Water treatment solutions specialists
Business View Magazine interviews Jacques Gravelle, Division Manager of Chem-Aqua Canada for our focus on the North American Boiler Industry associates.
Chem-Aqua is the wholly-owned water treatment subsidiary of NCH Corporation, a worldwide company that has been providing high-quality maintenance supplies, chemicals, and services since 1919. This year, NCH proudly celebrates its 100th Anniversary, and remains a family-run, privately-held company under the leadership of the Levy family, descendants of the founder, Milton P. Levy, Senior. Chem-Aqua is a global leader in custom-designed water treatment programs for boiler, cooling, and process water systems, and has more than 25 manufacturing plants and distribution centers worldwide, providing water treatment solutions in over 28 countries in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Corporate headquarters are in Irving, Texas, where the company began, and the Canadian corporate office is in Brampton, Ontario.
Long ago, Chem-Aqua realized that good results rely on more than just adding chemicals and testing water. Success depends on a comprehensive program of products, equipment, and services that address the unique mechanical, operational, chemical, and people requirements of each system. The Chem-Aqua team assists customers in minimizing their energy, water, and maintenance costs, while ensuring safe and reliable operation of these critical systems.
Jacques Gravelle, Divisional Manager of Chem-Aqua Canada, has been with the company for 24 years. He notes, “NCH has been in Canada more than five decades and the Canadian division of Chem-Aqua started in the mid-1990s. We purchased the corporate facility in Brampton when there was nothing around but farmers’ fields. We now have over 100 employees across the country, from Newfoundland to Victoria Island, British Columbia, working as sales reps for Chem-Aqua. Our primary manufacturing and distribution facility is located at the corporate office in Brampton. We also have distribution offices in Edmonton, Alberta, warehousing in Montreal, Quebec, and the capacity to deliver coast to coast.”
The company’s operation is based on a Total System Approach. Solutions are custom designed for each client to improve water system efficiencies and solve water treatment problems. The service ensures that water treatment chemicals are properly fed into the system to keep it running cleanly and efficiently, while protecting against potential corrosion or scale buildup. Equipment is put in place to help monitor the system. Unfortunately, some clients can’t afford the technology, so Chem-Aqua specialists have to train them to understand what to look for. Gravelle reports, “It’s becoming more and more apparent that customers do need the remote monitoring devices that look at their system more closely. So Chem-Aqua is working, with those customers, trying to be a source of technology and knowledge.”
Chem-Aqua is recognized as one of the world’s largest middle market water treatment companies. Their customers include commercial office buildings, universities, hotels, and hospitals, as well as wide range of manufacturing and food processing plants. Any facility that uses water for HVAC or process cooling and heating requires an effective water treatment program, and is a potential Chem-Aqua client.
Involvement with industry associations is a major networking priority. Chem-Aqua is a member of the Association of Water Technologies (AWT), the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), the International District Energy Association (IDEA), the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the National Renderers Association (NRA), LEED Certifications, and Canadian Healthcare Engineering Societies (CHES).
Gravelle admits, “Competition is heavy. There are many low-cost competitors – small, local companies that started up and don’t have any overhead or partnership, just one or two people involved. Then there are large companies, like ours, that bring about a lot of technology, training, and value-added service. Some customers only care about price. Then you have customers that look for value added, anything you can do to help improve efficiencies. That’s where we do very well – the value added, and the way we present ourselves and do business is what makes us different. Because we’re such a large corporation, the family that owns the company puts a lot of investment back into research and development, so we can implement new technology on a regular basis. We can also provide critical maintenance services like semi-annual cooling tower cleaning and disinfection through our Chem-Aqua Services group. These value added service really differentiate us from the competition.”
Great relationships with suppliers are vital to the company’s success. Gravelle gives credit to two, in particular. “The APTech Group supports us with our solid water treatment chemistry. Solid water treatment is a technology that provides a lot of benefit in many locations. With our HandiChem Solid System, chemicals are provided as solid concentrates in blocks or recyclable plastic bottles. This eliminates the handling, storage, and disposal requirements associated with liquids in drums. Because solids only weigh 5 kg each, there’s less risk of injury from lifting heavy containers. APTech is our partner that puts that together for us.”
“Another valuable partner is Advantage Controls. They support us with advanced equipment that makes sure the chemicals are being fed properly. Our aquaDART automation equipment employs real time sensors to continuously monitor and control treatment levels and regulate blowdown. This provides valuable benefits that enable high performance water treatment programs that improve results and reduce costs. This equipment is a great compliment to our HandiChem program.”
With safety at top of mind, environmental hazards are always a concern. Customers have readily acknowledged that the biggest risk they have in their facility is liquid chemicals stored onsite. Chem-Aqua’s goal is to replace those chemicals with a solid treatment program, which would minimize the risk of splashing and chemical spills, thus, helping customers with the environmental aspect is an important part of the service. Pricewise, there is very little difference between the liquid and the solid treatment program. The function is much the same, and when people see the application, they really appreciate it. It’s a matter of educating the customers.
That’s where the Chem-Aqua sales team shines. They approach potential customers, introduce the company, introduce the product line, and after identifying the needs, introduce the Chem-Aqua technology and provide the opportunity to become a client. Many times, people realize that the cost of changing over from a liquid program to a solid treatment is no different than what they’re already paying.
“Customers like entering into agreements where we provide them with a monthly, equal billing program,” says Gravelle. “First, we assess their system to find out what the annual value of the contract would be, and then we break that amount down into monthly payments. We control the inventory, and what’s shipped, and by doing so, we know what’s required for the system. We try to keep it real-time, so there isn’t a lot of inventory onsite, because most customers don’t like that. We monitor the chemical consumption and it gives us an idea of when to ship product. Our distribution network has a lot of carriers, so we can ship the product on time to meet the customer’s system requirements. This saves the customer from monitoring inventory and puts us in control of the water treatment program.”
The company’s biggest challenges are keeping up with customer expectations and giving them a fair price. Unfortunately, raw material prices continue to go up and that is passed along. To handle that challenge, Chem-Aqua is focused on bringing more technology to customers for monitoring water waste and energy waste. Being aware of those needs is a crucial piece of the process. The company also ensures customers are aware of environmental impacts and biological pathogens. One of the key technologies under development concerns how to monitor biofouling into cooling systems.
Finding skilled labour is another sticking point. Gravelle emphasizes, “My focus is on the sales team; to show them how to approach customers, sell the technology, and understand our processes. Chem-Aqua has done that very well by implementing a 10-week training program for all new representatives, with a high importance placed on mentorship. The new sales & services representative receives a solid foundation in water treatment, as well as continued learning and specialized training throughout their career. Admittedly, it can be challenging to find good, self-motivated people with an aptitude for both chemistry and sales. However, as many of our most successful water treaters will attest, by taking advantage of Chem-Aqua’s solid support and training departments, the potential for helping customers and growing their own business is immense.”
Looking ahead, growth and profit are key priorities; improving technology is another with great importance. Gravelle acknowledges, “Because the workforce of our clients is typically not specialized in the area of water treatment, businesses are more interested in having water treatment companies provide technology to monitor their systems. So, how do we make our technology more viable? One of the key things Chem-Aqua is doing very well is working on finding new ways to improve the monitoring system, itself. Having a full monitoring approach is becoming more of an expectation of customers. The other big factor is sustainability. Everyone is looking at saving water and energy. In turn, Chem-Aqua is listening to our customers and putting an increased focus on sustainability to minimize waste and protect assets. Our most important attribute is the value-added service we provide.”
AT A GLANCE
Who: Chem-Aqua, Inc.
What: Water treatment solutions provider
Where: Brampton, Ontario, Canada
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