Each year, the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance recognizes outstanding individuals in the pool and spa industry through its prestigious awards program. On top of the Awards of Excellence, which highlights top-notch pool and spa projects from around the globe, a number of awards honor the individual achievements of a select group of industry professionals.
This year’s honorees were celebrated at an awards reception during the International Pool | Spa | Patio/Deck Expo this past November. While some are career veterans, others are new to the industry — all are examples of the exceptional talent and forward-thinking individuals we are lucky to have in this industry we call home.
BUILDER OF THE YEAR
The Builder of the Year award is a peer-nominated award given annually to one builder, a member of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, who has advanced the pool building profession through outstanding achievements and dedication to the industry.
This year’s award went to Edward Gibbs of Gib-San Pool & Landscape Creations. Gibbs has a lifetime of experience in the pool industry and has proven himself as a leader through his active involvement in industry associations as well as his business management strategy.
He is a past president of the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada and received the organization’s Industry Achievement Award in 2011. Gibbs is also a past chairman of the Master Pools Guild and currently serves as a member of their Executive Committee. Gibbs believes in the power of education and continually invests in training his employees.
SERVICE PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR
The Service Professional of the Year Award is a peer-nominated award. Given annually, the recognition is given to a service member of PHTA who has advanced the service profession through outstanding achievements and dedication to the pool and spa industry.
Javier Payan of Payan Pool Service, Inc. took home this year’s Service Professional of the Year award. Payan has over 35 years of experience, during which he has developed a deep understanding of the pool business.
He is committed to providing his customers with the highest quality service possible. Payan Pool Service, Inc. has been named one of the top 50 pool service providers in the United States every year since 2019. In the last year alone, the company has completed 3,200 repairs and upgrades, 21,000 cleanings, and maintained 10 million gallons of pool water each week. Payan also currently serves as president of the PHTA San Diego Chapter.
YOUNG PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR
The Young Professional of the Year Award is a peer-nominated award recognizing a forward-thinking leader under the age of 40 who will be the voice and next generation of pool and spa professionals.
Lance Irby was recognized as this year’s Young Professional of the Year. He is a detail-oriented and goal-driven professional. Irby has proven his ability to implement business plans, meet deadlines, hit targets, and achieve critical sales objectives.
He has worked for Premier Pools & Spas for more than 10 years and earned his Certified Master Pool Builder & Design Professional (Master CBP) designation from PHTA and GENESIS. Irby is able to excel at all facets of the business, from developing client relationships to designing and constructing beautiful pools.
RETAILER OF THE YEAR
The Retailer of the Year Award, powered by LOU, is a peer-nominated award recognizing one outstanding retailer who has advanced the retail profession through outstanding achievements and dedication to the industry.
The Retailer of the Year was awarded to Travis Hogan of Fiesta Pools & Spas LLC. Hogan purchased Fiesta Pools & Spas in 2005 and, for nearly 20 years, has kept the company on the leading edge of the industry by continuously networking and learning from colleagues, builders, manufacturers and suppliers.
Hogan and his retail team attend many meetings and training opportunities to learn about new products and services they can offer their customers. Fiesta Pools & Spas has been the recipient of the Master Pools Guild Leading EDGE Award. Hogan also shares his expertise with others by serving on the PHTA Retail Council.
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
The Volunteer of the Year Award is bestowed upon one prominent individual each year who has made distinguished contributions that raise professionalism in the aquatic community through their volunteering with the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance.
Bob Blanda is this year’s Volunteer of the Year. Blanda is a long-time member of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance and has served in a variety of volunteer leadership roles, including chair of the PHTA Education Committee, threetime chair of the PHTA Metro Chapter, and member of the PHTA Board of Directors.
He is a generous mentor and teacher who is always willing to share his knowledge with others. He will be taking on a new volunteer role in 2024 as the builders’ representative on the PHTA Technical Advisory Council. Blanda is a tireless advocate for the industry with an unmatched passion and enthusiasm.
CHAPTER OF THE YEAR
The Chapter of the Year Award recognizes one outstanding chapter that has set a stellar example for the organization, advancing and enhancing the industry through strong leadership, community outreach, and providing their members with the highest quality of programs, activities and services.
The PHTA Midwest Chapter
took home this year’s award. The
Midwest Chapter serves as a model
for other chapters through its strong
leadership, increased activity, and
creative member engagement
programs. The Chapter has a strong
focus on raising the professionalism
of the industry through thoughtful
networking focused on best practices
and educational programs that
improve their members’ knowledge
and skills. They host dinners, an
educational spring training event,
design contests, service awards and
much more — all making a difference
in their region.
DR. R. NEIL LOWRY GRANT
Given in the memory of Dr. Robert Neil Lowry — a long-time member of PHTA and the Recreational Water & Air Quality Committee — this $5,000 grant honors a public health official or department who has made outstanding contributions to advance the public’s health and safe use of recreational water in pools, spas, and waterparks through educational, safety, operational, and technical programs.
This year’s Dr. R. Neil Lowry Grant was awarded to Craven County Environmental Health of New Bern, N.C. Craven County Environmental Health currently operates 40 public swimming pools and is expecting that number to increase in the near future, due in part to an expansion of military operations at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and a new community development expected to bring 19,400 residents to the area.
With the $5,000 Dr. R. Neil Lowry Grant, the department plans to train two environmental health staff as Certified Pool & Spa Operator (CPO) instructors who can then offer CPO certification training to the new and existing employees who operate the county’s public pools. Craven County Environmental Health also plans to offer swimming safety programs to all pre-K through 8th grade classes. These efforts will ensure that the department has knowledgeable pool operators on staff and can provide lifesaving survival skills to the community.
GREG GARRETT SCHOLARSHIP AWARD
Given in the memory of Greg Garrett, who dedicated 45 years to the pool and hot tub industry and served in many leadership roles, this $5,000 scholarship is given to a PHTA member in the builder or service sector for PHTA educational or certification fees to increase professionalism and provide an opportunity for continuing education. This year, PHTA was able to offer two scholarships thanks to a sponsorship from Periodic Products, Inc.
The $5,000 scholarship, sponsored by Periodic Products, was awarded to Kaitlyn Bierce. Kaitlyn Bierce, pool service technician at the Neave Group, is known by her colleagues as a hard worker with a drive to grow and learn as much as she can about the pool, spa and hot tub industry. She understands the important role education and certification play in her success, especially in interactions with clients. Her professional experiences and training thus far allow her to speak to clients with confidence and knowledge. Bierce became a Certified Pool & Spa Maintenance Specialist (CMS) last year and plans to use her $5,000 Greg Garrett Scholarship Award to expand her skillset in wiring, electricity, construction and design.
The second $5,000 scholarship, sponsored by PHTA Recreational Water & Air Quality Committee, went to Lee Comer, owner and operator of Carolina Pools and Backyards. Comer is dedicated, diligent and detail-oriented. She is a natural leader who understands the importance of staying current on industry trends, safety standards, and guidelines. Comer cares deeply about customer service and earning her clients’ trust and business. With her $5,000 Greg Garrett Scholarship Award, Comer plans to take additional PHTA and GENESIS courses focused on construction, standards and design trends.