Tank doctor goes with flow as sales dry up

Larissa Nicholson April 16, 2012

Recent heavy rain in Canberra is unlikely to help an already struggling rainwater tank industry, but local small businessman Jose Serrano has managed to diversify by fixing tanks that were poorly installed by fly-by-night suppliers when sales were booming.

Mr Serrano calls himself a ''troubleshooter'', installing solid bases and straightening leaning tanks that were leaking water into Canberra backyards.

He also does some work fitting decks, which is fortunate given he sold just two rainwater tanks last year, down from an average of 30 annually in the couple of years following the Canberra bushfires of 2003.

Mr Serrano said that, perhaps ironically, when there is rain the last thing most people think about is storing it.

''People want tanks when there's no water,'' he said.

In the 15 years since he started selling tanks for Canberra homes, Mr Serrano has weathered the many storms the industry has thrown at him.

He said that during the drought, Canberra residents were keen to do their bit to save water and this - coupled with federal and territory government rebates - helped drive sales of rainwater tanks.

Soon several new players in the market popped up, offering cheap tanks and installation, but not all of the deals on offer were as good as they seemed.

In November 2010, large Canberra supplier Get Tanked went into voluntary liquidation.

Peak industry body Rainwater Harvesting Association of Australia executive officer Alexandra Mannell said there had been a decrease in the number of rainwater tank suppliers over the past couple of years, partly due to wet weather post-drought.

''There's plenty of people who will say there's plenty of water now. We want to remind the public that these things move in cycles,'' she said.

Ms Mannell said some businesses had gone under because they had failed to recognise that the market they entered a few years ago was inflated by the drought and government rebates.

Even for the businesses that have survived, times are tough.

Fyshwick businesswoman Sarah Dew, of Easyrain Tank Suppliers, said dry weather was always best for her business, but in the past the onset of heavy rain had sometimes led to customers trickling in as people looked to repair or update their rainwater collection and storage systems.

But not so this time, and Ms Dew blamed the retail downturn for her lack of sales.

''It's very concerning, no one's got any money to spend,'' she said.

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