As the Small Business Administration celebrated Veterans Small Business Week last week, it saluted the nation’s 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses who contribute nearly $1 trillion each year to the U.S. economy.
In the Green Bay area, there are large numbers of veterans who have found success and made substantial contributions. One of those businesses is Pure Water Technology, a franchise owned by Larry Kipfstuhl. Kipfstuhl’s company has grown each year since opening a decade ago. A Navy veteran, he says that the service gave him a "can do" attitude, and that regardless of the problem, never to quit. His education included sales training, and it gave him direction for the future.
"Originally, I wanted to be a reporter," he said. "But when I found sales, I found a home."
His work ethic was of the "pound the pavement" variety, and after the service, he started his first business selling copy machines in Cleveland, Ohio. When that market changed, he switched to telecommunication sales and started Buckeye Communication Services.
"All of this taught me that I loved working for myself," Kipfstuhl said. "I was doing that when I was recruited by two guys who had bought copiers from me to purchase a Pure Water Technology territory."
As he learned about the business, he thought it was a perfect fit. It solved a problem that would be beneficial to companies by providing pure water and tackling other issues.
"In 1996, it was the need to eliminate the hassles of lifting and storing heavy 5-gallon water bottles," Kipfstuhl said. "In 2008, we all realized that bottled water is more than a hassle, it’s an environmental nightmare and a national disgrace."
With that passion, he found it easy to sell the Pure Water Technology systems. He promises the water will be safer, fresher and better tasting. A telemarketing company sets up appointments, and Kipfstuhl’s goal is to visit 30 businesses a day.
"Sales give you the chance to work your hardest every day," he added. "I like to end each day knowing that I have had an impact and am better off that I was the day before. That makes me smile."
He is less stringent with his sales staff, and sets their goal at 20 visits a day. As the business grows, he has added staff and now has seven employees including the sales reps, an office manager, service department and service manager. His father, a partner in the business, does the bookkeeping.
Kipfstuhl oversees it all, and continues to sell with a goal of growing by 10% this year, and within a year, reaching $1 million in sales.
"Right now, we are laterally expanding our business," he said. "We may sign a customer and then we will go out and try to visit every one of the businesses in that same category."
With a territory that encompasses a large part of Wisconsin, the opportunity for growth is huge. He is making good inroads in the Milwaukee area and plans to spend the early part of 2020 visiting businesses in Madison. Because it is a franchise, there is also a national support staff to make it easier to cover a large area and still provide excellent service.
"We believe in delivering to our customers what we promised. After every call, we ask, ‘Did we take care of the problem right?’ Your company is only as good as the service you provide," Kipfstuhl said.
The aim is to answer every call as quickly as possible and to have no customer go without a machine for more than 24 hours. Every machine should work as well on the last day of the contract as the first, and as technology changes and new machines become available, customers may upgrade without penalty.
The corporate franchise was recently purchased by a company called Quench. That will bring an expanded product line, including ice machines. It will also bring new growth. Kipfstuhl hopes within five years to double the number of machines under contract.
"Where we’re at now, all the hard work has gotten us to this point and we’re pretty happy with how far we’ve come," he said. "People need good drinking water and we don’t need plastic bottles. The need is for people to have good, healthy drinking water and not to have to ship it out by the bottle."
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.