Waterblasting Technologies Inc.

Innovative products drive the global surface cleaning market
Written by: 
Matt Dodge
Produced by: 
Shaun Emery

Based in Stuart, Florida, Waterblasting Technologies Inc. is a leading manufacturer of ultra-high-pressure (UHP) pavement marking, surface cleaning and runway removal equipment. Dominating the global market with over 75 percent market share, Waterblasting Technologies’ products can be found stripping paint, lifting lines and cleaning surfaces on airport runways and highways in more than 80 countries.

The company’s range of patented pressure-washing and cleaning equipment include four distinct models of the marquee Stripe Hog Waterblasting System — both chassis - and skid-mounted — the Rumble Hog, the Hog Melter, the Surface Hog Pavement Cleaner and the Hog Vac Vacuum System, as well as other add-ons and continual innovations.

The Stripe Hog, along with Waterblasting Technologies’ accompanying suite of products, can be used to remove traffic markings from myriad road surfaces with minimal lasting impact using 40,000 psi water jets coupled with a heavy-duty vacuum.

“Before waterblasting became a popular method, sandblasting was the alternative, but it had a lot of challenges; it’s a lot more expensive because you’re using sand, whereas water is basically free,” says James Crocker, president and CEO of Waterblasting Technologies. Grinding was another popular method, but the resulting groove left in the road surface can be a hazard for motorcyclists, not to mention the potential for hydroplaning and potholes.

Building a better blaster

The multimillion-dollar, worldwide company took root in 1988 when James Crocker bought his first pressure washer for $1,200. At just 18 years old, Crocker grew a mustache to look older and instill confidence in his customers. Easing into the pressure washing market one project at a time, Crocker eventually upgraded to a 20,000 psi water blaster. “That really started opening up doors. We got into some water treatment plants and even some concrete cutting,” says Crocker.

The company took a formative pivot in 1996 when Crocker completed his first stripe removal job on a 150-foot bridge in West Palm Beach. When the project ended up netting the company way below what Crocker had been expecting, he knew it was time to make the jump to a higher grade of equipment. “There was just a certain genre of work that machine wouldn’t handle,” he says.

In 1997 Crocker acquiesced and upgraded to a 40,000 psi water blasting unit, but never stopped thinking of ways to improve the process. He began tinkering with a spray bar that could be mounted to a riding lawnmower, “But it was still so messy,” he says. Crocker worked up a tweaked design complete with an attached pressure washer that would blast debris to the side before eventually settling on a dry process that used a high-pressure vacuum to collect debris. “That was a turning point,” Crocker says.

The result was the Stripe Hog, which soon became a global force with more units distributed worldwide than its top 5 competitors combined. Now almost 30 years later, Crocker’s company has offices in the United States, Germany and the Czech Republic and 25 patents either granted or pending.

Back in 2000, Waterblasting Technologies was generating about $500,000 in revenues, but Crocker felt like there was some unseen factor holding back their progress. It was around that time Crocker was invited to attend a seminar based on John C. Maxwell’s book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” “That material changed my life,” says Crocker. “I quickly shifted my focus toward identifying, attracting and hiring the right people.” Waterblasting Technologies soon moved into a new facility and hired its first full-time salesman, who quadrupled the company’s revenues within a few short years.

Having perfected his own proprietary pavement marking removal system, Crocker was initially content to grow the company by performing jobs around the south Florida region, but when he saw a competitor exhibiting a similar pavement marking removal system at a trade show in Florida, he began to realize the market potential for systems like the Stripe Hog. He hired a machinist to do rapid prototyping, Dave Friday, a marketer, to build a website and by late 2004, the first Stripe Hog was on its way to a customer in the United Kingdom.

The company followed up with a strong showing at the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) convention in 2005, where the Stripe Hog took home the Innovation of the Year award. “Suddenly we had 10 trucks on order and needed a new warehouse,” says Crocker. By 2006, the company was designing new models, hiring new staff and pursuing the international market, with Director of International Sales David Dorsett flying across Europe with a demo slab of asphalt with a portion of a marking removed from a Stripe Hog as his carry-on.

Going hog wild with new innovations

With Waterblasting Technologies growing as a brand in the U.S. and abroad, Crocker admits to not initially realizing the potential of a 2008 contract at the Pittsburgh International Airport. “I don’t think I had a real grasp of what the airport market represented,” he says.

Bound by strict Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organization guidelines regarding runway friction and damage remediation, the airport market was the ideal Stripe Hog customer. “If an airport accepts international air travel, they are subject to regulations on friction conditions whereas on roadways, there are a broad range of methods still allowed to remove road markings,” Crocker says. “Pittsburgh International Airport bought one first and the rest fell like dominoes.”

To support the company’s robust international sales, Waterblasting Technologies has set up offices in Germany and more recently, Prague, though the company still ships all its products from its headquarters in Florida. “We won’t do any manufacturing there, we’re just supporting units around Europe with spare parts, sales repairs and upgrades,” he says.

Waterblasting Technologies currently has several new products in the pipeline. The Surface Hog is the company’s first low-pressure unit at just 4,000 -psi and is used for cleaning road markings. “No one is cleaning markings when they get dirty, instead, they are wasting money on new materials and when they put new markings down they are often applying over dirt, which increases the chance it will delaminate,” says Crocker.

Designed specifically with the airport market in mind, the Surface Hog can clean 10,000 square feet an hour. “The FAA dictates that any markings on a runway cannot be over 120 mm thick because there have been incidents of paint building up and getting sucked up into jet engines,” says Crocker.

The Hog Vac, another innovation from Waterblasting Technologies, is a vacuum-powered conveyor system designed to aid in excavation projects. “65 percent of the time contractors dig with air vacuums, and they want to put the dirt they are digging right behind the hole, but instead it goes into a vacuum tank,” says Crocker.

“With the Hog Vac, you extend the vacuum conveyor next to the hole so you don’t have to haul the dirt off or haul it back to the site later to fill the hole back in.” With vacuum truck sales in the U.S. at $550 million a year, Crocker thinks his improved take on the concept will help drive the company in the years to come. “The bulk of our projected growth comes from that innovation,” he says.

The Hog Fan is another attempt to improve on established equipment. “Right now all vacuums operate with an isolated vacuum blower that is very susceptible to even the smallest amount of debris. The Hog Fan does away with all that because it moves a larger amount of air and its tolerance is such that it can suck water, rock and paint right through it,” says Crocker.

The company also has the Rumble Hog RH7500; a high-speed thermal plastic melting machine that will allow road markings to be applied almost six times faster. “Most contractors say that if they spend 20 to 25 percent of their time laying lines, they’re doing well. With this, you can spend 90 percent of the day applying thermoplastic markings.”

Valuing employees and giving back

Despite a worldwide presence and continual innovation, Waterblasting Technologies doesn’t have any employees, at least not in Crocker’s mind. “We don’t use that word. I carry around a Sharpie and cross it out if I see it,” says Crocker. Waterblasting Technologies employs 130 full-time individuals and Crocker believes that by instilling his workforce with a sense of equality, it helps with overall team cohesion. “We are all on an equal plane. We are one team with one vision and one mission,” Crocker says.

Some of Crocker’s proudest moments as a business owner are tied to his team members, citing one in particular who was able to pay for his new house in cash after 18 years with the company, but he doesn’t often have time for such reflection. “I’m too busy thinking about how we capture current opportunities in such a way that ends up making room for more wonderful team members,” he says.

Waterblasting Technologies doesn’t just participate in typical charitable endeavors like golf tournaments and United Way campaigns. The company recently completed a 60-bed, 10,000-square-foot orphanage in India, a project on which they were the sole sponsor. “It’s very rewarding to be able to impact the lives of children that might be hopeless,” says Crocker.

Thanks to a market-leading product and a robust global presence, Crocker can afford to look beyond the bottom line when it comes to picking key indicators of performance and for him, it all comes down to maintaining a level of excellence in everything the company does.

“I always tell my people, your chance s of maximizing success is greatest when we give every day our best. It will result in quality products and a quality work environment and it will result in attracting quality people around us. It really is the secret of life,” he says.

With strong leadership and innovative new products that continue to extend the company’s reach in the surface-cleaning and road maintenance sector, Waterblasting Technologies, Inc. is poised to remain a strong presence in the market.

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