30 Nov Water Treatment Service Augments Profits By Solving Office Problem; Vertex Shows How
TAGS: vending, water service, office service, municipal water supplies, John Miller, Vertex Water Products, aging public water infrastructure, Flint MI water, safe water, pure good-tasting water supplies, Steve Voznick, Hank Voznick, Hal Voznick, Dan Voznick, Water Quality Association, water treatment products, water coolers
MONTCLAIR, CA — Municipal water supplies in the U.S. are almost always safe, unless something goes wrong. John Miller, national sales manager of Vertex Water Products, based here, pointed out that things do go wrong and are likely to do so with growing frequency in the years ahead, as the nation’s public water infrastructure continues to age. This danger has been dramatically illustrated by the situation in Flint, MI. In light of this troubling reality, Miller observed, vending and office coffee service operators are well positioned to play an increasingly valuable role in ensuring safe, pure, good-tasting water supplies in the locations they serve, and winning the business of new ones.
The appeal of pure water is enhanced by its taste, he added. Another trend driving the demand for pure water as the beverage of choice in the workplace is the momentous shift by consumers away from the sugary soft drinks that once led the cold beverage category.
At the same time, today’s younger generation is keenly aware of what they put into their bodies, and highly focused on ingredients and transparency. This scrutiny makes it more important than ever for pure water providers to do their homework, Miller said, so they can speak with authority about the water they provide and ensure they are delivering what they promise.
Another hot topic among contemporary consumers is the impact of bottled water on the environment, Miller continued. This has inspired the movement from bulk bottled-water coolers and single-serve small bottles to point-of-use treatment, which eliminates the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing and transporting plastic bottles, and the solid-waste burden involved in disposing of them.
Vertex Water Products is celebrating two decades as a manufacturer of point-of-use water treatment systems this year. The company knows how to help operators communicate the importance of pure water to their workplace clients and prospects, and to provide the equipment, resources and support to help validate them as water quality experts.
“Point-of-use filtration is a huge opportunity for OCS and vending operators,” Miller noted. “It’s a bolt-on to their business that is so much easier than bottled-water coolers. The main requirement is to take the time to understand water quality in general, to protect the customer and then apply the correct filtration to the water problem. This creates incremental business without the need to truck around bulky bottles.”
Vertex’s roots trace back to 1996 when company founder Hank Voznick ran for a seat on the board of directors of California’s upper San Gabriel Valley Water Authority. He soon learned of the challenges involved in bringing clean, good-tasting water to all of the residents in the area. That prompted him, with the help of his sons, Hal and Steve, to start Vertex Water Products and develop a product to deliver a low-cost method for purifying water at the point of use. Another son, Dan, joined the family business later.
“After looking at the available technology, we realized that the most effective way to treat the 1% of water that is actually consumed is to filter it at the point of use using reverse osmosis technology,” Steve recalled. He explained that RO filtration cleans water by removing dissolved solids, which municipal water treatment does not do.
So the Voznicks created the Vertex PureWaterMachine, a four-stage reverse-osmosis filtration system. The first model was specifically designed to fit easily under a kitchen sink, with the goal of making it readily accessible to all consumers.
LIQUID ASSETS: From left, Steve, Hank, Hal and Dan Voznick draw on 20 years of water-purification expertise to ensure vending and OCS operators profitably deliver clean, safe, fresh-tasting drinking water to the workplaces they serve.
The next step was to bring the same quality water into the workplace by creating stylish and rugged “bottleless” point-of-use pure water dispensers with built-in filtration that delivers a continuous supply of clean, fresh-tasting water from a municipal water supply.
The pure-water expert emphasized that fresh-tasting, safe-to-drink water need not be expensive for the location. He estimates that Vertex’s filtration systems typically shave 20% to 70% off the cost of five-gallon bottled water delivery. “Our point-of-use water dispensers are designed to use a source that’s already in place and paid for, without creating a second costly pipeline of trucks for bottled water,” Hal said.
An Indispensable Convenience
Pure water has long been widely regarded as an essential amenity in workplaces. In recent years, tap water generally has been losing favor as a potable option, more because of taste than concern about safety.
However, water safety is a top national concern. The issue came to the forefront following contamination reports from Flint, MI, that surfaced in April 2014. After Flint changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water, which was sourced from Lake Huron, as well as the Detroit River, to an alternate supplier drawing water from the Flint River, residents complained of a series of problems, and water tests found lead contamination, a serious public health danger.
The corrosive Flint River water caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply, causing elevated levels of the heavy metal, which is a dangerous neurotoxin. In Flint, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead, and they may experience a range of serious health problems.
The situation in Flint is certainly not an isolated one. Erin Brockovich, made famous by the film about her historic class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents in a small town who had been sickened by contaminated water, is using the Flint disaster to publicly renew her crusade for clean water two decades later. Brockovich initiated the famous lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric, alleging that the company was aware that harmful chemicals used in production were contaminating the water in the surrounding town of Hinkley, CA. The case resulted in the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history when it was decided in 1996. The energy company was forced to pay a total of $295 million to 1,100 people.
Brockovich says Flint is merely one of the “hundreds of cities, towns and community water systems that are failing,” and she is making headlines by vocally spreading that message to the masses.
“Flint, MI, is the Erin Brockovich of today,” Vertex’s Miller reported. “There’s an aging infrastructure, and the city is just one of many that will have problems, driving consumers and workplaces to focus even more heavily on the water they’re drinking and providing.”
Since contaminants and pathogens do not discriminate between a household or hospital water pipe and the potable water main in an office, factory or school, it’s essential that operators providing pure water do their homework, Miller emphasized.
The first step for any water service provider to take, from the novice to the most seasoned, is to understand how to initially evaluate each account’s local water supply to determine the best filtering and demineralizing system.
In many cases, all that’s needed is standard carbon filtration that removes chlorine taste and odor, as well as volatile organic compounds, to improve the drinking experience. Sediment filtration purifies municipal water to another level by removing cysts and suspended solids, among other contaminants.
Some areas run an extra risk of local water contamination issues related to agriculture and industry, and the pure-water service provider must consider these when designing a system to correct them. And some regions have a high concentration of dissolved solids, and therefore require reverse osmosis treatment. This removes an average of 95% of total dissolved solids, including minerals that cause scale deposits in coffeemakers and other fixtures that heat water. Preventing this improves the performance of equipment, increases its service life and reduces maintenance costs, providing an added benefit for both the operator and location.
Geography And Geology
Pure water operators must know the territory, Miller reiterated. “New York water is very different than Oklahoma water. Water quality and composition differs drastically by geography; we’ve had situations in which water was different a quarter of a mile away from another location. Each operator needs to find out what exactly is happening at each client location and know how to test the water,” he said. “When they understand it, they can apply the right type of filtration to make it clean and potable.”
Vertex has water-testing kits available to its operator customers, including a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter to examine overall incoming water quality and to ensure post reverse osmosis (RO) system performance, as well as water-hardness test strips to determine the amount of scale-causing minerals in the incoming water.
Miller emphasized that, in addition to calling on the water-treatment manufacturer for advice and assistance, every operator providing pure water should join the Lisle, IL-based Water Quality Association and a local industry trade group to learn the nuances of water quality at the national and regional levels, and the treatment options best suited for all situations.
WQA has a wealth of resources available that member pure-water providers can use to educate their own customers. One piece that Vertex particularly encourages its customers to share with prospective locations is a 2010 report from the President’s Cancer Panel recommending that people use home filtering devices to decrease exposure to cancer-causing agents as a proven final barrier against many harmful chemicals. The report, entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks: What We Can Do Now,” states that “…it is preferable to use filtered tap water instead of commercially bottled water.”
Vertex also has produced a video that operators can use to highlight the benefits of point-of-use water treatment to clients and prospects.
“We help our customers to be educated all we can, but there’s no silver bullet to learn it all, which is why the water associations are so important,” Miller stressed. “Water is an important issue, and if you don’t handle it right, people could get sick.”
As a manufacturer, Vertex relies on the operators of its systems to take the initiative in determining the specific issues with the water they’re treating; this helps the company drill down to the best solution.
“We’ll ask customers if they’ve tested for the contaminants they are concerned about. Most have done their due diligence and legwork,” Miller said. “If we see they haven’t, we suggest they go to their local water quality association to really learn, and maybe attend a trade show before they put themselves out there as water experts.”
Understanding the right filter to use is essential not only to protect the consumer’s health, but also the operator’s bottom line, Miller explained. One office with five employees, for instance, can use two to three gallons a day, while an office with 25 employees might consume as much as 25 gallons a day. The operator must factor in the volume when determining a filter change schedule. Periodic cleaning and maintenance of the system must also be considered.
“A filter can clog because it’s the wrong one, necessitating filter changes four or five times a year. That throws your ROI out the window,” Miller pointed out. “It’s important to know what you’re dealing with so you can set yourself up to make money and not lose it, and we can help figure that out. The primary goal is that the customer is safe; the second is that you don’t have to do four or five filter changes a year, versus one or two with the right filter.”
The Vertex executive said operators take varied approaches to their fee structures for providing pure water. Some charge for filter changes, while others build it into their monthly fees for renting the equipment.
Vertex manufactures more than a dozen floor-standing point-of-use coolers and five countertop models, three of which fit under a standard breakroom cabinet height of 161⁄2 inches. They come in different combinations of chilled, ambient and/or hot water capability and capacities, and all are available with filtration and sanitization options.
Three models use Vertex’s PureChill technology to eliminate the need for an open cold-water storage reservoir. Filtered water is chilled on demand when it passes through the cooling chamber to the faucet. This closed system keeps environmental contaminants out, eliminating the need for in-tank sanitizing. The PureChill models include a filter monitor LED, along with a built-in auto safety shutoff valve. This same leak detector and shutoff also is available as an option for all floor-standing models.
For coolers without the PureChill technology, ultraviolet disinfection or ozone sanitization are available for most models, depending on the specific needs of the location. UV light kills 99.9% of harmful bacteria in point-of-use filter systems, and is FDA-approved for disinfecting filtered water. Adding a UV stage reduces the need for cleaning and flushing filter systems. The UV bulb is mounted in a stainless-steel housing and has a life of 9,000 hours — more than a year. In-tank ozone sanitation is another option.
Vertex can provide any filtration solution needed. Standard filtration, which removes unpleasant tastes, odors and microorganisms, typically includes sediment and carbon filters (one of each). Reverse-osmosis filtration adds an RO membrane.
Vertex also makes under-sink RO systems for home and office, as well as restaurant RO systems that can deliver up to 350 gallons of water a day. Its largest RO systems make up to 1,800 gallons of freshly filtered water daily.
Vertex ships its coolers with the necessary filters pre-installed, ready for installation right out of the box. The operator simply plugs the cooler in and runs a water supply line, typically 1/4″-food-grade tubing. “They plug it in, cycle it and flush it once and they’re ready to go,” Miller said. “The only effort is in running the supply line to the cooler.”
In a breakroom, the simplest solution is to install the water supply line under the sink. Reverse osmosis is more complicated because, in addition to the water supply, it requires a drain.
“In a front office or reception area, it may be difficult to replace a bottled water cooler that’s already there, if you have to run 50 to 100 feet of line. You have to take aesthetics into account,” Miller observed. “You can’t just staple lines everywhere if they’re going to be an eyesore, so there are some cases where you can’t place a point-of-use cooler. It’s essential that the salesperson be realistic in assessing the logistics and consult with the person who will do the installation before making promises to the location that they may not be able to keep.”
Miller underscored that OCS operators are in a prime position to increase transaction volume by exploring and meeting the demand for pure water in existing accounts. And those who run pure-water services as standalone businesses can use it to generate leads for coffee service.
“It’s easier for the client to deal with one OCS and water provider, and have it all on one bill,” Miller said. “It eliminates someone else coming and going every six months to a year to do a filter change and sanitize the machine.”
A big selling point in cross-marketing the two services is that to get the best flavor development when brewing coffee, it’s essential to start with water that’s free of tastes and odors. These are removed in the filtration process.
From an operator’s perspective, filtered water is also a critical ingredient of plumbed-in coffee brewers, because preventing dissolved minerals in the municipal water from precipitating out as scale in the brewers’ water tanks and associated tubing can greatly reduce maintenance costs. For the location, it also means more uptime for the equipment.
Miller encouraged office coffee service providers to see whether there is a bottled water cooler in the locations they serve. If there is, it can open the door for discussing the advantage of the POU solution they can provide.
Another obvious opportunity is the absence of any pure-water system at all. “If there’s no cooler, they’re filling the fridge with bottled water,” Miller pointed out. “It’s taking up room in the fridge, or people are bringing it. If you’re already there, point-of-use treatment is a huge opportunity to provide a solution by offering a continuous, economical supply of clean drinking water to people who are very aware of water quality and do not trust tap water.”
PLUG AND PLAY: Vertex assembles and tests its coolers at its 18,000-sq.ft. factory (top) in Montclair, CA, and ships them with the necessary filters pre-installed, ready for operation right out of the box. The operator simply plugs the cooler into a power outlet, runs a water supply line and is in business.
What’s In The Vertex Box
Vertex Water Products manufactures more than a dozen floor-standing point-of-use coolers and five countertop models, including 16″ high formats that fit under standard cabinets. The new Vertex PureChill line of PureWaterCoolers was introduced in 2013. The two-temperature (hot and cold) dispensers eliminate the need for an open reservoir for cold-water storage. They chill water on demand when it passes through the cooling chamber to the faucet, and keep environmental contaminants out so there is no need for in-tank sanitization. An integrated filter monitor ensures freshly filtered water with every cup, and a built-in moisture sensor shuts off the water and sounds an alarm when a leak is detected. The coolers feature a taller opening that allows larger mugs and bottles easy access for refills. Built-in filtration systems are easily accessed for filter replacement. Vertex’s wide range of coolers offers a variety of features and options to suit various workplace populations, budgets and demands.