Specialty pool finishes remain popular in tough economy

4 E 209 AqWith an uncertain year ahead, countless business sectors in the United States are getting a bit more creative in their approach to keeping business steady. And the pool finishes and coatings category is no exception.

While some companies are introducing new products, others are refocusing their attention on recently introduced lines and how they can be used in remodeling a client's backyard. Either way, business needs to keep moving forward and that means an opportunity to provide customers with different options when it's time to put the finishing touches on their pool or spa.

"Obviously, because of the economy, people are looking for the best bang for their buck," says Chris MacDonald, vice president of sales, PebbleTec, Scottsdale, Ariz. "I think a lot of times pool builders, when it gets to our aspect of the construction, are very conscientious with the homeowner's dollar.

"They'll be hesitant to introduce another expensive option, where I think we owe it the homeowner to show them value. Homeowners are looking for value right now. They are looking for longevity. They want to be able to turn the key on their pool and not have to touch it for many years."

Making It Last

According to Fred Zonino, sales and marketing manager for 3M Industrial Mineral Products, the specialty surfacing category has to work a bit harder to prove its value, thanks to the increased emphasis on cost. Commonly perceived as much pricier than your average pool plaster, specialty surfacing may face some tough days ahead.

But no need to be glum. The surfaces on the market today are worth the investment and give the client an end result with a lasting impression. From glass tile to glass beads to custom-colored quartz, these finishes provide pool owners with an option to make a long-term investment that keeps their pool beautiful.

Market Watch

"What we offer is a glass-bead exposed aggregate finish," says Linda Annoreno, business manager for Beadcrete USA, based in Glendale, Ariz. The finish contains solid, inert, recycled glass beads that are suspended in graded aggregates.

The product originated out of Australia about 15 years ago, according Annoreno. "We've been doing it in the United States about seven years. And just in the past three years, we've been getting the product out on a national level," she says.

Beadcrete's four series - Rio, Splash, Crystal, and Black and White - feature 18 different color combinations using three shades of blue, black and white beads. The Rio Series is a mix of glass bead and pebble, specifically 70 percent glass bead and 30 percent pebble, says Annoreno. "Some people still like that. It's the entry level, so some people who can't go to the all glass prefer the Rio." The others are strictly glass bead.

Annoreno touts Beadcrete as a smooth, durable, long-lasting and beautiful alternative to exposed aggregate. "When you look at a Beadcrete pool, you can see through the clear beads, and it just gives your pool a shimmer and a 3-D look."

Like Beadcrete, PebbleTec also offers something unique to the client. The company recently launched the Finishing Touches Tile Collection, featuring glass and porcelain tile collections designed to complement PebbleTec aggregates.

"We've taken this hiccup within the industry to refine our finishes from an ingredient perspective to work on the strength and durability of the finishes," says MacDonald. "We are constantly making [our product] stronger while respecting the price."

The Shoreline collection is a great way to achieve the effect of a glass-tiled pool, adds MacDonald: "This is really cool and something new and unique to the pool building business because you can take this tile and run the waterline right to it. The reflection gives the illusion that there's actually glass below the surface, all the while saving on the amount of tile that you have in the pool."

MacDonald has also seen intrest rise in the company's ShimmeringSea shell blend. PebbleTec introduced the product nearly 10 years ago, but the recent surge of attention is thanks to its affordable cost.

"It's become more popular because it can give a builder an inexpensive, nice add-on effect. It gives the finish a little extra pizzazz, a little extra wow," says MacDonald.

3M also offers a product with a variety of prices. Its Colorquartz Crystals collection, which allows clients to literally style an individual look for their pool, is available in different grades, as well as standard and premium finishes.

"Premium finishes contain a very high quantity of Colorquartz, like 80 or 90 percent," says Zonino. "And as a result they are much harder, more durable and a longer-lasting finish. But they are also more expensive than the standard finish."

While Zonino continues to sell Colorquartz on new builds, he's aware of a new tendency spreading through the industry. Many builders will agree that new-build sales are down across the board, so the shift of focus to remodels can be economically beneficial.

"The industry went into a slowdown about two years ago, and we were starting to see it in California, Arizona and then it spread to Florida," says Zonino. "So it's been kind of tough for the last couple of years. What a lot of builders and plasterers have done is shift their focus to remodeling. You can only postpone doing a pool for so long."

Time For A Touch Up

For the average middle-class family, $10,000 expenses during financially difficult times seem out of the question. But when put in to perspective, remodels are a sound investment. They fit in nicely with the well-established "staycation" trend.

With more homeowners being homebodies these days, updating the look of the backyard provides a refreshing view at a refreshing cost.

"When you are putting in a swimming pool, obviously to someone who's going to be spending $200,000 on a pool, cost is not a factor," says Annoreno. "But the average person who's putting in a $50,000 or $60,000 pool, once you get to the final finish, which is the interior, they've already spent all their money elsewhere.

"On a remodel, when you want to spruce up your backyard and the pool is already there, the Beadcrete is a nice option because you can spend $10,000 or $15,000 depending on the size of your pool, and totally transform your pool."

Annoreno says the product is extremely popular for remodels. When clients are sure they don't want an aggregate finish but can't afford glass tile, Beadcrete is a viable option.

Some pool and spa owners may just want something simple that'll make the area more visually inviting. PebbleTec also offers precast benches for 6-, 7- and 8-foot spas. The benches feature glass tile from the Finishing Touches collection, are set on a radius and are easy to install.

"The installer just goes in and installs in one day and PebbleTec's around it," says Mike Kraemer, tile production manager for the company. "It's very elegant and adds a lot of sparkle, light and class to the spa."

But not all makeovers require such large sums of money - or even additional construction. 3M offers a line of polishing pads that can save the homeowner from breaking into savings.

"As the pool gets older, and there's buildup of calcium deposits and that sort of thing, a lot of times the consumers face the choice of either putting up with or ripping off the finish and replacing it," says Zonino. "With the polishing pads, they might be able to polish the inside of the pool and actually get another year or two out of it."

Like other manufacturers refocusing on an older product, 3M's Flexible Diamond pads have been out for a few years, adds Zonino, stressing that there's still plenty of room for polishing pads in the category.

"With cost the focus today, if you were to buy the consumer a couple of years on a pool finish, you'd probably have their vote."

Going From Here

Specialty surface manufacturers maintain that their No. 1 priority remains their customers, whether new or returning. And that loyalty may be just what's needed to get through an uncertain 2009.

"We'll continue to be dedicated to the industry," says Zonino. "We'll kind of go where our customers dictate."

Industrial Strength

4 C 209 AqChicago Tank Lining has spent the last 50 years providing customers with quality industrial and commercial tank-lining services in Chicago and the surrounding area. CTL's work has run the gamut from sulfuric acid tanks to liquid sugar tanks to solvent and petroleum tanks and many others. Only recently, though, did the company make the move into pools and spas.

Pool Armor - an offshoot of CTL - has spent the last few years finishing pools at high-end hotels, parks and health clubs across the country, providing clients an option that gives their pool a seamless ceramic look with investment-grade, 100-percent solid epoxy coating.

Warren Brand, president, wanted to extend Pool Armor further, and has taken on the residential market in an effort to provide an industrial-strength coating for your everyday backyard pool.

"Once Pool Armor is applied to whatever surface we are applying it to, it becomes the new surface of the pool," says Brand. "The Pool Armor is so strong, that if you tried to pull it off the concrete it wouldn't come off. You'd have a chunk of concrete coming off with it."

Brand notes that the process is costly, so he urges any client considering Pool Armor to understand the product and really want it, because once it's on, it's on. But its longevity is one of its benefits, notes Brand.

"Let's say after two years or 20 years, somebody doesn't like the color or somebody has somehow damaged it. We wouldn't have to go through the same process we used to apply it. We could come out, sand it and either spray on or roll on new material right on to the existing Pool Armor."

The coating is applied between 30 to 80 mils using an airless spray application process. Made up of two components, the mix is heated up to 105 degrees and is "shot out of the gun at 4,500 psi through an orifice the size of an eye of a needle," adds Brand.

Pool Armor Standard is available in light blue, dark blue, white and black. The company also offers two higher-end lines, Pool Armor High Gloss and Pool Armor Artisan.

Pool Armor Artisan, a more individualized line, came about when Brand was asked to consult on the Peninsula Hotel in New York City. After meeting with another potential client who expressed his desire to create a two-tone effect throughout the pool, Brand realized that "with just a little creativity, you can do things with Pool Armor that can't be done with any kind of material."

Brand remains eager about the future of Pool Armor and its ability to bring something more exciting to the industry. He'd like to include incorporating customized glass and glazed tile; caricatures; personal photographs and gold leaf with the coating, giving pools a more personal and authentic feel.

"While we haven't done a lot of this yet, the potential is there for the right creative builder and for the right adventuresome homeowner."


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