Industry trade shows serve a good purpose. Anyone who attends typically comes away feeling like they've been bettered by the personal interaction and camaraderie that shows engender. This week's AOAP show is a good example. By all accounts it was a great sophomore effort. To put it simply: Everyone loves a good show.

But what happens when there's not just one show, but four, or eight or 12 or 24? That's the reality for a professional attempting to work across both industries, and it seems the number of them grows annually. Call it showflation. 

It's burning us out. At every one of the many shows I've attended at least one person has commented to me how worn out they are from shows. How they wish there were fewer of them. Part of the problem is the segmentation in the industry — both between residential and commercial and within those industries — and frankly the reality that trade shows are big business. (Full disclosure: Hanley Wood, which publishes Aquatics International and Pool & Spa News owns one of the industry's largest trade shows, the Pool Spa Patio Expo.) 

I can't fault the associations that want in on the action. But I would like to see some effort made to offer a more consolidated show for commercial and residential markets. Anyone who's been to the major European shows, such as Piscine, knows what I'm talking about. These shows dwarf most of our largest shows because they bring in all elements from commercial and residential under one giant roof. It's one stop shopping for industry pros. 

Could something like that work in U.S.? I'd like to think so, but many roadblocks exist. What's your thought on the industry's show situation? What would you like to see? Perhaps this can be the beginning of the end of showflation. 

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Tags: Patio, Piscine, Pool, Spa, expo, industry, showflation, shows, trade

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Comment by Terri Smith on April 9, 2013 at 1:38pm

Hi Gary!

Okay, because of the nature of my paid profession, I attend several shows each year, some as an exhibitor and some as an attendee.  I have a unique perspective as, I serve on the AOAP board and I am also as a designer that works with residential/small commercial pool builders. I can see both sides of the coin, if you will.  I really think you are kind of comparing apples to oranges when you talk about a show like AOAP and a Pool and Spa Expo. 

A Pool and Spa Expo type show is valuable to pool contractors and others looking to peddle their services/products primarily for the residential and smaller commercial markets.  The educational sessions offer more technological, sales and storefront marketing topics to fulfill CEU requirements rather than risk management, drowning prevention, programming, staffing, etc.  Thus, bringing in a completely different market with different needs than a conference such as AOAP. The attendees have completely different mindset...profit/revenue/bottom line, not necessarily community service. The tough part? Most exhibitors sell to both markets, thus, making multiple shows the nature of the beast. 

Bringing these two types of shows together, although an attractive notion overall, I personally think would be fairly difficult.  To succeed, first of all you would have to have a HUGE venue, with MANY exhibit hours. (not the most attractive notion to someone that has to man a booth!)  Also, figuring out a way so both markets feel important. 

Having one huge show brings the dilution factor...you would have to somehow segregate the residential from the large commercial. (Let's face it, that kind of defeats the purpose.)  I know that muni-operators don't care about the latest design of backyard spas....just as I know that most pool contractors don't care about the latest innovation in lifeguard suits.  And, as an attendee, it is quite frustrating to walk through a bunch of stuff I don't care about to find the booths I do care about.....too much like the other shows that aren't aquatic specific. 

Additionally, providing viable educational opportunities would be a challenge. Pool contractors aren't interested in how to program a pool or how to train lifeguards, just as operators aren't interested in the latest innovation in plaster.  Education is what will most muni departments will justify, not typically an Expo. From personal experience, most municipalities see the exhibit hall as just icing on the cake, not the primary reason to send someone to a conference. That being said, it has been my experience it is exactly opposite for contractors, however they do need CEU completion.

Perhaps a set up where you have the residential/pool contractor education on the front end of the show and the operational/municipal educational sessions on the tail end of the show might be one option....truly a challenge to provide diverse educational sessions and provide the perceived value of being an exhibitor...and not feeling you are just a "faceless mass" or lost in the mix.

All of this being said.....I do think there is great value (and importance) in providing drowning prevention information to both markets.  I think pool contractors and (other attendees of the Pool and Spa Expo) should be huge advocates for drowning prevention along with the rest of us!  If pools are perceived unsafe, then people won't put them in, therefore cutting into their bottom line, and that is what it's all about for them.  Think about the marketing potential the could have if they provided drowning education to their clients!  The key is getting them information! Any help I can provide, I am in! 

Comment by NDPA on April 5, 2013 at 5:35pm

Of course we would be game for something like that! Shoot us in the right direction. Thank you for the opportunity!

Comment by Gary Thill on April 5, 2013 at 4:14pm

Thanks Kim and Tom for the very thoughtful responses. You both raise great points.

Tom I agree with you that it's hard to combine commercial with residential. The focuses are very different, as I noted in another of my blog posts. However, I still believe there could be some value in bringing the two sectors together.

Kim, I applaud what NDPA is doing! The residential sector, in my opinion, needs a lot more focus on safety and drowning protection. I wonder if this is where the two sectors (commercial and residential) could find some common ground. Perhaps this is opportunity to bring some of what the NDPA does to say the International Pool Spa Patio Expo (our show) which focuses on residential. Would you be game for something like that? If so, I can connect you with the necessary people. 

Look forward to hearing what others have to say on this! 

Comment by NDPA on April 5, 2013 at 6:23am

I agree with Tom, mostly! It is hard to encompass everything into one conference. As it is we hear at our symposium that there are too many choices and they want to attend more sessions but can't. You can only be in one place at a time, for now anyway!

The NDPA is trying to "Reach Out" and bring the drowning prevention message and education to others by partnering with other conferences. The NDPA will be presenting several sessions at  the upcoming World Aquatic Health Conference in Indianapolis.

This year at the NDPA Symposium in Fort Lauderdale we had 26 different presentations. Only two addressed backyard pools, Mike Haggard addressing negligence, supervision, entrapment and barriers and the CPSC talking about partnerships and the Pool Safely campaign. I really appreciate Tom's gracious notes of praise about our symposium but I would submit that the NDPA is strategically moving our focus to all drownings, including the backyard pools.

Backyard pools are a relatively small percentage of the total of drownings. The symposium this year had presentations from leading researchers and professors talking about breath holding, submerged vehicles, rip currents, rivers, education in public schools, developing drowning prevention task forces, the Coast Guard and K38 ocean rescues, medical issues in drowning, stand up paddle boarding, ice and water rescues, marketing your message, etc...

Our goal is that when you leave the symposium you will have better knowledge and education to take back to your communities, pools and facilities, schools. Education is key. So I agree with Tom, it would be Utopia if we could somehow manage it but it is such a complex issue that a one stop shop for all is probably not likely. However as Mario Vittone presented on because it is such a complex issue "it will take all of us working together" to make a difference. The NDPA can't do what the AOAP does or what WAHC does or the World Water Park Association does or the USLA but we can work together because drownings are preventable. It will take all of us doing what we each can do to eliminate drownings.

Back to Gary's original question/thought. Once again I agree with Tom, it would be hard to get all of those different organizations coming together because of the diversity in this issue. For the NDPA I can say that we value the exhibitors at our symposium but have no interest in becoming a trade show.

Comment by Tom Griffiths on April 4, 2013 at 10:34am

Yes, in a perfect world fewer conferences may be better by being more efficient, but of course it’s not Utopia out there. As I have discovered more recently, different conferences seem to attract very diverse audiences.

AOAP and NDPA are two great examples. Both conducted well organized, productive conferences but the people who attended each conference and the presentations provided were significantly different.

AOAP caters to the big pool people with big pool problems: finances, swim teams, customer service, sexual harassment, hiring/firing practices and of course risk management.  On the other hand, NDPA focuses on drowning prevention particularly for children of tender years. While their presentations are becoming more diverse, the backbone of the NDPA conference still seems to be protecting little ones in back yard pools. Many, if not most, of those attending NDPA do not manage large public facilities, unlike AOAP. 

Residential pool conferences like the Northeast Spa and Pool Association conference seem to be primarily interested in selling and installing swimming pools along with their ancillary products. Because residential pools don’t require lifeguards, pool professionals and programs, it would be a mismatch for those professionals attending AOAP. The people you may be speaking to at these many and varied conferences I’ll bet are mostly exhibitors, not speakers or attendees. No doubt, exhibiting at all these different shows is a tough row to hoe.

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