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Rick Howe, President

The Pumpers' Partner

Rick Howe and Cape Cod Biochemical took the additive business in a new direction by marketing through septic contractors and emphasizing customer education

Reprinted from the "Pumper"

Until Cape Cod Biochemical Company came along, purveyors of septic system additives set themselves up as pumpers' competition - or even as their enemies.

Cape Cod owners Rick Howe and Lewis Garston chose instead to make pumpers their business partners. Their approach has served the industry and the company well. Since 1976, Cape Cod has supplied pumpers across North America with bacterial formulations, and Howe is a familiar presence at national and regional industry events.

Now president of Cape Cod, Howe speaks frequently at the annual Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo and at the state association conferences. He talks mostly about customer service and pumper and homeowner education - the twin foundation on which the company grew. Howe's efforts have helped upgrade the industry's image while also helping pumpers use education to build lasting and profitable customer relationships.

In the 1970's Cape Cod supplied a bacterial.enzyme formulation to federal housing authories to help solve a foaming problem in the plumbing of high-rise apartment buildings. Seeing a need to diversify, Howe and Garston began sending test mailings to various industries: restaurants, schools, office buildings, hospitals, and others.

Time proved Garston right. He and Howe laboriously built a mailing list by acquiring every telephone directory in the country and taking the pumpers' names and addresses from the Yellow Pages. The 4,500 directories they gathered filled the basement of a three bedroom ranch home. Early direct mailings to pumpers drew response rates of 10 percent or more, versus two percent for the broad direct marking industry norm.

Cape Cod was among the eariliest supporters of Pumper magazine, which appeared in June 1979, and of the show now called the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo, which began in 1981. "We've advertised in every issue of Pumper, and we've exhibited at every Expo." Howe says. "Those have become the platforms for pushing our ideas of better business through customer education."

"It became clear to us immediately that pumpers wanted a good program, and that they were conscientious, honest, good business people. We soon found our niche evolving, and our niche is essentially the miniaturization of treatment plants and commercial applications.

Cape had no serious competition for the first five years in the industry. Other companies sold additives, but not to pumpers. "They were selling to homeowners by direct mail or by media advertising." Howe says. 'They were telling the homeowners "You'll never have to pump your tank again.' When we put out a brochure that said pumping was a critical element of septic system maintenance, the pumpers just love it. I'm sure that accounted for our success at the beginning."

Through it all, Cape Cod has kept its focus. "We saw the value of education." Howe says, "There was just a huge, huge void. There was nothing written that a contractor could hand to homeowners to educate them about their systems.

Howe and colleagues developed a brochure, "What Everyone Should Know About Septic Systems" . It explains the basics of household water usage and conservation, septic system components and their functions, soil absorption systems, the reasons for system failure, and how to prevent failure, through water conservation, regular pumping, and regualr addition of bacteria.

"There are literally millions of those brochures in print", says Howe, "I'm sure it's the widest-distributed brochure in the trade. Previously, most literature available was dishonest or grossly inaccurate. A lot of material presented septic tank components in very strange ways. Looking nothing like what is actually in the ground. We started with the conviction that the public would appreciate an honest educational approach and that the septic industry was ready for an approach based on maintenance and education.

"Our marketing approach has always been compatible with the service pumpers provide, rather than in competition with it. Education steers the homeowner in the direction of maintenance, which means regular pumping and more service work for the contractor, plus ancillary benefits, such as being able to schedule work instead of constantly responding to emergencies.

Howe made sure Cape Cod also educated contractors. Materials help pumpers learn the science of waste treatment, understand how additives work and what they will and won't do, and know the federal, state, and local approvals required for using the products. Pumpers get ongoing education in the company newsletter, Cape Cod Digest.

Howe also supplies pumpers with a wide range of business-building ideas, including practical advice on marketing and delivering quality customer service.

"Associations are a key part of that." says Howe. "We belong to every industry association that we know of. In my presentations, I encourage contractors to present themselves professionally and with credibility, so that as an industry we can overcome some of the stigma that are attached to septic pumping."

Howe is quick to credit others for his own and Cape Cod's success. Long-time team member Joyce Gresh is "a student of the industry" and a valuable source of information for Cape Cod's customers.

Howe also learned from Al Rodenhiser, then president of the Massachusetts pumper association. "We spent an evening together at the first trade show.  says Howe. "I Iearned more about the pumping business that night than in any other single encounter I have ever been involved in.He taught me a wealth of knowledge. I'm not sure we would have been as successful as we've become without his input way back when."

Today, Howe returns the favor by helping pumpers across the continent to run more successful companies by promoting better business through customer education