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Meet John Bauer of Water Harvesting Solutions in Downers Grove

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Bauer.

John, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Over nine years ago, my friend, Stuart Bailin, approached me about a business niche that he had been exposed to in his sales of water treatment devices and systems. He was seeing several commercial projects in the Chicago area that were incorporating mechanical systems for reusing or “harvesting” rainwater and greywater for non-potable applications like toilet flushing and irrigation. Contractors were totally unfamiliar with the systems and were telling him that there was a real opportunity for a knowledgeable company to offer them.

I was a marketing consultant at the time, anxious to find an opportunity to build my own company. I researched the market for water harvesting systems and found no companies positioned in the commercial segment. I am a “green” guy, and was interested in a business that could be helpful to the environment. My research suggested that there would be growing interest in on-site water reuse in commercial buildings, and that there could be a good business opportunity for a market innovator.

So Stuart and I teamed up to launch Water Harvesting Solutions (aka “WaHaSo”). Stuart handled all the engineering and technical work while I handled sales, marketing and the business side. We funded the business ourselves while we sold the first several systems over the first few years. We are two very different individuals, and complement each other’s skills. As sales grew, we added part time then full time help in client services, operations, field service and accounting.

Since that time, we have worked on over 1,000 projects throughout the U.S. and Canada, and our business continues to grow. We have five total employees and two part time helpers.

Has it been a smooth road?
No one who was ever built a business from scratch rides a smooth road!

We were designing, building and supporting water systems that were built from standard parts like pumps, filters and controls. But the applications were novel and there have definitely been many lessons in the “school of hard knocks” in what works and does not work well for water harvesting. As much as we would like to build one system that could be sold many times, every site has unique water sources and uses, and requires a custom solution to work well. Our business philosophy is to fully support every system we sell, regardless of the status of the warranty or the distance we must travel to get it working correctly and make the customer happy. In some cases, that has resulted in projects with no net profitability; but we felt that was essential to being successful long term.

The other big “bump” is the realization that water reuse systems are rarely required in a project and are therefore subject to being value-engineered or “V.E’d” out of many of the projects we support. It is a long sales cycle to begin with, due to the time it takes to design and build a commercial project, and it is disheartening to spend one to two years on a system for a project only to learn that our system has been cut in an effort to reduce the overall project costs. So we must identify and then load our pipeline with hundreds of projects, knowing that a sizeable percentage will never happen.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with – Water Harvesting Solutions – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a unique company in a small, but growing market segment – water reuse systems for commercial buildings and projects. There are many regional companies that sell rainwater systems to homeowners or small businesses. And some equipment suppliers also sell commercial systems. But we are the only national company that is solely focused on designing, building, and supporting the installation and service of commercial systems.

With nearly nine years of experience, we are the knowledgeable leaders in our little industry, with over a hundred systems installed and hundreds more in the “pipeline”. That gives us a real market advantage over smaller competitors or start-ups that might want to challenge us directly.

Rainwater harvesting for irrigation was the genesis of the industry, but we have always prided ourselves in evaluating all potential sources and uses of onsite water to maximize total water savings. So, for instance, it is not unusual for one of our systems to capture rainwater and greywater and condensate to irrigate landscaping and flush toilets – or more. That makes us unique. We innovated the analytic tools and reporting to quantify and optimize the water savings, and our engineering team is always anxious to take on a unique challenge presented by a project.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Let’s face it, Chicago has plenty of fresh water available that could last forever, and we get lots of rainfall to boot. But Chicago has also proven itself to be very progressive in the “green industry,” and very supportive of green building projects – many of which have incorporated water reuse systems – because they support a sustainable environment. To that we are thankful. Mayors Daley and Emanuel have both been supportive of green projects and that was essential to getting our business off the ground.

So I am proud to live in a city that really cares about the environment, and supports efforts at sustainability. I worry most about the finances of the city and our state, and the pressure to cut every program possible to save money. That will make it increasingly difficult for our city to think beyond pension payments and essential services in the coming years. That will hurt our industry and other investments in “optional” technologies. So we will have to increasingly depend on private financing to keep our sales growing in the state. It is our hope that the examples set by the city in our early years will help us to continue to propel growth in the private sector.

Pricing:

  • “Average” cost of a commercial rainwater system to flush toilets or irrigate landscaping: $75,000-110,000 without installation
  • “Average” cost of a commercial greywater system to flush toilets or irrigate landscaping: $120-170,000 without installation.
  • Smaller, simpler rainwater systems generally cost $40-60,000.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Copyright 2017 Water Harvesting Solutions, Inc.

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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