By Denise M. Roberts
Joseph Ayrea and his wife Barb launched family-owned and operated Michiana Water Conditioning in 1974, with a small storefront in downtown Elkhart before moving to a larger location in the late 1970s. Jon Ayrea, company head and spokesman, grew up in the family business, working during breaks from school and over summer vacations. He became a full-time employee in 1988, eventually taking over in 1993 after an illness slowed his father’s involvement in day-to-day operations.
“I have two boys aged eight and 10,” said the younger Ayrea. “Although I like the idea of working with them someday, they’re both still just too young to know what they want to be when they grow up. That gives me time to see what future path we all may take where the family business is concerned.” Ayrea has remained in this business because he has a deep sense of enjoyment of what he does. “Since we were so small for so long, I’ve always had a very hands-on approach with the customers and consider many of them friends as well. It’s always busy and, when you’re self-employed, it’s hard to get away sometimes, but I love the flexibility of being my own boss.”
Michiana Water Conditioning’s staff of five serves Elkhart, Saint Joseph and LaGrange counties in northern Indiana, as well as several townships in southern Michigan. Ayrea, one salesperson, one installer and two part-time delivery people ensure customers are taken care of as quickly and efficiently as possible. The vast majority of the business is residential water treatment. The company offers a full line of water softeners and conditioners, RO drinking water systems, bottled water, water coolers, softener salt and delivery service, in addition to repair service for many makes and models of water softeners on the market. “We run into the normal hardness and iron issues for this part of the country,” says Ayrea. “Hardness is in the 16- to 25-gpg range and iron anywhere from a trace to up to three to four ppm. We are happy to represent The Evolve Series by Water-Right, which offers equipment for standard softening, as well as the Crystal Right media that can filter up to 10 ppm iron. We make available city water-specific systems as well as battery-operated and solar-powered systems that garner quite a bit of attention with the Amish communities in Elkhart and Lagrange Counties.”
Remaining successful takes lots of hard work, creativity and perseverance. Challenges abound in any business environment, as Ayrea knows only too well. “The biggest challenge we’ve faced was the economy over the last six years or so. Like everyone else, you learn to adapt. I think any company that survived such a deep and long-lasting recession came out stronger on the other end. We chose not to pursue any new products or services during that time, focusing instead on just continuing to provide the best products and service possible. 2014 was our best year ever, so I’m extremely happy and proud of our efforts. Consistent performance, good products and the will to keep going are key elements in our business strategy. Giving up was not, and is not, an option.” Keeping in front of a core audience of prospective clients is another pivotal factor. “We just started running a commercial for the first time ever, so I’m excited to see the results from that. Facebook marketing is also new to us. Things are looking positive, though, and in the next five years, I plan to hire a second installer and probably a full-time delivery person.”
Business strategies must change and evolve to reflect industry needs and conditions. The intervention of modern technology into the mix is helping companies ramp up to meet the demands of our society. “I’ve noticed that customers continue to become smarter and more enlightened about their health and welfare, which is always a good thing, because water is one of the single most important aspects of both,” Ayrea said. “There was a time when the big-box stores caused concern for many in this industry, but as customers continue to learn more about treatment systems and service, I think that is beginning to change. No system or treatment option takes care of itself, so service after the sale is the number-one advantage we have over the big-box systems. It’s also exciting to see what’s on the horizon as far as salt-less systems. My guess is that’s still awhile down the road, but like anything else, we’ve got to wait and see what happens. As with everyone else, I’m always concerned about legislation, especially when it comes to the environment. I think it’s up to the manufacturers to continue to improve the efficiency of their systems, as well as the public to understand what the benefits to soft water are compared to hard water. In this category of thought, knowledge truly is power and we are here to help our customers make the best and most informed decisions.”
With an open mind and an innovative spirit, Ayrea has taken the helm to keep the company moving forward in a positive direction. His parents may not have realized it at the time, but it appears they created a legacy, a company that is well-placed to become a multi-generational enterprise rooted in success.