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There are unique challenges for young professionals in the pool and spa industry, which is why APSP helps them learn from each other.
It's a common modern lament: The widespread interconnectivity facilitated by social media and other digital tools actually drives people further apart than ever before. Young people know how to make online connections and register likes with an efficient click, but they have less experience in establishing real, lasting relationships.
As with most curmudgeonly complaints about these kids today, the assessment of isolation isn't wholly accurate — yet there's still a dose of truth in it. Building bonds with peers can require a more concerted effort in a time where a large portion of business communication has moved online.
That effort is worth making. After all, it's always been wise to look to the advice of wide-ranging peers.
"Before the age of technology and social media and everything else, if you didn't get together with people in your industry or profession, you were pretty much out in the boondocks somewhere — you didn't know what was going on," notes Lawrence Caniglia, president and CEO of APSP. To help make it easier for the next generation to build those helpful bridges, APSP offers the WAVE Young Professionals Network.
The WAVE Network originated from discussions among industry leaders in 2012. Recognizing the growing trend of long-time pool and spa professionals aging toward retirement, those leaders voiced a need for initiatives meant to help develop the younger generation and keep them engaged in moving the industry forward.
Inaugural members were identified for what was termed the APSP Young Professionals Network. Early discussions within that group made it clear that there was a need and desire for an ongoing program, so yet sturdier structures were put into place and the WAVE Network was born.
The mandate was simple but multifaceted. At the most fundamental level, the WAVE Network allows young pool and spa professionals to connect with others just like them, whether in their community or region, or even from across the nation.
Developing camaraderie is a nice outcome of that effort, but there's more focused, valuable learning that takes place, too. Both formally and informally, networking is often combined with educational opportunities that allow young professionals to learn about products, changing regulations and emerging best practices within the industry.
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Getting these young professionals together also allows for the sharing of more general leadership skills that can inform their work in the industry. Identifying and inspiring potential leaders helps the up and-coming generation transition into their coming role as the architects of industry change and drivers of important discussions.
"We hope to help those young professionals get to know each other, and in way establish a home to help give them a voice in the future of our industry," says Rick Harvey, director of Pro Sales West at BioLab and new co-chair of the WAVE Young Professionals Network. "Obviously, there are a lot of young folks out there involved in the industry — whether through manufacturing, vendors or dealers and other parts of the business — and they're trying to find their place within the larger group."
Caniglia agrees that it is important to usher young professionals into industry leadership roles.
"If the next generation is not part of what we are doing, then we're missing a huge opportunity to help the industry with an age group and a demographic," Caniglia says. "As we phase out, they're coming in."
The proof of Caniglia's statement is found in the field. Often, involvement in WAVE gives an individual the confidence and incentive to do more within the industry.
"We've seen many of our members move on to serve on other committees with APSP," notes Harvey. "Some of our members come in as employees of their companies and turn into owners of their companies. And they give a lot of credit to the relationships and the networking that we've been able to put together through WAVE."
In developing a resource for young professionals in the pool and spa industry, APSP focused on underserved needs. The lack of technical and regulatory understanding was an obvious place to start, but the Association realized are other intangibles, such as an entrepreneurial spirit, that are just as important.
There are major players in pools and spas, of course, but the backbone of the industry remains in smaller, locally focused businesses, often family owned. For WAVE to be successful, its strategies must speak to the distinct challenges arising in that environment.
"There are so many people who are coming in looking for opportunities to build their own businesses, or they're taking over from their parents in the second or third generation," says Ali Reynolds, co chair of the WAVE Young Professionals Network and co-owner of the Get Smart Group, a digital marketing company specializing in backyard recreation promotion to consumers. "And they really need resources to be successful and grow the business. WAVE is providing resources for the next generation of leaders."
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In some ways, the younger generation is better prepared to adapt to a rapidly evolving working environment, if only because they've grown up with many of the digital tools that are now crucial to efficient business practice. Most business in the past came from referrals, by word of mouth, and while that's still very important, so is managing an online presence and creating an exceptional experience for the customer.
"Maybe there's a company that has never invested in marketing or has only done traditional marketing, and in their market, they were the number one dealer for a very long time," Reynolds says. "And now there's competition, including from big box stores, and what people are looking for is the best quality and value, but they also want a great experience."
Small businesses are better positioned to provide the more positive, attentive relationship many consumers are seeking, but they need to make sure the positive qualities are there in every customer contact, beginning from the first curious searches.
By learning from peers who've already gone through the evolution, WAVE Network members can get a clear blueprint for making changes in a way that minimizes disruption and maximizes impact. A task like review management — developing awareness of and responding to what's being said about the business online — is much easier when working from direct experience.
Strengthening the business isn't just important for the here and now, it can be instrumental in positioning for a more significant change, such as selling the business. That task that has often proven to be especially vexing in the pool and spa industry. The WAVE Network is developing its outlook accordingly.
"We're hoping to provide education not just for young owners who want to build the business into something that lasts, but to enhance its worth when it comes to valuing the business for a sale," Reynolds says.
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Helping young managers develop the tools to modernize the business keeps the coffers filled. It also provides options, in case, for whatever reason, it becomes clear the time has come to move on to new opportunities, maybe growing the whole family's shared nest egg in the process.
"Ultimately, I think a lot of the young entrepreneurs are going to be looking for a smart way of exiting the business eventually so they can go and do more of the things they want to do," adds Reynolds. "But they don't want to walk away from a family legacy and let it fall apart, either."
Whether holding on or pulling up roots, sprucing up the business is going to deliver rewards. WAVE is set to provide a boost, regardless of the path chosen.
"This generation seems to be very eager — not just to grow, but to learn and to find ways to be involved, and not just to participate, but to get involved in leadership roles that are out there," Harvey says. "The demographics are changing within our industry and more and more people want to be involved. The younger generation realizes they're the future of the industry, and they want to industry to continue to grow and thrive. Really, the keys belong to the up-and-coming generation of how that's going to be developed."
To paraphrase a famous song, change is going to come. The only question is how that change will be met.
"We need to interact, we need to understand what we're talking about, we need to network," concludes Caniglia. "We need to share all those things that we believe we bring to the table and has made us stronger over the years. They're so important."
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