Larry Closs, owner of New Bath, a Louisiana and Texas company that sells and installs bath liners, knew about water filtration systems because one of his salespeople used to sell them. At the end of this month, New Bath will be selling them as well.

New Bath is one of a handful of home improvement companies that view water treatment systems as a potential profit center, an opportunity to diversify into a product that meets every criterion for successful in-home sales. That is, it's sold on a single visit at price points comparable to many home improvement products.

It is also, says Ed O'Neill, CEO of Preferred Contractors, in Ridgefield, N.J., an opportunity to cross-market to current and past customers for kitchens or bath liners. He calls the water treatment system his company sells a "natural fit."

Underlying Potential Growth

Water treatment systems made by companies such as RainSoft and Culligan aren't new, but their appeal to homeowners broadens as clean water increasingly becomes something no longer taken for granted.

If the average American family of four consumes 250 gallons of water per day, few can ignore the quality of that water. Many have reason to believe that it may be compromised.

Polls show some of the latent concerns homeowners have about their drinking water and its quality:

  • 75% of Americans don't believe the water they drink is as safe as it should be, according to the Water Quality Association, an Illinois industry group.
  • 47% would not drink water straight from the tap, according to a poll by CNN/Gallup/USA Today.

Meanwhile, marketers define product growth potential by citing the fact that only 5 million U.S. households — 7% — have treated water, meaning 93% are potential customers for those products.
Water's New Normal

With clean water being abundant and free before the advent of the now $32 billion bottled water industry, people tend not to think about it too much — until you ask them. "Water is one of those things you don't think about unless it's not hot when you get in the shower," says RainSoft vice president Andy Palframan.

But ask them, and it turns out that homeowners often have issues with their water but often don't even know exactly what those issues are. One highly effective method of generating leads for selling water treatment products involves offering to test that water for free.

Testing measures levels of acidity, bacteria, and noxious chemicals. If those exist, water treatment companies can suggest a solution.

Home improvement companies that sell the product find they need:

—Dedicated salespeople who know the product and can integrate testing into their product pitch;

—A steady lead source and a different approach to marketing. "You don't market the product, you market the water test," Closs notes. A water test takes 45 minutes.;—A plumber on staff, or readily available to be subcontracted, depending on local permit requirements;

—Financing, as many homeowners prefer to buy on a payment plan. "It's a finance close," Closs says.

Selling the Need for Water Treatment

O'Neill, who generates water treatment leads out of The Home Depot, says that a key difference in the sale is that in selling water treatment products, the salesperson has to make customers aware that they need it. "If your windows or roof are leaking, you know you need them replaced. But nobody wakes up in the morning saying: I need water treatment."

Closs likes the idea of water products because the price point is in the same range as bath liners — averaging about $6,000 — and bath liners are a product around which he has built a highly effective marketing and selling machine.

He also likes water treatment's broader appeal. "If you're doing a business plan," he says, "and you're trying to figure out who would want this product, add up all the homes with bad water, then subtract the percentage that can't afford it or that already have it. So just about everyone becomes your customer; whereas with windows and siding, you've got to subtract a lot of people."

What it comes down to, he says, is that "no one has it and everyone can use it." But that depends on where you live. For instance, Closs says he sees a big market for water treatment in New Orleans but nothing up the Mississippi in the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge, where, he says, water quality is far better.