We've Got A Winner!

by Virginia DeMoss January 11, 2006 8:30 AM

 

For 2005 AQUA Show attendees, it was all about choices. This year's educational conference nearly doubled in size, offering more than 85 seminars, workshops and round tables to choose from, plus an extra full day to participate in them. The trade show grew to 348 exhibitors in 1,039 booths, including the largest gathering of spa companies anywhere in the world, presenting show shoppers with more new product choices than ever before.

"This was one of the best AQUA Shows I have attended," said Carlos Del Amo, vice president of marketing and product development for Pentair Water Pool and Spa, which sponsored the canvas tote bags offered to all AQUA attendees this year. "We released a lot of new products, so there was a lot of excitement in the booth. We were extremely pleased with the turnout and the number of decision-makers who attended. I got a lot of feedback from our customers who talked about the high level of education being offered, which really is a big factor in their decision to come to the show."

Attendance reached an all-time high at the 14th annual AQUA Show Expo & Conference, held Nov. 15-18, 2005, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Key buyers from more than 2,400 spa and pool retail stores, design/build businesses, landscape-architecture firms, and pool and spa service companies were on hand to participate in AQUA's business and social events. The turnout represented a 5 percent increase over 2004, and the largest attendance in the event's history.

"It's always extremely motivating to come to AQUA," said eight-time attendee Bret Kahl, co-owner of The Wizard of Spas in Ridgecrest, Calif. "We worked things in shifts and cut our store hours in half so that everybody from our business could attend — that's how important it is. We brought our two service technicians to take all of the sessions on spa troubleshooting and repair, and they really got a lot out of them. My wife and I and our manager attended every seminar on store design and management that we could fit into the available time. Our business has grown exponentially each year because of what we get from the AQUA Show. We would travel to the other coast to go to it if we had to."

The 2005 version was also the most diverse trade show and conference in AQUA's history. All segments of the pool and spa industry were well represented, including fiberglass pools, saunas, gazebos, outdoor furniture and grills, chemicals, controls and accessories.

"The AQUA Show is growing every year and is really coming on as the premier show in the industry," said Merry Wise, co-owner of Wise Pools, The Woodlands, Texas, a 2002 AQUA Hall of Fame inductee. "I saw a number of great new items that I'm going to bring into our stores. There is a lot of new technology in the chemical area that will help reduce chlorine usage, and I also noticed a trend to a lot more artistic and decorative items for the backyard. The show floor was very well organized and laid out, making it simple to find anything or do anything. I just thought AQUA did a bang-up job!"

One first-time exhibitor doing a land-office business was R.J. Designs, whose tropical decor was a huge hit with attendees. "We were so busy!" said general manager Roland Villegas, who was rushing to fill show orders when we spoke. "We had nonstop traffic in the booth and a line of people waiting to talk to us," he said.

AQUA's Design/Build Pavilion, launched in conjunction with the Genesis 3 Design Group last year, nearly doubled in size for 2005, showcasing exhibitors of tile, stone, landscape lighting, water features, design software and other products targeted to the design/build sector of the market. Included in this area was the Genesis 3 Design Studio, with continuous free educational programming during show hours.

"I was very impressed with the quality of the exhibits and saw a lot of very good, high-end products," said Kevin Ruddy of the design, engineering and building firm Omega Pool Structures in Toms River, N.J., who was among the growing number of builders attending this year. Pointing to the high caliber of exhibitors and the quality of design/build education being offered both in the conference sessions and in the Design Studio on the show floor, he added, "Genesis 3 has added a lot to the AQUA Show. The classes are very detail-oriented and deal with the latest issues on people's minds. This is something the pool industry hasn't had before."

"The Genesis component was great," Wise said, "and I'm so pleased to see AQUA broadening its appeal to builders. It's always been especially great for retail and spas, and now it offers so much value to pool builders. My husband and son went to those sessions, while I focused on the retail education. We've been in business for 35 years and I always pick up something new at AQUA."

Also attracting large crowds to the Design/Build Pavilion were two dramatic installations, "Night Dreams" and "Outdoor Environment," devoted to showcasing exhibitors' landscape lighting and outdoor-living products. "What an undertaking! We were very excited to have our products in the Outdoor Environment presentation. That area was always busy," said Janet Wansor, vice president of sales and marketing for Australia-based Jensen Jarrah Leisure Furniture. "The AQUA Show allows us to put our products in front of pool and spa, landscaping, and building professionals — an entirely different market than we reach through the Casual Furniture Show. And I've found that the attendees are proactive, intelligent and innovative."

Aside from the opportunity to get their first glimpse of 2006 products and market trends and speak face-to-face with new and existing suppliers, dealers were drawn to AQUA by its world-class retail and design/build conference, including the debut of the innovative Genesis 3 Design School with its five 20-hour accredited courses; a convenient two-day CPO course; and a vastly expanded CEU program that allows attendees to earn continuing education credits with the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and other industry groups.

AQUA expanded its faculty to more than 55 industry experts and professional speakers to address an unparalleled selection of educational sessions tackling retail issues such as merchandising, management, finance, employee and customer relations, as well as technical topics and design/build issues.

Sundance Spas and Jacuzzi Hot Tubs — strong believers in retail education — sponsored the conference program. "We know that AQUA is the show our dealers attend for educational benefits pertaining to sales and retailing, because it's something they talk to us about a great deal," said Dennis Gentek, national sales manager for Sundance Spas. "The quality of dealers that we get to talk with makes it a super opportunity for us."

"All of the speakers were just phenomenal," notes Debra Smith, vice president and general manager of Pulliam Aquatech Pools in Fort Worth, Texas. "I went to every session I could and everyone I talked to was unanimous in how wonderful and informative all of the seminars were. I came in a day ahead and got some rest because I wanted to attend an all-day seminar on Tuesday. I went to the AQUA 100 Reception on Tuesday evening, but I skipped the Industry Celebration at the House of Blues on Wednesday, which I usually attend, because I wanted to be refreshed and ready to absorb everything I could from the seminars the next morning. The first two days were so incredible, I knew the rest would be, too."

Dave Denize, vice president and store manager at Aquarius Pool & Spa Service, Walnut Creek, Calif., took a slightly different approach to the proceedings this year. "I always take the classes and I always walk the show, but I also did some things I normally don't do. I went to the AQUA 100 Awards reception, which was high-end and very classy, and I also did the party at the House of Blues, and I found out that is a lot of fun. In fact, I was shocked how much fun I had for an old guy," he said, laughing.

Marquis Corp. continued its tradition of co-hosting the House of Blues bash, providing hot food, cold drinks and high-energy entertainment by The Blues Brothers and Louie Louie. "Thumbs up on the event," says Brett Fritts, vice president of marketing for Marquis. "We're very positive about the party sponsorship, which is very well received by all of the attendees."

Like many others, Fritts praised the venue and the location. "I think Vegas is great," he says. "You can't beat it for an entertaining and affordable place to go.

And it's easy to get in and out of from anywhere in the country."

"I love going to Las Vegas," said first time attendee Mike Cowell of Advanced Pool Service in Kokomo, Ind. "It's nice to get away and use the time for both a vacation and learning purposes," said Cowell, whose class schedule included Troubleshooting and Repair of Spa Control Systems and Product and Service Pricing for a Profit. "We took all of the seminars we could, and they were very, very informative. We also enjoyed the House of Blues party and the keynote address," he said.

Sponsored by Coleman Spas, popular philosopher Tom Morris was this year's keynote speaker, addressing a huge crowd just before the trade-show doors opened at noon on Wednesday. One of the world's most sought-after business speakers, the best-selling author and former Notre Dame philosophy professor invigorated an appreciative AQUA audience with his funny and profound take on achieving excellence.

"I loved the keynote!" said Alice Cunningham, co-owner of Olympic Hot Tubs in Seattle. "He was dynamic and totally inspiring. He won the crowd over right away, and I'm sure there are people who would love to hear him again and bring their friends."

Cunningham also attended a full slate of seminars. "I always enjoy Greg Welsh; he's right on top of it," she said. "I just had my notes from his sessions on what customers want and how they shop copied for our staff meeting tomorrow. Also, Pam Danziger's Eight Things You Need to Know to Sell Spas to a Luxury Market. That was real take-home stuff that I can use. We've hired two new salespeople and I already used that as a training piece."

The perfect mix of business and pleasure, this year's AQUA Show also featured a swanky cocktail party, sponsored by GE Retail Sales Finance, toasting the 2005 AQUA 100 and AQUA 100 Hall of Fame inductees along with the 2004 AQUA Design Awards winners. In addition, Genesis 3 hosted wine tasting and a winemaker's dinner as part of its lifestyle program. "The social events were terrific," said Merry Wise, who attended with her husband Charles. "We learned a lot and enjoyed them. We had an absolutely wonderful time!" she said.

Continuing to build on its momentum, the AQUA Show returns to Mandalay Bay in 2006, with the trade show scheduled for Nov. 8-10, and the four-day educational conference set for Nov. 7-10. Forward-thinking business owners can obtain more information now at 800/536-3630 or aquashow.com.

Summing up the 2005 AQUA Show experience, Smith from Pulliam Aquatech says, "It was the best AQUA Conference ever, and I was sitting there kicking myself that I didn't bring more people with me. Next year you'll see a whole group of us. I'm looking forward to it already."



Virginia DeMoss is a Southern California-based writer and editor with more than 30 years' experience with business publications.

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