Making a splash: As water attractions grow, so does the Grand Junction firm that installs them.

Jerry and Heather Smith display a world map at American Sealants in Grand Junction tracking the locations of the projects in which their company has been involved. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Jerry and Heather Smith display a world map at American Sealants in Grand Junction tracking the locations of the projects in which their company has been involved. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Jerry and Heather Smith have been involved in some elaborate projects, including a swimming pool and aquarium at a Las Vegas resort where guests not only swim next to a tank full of sharks, but also slide down a tunnel that passes through the tank. Talk about making a splash.

Yet, that’s nothing compared to what the Smiths expect from what’s become an arms race of sorts to create ever larger and more complex aquariums, zoo exhibits and other attractions. Projects that used to involve mostly flat exhibit windows now feature curved windows, tubes and even domes.

“Some of the things you see now are mind-blowing,” Jerry says.

Heather agrees: “Everyone is pushing the limit. They want to see what they can do.”

It’s an exciting prospect for the Smiths, who literally make it their business to install and maintain acrylic enclosures and exhibit windows at facilities around the world.

While annual revenues for American Sealants, their Grand Junction company, have increased nearly five fold since they launched the venture almost eight years ago, the Smiths expect even more growth in the years ahead.

Says Jerry: “I just believe we’re going to continue to grow every year.”

The Smiths started American Sealants in 2008, initially planning to provide commercial caulking and waterproofing services in Western Colorado.

But their skills and experience in managing aquarium, zoo exhibit and swimming pool installations were soon in demand.

Before going into business for himself, Jerry worked for 15 years as an installation field superintendent for Reynolds Polymer Technology, the Grand Junction company that manufactures the massive clear acrylic panels used in aquariums, zoos, swimming pools and architectural features.

Heather worked as a laborer and later an office manager for International Concept Management, a sister company of Reynolds Polymer that designs and builds aquariums, water features and other attractions.

Given Jerry’s experience and his continued commitment to help his clients not only realize their dreams, but also complete their installations right the first time, business rapidly increased.

Heather says American Sealants earned about $300,000 in its first year of operation. In 2013, annual revenues came close to $1.5 million.

What started out as the Smiths and a couple of employees similarly has grown into a staff of 15.

The Smiths started American Sealants out of their garage. But as business increased, the operation took over the upstairs of their home. They soon had to lease space.

In October, the Smiths purchased a 5,000 square-foot building along the Riverside Parkway, doubling the space available at their previous location. The new building offers ample room not only for offices, but also a shop that can handle fabrication and maintenance on smaller aquariums and panels.

Given the global scale of their work, the Smiths could have set up business anywhere. But they say they wanted to remain in Grand Junction.

Moreover, they enjoy the proximity to Reynolds Polymer and ICM, for which they do a lot of their work. American Sealants has partnered with Reynolds Polymer on more than 100 projects. Says Jerry: “It’s really nice to have them in our backyard.”

The Smiths estimate about 65 percent of their work involves installing acrylic and glass panels for everything from aquariums and zoo exhibits to custom swimming pools.

Along with the swimming pool and shark tank attraction at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, American Sealants also was involved in the construction of a 75,000-gallon aquarium in the lobby of the hotel and casino.

American Sealants worked with Reynolds Polymer on the renovation of the California Academy of Sciences facility in Golden Gate Park, a project that included seven aquariums ranging in size from 16,000 to 212,000 gallons as well as a massive curved acrylic panel dubbed the “fish eye.”

Other projects included an acrylic enclosure around a nearly century old carousel that was restored and turned into an attraction near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Two sides of the structure feature acrylic windows that open to form the largest folding doors in the world.

Another 30 percent of work for American Sealants involves maintaining and repairing existing facilities, including cleaning and polishing acrylic panels.

The Smiths say they’re working to land more long-term maintenance contracts to diversify their operation as well as fill a pipeline of year-around work that will enable them to hire more employees.

At the same time, though, larger and more elaborate aquariums and attractions are planned to compete for the attention and dollars of tourists, the Smiths say.

“I don’t see this industry slowing down at all,” Jerry says.

As the size and scope of such projects increase, so does the size and scope of American Sealants, the Smiths say. And that’s an exciting prospect.

For more information about American Sealants and its services, visit the website at www.amsealinc.com.

 

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Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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