Cross-Pollination: The Potential of Industry Outreach

VanceFor as long as I can remember, the pool and spa industry has generally behaved as though pools and spas exist in a vacuum, as if they have little or nothing to do with the surrounding environment. 

Fortunately, that’s changed for many forward-thinking builders who have become sensitive to the fact that their work exists in context of the entire property. These days, many include things like outdoor kitchens, adjacent hardscape, plantings and a wide gamut of exterior design elements. 

While I applaud that kind of evolved thinking and ambitious action, it’ still clear that, for the most part, ours is an industry that remains internally focused on itself. We continue to hold onto what one might call an “isolationist” approach to doing business. 

I believe that’s a horrible mistake — something that needs to change, and sooner rather than later. 

In my personal quest to encourage our industry to find ways to promote the pool/spa experience to consumers, I’ve argued (and will continue to do so), that the time is long past due when we reach out to other industries that share common ground with ours. 

What does that mean exactly? The first step is to identify those industries that would benefit from closer interaction with the pool and spa industry and vice versa. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a “wish list” of industries I believe we should reach out to in an effort to strengthen our market outreach and benefit from shared education. 

(For this discussion, I’ll focus on only one, in my next offering; we’ll look at a cadre of others, many of which might be somewhat less immediately obvious.)

The first and arguably the most apparent choice is the landscape architecture industry. As part of a 2011 survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, landscape architects specializing in residential design from across the country were asked to rate the popularity of a variety of outdoor design elements. Unsurprisingly, the broad category of gardens and landscape spaces led the way with 94.9 percent rating “somewhat” or “very” popular. That was followed closely by outdoor livings spaces at 91.5 percent, which were defined as those projects that include a kitchen and entertainment spaces; 97.4 percent of respondents rated grills as somewhat or very in-demand, followed closely by low-maintenance landscapes (96.6 percent), fireplaces/fire pits (95.8 percent) and dining areas (95.7 percent). Lighting features remained a popular choice at 93.1 percent.

Pools came in at 79.2 percent, a figure slightly nudged out by spas at 80.4 percent. Decorative water elements, waterfalls, fountains etc. were even more popular at 89.9 percent.

Those are compelling numbers that show homeowners are concerned with the entire outdoor experience. Fact is, landscape architects are often called upon to design spaces that encompass a range of activities and features, including those that are aquatic in nature. The question becomes, do we view landscape architects as competitors or potentially as strategic partners? 

Like it or not, landscape architects are working in the same realm as pool/spa builders. Yet, we know that there’s been a broad disconnection between our two industries. Perhaps that’s because landscape architecture is a profession that requires a university degree to earn licensure and accreditation while ours does not. Likewise, maybe it’s because pool builders are more oriented toward the contractor side of the business. 

Whatever the reasons behind the divide, landscape architects (or LAs) and pool industry professionals have a great deal to offer each other. LAs are versed in design, while pool professionals understand the specifics of designing and building structures that contain water. One could argue that whether we realize it or not, we’re in reality parts of the same umbrella industry, which one might call the “exterior design,” or better yet, the “outdoor entertainment” industry. 

As I mentioned above, there exists a class of builders that have already made that connection. Some in our industry either employ or regularly work with local landscape architecture firms. On the other hand, there are LAs who turn to builders they trust to execute their designs. The benefits are obvious and immediate: whichever way the business flows, both sides of the coin benefit from being able to offer clients more comprehensive services, and often with superior results. 

When pools/spas and other aquatic features are conjoined with the overall design program from the start of a project, there’s greater opportunity to aesthetically harmonize with elements in the landscape. There are also greater efficiencies on the installation side of things; conduits for landscape lighting or sound systems or irrigation lines can be installed the same time as plumbing for the pool, as one example. 

It’s not surprising that these days, many of the finest projects are those that have benefited from integrated design and installation processes. 

Unfortunately, despite the fact that some progressively minded professionals in both industries do work together, we’re still a long way from a condition where our industries consolidate efforts in a broader context. For that to happen, we need leadership from our respective industry associations. 

I am encouraged that this year’s IPSPE in Las Vegas offers a smattering of classes that in one way or another include disciplines from the landscape architecture industry. I’m also encouraged that some in our industry, such as my friends at Genesis 3, have made in roads and offer classes at landscape-oriented events. 

While those overtures are admirable, we need to do more. Perhaps as part of a national promotion campaign APSP might consider working directly with ASLA? Certainly, we should pursue deeper connections on the education front. And, is it completely outside the realm of possibility that our industries someday co-sponsor trade or even consumer-oriented events? 

It’s all certainly worth considering!

Next time, I’ll list and discuss a cadre of other industries for potential outreach.   

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