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Firm Makes It Easier to Control Valuable Resource

Firm Makes It Easier to Control Valuable Resource Most Creative Small Business Product – Rain Master Irrigation Systems By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter You won’t find Rain Master Irrigation Systems products on the shelves at Home Depot, but it is at the Home Depot Center in Carson, the sporting events venue home to Los Angeles’ soccer franchise L.A. Galaxy. The Simi Valley company’s irrigation control systems help control how much water is dispensed over more than 1 million square feet of ground. A computer controls how fast the water is sprinkled and when. Then there are some other places where Rain Master systems can be found. “Some of the richest people in the world have our systems,” said Jim Sieminski, the company’s president and CEO. Rain Master, established in 1981 by three renegade engineers who left the aerospace industry, sells the computerized systems for $30,000 to $500,000, depending on the size of a given property. Its sales have improved steadily since 1997 at a rate of 15 percent per year, Sieminski said. So far this year, sales have jumped 25 percent compared to the same time last year. The reason: water is a costly commodity and people want to save money. “I think the demand is coming from the price of water going through the roof,” Sieminski said. “The population keeps increasing, so scarcity of water is hitting many parts of the country and that’s driving the sales of these systems.” Many Rain Master clients are municipalities, which use the company’s systems to control the hundreds of water sprinklers at parks, streets and other places. The City of Newport Beach in Orange County has been a satisfied client. “We’re saving up to 30 percent on our water bill,” said Tom Diaz, an irrigation specialist with the city. Newport Beach has been in the process of computerizing its irrigation systems over the past 30 years, but it first ordered a Rain Master product 10 years ago. About two years ago, the city upgraded its systems to be accessible through the Internet using one of Rain Master’s newest products. And it’s still continuing to spend, investing about $50,000 per year to upgrade the systems with the latest technology Rain Master has to offer, Diaz said. Rain Master in fact prides itself on technological innovation. It was the first to design and sell a remote control for irrigation systems. The company was born when three aerospace engineers employed at Litton Guidance and Control figured they could apply emerging microprocessor technology to irrigation. “When they started, they were pioneers in the applying microprocessors to the irrigation industry,” Sieminski said. “Most irrigation was mechanical” in 1981, Sieminski said, and wasn’t exactly efficient. Water sprinkles had to be turned on by flipping a switch, and if there were many sprinklers, there were many switches. Water was wasted because there was nothing such as flow control. “You could remove all mechanical problems by using microprocessors,” Sieminski said. The company is essentially a technology firm, because its products which range from command control systems to power sprinklers to weather stations that change irrigation schedules are computer-based. “It’s nothing more than a desktop (computer) with some software that controls irrigators in the field,” Sieminski said. The company has 30 employees at its facility in Simi Valley, most of which are engineers that perform final assembly and test devices before their shipped out for sale. Most of the systems’ initial assembly is done overseas. Large market share Rain Master has 15 sales representatives throughout the nation, and its systems are sold throughout the country. Most of its sales are in California, where the company has approximately 50 percent market share in irrigation controls, not including golf ranges, Sieminski said. Rain Master has competition in the form of three or four large companies that manufacture similar products, Sieminski said. There are also smaller companies in the market. Overall, it doesn’t faze Rain Master because it is a pioneer in the industry. “I think the thing that makes us unique is we have to maintain a technological edge, whereas the other guys can use their marketing clout,” Sieminski said. “We’ve always been on the innovative side.” Rain Master has also focused on customer support, employing “sophisticated sales people” who can offer product maintenance advice as well as market the products, Sieminski said. “They’ve become an integral part to an end user,” he said. “They’re invaluable in so many ways.”

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