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Sprinkler installactions account for 30 percent of revenue for Watersmith Irrigation, where Ryan Rook has added architectural and landscape lighting and lawn treatment services in his first year as owner.
Sprinkler installactions account for 30 percent of revenue for Watersmith Irrigation, where Ryan Rook has added architectural and landscape lighting and lawn treatment services in his first year as owner.

Business Spotlight: The Root of the Matter

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For the Rooks, blood doesn’t run thicker than water – their blood runs with the water as Watersmith Irrigation continues to support the Rook family tree.

The Nixa-based commercial and residential irrigation company is in the hands of second-generation owner Ryan Rook, who took over in March 2012, but the family presence goes deeper. Rook’s father, Tom, started the business in 1987 after leaving behind a career in hydraulics at oil and gas company Halliburton in Kansas.

“It was time for Ryan to take over,” says 58-year-old Tom Rook, who is now semiretired. “His whole life, he’s been listening to Watersmith Irrigation.”

Rook says his son began riding in the company truck and helping out at the age of 10. Other family members have been integral,  including Tom’s wife working as the first bookkeeper and his father as the first employee, albeit on a volunteer basis. Watersmith Irrigation’s first full-time employee was a cousin, and Tom Rook says it was two years before the first full-time employee outside the bloodline was on board.

“There’s a lot of pride,” Ryan Rook says of the family-owned business. “Your heart’s in it when you’ve been at the place your whole life.”

In his first year holding the company’s reins, Ryan added architectural and landscape lighting and lawn treatment sectors. What started with residential irrigation in the late 1980s quickly grew to include commercial irrigation design, installation and maintenance. Eventually, Watersmith Irrigation grew to employ 25 full time, but when the recession hit, the company downsized to its current 15 year-round staff and five seasonal employees.

“Those sectors are definitely growing,” says Ryan, a Drury University business administration and management graduate who holds irrigation industry certifications. “I add new lawn customers every week.”

Lawn care generates about 7 percent of Watersmith Irrigation’s revenue, which the Rooks declined to disclose. The bulk, about 60 percent, comes through the service department, which conducts backflow checks, winterizes irrigation systems and provides emergency services 24 hours a day.

Before the Great Recession of 2008, the main source of revenue was pumped in by the installation crews – now a 30 percent share of sales.

When new construction came to a near halt in the late 2000s, Ryan says installation for new irrigation systems suffered. While people weren’t looking for new sprinkler systems and rain and soil sensors, they did want to maintain the irrigation systems already in place.

“People were, and are, willing to spend the small fees to service what they have,” Ryan says, “even if they don’t want the bigger fee to get something installed.”

The design and installation sectors began to rebound in 2012, though much of that Ryan contributes to the growing commercial industry rather than residential clientele that generates roughly 70 percent of Watersmith Irrigation’s revenue.  

While it took Tom about 18 months after starting Watersmith Irrigation to bid on his first commercial job, Ryan says the commercial industry now accounts for 30 percent of the business, growing from 10 percent to 15 percent prior to 2007.

Among the commercial jobs completed, Watersmith Irrigation has worked on the soccer fields at Drury University, athletic fields at Nixa Junior High and the Blue Spring botanical gardens in Arkansas. The company also refurbished Battlefield Mall’s irrigation system.

David Ross, director of operations at Morelock-Ross Builders Inc., says the company’s strong relationship with Watersmith Irrigation began with Tom years ago and has continued to grow under Ryan’s leadership.

“The transition was very smooth,” Ross says, noting beyond contracts for Morelock-Ross’ commercial building, Watersmith Irrigation provides services at Ross’ personal residence. “They continue to deliver like clockwork.”

Ryan says the abundance of rain this summer has slowed business.

“Last year, we had a lot of calls,” he says of the drought conditions throughout 2012. “The start of this year started out pretty strong, so people were reacting to last year.

“The calls fizzled out big time in August because it was so cool and wet.”

During the transition to his son, Tom has looked back on the company’s early days. While he founded the business in the spring, Tom didn’t sell the first sprinkler system until June that year.

“I look back now and don’t know how we did it. That first year, we ate a lot of beans,” he laughs.

But where there’s water, there is life, and Watersmith Irrigation grew to exceed Tom’s own goals.

“Our objective was to make the same money as we did at Haliburton and pay for our own health insurance,” Tom says. “We exceeded that goal by leaps and bounds – we still look around and say, ‘How in the world?’”[[In-content Ad]]

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