan, Driessen Water has spanned multiple generations and expanded from its original residential water roots to now provide commercial and industrial water services through its Ultra Pure division. Mike Herman, the current executive vice president of Driessen Water, has helped the business grow since he joined the company in 2006, but he had an unlikely introduction to the water industry.
“After retiring from the Marines in 1999, I went to work for Sears for seven years in the service arm of Sears company,” Herman said. “Then, in 2006, Dan Driessen saw my resume somewhere and contacted me and said, ‘Hey, how would you like to move back home to Minnesota?’”
Now, Driessen Water’s recipe for success prioritizes employee growth and retention through its “One Driessen” culture. This focus on employee growth has proved powerful for long-term success of the company.
Professional certifications: Master Water Specialist-WQA, Water Conditioning Master-MN, Class II-TX
Past life: Before he found his way to the water industry, Herman spent 21 years working in the military.
Notable project: An exemplary project was implementing a new software throughout the company. “The project was much more challenging than anticipated and seeing how the team stepped up to the challenge, worked through the hurdles and recently completed this four year project has been very exciting,” he said.
Favorite thing about the water industry: “We make a difference in people’s lives. Being in the industry you have the opportunity to provide solutions to many problems that benefit so many people in so many different ways.”
Industry gripe: “Being able to provide greater knowledge to legislatures so that they could truly know what we do and how we can provide great benefit to our communities, that we are truly the water professionals.”
Greatest influence: Herman’s greatest influence was his father. “He served as a Marine pilot in World War II and was very involved with our church, youth activities and influenced so many young men and women in his more than 40 years as a teacher. He was the example of what an ‘everyday leader’ is and what I have always set my goals to emulate.”
Passions: Herman is passionate about growing leaders. “I truly enjoy seeing young men and women grow to the point where they become effective leaders in this industry as well as in other walks of life,” he said.
Hobbies: He enjoys working on his farm.
Hidden talent: “Now if I shared that with you it would no longer be hidden.”
Giving back: “I am a board [member] for WQA, MWQA and the Minnesota Plumbing Board. I am a youth leader for high school students at church, member of the chamber [of commerce], as well as other local groups.”
In five years: “I plan on still being in our industry, continuing to grow in knowledge and to continue to grow those around me.”
Words of wisdom: “Continue to learn. This is an eve- changing industry with regards to equipment, technology and solutions to problems.”