In what has to be seen as the biggest news in recent memory, APSP and NSPF have agreed to merge into a single entity to better serve the needs of the pool and spa industry.

It's long been a goal of industry leadership to streamline organizations and bring better focus and coordination to their efforts on behalf of pool and spa professionals. This agreement to join together in service will give the industry a more unified and therefore more powerful voice. It was the culmination of behind-the-scenes work that began some time ago, says Rich Garbee, chairman of the APSP board.

"The conversations that led up to the announcement have gone on for a number of months. Our goal was to create a much more collaborative environment. And as people got to know each other you started to see the synergy between the two groups and we were able to really work some things out," he says.

Indeed, the excitement surrounding this development was palpable throughout the industry following the announcement, and in the room where the pact was sealed. "I walked out of that meeting and the hair on my arms was standing up," says Bruce Dunn, NSPF board chairman. "I thought, ‘There’s not much that gets to my nerves, but I just felt so good about it, I couldn't believe it.’ One word that was used by one of the gentlemen on the APSP board, after all was said and done, was ‘epic.’"

How Did it Start?

The ideal that lay behind the merger — which allowed both parties to overcome the natural boundaries that separate two distinct groups — was in the end a simple ordering of priorities. "You have to put industry first," Garbee says.

It was the enabling spirit of the accord. Both Garbee and Dunn emphasize that throughout the discussions, individual interests were placed in the backseat and the good of the pool and spa industry was allowed to drive the process.

Although the agreement was struck at a summit meeting last week, and announced yesterday, Dunn says energy has been building for a year as people from both groups repeatedly met to talk about whether a deal was possible. As talks turned more serious and the idea gained momentum, "Rich and I met to see whether or not there was an opportunity for this to happen. After we met out here the last time on the West Coast, we decided ‘Well, let’s give it a try.’

"So that was what the summit was all about last week. We went in there Wednesday evening, and Thursday and Friday, and it was very obvious there were some visionary people saying, ‘This will work. It’ll work for the betterment of the industry, not the betterment of any one particular organization.’ Once you got past that, oh boy, it was electric.

"The whole purpose of having these kinds of organizations has always been that they should be serving their members. When it looked like we were going forward with the potential of competing programs, you really had to ask the question ‘Is that doing the right thing for the industry?’ You look at an industry that has already seen some rough times and is now back on the upswing — what a wonderful time to take a concept like this and put it in play."

What it Means

After the news broke, all corners of the industry buzzed with discussion, largely concerning the obvious benefits that could emerge from a union of the two largest advocate organizations.

"This unification is important," Garbee acknowledges. "The ability to leverage the strengths of these two organizations in terms of education and training is huge. And the standards and codes piece — the ability to get a consistent message to building and health code officials — how great will that be?"

At a glance, those are two of the most salient gains. Both NSPF and APSP have developed education programs that can be combined to greater efficiency and effect, and they have also scattered their energies through parallel code development. A united voice that advocates for all will carry farther and with more authority.

Other synergies are certain to become apparent as the merger proceeds, and the lines of communication are thrown open. Garbee has already seen an example of this: "As we have come together and talked, one of the things NSPF exposed us to, and helped us at APSP understand, is how little has been done in reaching out to the users of our products. NSPF has always been in touch with the users, the swimmers, the people that enjoy and love our products. And in spending time with them we came to fully realize that we're really not even cultivating or promoting to the people who love our products the most. I think there are some things that can be done to help change that."

Next Steps

With an agreement in hand to merge, a great deal of work remains in the implementation phase. The stated goal is a merger of equals into a new organization, so a great many details will have to be worked out in the coming months, but a general plan is in place. And for the present, both organizations will continue operations as usual as the agreement's due diligence phase is completed.

"Right now the focus has to be on the legal issues of putting an organization together so we have a framework that takes a 501(c)(3), which is a foundation nonprofit, and a 501(c)(6), which is an association nonprofit, and blends those into a workable entity,” Dunn says. “And that’s all part of the due diligence that’s going on right now. The other part of it is to keep the momentum and enthusiasm we had when we walked out of that room on Friday.

"When you have an opportunity to communicate face to face with people, you can read their body language, you can tell the level of sincerity, and I don’t care whether it was NSPF people or APSP people — there were 12 really dedicated, committed people in that room that said, ‘We’re in this thing for the mission, we’re in it for the long haul, and we believe in it.’ If we would have had some dissenters, then we probably would have taken it and put it on the back burner. That was not the case. We had an excellent facilitator that worked with us to keep everything in line, but we had some big thinkers, and that was an enjoyment like you can’t believe."