The Pool and Spa Show Really Means It

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Strong relationships between NESPA and the Atlantic City Convention Center are an immense asset in planning a potential COVID-era show.Strong relationships between NESPA and the Atlantic City Convention Center are an immense asset in planning a potential COVID-era show.

Editor's Note: The Pool and Spa Show has now moved to a live-streaming experience.

This year, hundreds of trade shows have been forced to cancel in-person events. One by one, driven by the realities of COVID, they've gone virtual and announced their exhibit halls and classrooms would be silent this year.

However, this year's Pool and Spa Show in Atlantic City may offer a chance for in-person conversation among the many pool and spa people who only see each other at trade shows. The Show has some particular strengths that give it a real shot at providing the human interaction and face-to-face exchange the industry has been missing since March.

AQUA spoke with NESPA Executive Director Dominick Mondi and Show Manager Patricia McCormick about the prospects for a show in Atlantic City this year which would bring people together face-to-face.

AQUA: The Connector, your show newsletter, just came out with another edition. It seems like you really mean to have an in-person show this year.

Patricia McCormick: We really do mean it. Over the last six months, I've talked more with my exhibiting companies than I ever have this early in the season. And three or four months into this COVID mess, they began telling me, as we all know now, that the industry was starting to boom, and that we would be one of the industries that would do well in the pandemic. A lot of people are excited about what that could mean for next year.

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For us at NESPA, we have two businesses. One is the Northeast Pool and Spa Association, and the other is our meetings and events β€” which we do on a large scale for The Pool and Spa Show once a year, but on a smaller scale that's what we do for our members all year. So our motivation is greater than just having a show. The show is part of our whole mission.

AQ: Does your relationship and identification with Atlantic City play a role here?

PM: Absolutely. I've been involved in the pool and spa show for well over 20 years now, and all the people that put on the show have long term relationships with the officials in Atlantic City and the manufacturers and distributors that exhibit with us, and at a time like this, that makes a huge difference. These are personal, professional relationships. So that gives us the inside track there, if you will, where a show that moves around every year, every two years, wouldn't have those kinds of connections.

So when I say, 'believe it,' that's not just me sitting in my office being optimistic, that's me and Dominic [Mondi, NESPA executive director] being in Atlantic City once a week, being on calls with them and the state and just working towards this common goal we all believe we can accomplish in January.

AQ: What are you up against in putting on a live show?

PM: There are some roadblocks. Anybody can Google the meeting restrictions in New Jersey right now, and what you're going to see is that we could β€” even if things stay the same as they are now with the guidelines and restrictions that are in place today β€” have a very successful in-person conference on the third and fourth floor of the convention center.

It's just a matter of doing things differently than we've done them before. It's been my job for over 20 years to build crowds and fi ll rooms. Now I've got to think a different way β€” fi gure out how to manage crowds β€” and the convention center and all our friends down there are already helping us to do that. But what I want everyone to know is that we could have a conference today and make it happen.

AQ: You're feeling good about education and meetings. What about the show floor?

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PM: That's the trickier part, but we are working on it with the people in Atlantic City. We're putting a proposal together for how we can do this. For that, we do need to see those max allowable numbers rise a little bit between now and the show. We want to see that maximum number taken away, and we want to see the convention center allow us to just go to a 25% or 50% capacity number because that building is huge. If we can get to a little better number, we could see an exhibit fl oor that could look similar to the past.

AQ: What are exhibitors saying?

PM: I've been in constant contact with them. They are on board, but there are still obstacles to overcome and travel will be one of them. I'm hearing from a lot of the manufacturers β€” and this is the large manufacturers with huge HR departments β€” that the obstacle they have to overcome is whether HR departments will allow travel.

Right now, many companies do not allow travel except for emergency-type things. At the same time, they're optimistic because if the world doesn't close down again, if things keep going the way they are, then a lot of company travel restrictions are going to be revisited January 1st.

AQ: Has it been hard to put on a show at a time like this?

PM: No, we're having a ball and building versions of this show that I would have never thought I would be looking at years ago. We're moving things around, stretching things out, planning different quadrants. It's been fun. We're having to be more creative than we've had to be in the past. And that's one of the things we're known for. You don't just walk through the doors of The Pool and Spa Show every year and see the same thing. The reason we've been so successful is because we are a show that is for the industry by the industry.

AQ: How can people stay up to date with the plans for Atlantic City?

Dominic Mondi: In a normal year, you'd have to be under a rock to not get communications about the show β€” you know, 'registration is open' notifi cations or notifi cations about the speaker lineup, things like that.

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This year because of COVID, the questions are out there. We're confident we're having a show, but we're also not ignorant about the challenges and the things people are wondering about. So we're blasting a communication weekly called The Connector because that's our focus and purpose of the trade show β€” building connections. In this case we need to keep people connected to the show and what's going on with it and kind of address questions as they come up on an ongoing rolling basis. So it's a positive forward-facing communication that has quotes from people, updates on Atlantic City, great speakers that you're going to see, that kind of thing.

People thinking about the show want to feel comfortable and safe in that experience when it happens. We're looking at The Connector as an easy way to share information and give people that confi dence, because people want a show. They want that experience.

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