Jimmy Reed’s pool empire is built on quality, not quantity
You may not know that Jimmy Reed, Owner of Rock Solid Tile, Inc., in Calabasas, Calif., once toured the world playing guitar and has played in local Los Angeles rock-and-roll bands from the late ’70s through the early ’90s. You might not even know that he also spent a goodly amount of time building sets and doing art direction for hundreds of magazine photo shoots and dozens of music videos.
No matter how big or small the job, quality is number one.
That’s because he has become an absolute legend in the arena of spectacular pool installation – and with Rock Solid Tile Inc., has made a true name for himself in that field for the last 35 years.
“In terms of sheer experience, I don’t think anyone has been doing pools as long as we have, and as consistently as we have, or has done as many as we have,” Reed said. “I don’t know of any other tile contractor who specifically does as many pools as we do: 10-20 a year. We travel the country to do that.”
Rock Solid Tile’s emphasis “is on doing it right and taking as long as it takes,” he said. His goal is literally quality, not quantity. “Our key is not to be as quick as possible; the goal is to provide the absolute best pool in the world at that time. Everything it takes – from shell out – every single step is top notch and thought out in detail. We don’t just skim coat the shell and install quickly. This is the exact opposite of what the industry is doing. No matter how big or small the job, quality is number one.”
Surf’s not up? Time to tile!
Reed came early to tile installation. When he was 12 years old, he started working as a helper for a tile contractor who lived across the street from his California home on weekends and summer, and, as Reed said, “When the surf was down.” Eventually he got comfortable enough to take on some projects on his own, and grew from there.
He’s perfected his technique and over the years, taking what he learned from his earlier years and “honed it to our specific installation,” he explained. “I keep up with what is going on by participating with shows and seminars all over the country and teaching at a lot of them.” In fact, Reed recently did a presentation at the Southwest Show in San Antonio, Texas, and at Coverings in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I’m always very involved with what is happening at the moment,” Reed said. “I’m not eschewing codes or installation methods – I’m tailoring them to our projects. Pools are still a relatively unknown animal. I take those modern accredited methods and techniques and update them for what we need to provide successful warranted installations.”
As noted, 99% of Reed’s work is pools, with an occasional interior residential project if it’s “juicy enough” or specially requested. But he said after years of high-end residential installs, “the headaches and cutthroat competition are not worth it any more. We created our own niche in L.A.”
From glass tile to GPTP and superformat glass panels
Reed and his team work mostly with glass. “We are known as the glass tile experts,” he said. But they also work with porcelain, stone mosaics or handmade ceramics. Lately, they have been learning more about large-format glass tiles by SICIS and gauged porcelain panels by Mirage – and incorporating these in pool installations. Reed noted that construction on pools that are designed to use these large-format materials need to include square transitions with flat or pitched floors versus a rolling floor. “A lot of time we are called in early on in the design phase,” he said. “That’s the most beneficial time, so we can advise and direct on the construction of the pool.”
The size of the crew in the field for Rock Solid Tile fluctuates depending on the job from a core group of eight to upwards of 35. Reed said, all these employees are long-term employees. “Sometimes we relieve them temporarily, but we still have access to same guys. We treat employees well so they are eager to come back. We also teach them well.”
In terms of hiring and teaching Reed never takes applications, but pursues workers recommended by other employees. “There is a specific way I like [to teach] and demand things get done,” he said. Workers who already have years of experience are harder to train in Reed’s way of doing things.
Reed advised young people looking to get in the field to work with qualified contractors. “There’s not one pool that is the same as the next. Get real time experience by someone who knows what they are doing.”
As busy as Rock Solid Tile is, Reed’s biggest challenge is getting MORE work, by providing excellence for builders and designers. COVID dealt Rock Solid Tile a blow since they couldn’t travel. But they scaled back and lowered overhead to compensate. “We were hurt a little financially, but managed it pretty well,” Reed said. “My guys were able to do other things on their own temporarily. It seems like it is coming back. And we aren’t experiencing too much problem with supply chain/shipping, since Bisazza and SICIS send product to us air freight.” He said local supplier Oceanside Glass & Tile also has been very supportive.
In addition to that, Reed said that “competing against truly qualified competitors,” is a challenge. He said unqualified contractors are representing themselves in a way that makes them seem qualified, which results in Rock Solid Tile having to justify pricing and explain the difference. “It’s frustrating that they are given the chance to compete in an arena they are not qualified for,” he said. “I’ve lost bids due to price. There’s a lot of liability with pools.”
Reed said the future is strong for this type of work, but hopes that it is strong for quality work, not just pools that look good at a distance. “Anyone can take a picture of a pool and make it look good,” he said. “I show details to really show what’s involved in creating these works of art.”
Editorial Director and Senior Writer for TileLetter and TileLetter ARTISAN
Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11. Her journey has taken her through a career in publishing and publicity, landing her the editor position of TileLetter and its special publications in 2006. Her goal is to educate, inspire, recognize and encourage those in the tile industry -- especially the tile and stone contractor. Other interests include the soft, purring marvels known as cats, labyrinth walking, drumming and percussion, and a range of spiritual, musical and artistic pursuits.