Published: November 26, 2021 | Updated: November 27, 2021

Wat-er duo: Father and son are a hard act to follow with successful water softener business

Ben and Keith Martin, Directors, Southern Softflow Ltd. Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

It began like so many businesses.

A side hustle operating from a residential garage.

Twenty two years later and the water softener venture started by Keith Martin has more than 3,000 customers, impressive new premises at Three Legged Cross and annual sales of over £400,000.

Above all, it’s become a second-generation business after Keith’s son, Ben, 34, decided to swap his high-flying career in the City to join Southern Softflow.

A decision that shocked, and delighted, Keith, 60, in equal measure.

“When Ben asked if he could join the family business, well you could have knocked me down with a feather,” said Keith who started the business while a Number One Press Minder in the print industry.

“But he really did his homework.

“He asked for the last five years’ accounts and went through them with a fine toothcomb.”

Together the two are now planning to expand the business which serves an area stretching from Dorchester in the west, up to Amesbury near Salisbury and across to the New Forest and Southampton.

One thing’s for sure.

While Dorset remains a hard water area, companies such as Southern Softflow, which supplies and installs water softeners and drinking water systems, will continue to thrive.

This part of the world, and much of the south coast, has some of the hardest water in the UK.

When it rains, the water falling from the clouds is completely soft.

It’s not until the rain hits the ground that it begins to absorb minerals such as calcium and magnesium found within the earth.

These minerals, while natural, create scale build-up causing hard water damage throughout the home.

The effect can be seen all sorts of ways.

From scale and scum tidemarks around baths and sinks to unsightly white marks on shower screens, chrome appliances and surfaces that come into contact with hard water.

Shower heads and taps can become clogged up, dishes and glasses smear and getting a decent soap lather proves difficult.

Unseen effects include blocked pipes making heating inefficient, scale build-up in boilers and water flow restrictions.

Hard water can also have a negative health impact, drying out skin and hair causing a flaky scalp and hair breakage as well as aggravating eczema.

Water softeners are devices used to soften a property’s water supply.

They remove magnesium and calcium from hard water using a process called ion exchange to prevent limescale from forming.

Southern Softflow specialises in the supply and installation of non-electrical water softeners.

The whole process is powered by water pressure and does not need an electrical supply.

It also supplies the salt, an essential item for any water softener.

Keith said: “The business started small but then began to snowball.

“I found I was getting a lot of repeat business as word spread.

“I was doing about three softeners a week and a couple of tonnes of salt but since Ben joined the business it’s expanded a lot.

“We’re now doing up to eight softeners a week and three to four tonnes of salt.

“Steve Wyatt, of Wimborne Plumbing, installs our water softeners.

“He does a great job and is an important member of the team.”

Ben, who graduated from Cardiff University with a BSc degree in Economics and then worked for JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and NatWest Markets, said: “Our skills are complementary and we work together really well.

“Dad particularly enjoys the customer interaction while I concentrate on the finances, marketing and office side.

“The business has a huge amount of potential.

“The more I looked at it, the more I wanted to be a part of it.”

In June, Southern Softflow moved into its new offices. showroom, workshop and salt storage area at Axis 31, Woolsbridge Industrial Park, Three Legged Cross.

The 1,100 sq ft building was acquired through Keith and Ben’s respective pension pots.

Ben said: “We’re taking on a permanent part-time member of staff to help with the office and provide additional support.

“We also intend to buy a third van.

“Extra touches have been added, such as presenting a box of Dorset produce to customers having a new water softener installed.”

Keith added: “We’re one of the longest established water softener businesses in the area.

“It’s been pretty clear to me that the most successful companies in this sector are ones which have a second generation involved.

“It’s just one of the reasons why I’m so pleased Ben decided to join the business.”