How to Sell: Water-Treatment Systems

When selling water-treatment systems, keep in mind that these are fairly technical products and most consumers know little about their details. Be careful to not overwhelm them with tech talk.

A SNEWS® Training Center article written by the editors of SNEWS®

The Basics

• Know your customers' needs
• Ease of use and convenience matters
• Field maintenance may be important
• Speed of water delivery is key
• Water filtration and water purification -- there is a difference

Customers' Top Concerns:

1. Health
2. Convenience
3. Price
4. Taste

Close the deal with… a filter station with a container of water and display that you can use to allow customers to test filters to help them better choose the system they most like in the store.

The starting point
When selling water-treatment systems, keep in mind that these are fairly technical products and most consumers know little about their details. Be careful to not overwhelm them with tech talk.

The first step in matching customers with the proper device is determining whether they need to simply filter the water, or also purify it.

• A water filter is a mechanical device that removes bacteria and protozoan cysts (like giardia and cryptosporidium). The goal of a filter is to strain out microscopic contaminants, rendering water clear and somewhat pure.

• A water purifier is a mechanical or electrical device, chemical solution (iodine or chlorine) or combination of a mechanical filter and chemical solution that not only removes bacteria and protozoan cysts, but also removes or kills viruses.

Recommend a filter if customers will be traveling in North America, where the risk of contracting a virus is low and they are concerned about the use of chemicals or don't want the taste of iodine or chlorine in the water.

Recommend a purifier if customers will be traveling into Third World countries or into any areas where the water they may encounter might be contaminated by livestock or sewage.

Recommend a chemical such as iodine or chlorine alone if customers are concerned about bacteria, protozoan cysts and viruses, do not mind a slight chemical taste in the water or a few particles in the water, and do not want the added weight or bulk of a filter system.

Convenience factor
Once you have determined whether they need to filter or purify the water, or both, the next concern will likely be the speed and convenience of using the product. For example, a traditional pump product might be fine for the experienced gear-head who doesn't mind putting in the time and energy to siphon from a stream, while other folks may want a system that operates using gravity -- takes a bit longer, but while gravity is doing its work, they can be doing other things, like kicking back and watching a sunset.

Water filter options
The following are water filter options, with a few advantages and disadvantages of each.

a. Pump with a ceramic filter
Pros: Can clean in the field many times before it must be replaced; delivers clean water relatively quickly; a reliable system proven over time.
Cons: Lots of parts to carry; pumping water takes effort; requires cleaning and maintenance.
b. Pump with ceramic filter and carbon core
Pros: Carbon can remove the taste of any chemical added to purify water.
Cons: Like any pump, there are lots of parts to carry; pumping water takes effort; requires cleaning and maintenance. Carbon has a limited life and will stop absorbing chemicals once used up with no indicators it is not working anymore.
c. Pump with fiberglass filter
Pros: About as effective as ceramic.
Cons: Fiberglass filter doesn't perform as long as ceramic; lots of parts to carry; pumping water takes effort; requires frequent cleaning and maintenance.

Day hikers, or those covering short distances where there are known, reliable water sources, can opt for a filtration bottle

d. Water bottle with filter
Pros: Good for casual day hiker because a person can just scoop and go.
Cons: Not practical for filtering larger quantities of water during longer trips.

Water purifier options
Types of purifiers:

a. Pump with "structured matrix" filter that physically removes viruses
Pros: No need to add chemicals; a relatively quick process; removes debris.
Cons: Unit is not as lightweight as others; pumping requires effort.
b. Gravity system including a bag with hollow-fiber filter that drains into another bag.
Pros: No pumping required; no chemicals required; filter does not clog as frequently as other types.
Cons: Requires more equipment than a simple chemical treatment.
c. Chlorine or iodine chemical treatment
Pros: Most simple, lightweight option.
Cons: Must wait for purification process to finish (four hours for cryptosporidium), so no immediate drinking; alters taste of water; does not filter debris from water.
d. Electrolysis purifier (MSR Miox)
Pros: Lightweight and compact; no chemicals needed.
Cons: Requires batteries; does not remove debris.
e. UV light purifier
Pros: Quick process; no chemicals required.
Cons: Requires batteries; does not do large volumes quickly; does not remove debris (and is less effective in silted water).

What about pore size?
A customer may ask you to compare the level of filtration offered by various products. The "pore size" (basically the size of the tiny holes in the filter) indicates filtration capability. A product's instructions, or possibly the packaging, will offer a number for the "absolute" pore size (more important that the "nominal" pore size). A product with an absolute number of 0.2 microns or smaller will effectively remove the bacteria and protozoan cysts. If a customer doesn't bring up this subject, it's not necessary to discuss it, as it may just cause confusion. Some companies have taken pore size numbers off their packaging, so it's difficult to do side-by-side comparisons.

Care and feeding
All filters will eventually clog -- it's a sign that they've been doing their job. If customers force water through a filter that's becoming difficult to pump, they risk injecting a load of microbial nasties into their bottle. Some models can be brushed, or -- as with ceramic elements -- scrubbed to extend their useful lives. And if the filter has a prefilter to screen out the big stuff, tell customers to use it: It will give their filter a boost in mileage, which can then top out at about 100 gallons per disposable element. Finally, each filter has its own idiosyncrasies and care needs, so be sure your customers know to read a manufacturer's use instructions carefully.

As you close the sale mention that….

1. People should regularly clean filters to avoid product failure in the field.
2. Any filter can be turned into a purifier simply by treating the water with iodine or chlorine.
3. Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, mixed into iodine-treated water in small doses after the chemical has finished purifying the water will effectively neutralize the taste of the iodine.
4. After using a filter or purifier and when packing it away, prevent contaminated parts from touching the clean parts of the system. And do not allow hands that have touched contaminated water to make contact with your mouth.
5. Remind customers that most stomach ailments in the backcountry are not the result of contaminated water, but rather a failure to keep hands clean while in the campsite. Sell them some camp soap.



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