Like so many others, Patrick Crais didn’t wind up in the water industry “on purpose.” A Naval Academy graduate, Crais spent some time overseas, and then went to Westminster Seminary for a year after getting out of the military. After what he calls a “wonderful year off” with time to reflect and simply enjoy life, he started really thinking about getting a job.
That’s when his mechanical engineering background from the military helped land an engineering position with an irrigation product manufacturer and he got his first taste of the importance of conserving water. From there it’s become a passion.
In 2009, Crais founded Blue Watchdog Conservation in San Diego. The company’s mission is conserving water and offering consultation services to help others do the same.
Approaching with passion.
Crais is someone who approaches life with enthusiasm. He loves doing speaking engagements and enjoys being an adjunct teacher at a local community college. “I get really excited about conservation,” Crais says. “Even though I’m a mechanical engineer and have that technical background, I’m also a good speaker and I know I need to play to my strengths. The combination of studying sprinklers as an engineer and finding better ways to do things and wanting to work with clients who are passionate like me, made the idea of my own business the ultimate goal.”
While Crais enjoyed his work in irrigation product manufacturing, in time he developed the desire to be on the business end.
“There’s a lot of focus on web-based controls and other tools to conserve water, but our mission is helping anyone put in the right water management system – whether web-based or not – and assisting them in conserving water as efficiently as possible,” Crais says. “That has evolved into working for water agencies and even taking the Blue Watchdog system and putting it into the hands of the water agencies with a program we call BlueDashboard.”
That effort ultimately grew into its own business – BluePandas, a company that works with water agencies to help them meet their program goals. “BluePandas has allowed us to do some of the same things we do for our Blue Watchdog clients, but on a bigger scale,” Crais says.
Beyond the sprinklers.
Crais says the company looks at anyone with a lot of property as a “water agency.” While they started out primarily working with one- or two-acre properties, the company now travels the region and works with properties as large as 120 acres. “We even do indoor evaluations now,” Crais says. “I don’t just look at sprinklers. Our focus is not solely on irrigation but on ‘how can you manage your water better, overall.’ That includes looking at toilets. Some of these people have $400,000 water bills a year and aren’t doing anything to change it. So I come in and talk about taking over that management process.”
Let there be light
Patrick Crais, founder and owner of Blue Watchdog Conservation in San Diego is a conservationist.
While his business is primarily focused on water management, he knew that he wanted to help customers conserve valuable resources in general.
That’s why he also began offering LED outdoor lighting services to Blue Watchdog’s customers.
“The mission of water conservation is directly related to energy,” Crais says.
“The labor of doing water efficiency projects also ties in well to creating energy efficient outdoor lighting. The skill sets are closely related.”
That made the service a natural fit.
Still, Crais says there was a learning curve as he and his staff became familiar with the lighting products.
“We jumped in with both feet into the FX lighting company due to their local presence and also their superior product,” he says.
“We are committed to only putting in LED lighting. The labor savings over a 10-year period, which is the warranty period for FX, is just too much for our clients to be missing out.”
During the last four years, the service generates approximately 15 percent of the company’s overall revenue.
Crais says it’s typically an add-on service for existing clientele. It’s become a great way to drive some additional revenue out of an already-going project.
Crais says better product is part of the solution, but it’s not the whole picture. “You could have the best equipment in the world with smart controllers and the works, but if you’re not using it properly it doesn’t mean a thing,” he says. “Our effort is not just on the product lines, but on the management system itself. How can we equip you to use the products the best way possible?”
Although Crais is trained in the irrigation field he says the focus is more on being “water conservationists” than technicians. “We train our people in irrigation but also in water management operations,” he says. “We’re not just trying to create good irrigation techs, but also good water managers. I also try to turn each employee into their own ‘small business owner’ in the sense that they run their own show. I can’t be everywhere at once and I need employees who can do things on their own.”
A three-fold approach.
That’s not to say the company doesn’t do irrigation repair and service. “We definitely do repairs,” Crais says. “We’re just not looking for sprinkler repair jobs that are a one-hour fix and the sprinkler is back to working but running inefficiently.
“We are conservationists and we want clients to care about conserving this precious resource as much as we do. We not only want to work with people who believe water is important enough to save but we want to work for people who believe that too. Our employees and our clients both agree with that mission. We’re all about saving water and making clients happy in the process.”
Crais says the company offers a three-fold service. “We’ll typically do a repair day or two where we take care of any major problems such as wire issues or man line leaks,” Crais says. “At the end of those repair days we pitch a bid with an itemized and prioritized list such as putting in a sub meter or putting in a flow sensor. It may even include just aerating a lawn – something that we don’t even do ourselves. We take a holistic view as we’re not just looking to do what’s best for us but what is truly best for the client. The goal is what would most effectively save water. Not, what’s the highest profit margin?”
For clients continuing their services with Blue Watchdog, the company does an “efficiency improvement project.” “We don’t call it a sprinkler install,” Crais says. “We may change out 150 of the 300 heads and we will spend a lot of time on the lawn looking into the biggest problems. We’re big into retrofitting existing systems with things like sub meters and pressure regulators. We definitely like web-based controllers but we also recognize that’s not always a good fit for our market as many of them already have landscapers.”
The final phase is water management operations. “If the client is big enough, we sign a contract with them for ongoing water management through web-based controllers or other efforts,” Crais says. “We have one employee that drives around once a week and takes meter readings, all of which go into BlueDashboard.net, which we use to manage our sites. Once a month we send a report to the client showing what they saved.”
It largely comes down to strategic planning. “Our goal is to have a plan for every single gallon of water used. We want to make irrigation management as simple as possible for the client. Keeping it simple makes it more likely to be successful.”