Two companies poised for rebirth and growth join forces
We’ve all seen it happen in the pool and spa industry: Someone gets a pool or hot tub — and for awhile, they are excited. They use it often. But over time, the water becomes hard to manage. They have to add more and more chemicals. Spa customers drain it, hoping that will give them a fresh start. Pool customers make multiple trips to their local pool dealer looking for a solution to their problems. Eventually, they grow frustrated.
Most normal people either accept their water is going to be
difficult, or they stop using the pool or hot tub altogether. Jan de Rijk is
not like most people. When the Dutchman started having issues with his hot tub,
he decided to solve the problem — which meant studying bacteria for seven years
— before he found a solution. de Rijk is not a chemist, nor did he have
experience in the hot tub industry at that time. He just wanted clean water.
An architect by trade, de Rijk started his research in 1997. He developed his product, AquaFinesse, and started testing it in 2004. By 2006, he was selling it in Europe, first in his home country of the Netherlands. Five years ago, he brought it to the United States. Earlier this year, de Rijk sold AquaFinesse to Clearon.
Using a combination of salts, de Rijk found a way to loosen
biofilm from surfaces so the sanitizer could kill the bacteria. His formula was
environmentally friendly — something he’s passionate about — and made it so
consumers could use less sanitizer and water over time.
“I have no education on chemical things but just used common sense,” de Rijk says. “How can you avoid the attachment of bacteria to surfaces to disturb their growth and regrowth? I managed to do that.”
Biofilm is big talk in the recreational water industry these days
and people are finally appreciating what de Rijk discovered all those years
ago. But it’s not only pools and spas that struggle with this slimy layer of
gunk: Biofilm also affects oil and gas, agriculture, medical and many other
industries. And that’s where de Rijk’s new passion lies.
really hard on the medical wound rinse,” says Bob Snodgrass, vice president of
AquaFinesse. Snodgrass has been part of the company since it came to the United
States. He and de Rijk have developed a close friendship. “His vision is to come up with a better
solution to help save limbs and lives. His passion is to eventually deliver a
wound rinse, in the meantime making all water a little safer, using less
caustic chemicals to where we can lower our footprint of sanitizers and
oxidizers. That’s his true story.”
While the potential applications of AquaFinesse are enormous, the company isn’t. This is where Clearon enters the picture.
“I love this
green technology; I’m so passionate about it because it’s really a benefit for
a better environment,” de Rijk says.
“This is the goal as
the industry becomes more aware that biofilm costs society billions of dollars.
We want to address this with an innovative solution. But our company is too small
to do that, and therefore we started talking with Clearon.”
Clearon and AquaFinesse worked together throughout the years but,
in 2018, the 60-year-old Clearon brought on a new CEO, who immediately
recognized the opportunity.
was piqued,” says Bryan Kitchen, president and CEO at Clearon. Kitchen comes
from the chemicals industry, having worked for DOW for about 15 years. He says
a large chunk of his time at DOW was in the biocides space. Clearon today
manufactures highly regulated chemistries, he says. “Whenever I hear about new and innovative
technologies to solve customer-specific problems, I’m really intrigued,”
Kitchen adds. “Even more
intrigued when I found out [AquaFinesse] is environmentally friendly. We spent
a tremendous amount of time making sure the science backed up the claims being
Another part of Kitchen’s vision for Clearon is to diversify
across industries and product lines.
“We have all of
the core competencies, not just as a dichlor and trichlor manufacturer, but also
being the best supplier into the rec water market of a variety of chemistries,
as well as being a premiere company globally in specialty chemicals,” Kitchen
says. “When you’re one
company and you participate largely in one region, that can present challenges
from a risk standpoint. We’re going across markets. We’re building on that
legacy in rec water.”
Brandon Bellah joined Clearon as its vice president of sales and marketing last May. One of the reasons he came to the company was the vision that Kitchen laid out — and Kitchen himself.
“He has the
most unique leadership style of anyone I’ve had the pleasure of working for,”
Bellah says. He says Kitchen engages each employee monthly in what he describes
as town-hall sessions. “He’ll
run these back-to-back-to-back,” Bellah says. “To the point where he’s giving up weekends to make sure he hits
every shift and every worker. He allows them to engage directly with him and
ask questions about the company. I’ve never seen a CEO have that level of
interaction. He’s not a guy hiding up in his tower — he’s the guy who’s going
to go roll up his sleeves and get in there with you. I think when you’re
transforming a company, you really need that style of leadership.”
Clearon’s first major new product announcement since the
acquisition of AquaFinesse is the release of its Clear Gold tablet. Taking the
high-quality trichlor of Clearon and patented AquaFinesse formulation in a true
with a lot of people who are using it, and the thing that they love is it
simplifies their life,” Bellah says. “With this tablet, you’re able to treat your pool faster, better,
more effectively and the amount of stuff that this takes care of, prevents,
clears up — it’s just unbelievable.” He adds that, in addition to making the
life of the homeowner easier, it can also save service professionals time. “That technology allows [service
pros] to become more efficient and increase productivity, which helps [them]
get more value or return on [their] investment.”
The tablet controls biofilm, algae and fungi, and is also a
clarifier, pH buffer, sanitizer, corrosion inhibitor and scale inhibitor. One
tablet once a week treats 10,000 gallons.
“When we first
took it to the EPA, the list of claims that they said we could make was
staggering,” Bellah says. “The
reason we called it gold is because we view this as the new gold standard.”
Bellah says a number of products and technologies will follow, in recreational
water and beyond.
“It’s a vision
that was laid out by our CEO,” he says. “He’s done an excellent job assembling a great team that can execute
Kitchen and his team are building on Clearon’s 60 years of
success and on what de Rijk developed from his own dirty hot tub and tenacity. “Rarely in your life do you meet somebody
like Jan,” Kitchen says. “He
loves what he does, he loves his company and he loves who he works with.”
This partnership gives de Rijk, the architect cum biofilm expert,
the chance to continue innovating, developing solutions for industries beyond
hot tubs and pools.
“Actually, it’s an amazing story,” de Rijk says. “I experienced it, but if someone else would have told me, I would have said ‘This is a boy’s dream.’”