Pool And Spa Industry Must Hang Together, Or Hang Separately

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Scott WebbWhen I think about the difficulties of combined action I always think of the problems that confronted the people living along the Atlantic Seaboard in 1775.

Facing an enormous, stifling impediment to growth, and the only really good solution requiring armed confrontation with a far superior force, these people put aside their differences, pooled their resources, and took on the greatest power in the world.

And make no mistake, their differences were huge. The suspicions and divisions between the states were tremendous. They had operated for generations as separate entities, and they liked it that way. Most importantly, there was no political organization through which they could unify.

But they did.

I scribble this reminder today because the pool and spa industry today finds itself in a comparable situation. No, we're not English colonies feeling our way toward nationhood, but we're separate distinct organizations trying to grow. In that way we're alike, and perhaps, just as our forefathers did, we could find a way to grow better together.

Yes, I know there have been many attempts at combined action for the common good in this industry before, and they've met with little success. But the situation is more dire now, and that tends to focus the mind.

For four years we've sustained ourselves through a ruthless recession. It seems to be moderating somewhat, but undoubtedly still has legs. What can we look to now?

Most of us are trying to hang tough until the housing market finally starts picking up and consumer credit begins to loosen. And that will make a huge difference, but there are some intractable problems that continue to plague us.

Most of our retailers are small, brick-and-mortar outfits trying to compete against bulk buyers like Wal-Mart and low-overhead merchants on the Internet. Trying to out-service them. That works to some extent; it reduces customer defections, but it's hardly a recipe for growth.

The problem is our piece of the pie is shrinking.

We need a bigger pie. We have great products that promote good health and family togetherness, two items at the very top of the list of consumer desires. The trouble is that a lot of people either aren't aware of the fact — they don't think of them in that way — or they've been distracted by perceived maintenance or safety concerns.

We need to help people see our products for what they really are — rewarding lifestyle choices. A large-scale, consistent and well-coordinated national advertising campaign could do just that and, I believe, create a renaissance in our industry. As Americans turn their gaze ever more homeward and inward, we could be there offering sanctuary — a safe and intimate refuge from a world they no longer understand.

I know, I know, this idea of a united marketing effort is as old as redwood barrel hot tubs, but there seems to be more urgency these days, and perhaps more logic behind it. There are tens of thousands of retailers and builders across the U.S. and Canada, they might just be willing to throw caution to the wind and do something reckless and a little bit desperate, like contribute real money with nothing but the faith that most everybody else will follow suit, even those competitors down the road who don't seem to have many redeeming qualities.

It'd be that simple. Everybody would have to forget to be careful for one minute.

I think it could happen. We've certainly got better odds than the 13 colonies had in 1775. It seemed like a long shot, confronting the British, but as Ben Franklin put it so well, if we don't figure out a way to "hang together," some of us are going to "hang" all by ourselves.

Scott Webb

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