Does the Commercial Swimming Pool Industry Have a Voice?

I was recently asked by a friend and leader in the aquatic industry to comment on the Pool Genius Network blog titled “Fix The APSP”.  The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP – formerly NSPI) has a long history of supporting the swimming pool industry.  Over the years it has had to adjust and adapt to changing markets and organizational realities.  From a 30,000 foot view, this organization has contributed greatly to the industry and the support of many entrepreneurial efforts of individuals entering the business.  The thousands of industry professionals that have invested their time in achievement of these goals are greatly appreciated and I would like to say “Thank You!”

Tomorrow is a new day with new challenges and I question whether the industry and APSP are prepared.  My industry perspective indicates that we will likely see more regulations, an increase in federal mandates and greater legal challenges.  All of these initiatives may result in positive or negative change.  The key to success is making knowledgeable decision with accurate and timely information that provides the best value to the user, operator, owner, and public health.  Based on the experience of the recent VGB and ADA federal mandates, I do not believe our industry is well represented to participate in, much less lead, a knowledgeable decision making effort for the future of aquatics.

Rightly or wrongly today’s APSP is seen and a trade association with a strong foundation in residential pools.  Recently, it has been unsuccessful in presenting the facts with integrity to effect positive change.  I remember Carvin DiGiovanni reporting in 2007 to the APSP Commercial Council in Washington DC about the great accomplishments of the new VGB legislation that was just passed and the APSP’s leadership role.  What alarmed me was the lack of any communication with the Council that was directly involved in the commercial portion of the industry of which this legislation would impact.  This lack of honest transparency has been damaging to the industry.  The APSP needs to focus on what is best for the industry instead of following the crowd to be associated with the prevailing winds of change.  What our industry requires is leadership with vision and purpose, not a meandering behemoth looking for the next public relations opportunity. 

In fairness to the APSP, since it reorganization in 2003 it appears their primary goal has been trying to survive.  In July 2004, the APSP reported total assets of $19.0 million, in its most recent reporting it stated total assets in June of 2010 of $9.6 million.  This is roughly a 50% decrease in six years.  In addition, the 2010 tax return reported a loss of $616,000 from operations.  How has the industry benefited from this $9.4 million investment by the APSP?  It is understandable for an organization to become myopic when under significant stress; however, this does not help our industry.  Can these aquatic industry resources be used more wisely with greater positive impact?

So in answering the question “How To Fix The APSP?” the following are my suggested action items:

  1. Develop a fiscally sustainable business model.  It appears from my perspective that the loss of the NSPI tradeshow has financially crippled the APSP and todays primary sources of revenue are membership and selling of standards.  Given the recent financial trends reported by the Association this model does not appear to be working.  Is the current direction a long and slow death?
  2. Do No Harm.  For whatever reason, the APSP has attempted to be the most dominate voice at the federal level.  The harm is that this voice is not always the most knowledgeable on needed change or understanding potential unintended consequences.  In my opinion, the poor execution of this self-appointed industry voice has caused tremendous harm to our collective integrity and financial damage to the industry as a whole.  Based on current performance, no voice would be better than this voice. 
  3. Understand the difference between the needs of residential and commercial aquatics.  Whether it is drain grates, pool barriers / access or the skill involved in creating an aquatic experience, there are tremendous differences in uses, needs, designs, construction techniques and operational requirements for these different markets.  The APSP one size fits all approach has caused significant difficulties in the industry.  In my opinion, the APSP focuses on the residential and retail portion of the industry while trying to benefit from its historical role regarding industry standards.  The frenetic approach to a holistic industry solution for standards has been quite alarming.  The most recent example is the May 25, 2012 press release announcing a memorandum of understanding trying to explain the disjointed role of the APSP in their standard pursuit. 
  4. “The Voice”  The 2004 APSP Strategic Plan had as one of their objectives to “Increase awareness of the association’s position as “The Voice” for the pool and spa/hot tub industries.  I question whether it is prudent or possible to effectively represent so many different facets of such a large and complex industry.  With over sixty industry organizations – is it not just a little arrogant to be “The Voice” without asking first?    It appears that in an attempt to do it all, nothing is getting done well.

So, as the call for a Fix is screamed from the aquatic industry rooftops, focus on sound a sustainable financial model the places quality above quantity. 

3 Comments to Does the Commercial Swimming Pool Industry Have a Voice?

  1. June 17, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Being an outsider looking in from as far back as 1983, when first introducing and passing the first barrier law in Contra Costa County for residential pools, is when I was first introduced to the underhandedness of the pool lobbiest here in California. After our law was passed ( first in the world) I travelled to DC to meet with CPSC to alert them to the child drowning problem. At that time they were new with product problems and took a “good ear” to the issue of children (toddlers) drowning in residential pools. From that time on while the California State bill was being introduced and then signed into law, we had hoped that the pool industry (NSPI) would have looked at “partnering” with our organization in support of other laws in other states rather than looking like “the bad guys” not caring about the safety and well being of young children. I remember when NSPI closed because of the law suit and some time later the APSI was formed! In my experience over the last 30 years as an advocate for drowning prevention some of the needs of the pool industry seemed to “rub off” on me, rather then continuing to fight this organization, but rather to “join hands” for the good of all. After all, we like pools, like being in them, enjoy the water and swim like most Americans do today.
    I will have to agree with the author above that most of what he says does make good sense. I do applaud most of the good the APSi has done in these past years, but you might be right, time to look down different roads for the good of the industry. Might be they should have “partnered with an organization such as ours” to join hands to help keep the industry healthy and alive. After all, we are the consumers with some great idea’s for this industry, especially today with the economy as poor as it is…Just my two cents. Have a great day. Drowning Prevention Foundation

  2. John Caden
    June 20, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Hi Scot,

    No single event underscores the weakness of the pool industry’s ability to impact legislation and regulations on itself than the recent turmoil involving ADA requirements.

    The trade association who was able to postpone implementation of ADA requirements for swimming pools, meet with the Department of Justice to present their objections to proposed regulations, meet with White House staff to present their objections to these regulations, influence lawmakers to introduce legislation to forestall proposed regulations that affect swimming pools, and put this controversy in front of the general public (including a segment on Rush Limbaugh), was not the swimming pool trade association.

    It was the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

    The hotel trade association has had more impact affecting our industry in matters concerning swimming pool accessibility, than we have had.

    To be fair, the APSP did organize a consortium of manufacturing companies and other industry associations to attempt to get involved in the dialogue. The APSP did reach out to the AHLA and actually attended the White House meeting. However, to date, there has been zero success in meeting with policy makers to provide input from our industry on matters that will affect our industry.

    As a past board member of the APSP, my perspective is that the APSP has a wealth of dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to improve our industry. It also has an overburdened staff tasked with doing too much with too little.

    If the APSP is ever going to be the industry “Voice” we would all like it to be, it must develop the sustainable financial model that you suggest. Continuing to run at a deficit produces diminishing results. They must reinvent their membership policy to generate the financial resources necessary to have a greater impact on our industry than the impact provided by the hotel trade group.

    • June 22, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      As usual John you are spot on. The reinvent and financial stability that is sustainable are paramount to APSP’S core purposes. The new Strategic plan and new leadership in the form of CEO will hopefully address these issues.

      Marketing, marketing, marketing, and more marketing are the keys to growing the market share of leisure $$$$. We already do a stellar job of standards and being infront of GRAC issues.

      The big issue is revenue to sustain or underright the Mother ship.

      Education of course is one of the key componants, but membership growth is the key to all. When the numbers increase more people will listen to what we have to say especially up on the hill. More members, more company’s to sell education to. More marketing will give the association relevance not only to Manuf. but also to the grass roots.

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