Getting to know industry professionals
‘MEET THE POOL PROS’
If you are in the pool and spa industry, you’ve probably heard of pool industry expert Robert Lowry – But how well do you really know him?
Robert Lowry’s work in the pool and spa industry began with aquariums.
After graduating with a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Florida, he and his roommate, Joe Arbaczawski, developed a water clarifier for aquariums, made from an organic polymer. It did an excellent job of clearing the water.
Someone asked them if it would work in swimming pools and in 1973, Lowry’s career was born.
They called their company Robarb, an amalgamation of their two names, and named their clarifier Crystal Clear, which was later renamed Super Blue CC – a well-known product still in use today.
The two men worked well together for several years, but Lowry was a little more ambitious than his partner. Lowry wanted to create a line of pool and spa chemicals; Arbaczawski was satisfied with the one.
So, in 1977 Lowry found an investor, Stan Freeman, and together they started Leisure Time Chemicals, originally based in Glendale, California and ultimately moving to Irwindale.
“He didn’t know an acid from a base, and I didn’t know much about business at the time, but he had some money and I wanted to start a chemical company so we thought it was a good partnership,” Lowry said.
They began with a single clarifier which they named Spa Bright & Clear, and eventually became one of the largest spa chemical manufacturers in the world. By the time they were finished, they had 65 chemicals in their line, and were producing 4.5 million bottles of chemicals a year.
It was work that Lowry took a lot of pride in.
“I was the only chemist at Leisure Time. I formulated all of the products that Leisure Time Chemical sold from 1977 through 1985,” Lowry said.
According to Lowry, at Leisure Time, they did everything in-house except make the bottles.
“We had a 40,000 square foot building with twelve tanks, two reactors, four automated filling lines. We had our own silk screen department. We decorated our own bottles and packaged everything in-house,” Lowry said.
In 1985, they sold Leisure Time Chemical to Laporte, a London, England-based company that was at that time in the business of buying American specialty chemical manufacturers.
According to Lowry, they hadn’t planned to sell Leisure Time when Laporte approached them.
“We were expanding and making money – we were at our peak. It was a great time in my life because it was something that I enjoyed doing. I spent 12 to 14 hours a day in my lab and I loved doing it,” Lowry said.
But the offer was a good one – Lowry said they sold the company for millions and Lowry believed he had retired.
On a summer evening in 1986, Lowry and his friend, David Dickman, were sitting in his spa brainstorming ideas for the future. Dickman had recently resigned his position as editor for Pool and Spa News, and didn’t know what he planned to do next. “I told him that the pool service industry wasn’t getting much publicity from the trade journals,” Lowry said.
He’d been told by pool magazine editors that the publications don’t like to cater to the service side of the industry because it doesn’t generate enough advertising income.
“We’ve got a spa magazine, a retailer magazine, a dealer magazine, but nobody taking care of service techs,” Lowry said.
So, they decided to start Service Industry News, a newspaper that would focus entirely on issues related to pool service professionals.
After several years, however, Lowry knew that it wasn’t the kind of work he was trained to do.
“I was spending a lot more time being a writer than I wanted to be. I wasn’t spending time on being a chemist, which is what I loved to be. It was like turning in a term paper every two weeks, and I just didn’t want to be a journalist,” Lowry said.
Lowry wanted to sell the newspaper, and Dickman wanted to keep it, so Dickman bought him out.
After leaving the paper, Lowry worked briefly for Del Industries, manufacturers of ozone pool and spa equipment, but when senior management changed, Lowry decided to quit. However, Lowry said that one of his duties for Del was acting as a pool industry consultant, helping Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies with some of their technical issues, since they didn’t have a chemist in 1990.
That experience launched his next career path as he took a position as Technical Director with Leslie’s for the next five years.
“I was in charge of reformulating or developing new products, and in charge of their safety program, and in charge of their EPA registration for all of their pesticides, and I was also in charge of working with their training manager to train all of their employees about water chemistry,” Lowry said.
He also created a water chemistry technical notebook for Leslie’s store managers and a rewrote their pool owners’ manual.
After the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, Lowry decided to leave California, finding his new home in the Northeast mountains of Jasper, Georgia. There, he worked CPO instructor and as a consultant, with Leslie’s continuing to be one of his clients. Along the way, he continued his the work of his true passion as a chemist, and formulated new products for Natural Chemistry, Leslie’s and other chemical companies within the industry.
“The cool advantage I had as a formulations chemist at Leslie’s was that when I made a formula, because Leslie’s had direct interaction with consumers, we could see whether the sales were going up for a given product, and that would indicate whether a product was being accepted and working,” Lowry said. “For instance, the clarifier that they had when I came to work there – I didn’t think it was very good, so I reformulated it and about nine months later we checked on the sales of the clarifier, and they were up like 300% and that indicated we were making a better product.”
Lowry says the last product he formulated was liquid conditioner, or liquid cyanuric acid, and sold the marketing rights to Natural Chemistry, which was recently bought by Biolab, and one of the reasons Biolab wanted to acquire Natural Chemistry.
Altogether, Lowry says he has developed or formulated 111 chemical products for the pool industry.
He’s also written a lot of books for the pool and spa industry.
In 2004, IPSSA asked Lowry to write a training manual, so Lowry published IPSSA’s first Basic Training Manual in 2006, which was revised in 2016. In 2008, he published part 2 of the Manual, which focusses on equipment and 2009, Lowry published IPSSA’s Intermediate Training Manual. These books have also been translated into Spanish. In the meantime, he was also invited to re-write Leslie’s Swimming Pool and Spa Owner’s Manual.
In 2009, he met Silvia, the woman who would become his wife, and moved to Lima, Peru, where he lives today.
Since then, he has continued his work as a consultant at Lowry Consulting Group, LLC, and started the Pool Chemistry Training Institute with the late Greg Garrett in 2019. According to Lowry, it’s a pool care methodology similar to that recommended by the online forum, Troublefreepool. Using two texts, “Pool Chemistry for Service Pros” and the more comprehensive 228page “Pool Chemistry for Residential Pools” students can attend a one-day certification course that features the most up-to-date best-practices on water chemistry.
Since its inception, the institute has certified over 600 pool professionals with the help of 8 total instructors across the country. And when the pandemic began, the institute moved to a virtual format, and has held 10 classes in the last year.
“It gives me a warm feeling that people are seeking out this education. Since I got into this industry, I have tried to find scientific fact-based information and take that complex chemistry and reduce it to something that service techs and store personnel can understand,” Lowry said.