A look at 2021 trends & a look ahead in the water quality industry
Each fall, Water Quality Products (WQP) surveys its audience on important industry issues, ranging from business growth, market drivers, education and more. Most questions remain tried-and-true annually to provide a consistent benchmark, though in 2020 the WQP editorial team re-worked aspects of the survey to more accurately address current business trends, such as the increasing role of digital technology and the evolving impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s survey remained relatively consistent with last year’s updated version, though we did add additional relevant lines relating to air purification and supply chain.
[Extended State of the Industry Coverage]: Want to dig deeper into the data? Download extended coverage through this exclusive WQP State of the Industry 2021 PDF that includes additional questions covering budget, trade shows, educational resources and more not included in the print edition.
In total, 187 respondents provided input on the WQP 2021 State of the Industry Survey, with a 100% completion rate for those who began the survey. That high completion rate likely signals that those who engaged with the survey were invested. Thank you to all who provided feedback and input for this vital survey, which continues to highlight industry-wide trends and impact WQP editorial coverage.
In the 2020 report, the impacts of COVID-19, budget impacts and a shift to digital technologies were highlighted as some of the key takeaways. In this year’s report, finding and retaining talent; market diversification with a focus on sustainability and wellness; and supply chain impacts stand out as the top areas of concern.
Finding & Retaining Talent
One of the most challenging and long-term obstacles facing the water quality industry is the so-called “Silver Tsunami,” as a generation prepares to ease out of the workforce and take decades of industry knowledge with them. On top of that, 2021 has been a highly competitive year across the board for finding and retaining top talent, as the pandemic has led many young professionals to change careers. This year’s survey, however, seems to indicate a gradual shift in workforce is underway.
In 2020, 50% of respondents answered that they have been in the water quality industry for 30 years or more, while in 2021 that percentage decreased to 41%, with 17% in the industry for 10 years or less. Likewise in 2020, 88% of respondents reported they were over the age of 50, while in 2021 that percentage decreased slightly to 81%.
Market Diversification With a Focus on Sustainability & Wellness
The past few years have seen an increased consumer focus on both sustainability and wellness. 2020 saw an uptick in consumer investment in residential water quality and survey respondents indicated this increased demand remains.
This year, the WQP editorial team added “air purification” as an option to relevant survey questions relating to product lineup and business growth. This option was not previously included in the survey and will no doubt be interesting to track year-over-year moving forward. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with this increased consumer focus on disinfection, air purification may be a rising market and represent a way to stay competitive (stay tuned for additional coverage on this topic to come).
When respondents were asked “which of the following product/service categories does your business offer?” 19% marked air purification (note, this was a “check all that apply question,” so the percentage sum is not a pie). As usual, filtration and softening/conditioning were the most common responses, though disinfection and valves were also common.
Supply & Demand
For most businesses in the water quality industry, it should come as no surprise that the supply chain was a hot topic on this year’s State of the Industry Survey. However, the subject is particularly interesting when compared to the previous year’s survey. While it may feel like a lifetime ago, do you remember what your top business concerns were in 2020?
In 2020, when asked “what aspect of your organization has been most severely impacted by the coronavirus?” 23% of respondents answered demand, making it the most popular response to that question. This makes sense, as the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, including shelter-in-place orders, saw an increase in consumer awareness of both wellness and home improvement issues. However, that ripple effect of demand coupled with freighting issues has led respondents to answer that supply is the most impacted issue in 2021 (38% of respondents). This was followed by staffing and scheduling at 25%.
When asked what factors have had a negative impact on sales in the past 12 months, 2021 respondents cited COVID-19, material prices, supply and demand, and lack of skilled workforce as the top issues. In non-pandemic years, big-box stores and internet retailers represented a bigger chunk of that negative impact pie.
On the flip side, when asked what factors have had a positive impact on sales in the past 12 months, 2021 respondents cited company website, market diversification and association membership among the top growth factors. Finally, when asked what the most important topics will be in the coming year, the top responses were supply and demand, disinfection, groundwater and legislation/regulations.
What is the Greatest Challenge Your Business Will Face in the Next 24 Months?
This is a fascinating question because it is open-ended and asks respondents to explain in their own words how the evolving marketplace is impacting their businesses. In 2020, staffing, staying healthy and keeping up with demand were some of the top responses in this write-in section — no surprise as businesses were learning how to navigate safety measures while keeping up with unprecedented demand and a rapidly evolving employee market.
Staffing and employee retention undoubtedly remained an important issue to 2021 respondents as well, but product shortages and supply chain issues were listed as the most pressing issues to come. In fact, many respondents listed they were ready to expand operations, but supply chain issues were the key barrier. Also noteworthy, keeping updated on new regulations was listed as one of the greatest challenges to come in the next 24 months. With new emerging contaminant standards and an infrastructure bill on the horizon, these will be important issues to follow closely.
There is a lot of powerful data to unpack in the full survey, including additional questions on budget, trade shows, educational resources and more. For the purposes of this report, we have touched on a handful of the key points, but if you are interested in learning more and digging into the data, we encourage you to please view an extended report at www.wqpmag.com.