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Beware - Snake Oil Sales Still Exist In Water Treatment

Beware - Snake Oil Sales Still Exist In Water Treatment - Cascadian Water

Gabe Ergler |

"Non-local water softeners don't work here"

(This is an actual quote from someone selling water treatment)

WARNING: This will offend some. But I’m okay with that. And I’m okay to defend what I write below. What I’m not okay with is the proverbial black eye that some are giving the water treatment industry. This comes in the form of unethical conduct and misleading others. The below is my attempt to help correct some of the misinformation floating around.

And if you’re here to understand what happened recently in Arizona, then read on.

One more quick note…

I’m very fortunate. I’m one of those people who gets to do what they love, every single day. In my job, I literally get to make people smile for a living. It happens every day. When someone’s water goes from bad to good.

I started O3 Water Systems (Cascadian Water) decades ago. And I can tell you, it’s only getting sweeter. And today, I happily spend my time helping other water professionals, both locally and internationally.

And so what I say below comes from a place of love, to help the industry, not hurt it.

Let’s start with the snake oil

The saying comes from the Old West days, when traveling ‘medicine man’ would roll in with just the right solution. A new snake oil from back East. Or, sometimes, the Far East. Whatever the story was, people soon realized that the “snake oil” didn’t work.

They’d been scammed.

It would be great to say that these guys went away with the horse and buggy. But they didn’t.

In the water filtration industry today, the snake oil salesmen are the ones claiming that “only” their product can fix this problem. Or that “none” of their competitors products will work.

We all expect some of this language. But what about when it doesn’t work? What about when these same salespeople are costing their clients thousands of dollars, do we expect this? That's what's happening and it is a bad deal for everyone.

As I alluded to above, one of the reasons I got into this business so many years ago — and one of the reasons I’m still in it all these years later — is because I find a deep satisfaction in looking my customers in the eyes and giving it to them straight. When I have a good recommendation, I give it. And when I don’t, I don’t.

And that’s why I’m writing this today.

Beware: the snake oil salesperson is still at large

Even today, in the age of the internet when anyone can pull out their phone and fact-check, they still exist. And they still hoodwink people.

Whether it’s charisma, audacity, or just taking advantage of people who are at low points, I don’t know. But I do know — and recent events have highlighted this again — they’re still out there.

So here’s what happened in Arizona recently…

Meet Pam

That’s not her real name. She and I had worked together as I networked with different real estate agents throughout the greater Phoenix metro area.

As it turns out, she’d just bought a new house. And as it often goes in Phoenix, she needed a water softener. So she ordered one from my company (Cascadian Water). For more context, while we serve the entire United States, our home office is based in Washington State.

And one more thing… we make softeners, but we don’t install them.

So Pam reached out to a local plumber. Two and a quarter hours later, she sent me this email:

“I was told the AZ water can destroy these soft water tanks made out of state (because they aren’t used to our water) …any feedback on that?”

Uh, yeah, I thought, I’ve got some feedback.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. But it still gets me when I see this kind of unabashed misinformation.

There are many problems with this plumber’s response, but I’ll give you two big ones.


The tanks for the water softeners don’t care what state the water comes from. Really, it doesn’t work like that. And so the water itself has no effect on the tanks.

And second,

There are not currently any water softeners being made in Arizona.

In other words, every single water softener currently in operation in Arizona (including the alternative recommendation of this plumber) would be from out of state.

This is just more snake oil, even in these modern times. There is no truth at all and it obviously confused the customer. It’s people like this plumber who have no regard for the truth or their customers.

So what's the solution?

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave that wouldn’t allow these people to spread misinformation. But I don’t.

Instead, here is a quick list of what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

  1. Educate yourself. Before you go straight to a solution, be sure you properly understand what is causing the problem.
  2. Challenge statements like Pam did. You don’t have to be an expert to know when something sounds a little off. Even if you can’t pin-point why, get a second opinion.
  3. Keep asking Questions. The easiest way to know that you’ve got the right solution is to keep asking until you no longer have any questions. It sounds really simple, but a lot of people don’t do this. At first, you might feel foolish (you’re not). Or you might just be working with someone who doesn’t like to answer questions. In that case, ask someone else.
  4. Talk to multiple sales people. Even if you plan to buy from Company A, talk to the sales person from Company B (and C). If you’re on the right track with Company A, then talking to others will only confirm that. And if you’re not, then you’ll be glad you talked to others.
  5. Ask for specific comparisons. When you’re talking to multiple sales people, ask them to compare their solution to others. When you do this, you’ll see pretty quickly which sales people and companies come out on top.
  6. Get it in writing — before you buy. Whether it’s guarantees or warranties, get them in writing before you buy. And don’t settle for blanket statements, like, “you get the full warranty.” Ask to see that full warranty. This is simple for sales people to do. So if you’re not worth that little bit of extra effort to them, then what’s going to happen when you actually have a problem?
  7. Be clear from the start on what’s important. This means, understand what you’re willing to move on, and what’s a deal breaker. Here are a few things to consider. What will this treatment system cost to (a) buy, (b) install, and (c) maintain. Other variables include: What is and who will do regular maintenance? Who will fix it when something goes wrong? What is the unit’s physical size (will it fit where you want it to go)? And what are the longer term economic and environmental impacts, such as, what will this cost me and the environment down the road?

Good To Know

Ask for specifications and conditions for operation and compare to other products under consideration. Some companies will have this others will not - beware of those who don't. 

Look at verified product and company reviews. Verified reviews are a good barometer of the product and company. See Cascadian Verified Reviews Here