"There's no other industry event that has the quality of seminars AQUA has," says entrepreneur Matt Gohlke, who attends every session he can squeeze into his schedule. In fact, the five-time AQUA 100 winner doesn't waste a single chance to learn something new, which is why he particularly appreciates the many opportunities the conference and show provide to network with industry colleagues.

THE BIG PICTURE

"I really like hearing about what my peers are doing — that's probably one of my favorite things about the AQUA Show. I enjoy the sessions by Ted Hebert because he's in the industry and knows what he's talking about, what works and what doesn't. He has great ideas for promoting his business and doesn't miss an opportunity to get involved in the community. We do a lot of the same kinds of things. Michael Gerber was the keynote speaker one year and his main topic was working on your business, not in your business. I've also read his books and worked on implementing his ideas. As small-business owners, we sometimes get so wrapped up in doing the little things that we don't really look at the big picture and manage the whole operation. He really did a good job of explaining how to get out of the rut of doing the same stuff every day and doing more planning about where your company is going and what you can do better."

CONCRETE IDEAS

"The last two years I attended Ron Lacher's sessions on structural design and engineering, which were very informative. We've implemented many of the techniques he suggested for putting the steel in swimming pools. He talked about putting more steel in the pools at the skimmer and also about not overlapping the rebar too closely because it makes it hard to get the gunite under there. And Steve Gutai is extremely knowledgeable about hydraulics and pipe sizing. Thanks to something we learned from him a few years ago, we went to 2-inch plumbing on our hot tubs instead of 2 inch. That's been very helpful."

ADVANCED EDUCATION

"This past year I took the Genesis 3 drawing class with David Tisherman and Michael Nantz, who are extremely talented. I'm more involved in running the business than doing the design work, so I learned a great deal. I wanted to have the flexibility to be able to help out in that area if we get overloaded with leads, and I have taken some of the things they taught me and gotten back into designing some of the pools. Some of the seminars by Brian Van Bower have inspired me to sell up — to sell really high quality and inform people of the high-quality things that are available, whether it's glass tile or better interior finishes for pools or the use of slate. He really does a good job of explaining the differences in quality and how to go to the next level."

ALL WORK, SOME PLAY

"I'm not much of a partier, but I go to the AQUA 100 Hall of Fame Reception at the House of Blues Foundation Room, which is unbelievable. It's absolutely first class. I also enjoy the House of Blues Industry Celebration, but I'm back in my room pretty early because I work the conference and the show pretty hard. By the end of the day I'm exhausted and want to get a good night's sleep so I can be on time the next morning. I'm there at the first session at 8:00 in the morning and go to everything I can fit in. My biggest problem is deciding which seminars to attend because there are always at least two or three at the same time that I'd like to go to."

HERO WORSHIP

"Our landscape architect really enjoyed the sessions with Janet Lennox Moyer and James van Sweden. He has been reading them for years and it pretty much blew his mind that he was able to attend seminars with them at AQUA. At the last show he took the 20-hour course on Basic Color Theory with Judith Corona and was really inspired by it. He just can't believe that he wasn't more into color before now."

SEEKING INSPIRATION

"We have a really good-looking retail store, and a lot of it comes from things I've learned at AQUA. Brian Dyches is one of the instructors who really stressed going outside of the industry to see how to do retail. He said to go to nice restaurants to see how they decorate or to a nice highend mall and walk from one store to the next and look at the .ooring, the colors and the materials they use and make notes. I did that and I really think we have one of the nicest looking retail stores in the pool industry.

We have extremely tall ceilings, not a dropped ceiling that closes you in, and it's painted blue like the sky. We used ceramic tile and carpet and have a waterfall in the store and really nice displays. We have a popcorn machine and a cooler full of drinks and we always decorate in a party theme so it's like there is always a good time happening here, not just retail."

SHOPPING FOR SOLUTIONS

"There are always a lot of new products to see at the trade show. One of the things we picked up last year was our new software system. It covers point of sale, service and inventory, produces all kinds of reports, and even has a really good marketing component. It's just a really good system that has helped us manage the business much more efficiently."

Store Stats

Matt Gohlke's father Gene started a pool construction company in Denton, Texas, with a partner in 1958, later buying out the business and expanding into pool supplies and service. Matt joined the business after graduating from college in 1984 and purchased his father's interest in 1992. Located in a growing market north of Dallas-Fort Worth, Gohlke Pools, consisting of a full-service design/build operation and an expansive retail store, has grown to 7,500 square feet and 25 employees at the peak of the season. Named to the AQUA 100 every year between 1998 and 2002, the company was inducted into the AQUA 100 Hall of Fame in 2003. "We've gotten quite a few awards, but we're most proud of that one," says Gohlke. "You look at the companies in there and they're first-class operations. I believe it's the biggest award in the industry."