AQUA Show: A Sure Thing In Las Vegas

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Spa and pool professionals seeking advanced education and cutting-edge products hit the jackpot in Las Vegas at the 2006 AQUA Show Expo & Conference. Held Nov. 6-10 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, AQUA 2006 offered the mostextensive retail and design/build education program in the show's 15-year history, spread out over five full days and providing literally hundreds of hours of valuable classroom time to enthusiastic attendees determined to raise the bar in their businesses.

In addition, the three-day AQUA trade show featured hundreds of exhibitors, unveiling thousands of new spa, pool and backyard products at the first trade show of the 2007 sales season.

"The AQUA Show is a fantastic opportunity for someone who is committed to being a lifetime learner, constantly looking for the next thing to keep your company ahead of the rest," said Richard R. Richards, CEO of Arizona Quality Pool Service & Repair, Gilbert, Ariz. "It's well worth the time and cost to come here, and I'm already looking forward to next year."

Says Richards, "The most exciting part for me is all of the design/build training offered at AQUA, which is something that has been lacking in the pool industry. That's the focus of my business — we're not retail — but I also like all of the sales and business offerings at the conference, because learning how to sell is part of any kind of business. No matter where you are in the industry — construction, retail, service — there's plenty here for you.

"You also have the chance to network with other companies and see the latest and greatest products that are coming out. I met some new manufacturers I wasn't familiar with and found vendors who sell products that fill specific needs I've had," says Richards.

For the third year, AQUA teamed up with the Genesis 3 Design Group to offer the most-comprehensive recreational water design/build curriculum available anywhere, including six 20hour courses offered through the Genesis 3 Design School, which kicked off bright and early Monday morning, along with AQUA's highly successful eight-hour Certified Pool/Spa Operator (CPO) course.

"I've been in class since Monday morning," said Tim White of Quality Pools Construction Contracting, Live Oak, Fla. He was checking out LED lighting and other up-and-coming products when we caught up with him on the show floor. Of the Design School course he took in designing fountains and water features, White said, "It was very educational. The instructors took the time to really explain the details, and I learned a lot of new technology that I can adapt to my operation."

For attendees eager to jumpstart their retail education, Tuesday saw the introduction of another AQUA exclusive: two three-hour pre-conference workshops facilitated by popular AQUA speakers Tom Grandy on "Pricing Service & Products For A Profit," and Jon Schallert addressing how to "Turn Your Store Into A Consumer Destination."

Greg Weinstein from Bullfrog Spas of Orange, Calif., attended Schallert's Tuesday workshop, as well as his regular conference sessions on the "Ten Rules For Courting Baby-Boomers" and "Increasing Internet Profitability For Small Businesses." "They were all good, and I picked up some tips and a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, which is what our company is about," he said.

Weinstein also took advantage of Friday's two-part session by Peter Montoya, which was devoted to "Branding Your Small Business For Big Growth." "I really got a lot out of it," he said. "He's very thought-provoking and certainly guides you to the next level in becoming a better business owner. We're in the process of developing a marketing plan, and he was instrumental in providing ideas."

Featuring scores of new presenters and returning favorites, AQUA's education program wasn't limited to the classroom. Located in the show's Design/Build Pavilion, where dozens of exhibitors showed the latest in highend construction materials, the Genesis 3 Design Studio offered show shoppers free seminars on such timely topics as creating fog effects and color theory.

The latter, taught by Feras Irikat of Oceanside Glass Tile, was particularly well received by attendees. "I could listen to him all day!" said Carole Mills of Group Works Water Land & Architecture in Wilton, Conn. "He's a very dynamic speaker; he knows the subject, and he loves it. It will be very useful in considering the color of the plaster, the tile, the coping, and all of that."

"David Tisherman of Genesis 3 has always spoken about the importance of color, and this was my first opportunity to start to understand it in more detail — how to use it, and how to make color decisions for myself," added Mills' colleague Jamie Scott. "He helped us understand the science of applying colors and gave us the tools to really be able to do that."

Meanwhile, across the show floor, the new AQUA Retail Pavilion, sponsored by Advantis Technologies, GE, and Sundance Spas, not only provided attendees with a comfortable lounge where they could relax, chat with other dealers, and view the work of the AQUA Design Award winners, but also offered seminars and panel discussions on subjects important to store owners. Topics included branding your store, sales techniques, and the dynamics of running a business with your spouse.

Attendees like Jeffrey Stachmus of Pulliam Pools, Fort Worth, Texas, told us they really liked being able to attend useful seminars right on the show floor. "It makes it really convenient for us to come in and shop the show and be able to get the information, as well. I picked up a lot that I can take back and put to work."

In AQUA tradition, day one of the trade show was launched with a dynamic keynote address by productivity specialist Terri Kabachnick, who spoke to the packed South Seas Ballroom about the causes and cures for employee disengagement in "I Quit, But Forgot To Tell You." Kabachnick also taught a morning seminar on the "Seven Simple Steps For Coping With Change In the Workplace," then autographed her book for a long line of purchasers.

Among them was Terri Clark, owner of Sedona Creek Home Garden Gifts in Poplar Bluff, Mo., who planned to share her copy of I Quit, But Forgot To Tell You with her managers. "The keynote was absolutely wonderful," she said. "I thought I was going to go in and listen to what my employees' problems were, and I came out with a lot more. It really opened my eyes to the fact that I might be part of the problem as an employer. Terri really believes in what she talks about, and it really shows."

Doors to the 2007 AQUA Expo swung open at 1:00 p.m., and stayed open an hour later, to 6:00 p.m., on opening day. Exhibitors were immediately inundated with eager buyers. "Right out of the gate we had a good insurgence of dealers, and traffic has been steady ever since," said Aaron Glauser, marketing director for Bullfrog Spas, which was debuting its extensive '07 lineup. "The AQUA Show really works for us. It's a great hotwater show, but we're also talking to a lot of pool builders about the launch of our jet-pack technology to the gunite spa and pool industry."

"It's phenomenal! It's been non-stop since the doors opened," agreed Dan Frantti of Schaefer Ventilation Equipment, a supplier of outdoor heaters and a first-time AQUA exhibitor. "The attendee profile fits our company very well, and we are seeing a lot of quality buyers. We got more leads the first day than we had hoped for from the entire show. We will definitely be back next year."

International attendance is also on the rise at AQUA, a fact that delights David Stern of California Specialty Distributors, which maintained its prime location at the show entrance. "I've seen several international customers so far, and some potential international prospects, which is important to me. I'm always happy to be here. AQUA is an excellent show; always has been, always will be."

Another new feature for 2006 was the "AQUA Hot Sheet," outlining exhibitor specials available only at the show. Sue Rogers from Olympic Hot Tub in Seattle, likes the idea of getting moneymaking deals by buying at the show, and hopes the Hot Sheet will become a regular fixture at AQUA. One vendor offering special pricing via the Hot Sheet was Bryan L. Hauser, sales director at Poolvergnuegen, a supplier of pool cleaners. Eager to sign up for the promotion again next year, he said, "We didn't anticipate the number of people who came by the booth specifically for that reason."

Business was also brisk in the Design/Build Pavilion, where offerings included tile, stone, landscape lighting, pool equipment, and many other wares aimed at the construction sector. On duty in the Genesis 3 Design Group Studio, where attendees could relax with a glass of wine and discuss their projects with Genesis 3 principals and associates, David Tisherman said, "This whole area is alive. There's a tremendous amount of movement at the booths, and it's all people who are interested in education, learning about product, and buying product. You walk into a booth and there are guys standing there with rolls of plans, talking about specific jobs. Whatever a builder needs on a quality level — and I emphasize quality — it's here."

"You get to see not only the sales reps face-to-face, but the technical support people, as well," said Bradley Sharpe of Brad Sharpe Pools in San Antonio, Texas, after a visit to the Jandy exhibit. "I can find everything I need here, and every year it gets better and better." A convert to the Genesis 3 education program, Sharpe now uses AQUA as a onestop resource. "Since I started coming to AQUA, I haven't taken any of the Genesis 3 programs outside the show. I come here to fill that need and shop the trade show at the same time."

Day one wound down with the alwaysanticipated Industry Celebration at the House of Blues. This year's event was hosted by Citi Financial Retail Services, and drew wall-to-wall partiers for tasty Cajun fare, cold beverages and dancing to The Boogie Knights, hailed as "the greatest disco revival show in the world."

"What a great band!" said Linda Gasche, manager at Marshal's Pool & Spa in Barstow, Calif. "It's funny, because nobody wants to admit that they love disco. But you know what they say, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.'" Attending with two co-workers, Gasche added, "It was a wonderful party. We had a great time!" Brian and Debbie Cullingworth of Custom Pools and Spas, Temecula, Calif., also enjoy AQUA's many social events, including Genesis 3's winemaker dinner and the posh cocktail party honoring AQUA 100 and Design Award winners. "Those kinds of events are imperative," Brian said. "We get to meet all of the people we do business with, plus people from other parts of the country. We want to be nationally networked, and that's what this show does for us."

Causing a major buzz on the show floor on day three was the announcement that the AQUA Show has been purchased by Dallas-based Hanley Wood Exhibitions, which owns and manages the International Pool & Spa Expo and the Backyard Living Expo. "We recognize the unique advantages and strengths of each show," said Hanley Wood Vice President Rick McConnell. Making the announcement at an industry press conference at AQUA, he added that the acquisition will allow for scheduling the shows to avoid conflicts.

"For 2007, we will be hosting the AQUA Show at Mandalay Bay, November 14 through 16, and the IPSE and Backyard Living Expo, November 28 to 30 in Orlando," McConnell revealed. "Our plan beyond that is to extensively survey exhibitors, the attendee base, and industry leaders to figure out what the industry wants," he said in response to the question of whether the company plans to consolidate IPSE and AQUA into a single annual trade show.

"We are very proud of our role in providing profitable solutions to the retail segment of our industry over the past 15 years," said Peter Brown, owner of Athletic Business Publications in Madison, Wis., which founded the AQUA Show in 1993, and will retain ownership of AQUA Magazine. "The AQUA Show has a very exciting future under the management of Hanley Wood, and we look forward to seeing it grow to the next level."

Response from exhibitors on the show floor was largely positive, with many voicing support for a single industry trade show. "It can be good for the industry if it takes away the competition between the two shows and the need to make the choice of going to AQUA or IPSE," said Jeff Parker, marketing manager for Baja Spas.

"We've always had a good relationship with AQUA and Hanley Wood. They both put on a good program, so it should be a good thing," stated Tony Guy of inSPAration Spa Fragrance, as he packed up his booth on the final day of the ABP-owned AQUA Show. "We had a great show," he added. "We made a lot of good contacts and everybody here was a viable buyer. I have no complaints at all. I loved it."

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