A small company striving for big results
January 6, 2014 By Julie Fitz-Gerald
In 2007, with a leap of faith and more than 35 years of combined
industry experience, Derek Kokkinen and Scott Armstrong decided to delve
into the world of business ownership by starting D & S Water Well
Service in Uxbridge, Ont.
In 2007, with a leap of faith and more than 35 years of combined industry experience, Derek Kokkinen and Scott Armstrong decided to delve into the world of business ownership by starting D & S Water Well Service in Uxbridge, Ont. Six years later, the gamble is proving successful, with a bustling small business that is keeping Kokkinen and Armstrong busy year-round.
|Derek Kokkinen (left) and Scott Armstrong are based in the rural town of Uxbridge, Ont.
The pair had been working locally for Wilson’s Water Wells for 20 years when they decided to take a shot at their own business that would specialize in new well pump system installations, water treatment solutions, yearly system maintenance and emergency pump repairs.
“It was pretty scary for a while. There was no paycheque for a couple of months and we had to put a lot of money out there initially. We were trying to get in with some suppliers and make sure they were still going to deal with us. The first couple of months were slow and then by the end of the year we were steady,” Armstrong says. “But we did a lot of canvassing, a lot of flyers, and a lot of advertising and driving around those first six to eight months.”
“Once word got out and people figured out where we were, word of mouth started working for us; now about 80 to 90 per cent of our business is word of mouth,” said Kokkinen.
While Armstrong’s start in the ground water industry occurred by chance in 1987, Kokkinen was raised in the business. His grandfather started an agricultural water filtration company in the 1970s, but Kokkinen wasn’t in a position to take over the family business when his grandfather was set to retire.
At the time, Kokkinen had two small children at home and he recognized that farms were quickly being replaced by subdivisions in the area. “The farms as you can see are mostly houses around here now, so there really wasn’t an upside to it unless I wanted to move way.”
Nevertheless, he knew the water business and he had a hunch about what direction to take. Servicing an area bordered by Beaverton to the north, Toronto to the south, Newmarket to the west and Port Perry to the east, the business partners says D & S Water Well Service is becoming a customer favourite for one obvious reason: “It’s our hands-on approach. There’s always one or both of us on site,” says Armstrong.
Kokkinen agrees. “Customers like to see the owner/operators on site. Some of the bigger companies will send in someone else, but the way we get treated by customers now is a lot different than working for someone else. There’s a lot more respect and they trust what we say.”
The pair also credits their on-call approach to emergency well service with boosting business, especially when they first started out. Their business phone is always forwarded to one of their cellphones, meaning that if a customer is in trouble either Kokkinen or Armstrong is always reachable.
“People like to talk to someone when they’re in trouble and they need help. We’re around seven days a week; we do half-days on Saturday and Sunday,” said Kokkinen.
|Derek Kokkinen (left) and Scott Armstrong started their own venture after 20 years in the ground water industry.
“When we first started, it was the emergency service that kept us going. That’s all we did. If someone has no water, it usually happens between 6 p.m., and 8 a.m. When we first started we were getting calls at three in the afternoon because people were trying to find anyone who would answer their phones on the weekend, but now it’s gotten more comfortable and our name’s out there so people do find us sooner than three o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday. But definitely the emergency service kept us afloat when we first started,” says Armstrong.
Today, the business also consists of well decommissions, well upgrades, real estate well inspections and water treatment solutions, including water softeners, water filters and ultraviolet lights. It’s this diversity that Armstrong says he appreciates. “We like this business because there’s something new every day, which gives us a bit of variety.”
“We do annual maintenance where we go back in and change the ultraviolet light bulbs, clean out the filters and screens, and check the pumping system. Most people don’t want to worry about this stuff so we come in once a year and go over the whole system,” says Kokkinen.
With new pump installations making up a healthy portion of the business, Kokkinen and Armstrong rely on the constant pressure system known as the Pentek Intellidrive Water Pressure Control Center. While the idea has been around for decades, the duo says these types of systems are now becoming more popular. “On all our new installations that’s what we put in. It simulates city pressure. If the well is to run dry, it shuts the pump off,” says Kokkinen.
“It also senses things like a broken wire or a broken pipe and will shut everything down, whereas conventional systems don’t do any of that and would just fill your basement with water,” adds Armstrong. “We’ve even had customers who are interested in the pump but aren’t sold, so we put it in for the weekend and then they can decide if they want to keep it. I don’t think we’ve ever had someone who wants it taken out after trying it. It sells itself once they see it.”
D & S Water Well Service seems to have found its niche in remaining small. Remaining small, however, may end up being the biggest challenge for these co-owners.
“We’re trying to stay small for as long as we can. Everyone we’ve talked to who’s been in business always says to do the same. It’s hard, but it would be nice to stay like this,” says Armstrong.
Kokkinen is of the same mind as his business partner. “It’s also the headache of employees. I watched my grandfather do it for a lot of years. If we’re slow, I don’t have to worry about taking on jobs just to keep employees busy. I’ve seen more and more guys do that and they end up losing money in the long run.”
“I think that if we had started five years sooner, our egos may have gotten in the way and we might have wanted to grow quickly, but we’re down to earth and older now and we have a better idea of what we want,” says Armstrong.
“Not to say we might not have to [grow] if something changes, but as of right now we’re doing well. Although some days we could use five more guys!” adds Kokkinen, laughing.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Ground Water Canada.
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