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2014 will be BETTER for POOL BUILDERS…
Because of the 2013 Pool Spa Patio expo.
(Yes, you read that right.)

By Brett Lloyd Abbott, MYM Austin Inc.

I’ve just returned from what is now my 7th International Pool Spa Patio Expo, and I can tell you I’ve never seen such definitively positive signs and data that said clearly and loudly “You’re going to have a busy and profitable 2014.

Let me explain why, with some increasingly significant and compelling observations:

FIRST: Show Attendance Was “Healthy.”

I must admit right off the bat I don’t have any real data to confirm whether or not attendance was actually “up” from 2012.  (Hanley Wood will have that, and will share it soon, I’m sure.) But I do know this – every time I hit the show floor, I saw LOTS of people walking the aisles, and (with the exception of a few idiot exhibitors who augmented their $10,000 booth investment by sitting down in a chair and never looking up from their cell phones), I saw LOTS of people actively engaged in deep conversations in just about every booth.

For the past 5 years or so, most show floor conversations/attitudes could frequently be described as “tentative,” “cautious” and/or “apprehensive.” Not so, this time. While I admittedly didn’t run into any “euphoria,” I can confidently say that “Ne’er was heard a discouraging word.

SECOND: APSP is on a Freaking ROLL!

Apologies to (new APSP president/CEO) Rich Gottwald et al, it’s my (brutally) honest observation that the words “APSP” and “Success” don’t historically go in the same sentence.  In fact, I dare say there is a sizable contingency of pool industry professionals out there who believe APSP is “a joke.”  But I’m here to tell you that WOW, have things changed! APSP is on a freaking roll, as evidenced by not just one or 2 key events, but quite a litany that climaxed at the show last week:

  • Outgoing Chairman Mr. Steve Gorlin kicked some serious freaking a$$ this past year, and shook up the very structure of APSP like no one could have imagined.  It started with FIRING (you can substitute “eliminating” if you need a kinder and gentler word) nearly 2/3 of the top-heavy regional bureaucracy, and immediately followed that with an intense task force effort focused on helping local builders and local chapters be successful.
  • APSP has also recognized that they need some “Young guns” to help steer and eventually take over the leadership of APSP. Called the “Wave Network Of Young Professionals,” these “40 and under” members were invited to various special events, including a “tequila tasting” event at Borders Grill, next to the show floor.  (I daresay that “APSP” and “tequila tasting” are two more phrases you don’t normally find in the same sentence.) More info on the APSP Wave Network here.
  • APSP held its first-ever all-day “Leadership Forum” at the show on Monday, and let local APSP leaders share with each other the various resources they’ve found to help make them successful.
  • Rich Gottwald hasn’t been there long enough for me to make a bold prediction about his success.  But he said something on Monday that made me stop in my tracks and immediately start applauding him.  It was awkward for a moment there, because I was the only dork in the room clapping. But slowly, the other 95 people in the room picked up on what he just said, and eventually everyone applauded.  (Whew! I hate being the only dork in the room.) And these are the words he said (I’m paraphrasing only slightly):

“APSP needs to ensure that our members are profitable.” 
(Yes, Rich Gottwald said “PROFITABLE.”)
“If we haven’t done that,
then we have failed our members.”

  • And here is perhaps the biggest “turnaround” surprise of all for APSP. The once prestigious International Awards of Excellence event in recent years had devolved into a disappointing embarrassment.  (Not to pour salt in old wounds here, but the epitome of this de-evolution occurred when the elegant gala was replaced with a horribly ill-conceived awards ceremony occurring in the APSP booth on the show floor.  The entire event was hosted by – not a human being – but an emotion-less TV and DVD.   Noise on the show floor be damned.  And God forbid the name of your company be something like “Wise Pools,” because the prerecorded announcements were done alphabetically.  By the time they got to “W,” everyone else was gone.) This year’s gala was held as part of the annual welcome party.  And all award winners were given access to the exclusive “VIP lounge” upstairs.  Great turnout, Free drinks, and VERY classy!

THIRD: Housing Starts and Pool Purchases are forecast to be UP in 2014

I am now in love with Jonathan Smoke, the Chief Economist for Hanley Wood. He delivered an extremely data-heavy yet engaging and insightful overview of what’s happening with the US housing market, and subsequently what that means to the US swimming pool construction market. (Since new pool sales tend to follow new-home sales.) Here are some key points from his presentation:

  • The precipitous drop in housing starts has turned around. 2013 saw 20% growth in housing starts. That “leading indicator” will soon hit the pool construction industry.
  • “Starter homes” are shrinking as a percentage, while “higher-end” home purchases are increasing. (This is VERY good for new pool sales.)
  • “Bigger homes” are resurging. (Remember when we were told “smaller” is the new norm? Well, never mind.)
  • Mortgage rates are not expected to affect the housing market anytime soon.
  • Home remodeling is up a lot. Best since 2007.
  • Overall consumer confidence, which by all rights should be “battered” by Obamacare and sequesters and a dozen other catastrophes, is showing surprising resiliency, and hints of possible improvements in 2014.
  • 2014 is poised to be the strongest spending for new homes in 7 years.
  • Jonathan is predicting 10% growth for new pool starts year to year, and predicting an additional 50,000 new pool starts in 2014.

Overall – highly encouraging data for pool builders. I don’t know how anyone could walk out of that meeting and not feel very good about 2014.

OVERALL – I’m feeling very good about 2014. And I think you should be too.

We’ve waited a VERY long time for strong signs of true growth in the pool industry.  I think it’s finally here.

To your success,

©2013 Brett Lloyd Abbott / MYM Austin, Inc. May not be used without permission.

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