Niche offering can create new business opportunity
Branching out into pool tile cleaning can be lucrative for your pool business — after all, calcium and scum buildup on tile is inevitable over time — but not every pool company is equipped with the skills and tools to clean it well and prevent damage. It’s important to first learn from well-versed experts.
Superior Pool Solutions in Glendale, Arizona, offers tile cleaning as a specialty service for customers. Superior provides a free estimate after assessing the calcium buildup on the tile, says Robert Spacy, owner and operator. Seeing the pool helps Spacy determine whether the pool needs to be drained partially or fully, what kind of tile it is and whether the pool will need an acid wash.
Pool pros should also figure out where to drain the pool water before commencing the job. “Here in Arizona, you can be fined for draining into the street,” Spacy says, “so it’s important to locate your clean outs [and] prescreen for proper draining areas.” If he can’t locate the cleanout, Spacy gets a one-time draining permit from the city (but he first has to neutralize the chlorine).
Brian Isbell’s business, Precision Pool Tile Cleaning in Eastvale, California, does more than 1,500 cleanings a year. Exclusively doing tile cleaning for nearly 20 years, Isbell’s first step on a new job is to temporarily disable the customer’s pool equipment, then drain the pool water 8 inches below the tile line using a company pump.
Precision then sprays an environmentally safe tile and grout cleaner and nonabrasive on the tile surface and, using the same pump, vacuums the spent media from the bottom of the pool, leaving no residue. Precision also offers a private-label tile sealant that lasts up to two years, enhancing the look of the tile and making it easier to maintain between professional cleanings.
Mark Howard, franchise partner for Poolwerx Union Hills in Phoenix, says calcium and body oil are the two most common pool tile stains. Body oil stains are easier to manage and typically only require a reliable tile cleaner; Howard’s team uses 3X:Chemistry’s SR3 Scale Remover and Tile Cleaner — and a basic scrubber. “Calcium stains, however, can be tricky,” he says. “For this type of staining, we’ll need to use glass bead media with a compressor, media hopper, pressure tank, media dryer and approximately 300 feet of hose to blast it off [the tile].”
Spacy says he’s seen homeowners trying to remedy a calcium stain on their own with a pumice stone and brute force. “It’s very inexpensive, but can easily damage tile and leave scratches on the tile surface,” he says. “I see it all the time and there’s usually evidence of a used-up pumice stone, sore fingers and an upset spouse somewhere close by. Not to mention poor results, which usually leads them to call me to remove the calcium buildup via media blasting. It’s more costly, but you have a professional involved.”
Isbell’s company has three mobile cleaning units that can provide tile cleaning services on at least six pools per day, per truck. His company uses dry air combined with other materials such as glass bead, MaxxStrip blast media or crushed glass and is careful to select the right material depending on the surface: “Glass tiles, black tile, marble and very thick calcium deposits require the MaxxStrip material so as not to scratch or etch the tile,” Isbell says.
Isbell uses Clemco or Schmidt brand sandblast pots to apply the abrasion media, but says sometimes his team has to scrub tile by hand if the staining isn’t deep and blasting would cause damage. Under these circumstances, Precision uses a private-label tile and grout cleaner.
A simple tile cleaning for body oils is included in the weekly pool service Poolwerx Union Hills provides — but for calcium staining, Howard charges an additional $5 per linear foot. The service fee may increase depending on the type of tile and the severity of the stain.
Spacy’s tile cleaning rate depends on the type of tile and media used for blasting. Superior’s service starts at $4.50 per linear foot for basic porcelain pool tile. Pricing for glass tile starts at $5.50 per linear foot to use MaxxStrip. “It’s really hard to have set pricing for tile cleaning because there are so many variables,” Spacy says. “Time is money, and if we have a pool with super thick calcium buildup, we bid accordingly.”
Isbell’s base price depends on the homeowner’s service area and includes lowering the water level, cleaning the tile and clean up. “We pride ourselves on our clean up,” Isbell says, which includes vacuuming spent material out of the pool and blowing and hosing down the patio or deck area — a service he says he’s rarely seen his competition offer. There are no hidden fees, such as a materials fee or tax, he adds, and the only additional cost is optional tile sealant.
All three businesses rely on word-of-mouth referrals and relationships with pool companies that do not offer tile cleaning services for new clientele.
“They help get our name out and see firsthand the quality of work we do,” Isbell says. “We, in turn, try to also give them business.” Because tile cleaning is typically done only every two to four years, Isbell says clients must have a stellar, memorable customer service experience so they’ll return to him the next time.
If you’re looking to expand into the tile cleaning, Isbell recommends first working as an apprentice with a reputable company, asking a lot of questions and researching. He’s mentored many individuals looking to start their own tile cleaning business and is willing to do so for others, and he’s also considering franchising in the future.
Individuals wanting to branch into tile cleaning should “train, train, train,” Howard says: “Tile can easily be damaged. If you aren’t training and managing in-house, ensure that your subcontractors are experienced so you aren’t damaging a client’s pool.” Spacy says tile cleaning can be a specialty service that sets a business apart from other pool service companies. “I look at tile cleaning like an art,” he says. “I love doing it and when my customer walks out and sees their tile for the first time [after I clean it]. That’s what it’s all about.”