When the National Swimming Pool Foundation acquired Genesis (originally Genesis 3) back in November 2015, many in the industry were surprised, at least at first.
On one side of the deal, NSPF serves the industry with programs that focus on the needs of professionals who operate commercial pool and spa facilities, chiefly through its CPO program that trains upwards of 30,000 pool operators each year. Founded in 1963, the foundation is similarly well known for its ongoing efforts to research and promote water safety and the health benefits of swimming.
On the other side of the merger, Genesis has spent its 19-year tenure offering design, engineering and construction courses that have focused primarily on professionals creating custom residential swimming pools and surrounding environments. Along the way, founders Skip Phillips and Brian Van Bower have become well known in the industry and the organization has been widely credited for elevating design and construction practices.
That apparent difference in focus raised questions about how the two groups with such seemingly diverse missions would be able to effectively work together. But according to to leaders in both organizations, instead of creating conflicts and disconnects, those differences revealed opportunities for broader reach for both organizations.
Much has happened since the marriage was announced a year and a half ago. There was a failed attempt to merge NSPF/Genesis with APSP (which is not the focus of this discussion) and new online programs have been released from both parties, along with greater consumer outreach efforts. Earlier this year, Phillips and Van Bower joined NSPF's board of directors.
"The coming together of Genesis and NSPF has gone beautifully," says NSPF CEO Tom Lachocki. "Even though they have been primarily focused on the residential side of the industry and we've been working in the commercial realm, the teams in truth have similar cultures and missions. Now, there have been a couple of key launches that have positioned us in an extraordinary place; extraordinary for us but even more so for the industry."
Phillips and Van Bower initially saw the merger as a way to ensure the long-term viability of the Genesis programs as their own careers begin to ramp down. In their mid 60s, with no immediate plans to step away, both admit that after nearly 20 years nurturing the Genesis "family," it was time to consider the future.
"Brian and I didn't have an exit strategy, which was part of it," Phillips explains. "We had restructured Genesis with Dave Peterson and others in leadership positions and made other changes we thought would support the future of the program, but it was NSPF that really gave us the resources and opportunity to expand Genesis going forward. We felt we had an obligation to restructure Genesis so that it would continue serve the audience whether we were there or not. The foundation was an obvious partner in that effort."
For the past several years, Dave Peterson, director of Genesis education, has pushed to expand the curriculum the organization offers, but admits there were limits due to available resources. Now, he reports, that's changed.
"The foundation brings a whole new level of organization, professionalism, quality control and structure," he says. "We all held it together really well over the years, but Genesis was a little bit fast and loose because we didn't really have the infrastructure to do much else beyond what we were already offering. Now we have a greater opportunity to develop programs that position both organizations for the future."
"So far it's been outstanding," Van Bower adds. "NSPF has devoted resources to the program, a greater level of organization, we've picked up more sponsors and our schedule has become more advanced. New classes have been added with regularity and they're working on adding more online courses that we've always wanted to do. It's building momentum at a faster rate."
One of the biggest aids in developing that momentum has been the presence of NSPF's Mission Development Director Lauren Stack, who has taken on much of the responsibility for accelerating the growth of Genesis under the NSPF banner. "She's really added a level of professionalism, focus and enthusiasm," Peterson says. "Lauren's highly educated and is thinking about Genesis seven days a week. So everything is moving at a much faster pace now. It's really her bus, although she lets us take the wheel sometimes."
In terms of specific new programs, the broad ambitions shared by both organizations have steadily become manifest in a set of new and likely future offerings aimed at populating the industry with competent service, design and construction professionals.
On the service side, NSPF has recently established its Advanced Service Technician training program.
"Even back when we were having the discussions about marrying the organizations we were already working on launching our Advanced Service Technician course," Lachocki recalls. "It's a comprehensive 45 to 60 hour blended (online and in-class) training designed to provide service professionals with the knowledge and skills to service residential pools and spas, including equipment installation, maintenance and repair."
For its part, Genesis launched Genesis 181: Major Renovations earlier this year, a 16-hour course covering design and construction principles of remodel work. It gives students an opportunity to work in teams to create renovation schemes based on hypothetical scenarios. (The sold-out course was scheduled to debut in March at the Northeast Spa and Pool Association's training center in Hamilton, N.J., but was canceled due to inclement weather and is currently being rescheduled for this summer.)
"It's a course that will benefit service companies and builders looking to move into renovation or improve the work they're already doing," Peterson says, pointing out that many top-notch builders get their start on service routes, which in turn leads to repairs, cosmetic renovations and ultimately remodels.
Other courses, including a track of classes targeting project management and on-site supervision, are in the works as well, along with increased programs not only at trade shows but also staged at sponsor manufacturers' facilities.
COVERING THE SPECTRUM
These and other courses in development are being established to meet the entire range of professional training needs within the industry, not just those working on high-end residential projects or in the commercial sector.
"One of the misconceptions we've always fought with Genesis, especially in the early days and still today to a lesser extent, is that Genesis is only for the elite pool builder," Van Bower says. "But we've always wanted to help elevate the entire industry and now by working with the foundation, we're better able to make that happen."
"One of the greatest needs we're seeing in the industry, and many other industries as well, is the need to recruit talent to come work in the trade and then being able to train them depending on the segments the business works at," Lachocki adds.
Educating people at all levels of expertise has been, and remains, on of the biggest challenges for any organization attempting to serve the industry."
All of which is why greater inclusion among the industry ranks near the top of the NSPF/Genesis agenda, a mission made necessary by the tremendous variety of projects found within the industry itself.
"When we talk about pools it's usually in a more generic sense," Phillips says. "It's like talking about boats, there are rowboats, yachts, speedboats, fishing boats, on up to ocean liners. Just because you're able to build a boat doesn't mean you're qualified to build an aircraft carrier. It might not be that extreme with pools, but it's close. You have everything from aboveground pools to Olympic aquatic facilities to major resorts and waterparks, and they all fall under the category of pools."
That means, he says, that people working in areas other than the custom high-end will find a place under the Genesis umbrella. "When you draw a plan, it's all about rhythm, scale, proportion, color and balance," Phillips explains. "When it comes to all of those important elements of design, it really doesn't matter what that vessel is made of, whether it's vinyl, fiberglass or concrete. The picture is bigger than just high-end residential or commercial design."
A major component to these ambitious conjoined efforts is increasing consumer awareness and ultimately growing demand for the industry's products. As mentioned above, NSPF has long been at the forefront of sponsoring research into and promoting the benefits of aquatic exercise and recreation. In recent years, the foundation has forged alliances outside the rank-and-file pool and spa industry in an effort to promote learn-to-swim programs as a way to stoke consumer demand.
Now with the Genesis programs in place to increase professionalism, business acumen and technical proficiency, the foundation has redoubled its efforts to take the industry's case to the public at large. According to Lachocki, that effort has to begin within the industry itself.
"It's tragic, so sad, that we as an industry are not educated about the benefits and actively promoting those benefits. We as an industry don't see the importance of our products; providing time, fun and enjoyment, healthier and happier lives," he says. "Fortunately, there are collaborations happening right now that I believe will really help us improve."
One with great potential, he says, is the work the foundation has done as part of Water Safety USA. "A few years ago, the American Red Cross, YMCA and US Life Safety Association brought together safety advocates and experts to discuss how we can have a greater impact," he recalls. "We determined that with so much noise in the world, we really need to reinforce the same messaging. That ultimately led to a shared focus on learning to swim."
He points to CDC data indicating that proficient early childhood swimmers have an 88 percent less chance of experiencing a drowning incident. "That says that one of the best investments you can make in your child or grandchild's safety is a learn-to-swim program," Lachocki says.
"We also funded research with the National Marine Manufacturers Association last year to look at buying intent, relative to the ability to swim," he adds. "We found that in households where there are proficient swimmers or people who are very comfortable in water, there is a two times greater chance they will either buy a pool or a hot tub, or take a vacation to a place that has a pool or join a club that has a pool. So the key becomes creating proficient swimmers or people that are extremely comfortable in the water."
To that he adds that research from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association shows that people who learn to swim before five are far more likely to go on to become proficient swimmers. "That's whey our Step Into Swim program focuses on learn-to-swim," he says.
The learn-to-swim message is now being trumpeted by a veritable who's who list of organizations, all working through Water Safety USA, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, CDC, National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, USA Swimming Foundation, the YMCA and others.
NEW BRAND IDENTITY
While Genesis is also embracing the "learn-to-swim" messaging, its own consumer outreach is more focused on creating demand for members of its Society of Watershape Designers. Although still part of the Genesis family, SWD is working to create public brand identity, similar to the way that the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Institute of Architects support their members with public relations and marketing.
"When you become an SWD Master, you kind of run out of runway," says Rick Chafey, SWD master and educational advisory board member. "What I mean by that is once you become certified, there hasn't been much to do with that designation. Even people inside our industry don't know about it, much less homeowners. That needs to change."
"Our industry has traditionally only marketed to itself," Peterson adds. "Consumers wanting to learn about Genesis or SWD really haven't had a place they could find immediate information that motivates them. We're going to be launching a new website and using social media to give SWD a stronger presence and a place where homeowners can learn about both the spectrum of creative possibilities, as well as the qualifications of SWD members."
That effort will also include greater outreach to tangential organizations and professional groups, such as architects, landscape architects and general contractors.
"When you look outside the industry, there are lots of places to find applicable education. With SWD, you don't have to have earned all the hours in Genesis or NSPF courses. We're currently working on expanding those equivalencies so we can attract and support a greater professional network, in addition to creating great SWD brand awareness."
With all of the above said, it's clear that the NSPF/Genesis collaboration is touching a number of areas important to the growth and success of the industry. How well they realize so many far-reaching goals remains to be seen. Leaders in both organizations promise much more to come.
"We have to evolve with the times," Van Bower says. "Consumer demand has changed and the industry needs to evolve with it. That's why all of these programs are so necessary."
Phillips adds: "I believe we're just now starting to see the kind of momentum we can achieve when different factions within the industry work together effectively under the right leadership."