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June 2002: Volume 44, Number 6

BWI’s Burkhardt Bears Down
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor

Originally a mechanic, Lennie Burkhardt found himself drawn into the water treatment business 24 years ago when a local independent dealership was put on the market. He bought it looking for an opportunity for himself and his family.

Since the area where he lives is one of the most rural in Minnesota (it’s the only county without a stop light), well water and all the various problems that come with it became his stock in trade. That meant chlorine feed systems, pumps and flow meters as well as filters and softeners.

Better Water Industries (BWI), of which he’s president, was launched in 1987 when Burkhardt thought he could make a better chlorinator than those he was buying, and thus was born the Sentry I chlorinator. He said he was lucky if he made $100,000 the first year. Today, he’s closer to $1 million annually and has established himself as one of the premier experts on well chlorinating systems.

He notes there are only about four chlorine tablet and three chlorinator manufacturers and his biggest competition comes from Autotrol. A special flow meter he designed to test flow rates with varying water pressures has been another mainstay of the business. In recent years, though, he’s found himself wrapped up in developing an aeration system for treating hydrogen sulfide, iron/manganese, and especially radon -- which is where he sees a larger chunk of his business coming from in the future.

“That’s getting to be a real big issue,” Burkhardt said. “In Minnesota, the county I live in right here, they did a test I believe in ’98, and 68 percent of the houses in Lincoln County had over 4 picocuries per liter in the air in basements.”

His endeavors in aeration fill the void of business lost with the decline in the family farm as big corporate ones have grown over the past decade, he said.

The majority of his sales are in the Midwest, but he sees customers coming from all over the United States and Canada. Most come from along the northern half of the country, from Maine to Washington, though his client base has moved more into Colorado, California, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas in recent years.

Last year, he sold his Kinetico dealership to an employee who earlier had bought 25 percent of the business and did most of the work running it. And his son, Tate, joins BWI this summer, which will allow Lennie to focus more on sales and marketing. Burkhardt will groom his son, who has a degree in electrical engineering, to take over the business.

About 60 percent of sales go through franchise dealers vs. independents today, the opposite of 10 years ago. Customers also include pump supply houses, well drillers and plumbers. BWI growth has been between 15 and 25 percent a year for the past several years, including 22 percent in 2001.

Burkhardt’s only real beef is with the USEPA and its position on chlorine and trihalomethanes: “What they’re not saying is, ‘Hey, the water is so polluted in all these rivers and lakes that when you put chlorine in it, (it’s reducing the health risk)’... Chlorine has still saved more lives than any medical invention or anything else in this country.”

Before getting to the interview itself, here are a few details on 'company name':

Better Water Industries Inc.
209 N. Tyler St., Box G
Tyler, MN 56178
Tel: (507) 247-5929
Fax: (507) 247-3416
Email: bwi@mnns.com
Web: www.mfgnet.org/preview/Better_Water_Industries/

President: Lennie Burkhardt

Employees: 7

Revenue: $950,000

Products: Under Sentry I brand -- Chlorinator (dry pellet chlorine feed); Open-Air System (aeration); Well Sanitizer Pack (granular/pellet chlorine), pellets, flow meter and pumps, etc.

Vendors: PPG, Jacuzzi Bros., K&M Plastics/Composites, Royal Plastics, Merrill Manufacturing, American Granby, Bryant

And now for the interview:

WC&P: Tell me about how you got into the industry and the particular market niches in which your company specializes?

Burkhardt: Well, I got in the industry about 24 years ago when I bought a water conditioning dealership. I was an auto mechanic, working at and owning a partnership in a service station. A water conditioning dealership came up for sale in town so I bought it. At the time I bought it, I didn't know how to set the timer on my own rental water softener. So, I ran the business for quite a few years and started the business, Better Water Industries, when I was selling SafeWell chlorinators. They were being built in Iowa and were pretty much handmade, and I decided it was something that needed to be a little bit better. So, I started designing mine in the back room and one thing led to another and pretty soon we had a working model and then I had a model made built to specs. And then we went ahead and got into a partnership with John Dougherty at that time. And we bought molds and molded our first chlorinator. That's how we first got into business and it's evolved from there.

WC&P: Tell me a couple things, if you could. Where was the dealership you bought?

Burkhardt: It was here in Tyler, Minn.

WC&P: What was it called? Was it a local Culligan or Lindsay dealership?

Burkhardt: No, I was an independent. It's not a huge dealership. I think when I sold it, it had something like 550 rental units. When I bought it, there was about 200 rental units. We live in a very unpopulated area of Minnesota. There's only 6,000 people that live in the county I live in, and it's the only county in the state of Minnesota that doesn't have a stop light.

WC&P: You're serious?

Burkhardt: Serious.

WC&P: That's amazing. So what year did you start Better Water Industries?

Burkhardt: That was in 1987. And I bought my dealership in 1977.

WC&P: How exactly did John Dougherty fit into the picture?

Burkhardt: Well, John, I bought him out here about nine years ago. He was a partner in with Better Water Industries. I ran my dealership and he was very, very good in marketing. He'd been a sales rep for a couple major companies and was looking to get into a business of his own. He was a rep for one of the companies that I sold water softeners for. We just got to become friends and one thing led to another. Pretty soon, we spent a bunch of money and had a bunch of molds made and started selling chlorinators.

WC&P: Who did your molds for you?

Burkhardt: It was done in Brookings, S.D., by Royal Plastics. They didn't make the molds, but they still mold my plastic parts. And then some are done with K&M Plastics. My covers are made at K&M.

WC&P: Your product is the Sentry I chlorinator system. Tell me how you developed that and how it's grown, if you could.

Burkhardt: You wanna know about the intricacy of the unit, why I designed it and why I built certain things into it? Or do you wanna know about the businesses that we grew and what we did?

WC&P: A little of both. Why don't we start with the particular unit and why it's designed the way it is?

Burkhardt: OK, the reason I designed the chlorinator was because when I was selling the SafeWell, which was the first chlorinator on the market, there were so many things that were wrong with it. It would plug up too easy. You had no place to get rid of the dust that would build up inside of it. So, what I did was I designed a way that would sift the dust out of the chlorine because anytime you move the chlorine tablets a certain amount of dust comes off. We sifted that off so we wouldn't drop it down the drop tube because, if they push that dust down the drop tube, it's got a pretty good chance of plugging up. There's always moisture in that because of the temperature as it goes down through the different temperatures of the water.

WC&P: I assume that accumulates and tends to block it?

Burkhardt: Yes, it would build up and plug up the drop tube. I saw that as a problem. And the other problem they had was the motor wasn't powerful enough to start and run when it was real cold out. So, I had the pump motor people design one that was guaranteed to start up when it was 40 below (freezing) and able to continuously run at 150°F temperature outside plus whatever it created on its own.

WC&P: I don't think it gets up to 150°F in Minnesota, does it?

Burkhardt: No, it don't but I just put them guidelines in. We did a lot of testing and we never had any problem with the thing overheating. It was always the cold. It wouldn't startup when it was cold. So, we put some synthetic grease in the gear box and did a bunch of magic stuff to the motor and it works really good. That was one of the key things. I thought, "Man, we really got it now." But I was just learning. And (another trick was) getting the feed mechanism so that I didn't have to use another timer or some type of device to change speeds. So, I developed the pellet plate and we put 60 plugs in it. (That's) because, with 60, you have more numbers divisible into 60 than any other number between zero and 100. I learned all that as I was doing it.

WC&P: I'm looking at a sketch of the system on your website and you can see where the plate is with the 60 pellets above there.

Burkhardt: We just remove the plugs and they're removeable such that you can put them back in there. We can drop a tablet in as fast as 7 seconds and as far apart as 21 minutes without actually using any kind of timer. It's actually a two-speed unit. There's a gear that you can run it on a 1-to-1 ratio and then a normal range where 99 percent of the units all run -- at 3-to-1. And then designing it such that no air could get at the chlorine was a very important thing because a lot, or all the rest of them, have a lid on the top where you fill it from the top. Well, if that gasket isn't totally sealed, you get a chimney effect and air will travel up through it and the tablets will see moisture. Well, I use my hopper as the jar that the chlorine comes in, so it's a sealed unit. That was very important.

WC&P: Is that because chlorine exposed to air has a tendency to degrade over time?

Burkhardt: Yep. And the reason why it degrades is because of the moisture in the air. If you keep the moisture out, it doesn't degrade. One thing about tablet-ized chlorine vs. liquid chlorine, liquid chlorine in 30 days will deteriorate by 25 percent. Tableted chlorine in a jar and in a cool place will lose less than 2 percent of its power in a year. So, it stays very stable. And that's another thing as to the accuracy of the amount of chlorine that you put into the water. A lot of units, the reason why I was talking about not using a timer is because a timer has a small motor usually that runs it and that would change speeds at different temperatures. As it got colder, it would slow down. And it would run faster -- or run up to speed rather, when it was warm. And, when you're mixing chlorine into water, you need a certain amount because too much chlorine causes problems; too little chlorine, you don't get enough contact time. It's very important to have a stable amount so that you get the proper contact time. With a powerful motor and the way I set it up with the tablets always being dropped at the same time, we achieve that better than the other ones on the market.

WC&P: Talk to me about some of the applications that this is used in. Obviously, well water is a big thing. And I assume that, because you’re in a predominantly rural area, that’s where some of your expertise got developed.

Burkhardt: Well, in my area in Minnesota, the water is, you know, fairly nasty with iron and hardness and odor and stuff like that… and bacteria. A lot of people don’t realize (that because) they see more and more bacteria in their water, and they think: “Geez, it’s contamination of some kind.” Well, Mother Nature’s way of cleaning is bacteria. And, over the years, we’ve lived here for 200-300 years in different parts of the country. What we’ve done in the past or doing in the future, it all ends up seeping down into the ground and eventually gets into your vein of water or your aquifer. And Mother Nature is cleaning it with bacteria. It’s trying to clean it. Well, most of the time, this bacteria is nothing more than a nuisance bacteria. It makes things slimy -- iron bacteria -- and that clogs up your pipes and pumps and stuff like that. So, we see more and more of it being done for iron bacteria, different bacteria, sanitation reasons today. When I first started in the business, you know, 15 years ago -- or actually 20-some-plus years ago -- selling chlorinators, we were treating more of a sulfur smell and oxidizing iron. There wasn’t near as much iron bacteria at that point in time. I’ve seen it increase a lot in the last 10 years.

WC&P: Why would that be?

Burkhardt: Just because of the time factor, where it didn’t have regulations as strict as they are now. You can’t blame it on any one individual thing. The agriculture out here uses a lot of chemicals and different types of chemicals that didn’t break down as good as they do now that we used and didn’t know. It’s just that cars were more polluting and factories weren’t brought up to speed to be less polluting…

WC&P: And through the years all of this kind of makes its way down into the groundwater?

Burkhardt: Yes. And your acid rains and all that affects it. You get acid rain and the acid in the water will absorb more stuff because you’ve got acid-y water. It grabs everything and takes it down with it.

WC&P: Leaches it out of the ground?

Burkhardt: Yup, yup, that’s right.

WC&P: Now, you and I first started talking to each other about three or four years ago and my kind of exposure to the products in the industry has since broadened. There’s a lot of different chlorinators that are out there.

Burkhardt: Yes.

WC&P: How are you positioned in the market?

Burkhardt: Well, I think Autotrol -- they own, let’s see, I’m trying to think of the name now, Land-o-matic -- they bought that. They probably are still the leader in it. They have a huge marketing base. I’m sure, I don’t know, but I’m probably the leading person in the United States on problem water with chlorination cuz I do it. Autotrol, they have a large business and the one guys that were there that really knew a lot about it, you know, moved on over the years. Where, I’ve been doing this for 25 years so, I’ve got a lot of experience on problem water applications. And I’ve got a very good background on pumps and wells and different things on how to treat problem water. It’s always different, in different parts of the country, how you do it. Different wells are drilled and designed and they might be in limestone or shale, they might be cased, they might be down in rocks. (There are) different places where sometimes the water comes in from the top; they drill the wells deep and it comes through the limestone. How things are set up -- that’s really what I have to offer my dealers because I have a lot of experience in how these things work in different parts of the country.

WC&P: How many dealers do you have?

Burkhardt: Oh, active ones… it’s one thing about what we do, we don’t sell a whole lot to any one particular person as a rule. We don’t have a huge dealer that sells a lot; we sell a little bit to a lot of people. We have good accounts that are real steady and good, but they’re not huge just because not everybody’s got problem water. We’re seeing more and more people get involved with it because there’s more people building out in the rural (areas). We see more water problems. And just different parts of the country have sulfur, methane gas; radon’s becoming a huge thing in water and we’re working real hard on that. We’ve got equipment doing a very good job.

WC&P: Do you deal with MTBE? That’s been a big issue in recent years.

Burkhardt: Yeah, we can do that. I haven’t certified for it or anything. My aeration system will remove MTBEs but I’m not certified for it. And I haven’t really went after it too strong. I’ve been working on the radon (issue). We’re doing a very good job on it. We still got a little ways to go, but we’re doing a very good job on it. The stupidest little thing I’m having a problem with on it is a fan. The equipment’s working good, but the exhaust fan is giving me some trouble and I’m having a hard time finding the proper fan to move the air. That’s been my biggest problem.

WC&P: Maybe somebody will read this and call you with a solution.

Burkhardt: Yeah, I’d be glad. (I need) a sealed fan like a squirrel cage fan that I can blow air through a 2-inch pipe. I’ve got all kinds of fans but not the one I want -- the way I want it done. I get a little fuzzy on how I want to do things, but I like it done right.

WC&P: When you talk about your dealership base, how far and wide are we talking and where’s the most concentration?

Burkhardt: Oh, I do all over the United States. I don’t go aggressively after overseas business just because it’s a lot of hassle and the numbers aren’t big enough for me to go after it.

WC&P: I take it that it can be more work than profit if you’re not wholeheartedly pursuing it?

Burkhardt: Yes, that’s what I’ve found. Now, we have sold stuff overseas and the freighting and everything can get so costly and then the dollar change gets expensive. We’ve done stuff in Brazil and different areas. And the people mostly that I deal with is residential and you find out they don’t have the money to buy it. If you were dealing with commercial or bigger applications, they would have the money.

WC&P: You do business in Canada though, correct?

Burkhardt: Oh, yeah. We do quite a bit of business in Canada. Canada’s a stone throw for me.

WC&P: When you talk about this, describe for me who these dealerships are?

Burkhardt: I deal mostly with the water conditioning people and the pump people and the well people. We have different areas that do business and you get a lot of pump and well people that get into water conditioning because their onsite and they do it.

WC&P: You mean well drillers?

Burkhardt: Yes. I guess that’s what I’m talking about. Pump people are pump installers and plumbers and this kind of stuff. And then you have the well drillers. You have some well drillers that do both the pump installing and drilling the well. But a lot of times you see them and they either drill the wells or they put the pumps in. And some go both ways. You tend to get two lines there. We sell to those people mostly through plumbing wholesale houses and pump wholesale houses, so we do a lot of marketing through that industry -- the pump wholesale houses.

WC&P: I would assume also probably some agricultural equipment outlets, like Agway?

Burkhardt: I sell nothing to the consumer. Agway, I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about.

WC&P: It’s sort of a distributor for agricultural products like for farms.

Burkhardt: They sell more to the consumer I believe; you see I sell nothing to the consumer.

WC&P: I thought you might sell to the Agway though?

Burkhardt: Oh, I see, yes. Yeah, I don’t think we particularly sell Agway, I believe, but I do sell to different places like that. Normally, though, it’s sold to a dealer (and) being installed professionally. It’s not too often that they would sell direct to the consumer and he takes it home and puts it in.

WC&P: I’ve got a buddy who’s in Pennsylvania and he works for an Agway as their water treatment specialist. That’s the reason that idea got sparked in my head.

Burkhardt: Well, I do do some work with Agway-type places, but not too often because usually you’ve got to follow it up with a filter and different types of water conditioning stuff. It’s kind of tough to sell to a consumer when they really don’t know the water problems. Somebody could do that, but I would leave it up to the dealer to sell to the consumer. And they usually install it, because it should be professionally installed. That’s the wellhead chlorinator. Then we do the open-air aeration system and that’s the one that does the real high sulfur and methane gas and VOCs.

WC&P: What’s your aeration system called?

Burkhardt: It’s a BWI… what do we call that thing? We call it, uh…

WC&P: On your website, it says an Open-Air System. Is that it?

Burkhardt: Yeah, there it is. Well, we call it the Sentry Open-Air system. That one there I started building about 7-8 years ago and it evolved into a huge deal. It’s been real big. I designed a full one-inch adjustable air draw so that it’s like a venturi setup so I can mix the air into the water as it comes in. It just does a wonderful job on all your nasty waters. We can take 20 parts of hydrogen sulfide and you won’t even smell it. We burn it all up. There’s a lot of things you can see in the literature that it takes care of.

WC&P: Did you have that on display at WQA in New Orleans, because I think I saw it?

Burkhardt: Yes, it just adds a huge amount of air to the water. And then this last year or two ago, we just introduced what we call our Aqua Booster system. What it does is it’s a continuous run pump. It runs a little bitty pressure tank and when you draw a half a gallon a minute the pump comes on and runs continuously until you quit drawing water. That way, you get a city-like water pressure. And the pump people tell me it’s easier on the pump, it doesn’t take any more electricity because you don’t start and stop it, and people get a more consistent water pressure.

WC&P: I notice you also have a flow meter correct?

Burkhardt: Yes.

WC&P: Now, how long has that been on the market?

Burkhardt: Oh, I’ve done that almost since day one when I started out. And the reason I designed that is `cause a lot of people we sell to are the water conditioning people and they have no way of knowing how many gallons per minute a well puts out. And I needed to know it had 30 pounds of pressure because, if it doesn’t put out enough water at 30 pounds of pressure, you don’t have enough water to run a backwash filter. Then they also go to our sizing chart and our chlorinator and it tells you how to set the chlorinator with the water test and the flow so they can adjust the chlorinator. Since then, we just sell hundreds of them a month, particularly now in the spring. We’ve got sprinkler people and real estate people who go out and flow rate wells and test wells for gallons per minute and how much water they produce.

WC&P: Is this for lawn irrigation?

Burkhardt: Yeah, them guys -- the turf guys we call them -- they buy a lot of them because they can walk out and in a minute or two they can diagnose if a well pump is in good shape and how many gallons a minute it puts out and pressures and check your pressure switches and your pressure tank real, real fast.

WC&P: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that as a niche market.

Burkhardt: It’s turned into a pretty good niche market and it’s reasonably priced for what somebody will get. You get a flow meter and, I think, it’s $79 -- you get a lot of things. You can diagnose a whole well, how many gallons per minute and you can actually tell how good the pump is, whether it’s wore out or not.

WC&P: Are there any other products we should mention?

Burkhardt: Well, we have a well sanitizer pack. What I did is I took a half a pound of granular chlorine and a half a pound of tablets, took a piece of literature and shown a consumer how to sanitize their own well. The tablets are heavy and they’re solid and they go to the bottom of the well to sanitize the bottom of the well. You take the granulars and mix them in a five-gallon bucket of water and pour them down the top to do the top. If you just dump bleach in the well, it never gets to the bottom. If you just throw tablets in there, a lot of times it doesn’t get to the top like you’d like it to. You’ve got to circulate it, but you don’t get a strong enough dose of chlorine to really sanitize the casing all the way down.

WC&P: I follow you.

Burkhardt: And the other thing I done is got it EPA registered, we’re USDA approved and we’re FDA food-grade Standard 60 certified. So, we’ve got all the certification on the chlorine. Actually, the states tell people to dump bleach down and it’s totally illegal to dump bleach into a well because it’s not food grade. It says right on it -- not to be used on food products. That includes water.

WC&P: You’re referring to simple household liquid bleach?

Burkhardt: Right. They got stabilizers and stuff in it. Don’t get me wrong. It will kill the bacteria and do the job. It’s got too much foreign stuff in it, though, that you’re pouring into drinking water.

WC&P: That will later have to be removed?

Burkhardt: Yeah, they say you’re supposed to pump it all out. Well, you never get it all out. There’s always a residual of something in there. So, I’ve been kind of pushing on the states a little bit that they shouldn’t really be doing that. They won’t let me do that. They made me get my chlorine registered so that I could sell it to the public. But they can turn around and tell the public to dump bleach down the well.

WC&P: How do you deal with the whole issue of disinfection by-products? There’s been a lot going around for the past few years on THMs. Your business is right in there in the thick of that.

Burkhardt: OK, trihalomethanes are your THMs and your carcinogenics. You get that by chlorine and organics or living material. And when you go to treat a well, you might have a high bacteria count; and, the first time you treat it, you kill the high bacteria because it was growing in the casing. Now, what’s in there is a very, very low amount of bacteria in the water, so you do not create a trihalomethane. If you do, it’s very, very low. Your THMs, or trihalomethanes, come from pond water or river water, especially in the summer time when the water warms up and you get a bloom of algae and bacteria that grows as Mother Nature’s way of cleaning up the water. The water’s polluted.

WC&P: Are you recommending any way that a lot of these dealers can offer these in addition to household treatment like a softener or RO?

Burkhardt: Oh, absolutely, when you put a chlorination system in, I recommend that everybody also put in a multimedia carbon backwash filter, which would take any THMs out that you would create. But, in well water, you don’t create THMs. And, if you do, it’s very, very low.

WC&P: It’s not like surface water, where the level of organics is likely much higher.

Burkhardt: No. The bacteria count is very, very low, unless you happen to get a well that’s hooked into somebody’s septic tank or something real bad. Then, you could create some trihalomethanes, but as a rule, (there are) very, very little trihalomethanes (in groundwater).

WC&P: Before that system is actually put in, somebody has done an analysis to see if they’re there and added some measures to make deal with that issue if it’s there.

Burkhardt: Absolutely, if it’s that bad, it should be addressed.

WC&P: I think we’ve gotten a few “Ask the Expert” questions from some people that may have had a well that was downhill from a few other residents nearby and run into a problem like the one you mentioned.

Burkhardt: Yeah, they should bring their well up to code. Most likely, it’s an old well, it’s probably not well put together and it’s probably not even capped decent. Or it’s a shallow well or a dug well, which is real bad for that. You may have three foot of tile up and water can seep through at any level. So, they’re very susceptible to bacteria. But, as a rule, in a casing, a well is a very, very good breeding ground for bacteria. You’ve got heat, your pump runs and warms up a little bit to give it some extra temperature; when your pump spins, it actually spins some air out and it gets a little more oxygen right there by the pump. So, you’ve got a place for this bacteria to live and grow. That’s why if you chlorinate the wellhead with bacteria, you can keep the bacteria level down. If we do it above ground, like with a liquid chlorinator, they both will kill bacteria, but you could be working with a larger amount of bacteria than if you keep ahead of it at the well.

WC&P: Now, how have you been affected by some of the recent discussion at the National Ground Water Association about long pipe systems and growth of public water systems in suburban areas as development has grown outward from the cities?

Burkhardt: Well, we’re growing every year, anywheres from 15 to 25 percent a year. I’ve been growing (at that rate) for the last six years probably. So, my industry is going. A lot of that is awareness of what I do. I’ve broadened my field of what I do. But, the long pipe, to answer that question, yeah, it does affect us out here. It’s going to affect everybody. I’ve got it through my area. There’s over 3,000 miles of rural water through my area. Not everybody signs up to it. One thing they was doing in some areas is forcing everybody to sign up and they shouldn’t be able to force somebody to sign up for something they don’t want to. Absolutely, it affected my business some. But I’ve looked into different areas and you adapt your business like everybody else does.

WC&P: What are some of those areas that you’ve adapted your business into?

Burkhardt: Well, I went into different things. When we were just doing a wellhead chlorinator, I lost quite a bit. But then I started doing aeration and moving. You just do business in different areas. That long pipe goes in and you lose business. There’s no doubt about it in my type of business.

WC&P: I would imagine with aeration, you’re also dealing with hydrogen sulfide issues, iron, manganese, VOCs, a little arsenic -- as well as the radon…

Burkhardt: You know there’s plenty of places out there and different ways of doing things. If you got a better mousetrap, you’ll get business. That’s the way I look at it. And then, this radon thing coming in, there’s a lot of that being done already -- air and water. That’s getting to be a real big issue. In Minnesota, the county I live in right here, they done a test I believe in ’98, and 68 percent of the houses in Lincoln County had over the 4,000 picocuries per liter in the basement.

WC&P: Wow.

Burkhardt: You get charts all over. There’s a lot more in the country than people realize.

WC&P: Especially, since you’ve got that strip in the upper Midwest that they call radium alley, which runs between Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa -- for one -- and radon being a byproduct of that.

Burkhardt: Yes, it’s a sister or daughter of uranium or radium. I’m not a real expert on (the chemistry of) that, …but we see a lot of it. I do a lot of it also out in the New England states.

WC&P: How much of the growth in your business that you mentioned has been in radon specifically?

Burkhardt: Some of it. Not a tremendous amount yet in radon. Basically, my growth has been through everything I do, selling more chlorine, etc. It’s just my whole business that’s moved forward. I can’t really say one particular thing. My Open-Air Systems have definitely went up, you know, (with) a lot more of my growth just because we started making it pre-wired, which made it more consumer friendly. When it was installed, it was a lot easier and it kept the pricing down to where they could afford to go out and still put it in.

WC&P: Who are some of your suppliers, your equipment and component vendors?

Burkhardt: Oh, I buy pumps and stuff from Jacuzzi Bros. Pump. They’re out of Little Rock, Ark. Yeah, I’ve known Bob Keating for years and years and years. He was in the water industry and basically does, I guess it would be in management, but I don’t think it’s an overseer. Most of the stuff I make. I buy tanks from K&M. Of course, my chlorinator parts are all built in here. Then, we buy some plastic parts from Merrill Manufacturing down in Iowa. And then we buy a lot of stuff from American Granby. They’re out of Liverpool, N.Y. They got different places too around the country where they stock stuff.

WC&P: What type of stuff do you buy from them, again?

Burkhardt: Uh, plastic parts. A lot of PVC fittings and different things.

WC&P: Where’s the majority of your business concentrated? Is it concentrated in that Midwest area?

Burkhardt: I would say, oh, all across the upper Midwest area and from Maine clear over to Washington. I do a lot of business in Montana, up in that area because there’s a lot of people moving over the mountains and putting up big houses. And we’re starting to do more and more in Colorado. We’re moving more down in that area and getting stuff down into California -- not as much, but we’re starting to get into that area more and more all the time. The Florida market, Texas -- all over the United States. There’s a lot of business to be had down in the Carolinas, in that area.

Click here to view a followup article:
  Part 2, BWI’s Burkhardt Bears Down

For earlier columns in this category, click on the link below or hit the 'List All' button.
Keeping an Eye on Erie Controls’ Kopacz  May 2002
Cruisin’ with Krudico’s Kruse  April 2002
Back to Value with Osmonics’ Spatz  March 2002
An Exchange with DI Water’s Jim Hunt  February 2002
Nailing It Down with Nelsen Corp.’s Dave Nelsen  January 2002
Getting it Right with Water-Right’s Gruetts  December 2001
Executive Q&A: Gettin’ Crafty with Superior Water’s Kratzer  November 2001
Chewing the Fat with Atlantic Filter’s Wakem  October 2001
Fleming upon Severn Trent Services  September 2001
Part, 2, Fleming upon Severn Trent Services  September 2001
Two Sides of Culligan, Part 1: Northbrook & the Dealers  August 2001
ResinTech’s Mike Gottlieb Goes Mobile  July 2001