I AM TOPEKA: John Levin, Lindyspring Systems
By SHALYN MURPHY Photos by JD MELTON
…he was starting to think that tires and gas weren’t going to fuel a successful career.
“I just wanted to be successful,” John said. “I wanted to be a millionaire and I was looking for the vehicle to achieve that goal.”
John was interested in succeeding in any type of work as long as he could make millions, so he started his search through face-to-face research at the service station.
“Anyone who looked like they had money, I asked them, ‘Are you a millionaire?’ ” John said. “Most of them said no. If they said yes, then I asked them ‘How can I do what you have done?’ My boss found out I was asking these questions and he wasn’t happy, but I kept at it.”
John believed he’d found his big break when he sold a set of tires to a man with a new 1957 Thunderbird. He wasn’t a millionaire but said he could introduce him to a promising field. John turned in his notice and started training for his new career in the water business.
John attributes his drive for success to two factors. Born in 1938 at the height of the depression, John grew up hearing stories about his hard-working great-grandfather, who had become a millionaire before dying in 1902. By the time John was born, his father was working as a taxi driver in Omaha, Nebraska, and the money was gone. Within a few years, his father was gone too, leaving John’s mother to raise her son alone. Although she struggled through physical illness and young widowhood, she was undeterred. His mother’s tireless enthusiasm and energy was a great motivating influence on his life.
“She was just a wonderful, wonderful lady. Nothing could hold her back,” John said. “When she was 90, Mom broke her pelvis, and the doctors told me she’d never walk again. A month later she walked out of the hospital, totally fine.”
In 1958, John began selling water softeners door to door. Though automatic water softeners had been around since the 1920s, and the popularity of mechanical clothes washers increased the market for residential softeners, this was still a fledgling industry in Topeka.
“I didn’t know a thing about it,” John said. “I thought I was a pretty good salesman, but I only had part of the talent. Selling water was totally different than selling a set of tires to a man who needs new tires.”
John spent more than a year learning the business, improving his sales skills and growing his customer base. Then he hired his first serviceman and six months later, his first salesperson. Within five years, he had a full sales staff of eight people and soon transitioned from a retail business to wholesale. In 1966, John took on the whole state of Kansas as a wholesaler, and by 1985 he was running 14 states.
Today John owns Lindyspring Systems, a wholesale company specializing in water conditioners, softeners and purified drinking water, with delivery and self-fill locations with distributors across the U.S., all using his preferred equipment, service standards and tried and true selling techniques.
These days, John spends much of his time visiting wholesalers across the U.S. to provide hands-on training and a listening ear to help solve their business challenges. A licensed pilot, he moves quickly from state to state in his 1970 twin-engine aircraft to visit his dealers face-to-face. He peppers those visits with practical guidance and fatherly advice, which he calls “the Levin truth.” His desire to build long-term relationships with clients also extends to his staff, dealers and colleagues.
“One of my first salesmen is still with me today,” John said. “Now he owns a Lindyspring dealership in Enid, Oklahoma. I’ve created five millionaires who have worked for me as dealers. Two of those were flat broke when they got to me.”
2018 marks a 60-year career in water for John, and though he achieved his teenage dream of millions, it hasn’t been without loss. John stresses the importance of learning from and remembering mistakes.
“When you have these life lessons, be damned sure you learn all the appropriate lessons from your failure,” John said. “I’m very grateful for all the things I’ve been through, all the things that happened to me. It’s been a good life, and that’s the Levin truth.”
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