After selling several companies, industry veteran enters leak detection market
Like many entrepreneurs, LeakTronics’ Darren Merlob went after a problem and ended up building a company. Having started his career with a pool service route over three decades ago, Merlob launched and sold several businesses before turning his attention to the art of leak detection.
In 1989, he started Ultimate Pools, which maintained, repaired and serviced pools in south Florida. Then, as demand grew for resurfacing in the area, Merlob founded American Pool Resurfacing in 1991 — but working with the antiquated crack repair methods available at the time quickly became frustrating: “I bought all the conventional products on the market,” Merlob says. “All of these methods, once implemented, continued to produce cracks and leaks.”
When products like epoxy injection and rebar failed him, Merlob developed Torque Lock Structural Staples, which repair structural cracks on solid, cement-based surfaces. In 2006, he founded Torque Lock Structural Systems, the parent company of LeakTronics, which manufactures leak detection equipment and provides training for the swimming pool and plumbing industries. Torque Lock Staples have since been used around the world — they helped repair damage from earthquakes in Chile, for one — to repair and stabilize structures.
With Torque Lock working well to fix structural cracks, Merlob set out to find better options to locate pool leaks themselves. Also in 2006, Merlob sold American Pool Resurfacing and moved to Austin, Texas, where he started a company called Austech Pools. The company serviced pools, but also found and repaired leaks. Concurrently, LeakTronics began to take shape as Merlob tested microphones in water. (In an early experiment, he put a microphone inside a commercial balloon often used in kite fishing.)
Around 2009, Merlob officially formed LeakTronics and started selling the products to his industry contacts in Florida while living in Austin. Now known as hydrophones, these highly sensitive microphones hear leaks inside pipes, drains, skimmers and pool walls.
“When used in conjunction with a proper headphone amplifier…technicians can locate the area of a leak without having to dive into a pool and use dye testing,” Merlob says. “They simply drop the mic in the pool and listen. The weight of the water pushing out on a leak makes a noise.”
In 2011, Merlob sold Austech Pools and again relocated, this time to Los Angeles, to begin manufacturing LeakTronics brand equipment. Today, LeakTronics offers Pool Scopes and Pipe Mics to hear leaks; DeckPlates and SoilProbes for listening under concrete and dirt; a Plumbers’ Kit to find leaks behind walls, tile, cabinetry and under foundations and patios; and more. New products this season will include a new camera head and a CamVac that works in conjunction with pipe cameras, Merlob says.
Because there is a learning curve on some of the products, online training — plus business and marketing assistance — has become an integral part of Merlob’s business and has helped launch new leak detection companies on seven continents, he says. To date, Merlob says he has certified and trained more than 1,000 companies through the online course, which covers not only how to use the products but also things like how to warranty and price out a leak, and even customer psychology.
“I’ve changed the way the industry does leak detection,” he says.