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It's a Family Thing
After 30 years in the water business, the Canadian distributor of Nimbus commercial and residential RO products, Nimbus Water Systems, Inc., has grown into a large family business that customers trust and respect. Water Quality Products asked Peter Bozzo, water specialist for Nimbus Water Systems to share some of the creative marketing ideas they use to establish long and successful business relationships.
Amid pressure from the big box retailers and mounting pressure from water store franchises Nimbus Water Systems, Inc., Toronto, ON, Canada, has grown from a small Mom and Pop shop to a large water treatment business serving the Canadian and international marketplace. In this article I would like to discuss some strategies we have used as a family business to help us succeed.
The story begins with my father Santo Bozzo, the eldest son of a family of nine children with strong family values. Thirty years ago, my father brought home a water distiller and started preaching the gospel of pure water. He would say “in 15 years everyone will be drinking bottled water.” Some people laughed at him, but where others found amusement, my father saw opportunity. Within a few weeks he began selling water distillers as a part time business. Fourteen years later he met one of the forefathers of the reverse osmosis industry, Donald T. Bray, founder of Desal and Nimbus Water Systems. After the meeting and much encouragement from my mother Chrisoula Bozzo he decided to buy a Nimbus franchise.
Today, after 30 years of hard work and much sacrifice our business is the Canadian distributor of Nimbus commercial and residential RO products. And it doesn’t stop there. We also carry a full line of water softeners, carbon filters, ultraviolet systems, distillers, shower filters and coolers, and other products for business and residential water use. Additionally, in the commercial and industrial sector, we have set up more than 20 water dispensing outlets and have our own line of water vending machines. From what started as a part time business in our home basement, today employs more than 20 people serving thousands of clients. But enough about our history, let’s talk business success.
Inside Nimbus Water Systems
Since we first started, the size of our business has doubled every four years. We believe our success can be attributed to how we run the business, hard work and determination. We also attribute our success to the unique relationships we have with customers and contacts; our commitment to service; commitment to offer the best product; customer referral incentives; and our customer appreciation events.
From our staff, to customers, to prospects, everybody feels welcomed. The special treatment of customers by our staff, in a busy metropolitan city full of massive retail outlets filled with forever absent staff and rude clerks, has allowed us to stay ahead of the competitors. Everyone we work with feels like they are part of a big family and our customers trust in us to recommend what is best for their needs. It is a lot like a doctor-patient relationship. Our staff includes qualified water experts, water technicians and a customer service staff. All providing the best level of customer service. From the first contact to the installation and every service provided afterwards, our consumers feel a unique shopping experience. Unlike buying a toolbox or printer supplies water treatment equipment can not just be picked up off a shelf, you really need a qualified water specialist. Try and get some help at a big box store. Some responses you may hear would be “you’re on your own,” “it’s not my department,” “it’s over there,” “I’m on break,” etc. Can it be possible for a staff like that to size a water softener, or tell a consumer the concentration of iron or nitrates in their water, or advise them on what system would best protect their family from bacteria? No.
We also believe that a good relationship with the employees is a key to success. Although we are incredibly busy, we find time to have company dinners, outings, summer barbecues and other events to help build team spirit. We respect our staff and know that without good employees you don’t have much of a company after all. In many companies today, employees feel like they are just another number. At Nimbus, they feel like a family member. After all, with my father Santo, my brother Anthony and myself in the office it is not rare to find the staff involved in family discussions.
Quality Customer Service
When it comes to service we strive to be the best. Being available for our customers at anytime and anywhere is important. We even provide 24-hour emergency services for critical applications. Our best source of new business is referrals, and to get referrals you must provide top notch service. We are also very responsive to our consumer’s needs. A staff member handles all incoming calls instead of voice mail. We work to resolve service issues immediately; the worst thing a consumer wants is to call again and again. To achieve optimum service we have a fleet of service vehicles, fully trained service technicians, full time service coordinators and computerized service management. We also service most other brands, in fact, when many of our competitors have given up on their clients, or are unable to solve their problems, they usually send their customers to us. Even employees of the local big box stores tell their customers “go to Nimbus” rather than help them with their water treatment needs. My father always said “kill them with kindness” and “help somebody today and they will be back tomorrow.” Imagine a consumer that is upset with that big box product or the poor service provided by a larger franchise or unsavory dealer, once we step in and solve their problem they tell everyone. It is said that a satisfied customer will tell 10 people and an unsatisfied customer will tell a 100. So if we help an unsatisfied customer how many people will they tell?
One of our mottoes is “we service what we sell” and in that case you have to offer the best if you want to grow your business. We have seen many changes in the marketplace and there seems to be a trend to a cheaper and cheaper product. There have been many cases over the past where we jumped all over a new product or we sprang for that special offer and six months to a year later we have a nightmare on our hands. In time, we have learned that offering the best product, trusted suppliers and quality service pays off in the end. By dealing with the biggest suppliers, buying direct and taking advantage of volume discounts we can offer the consumer quality products at the best possible price; just the kind of value they are looking for.
The number one factor that has allowed us to grow at the rate that we have is our referral program. Existing clients refer more than half of our new business, which is the most cost effective way to advertise. We have tried product, prize and cash incentives. We find that customers prefer to receive a check for $25, 50 or 100. They don’t get that same gratification out of a free filter or a couple bags of salt. Once we sell a unit to a customer we will usually get referrals for a family member, a friend or their workplace. Our referrals have allowed us to expand into international markets and in our own family we have more than a 100 systems installed because of referrals. We treat our customers as part of the family, we try to educate them, and hope that in turn, they will educate others.
Other ways of making clients feel a part of our family is to host regular events. These events assure clients that they have made the right decision and it encourages them to bring in a friend or family member. We advertise the events in our semiannual newsletter, which includes an annual customer barbecue, monthly seminars, Halloween festivities, Christmas food drive, Christmas appreciation gifts and more. We also sponsor many events related to our industry. The newsletter keeps our customers informed about what is happening at Nimbus and notifies them of upcoming events.
Annual barbecue. The annual barbecue is our most successful event. This summer we served hundreds of hamburgers, hot dogs, shish kebabs, corn on the cob and desserts. The food was all prepared and served by our staff; the customers love to see our technicians on the grill, after all, they handle their water why not the food. We even have two of our most dedicated staff members, our in–shop technician and office administrator, dress up like clowns to entertain the children and give out free balloons. At the end of the barbecue, we have a prize drawing, which includes a gas barbecue as the grand prize. The barbecue is enjoyed by the employees, the customers have a great time and any prospects or friends that attend feel confident that they want to deal with Nimbus for any future water treatment needs.
Monthly seminars. The monthly seminars usually features a guest speaker and we also cover topics related to water, health and diet. The seminars are a great way to reach a large number of consumers in a single night and encourages new people to get involved with our company. New prospects or customers like to know that after the sale we still want to continue to build a relationship.
Other events. Festive events such as Halloween and Christmas always receive a lot of support. We host an annual food drive that always generates numerous donations for the less fortunate; we usually gather more than a 1,000 lbs. of food. We encourage our customers to donate canned food and in exchange, we give them free refills of water or a discount on their purchase. The sponsorship events usually brings us recognition and respect in the industry. This year two of our biggest events received television coverage. We try to support groups related to the water industry since they are a big part of our success and tend to be market leaders in the demand for clean water.
In closing, our success is due to our strong family bond, which includes our employees, customers, friends, business contacts and community members. The reason we spend a lot of time organizing these events is so that everyone benefits and receives something back. In my opinion, the saying goes “take a little, give a little and leave a little.” One thing we have done over the years as we grew from a small Mom and Pop shop to a large business in our sector is, we never lost sight of our vision that we are all family, and that no matter how big you are, you must always remain small enough to care.