Boost POE Sales by Leveraging the New Arsenic Standard

In November, President Bush took the opportunity to finalize
more than 20 years of debate over the safety of arsenic in drinking water by
signing a new standard into law that lowered the allowable level from 50 parts
per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb. Most public water systems have until Jan. 22,
2006, to comply, with many smaller systems gaining additional extensions based
on cost considerations.

The passage of this new standard immediately changes the
compliance status of approximately 25 million people in the United States. This
includes 4,100 public water systems serving 13 million Americans and up to 25
percent of the additional 40 million Americans who obtain their drinking water
from private wells unregulated by the government.

As the national publicity surrounding arsenic contaminated
drinking water filters down to the consumer, a correlation between knowledge on
the issue and a preference for a whole house, point-of-entry (POE) treatment
approach becomes evident. (The greater the level of knowledge, the greater the
preference for POE treatment options.) This preference is fueled largely by
concern over adsorption of arsenic through the skin while bathing and the
desire to have safe drinking water at all locations in the household.

Recent market research also showed that more than 73 percent
of consumers prefer to consult with a water treatment professional when dealing
with arsenic. Combining this inclination with the preference for the POE approach,
the treatment professional has a unique opportunity to generate significant new
revenue from POE sales with minimal upfront effort.

Here are six methods for developing the arsenic treatment
market and leveraging the new standard to increase sales from POE treatment
systems.

Educate the Consumer

An initial step in leveraging this new rule is to increase
the awareness that arsenic contamination exists locally. Taking an active role
in educating your customer based on the issue will provide the greatest rate of
return for your arsenic-related marketing dollars.

Although the debate surrounding the new arsenic standard has
garnered a significant amount of national attention, most Americans in
arsenic-contaminated regions are not aware that their particular community or
household may have a problem. They also are not familiar with the severity of
the health effects associated with long-term arsenic exposure. In fact, a
recent focus group study held in New England found that 95 percent of
participants were not aware that arsenic contamination in the region is
comparatively high or that the standard recently had been reduced. Once
educated on the potential for arsenic in their area and the associated health
effects, participant concern increased from an average of 2.4 to 9.5, with 10
being the highest level of concern. A key factor in the attitude change was
learning that the standard had been reduced by 80 percent.

Several of the most beneficial methods for creating
awareness are as follows.

•           Update
your company’s website. With approximately 85 percent of the New England
focus group participants noting research on the Internet as an initial step in
gathering information, a top priority for dealers interested in growing revenue
should be inclusion of local arsenic contamination and treatment options on the
company’s website. Remember to keep the consumer’s frame of
reference in mind when preparing content—keeping it simple and as
non-technical as possible. Providing links to other related sites such as
www.waterinfocenter.com also will build trust in your organization and help
guide your customer independently toward understanding the benefits of a POE
system.

•           Help consumers determine their level of exposure to arsenic. Clearly determining that arsenic exists in a consumer’s drinking water is the next needed step. By offering to perform a free arsenic test for the consumer or providing an in-home “do-it-yourself” arsenic test kit, you can educate your consumer on the actual risk level. This information tool can be extremely beneficial in creating an “act now” attitude in the customer.
Helping your customer discover the presence of arsenic and the associated health
effects will assist the dealer in closing the deal on-site. Also, educate
yourself on the local water testing labs and their costs so you can make the process easier for the customers if they want to have an independent validation after the initial in-home test.

•           Educate
yourself on the local occurrence of arsenic. The best way to educate your
customers is to be very familiar with the locations and levels that occur in
your local area. The state water administrator can provide this information for
you. In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey provides detailed maps of many
states that can be found on co.water.usgs.gov/trace/arsenic.

The EPA’s website for arsenic
(www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic.html) and Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791)also can provide additional information.

•           Speaking opportunities. Take the opportunity to speak publicly about the issue. Schedule someone from your organization to speak at group meetings such as town council gatherings, home owner and builder associations, real estate groups and Lion’s Club and Rotary meetings. Concern for children’s welfare is the primary motivator for purchasing arsenic treatment, so take advantage of the opportunity to include this group as well by giving a presentation to your children’s science class about water quality highlighting the arsenic issue and include water quality awareness lessons in Girl and Boy Scout programs. Children will pass this information along to their mothers who are the initiators in making this type of purchase approximately 75 percent of the time.

•           Develop a one-page fact sheet or brochure. By outlining the basics of arsenic occurrence, health effects and its treatment options on paper, you multiply the number of people who will learn about the issue. This information can be the same as that on your website and can be sent easily with billings, mailed to existing customers you suspect may have a problem and handed out at public
speaking events. Direct mail of educational brochures also can be very
effective if sent to those who are known to be in an arsenic-contaminated area.

Demonstrate Innovative Technology

Because the most effective treatment methods for arsenic are
rather new technologies, you may want to introduce these to your customers
through a demonstration process, offering a free system in exchange for regular
monitoring and measuring of operational performance. This tactic not only will
introduce the technology to the community but almost always will create enough
good will among those who receive the technology that they become an effective
part of your sales force. According to the New England focus group research,
recommendation from a friend was seen as the second most important influencer
in selecting a treatment provider and technology, following closely behind the
number one influencer of seeing a positive reference in consumer reports.

In addition to increasing your sales force by generating
positive recommendations, this tactic also allows the dealer to become more
experienced with new technologies. Traditional treatment methods such as
activated alumina and reverse osmosis are not capable of removing arsenic III, the
form most threatening to health, most difficult to remove and found almost
exclusively in private wells.

To remove As III, the dealer will need to become familiar
with more cutting-edge technologies that can do the job. Apyron
Technologies’ (www.apyron.com) Aqua-Bind” arsenic removal media is
one such technology. The real benefit of this technology is that it removes
both forms of arsenic at equal capacities, eliminating the testing needed to
speciate the arsenic, as well as any pre-treatment that would be needed to
convert the As III to As V.

Another effective suggestion would be to conduct miniature
on-site demonstrations of the POE technology. The dealer can test the water
prior to running it through treatment media and test again after the filtration
exercise to show that the arsenic had been removed. A small-scale demonstration
also will help the consumer understand the treatment concept, making the cost
associated with the purchase of a POE system easier to accept.

Build Effective Partnerships

Increasingly, water quality is an important issue for
homeowners. In the 2001 National Consumer Water Quality Survey, 9 out of 10
Americans expressed concerns regarding the quality of their tap water with 65
percent of respondents indicating that they would pay for in-home treatment to
reduce arsenic. Due to this concern, home inspectors test the tap water for a
number of contaminants prior to the sale of a house. In areas where arsenic
contamination is prevalent, home inspectors, laboratories and real estate
agents often are in the position of making a recommendation to the seller or
buyer for a particular type of arsenic treatment technology.

Consider reaching out to home inspectors, laboratories and
realtors in your area to form partnerships. Send a letter outlining arsenic
treatment solutions and the benefits of your POE system to these potential partners so they can better inform their clients of the available options. Offer free testing to the realtor or home inspector. Allowing them to tout the use of a
water treatment professional to their customers is a win-win relationship where
they gain the trust of their client and you’re sure to get the reference
if arsenic is present. Also, act as a sounding board for questions and provide
thoughtful and honest answers to all questions.

Get Your Technology Systems Preapproved By Bankers

Although new POE technologies are cost-effective when
compared to other solutions on the market, an average installation cost still
can be as much as $2,000 to $4,000.

Ease the customer’s financing process by educating
local loan officers, mortgage lenders and finance companies on the
effectiveness of the technology. By getting your organization’s
technology preapproved by the bankers, a point of resistance is removed from
the decision-making process, increasing your odds for closing the sale and
making the purchase a more pleasant experience.

Be an Industry Innovator

Avoid pushing the same filtration system as a solution to
every water problem. Arsenic contamination is a specific problem, and
successful treatment can be accomplished with a targeted and more
cost-efficient system. Many treatment systems do not work well for arsenic,
especially arsenic III, so take the opportunity to explore new technologies
designed specifically for arsenic removal.

Also, be a leader in your area on the arsenic issue. Learn
all that you can about arsenic contamination and advocate that residents have
their water tested. By being the local expert on the issue, you’ll soon
earn a reputation as the local consumer advocate, gaining trust and
credibility.

Act as a Trusted Resource ... And Mean It

Consumers want to rely on a professional they can trust, not
one who will do anything to make the highest profit. Present every potential
customer with each appropriate option for POE arsenic treatment in the home.
Make your recommendations based on their water profile and their budget, not on
which product sale will put the most money in your pocket. Chances are, they
will appreciate your honesty and will purchase from you again as well as
promote your services to others, leading you to new customers.

In addition, show concern over existing customers’
water quality—offer to test their drinking water for arsenic, free of
charge while in their homes. If the level of arsenic is high, explain that a
POE system would protect their entire home from arsenic contamination. Remember
that  the more information about
arsenic a consumer has, the more interest it generates in a POE approach. By providing your customers with a wealth of credible information, backed by facts and experience, you will build trust and pave the way for increased POE sales.  

Craig Winter, CWS-III, is president of EnviroInvestigations & Remediation, Inc., which operates a water treatment sales and service division called Advanced Quality Water Solutions (AQWS) (www.aqws.com). The company is headquartered in Brunswick, Maine, with additional offices in central and northern Maine. AQWS has been working to combat arsenic contamination in drinking water since 1999. Craig has more than 12 years experience working with contaminated groundwater issues and can be reached at 207-721-8620; cwinter@suscom-maine.net

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