An increase in educational opportunities, an expanded international presence and optimism for 2013 highlighted the Master Pools Guild’s Spring Meeting.

The event, held March 20 to 23 in San Jose, Calif., saw approximately 185 members, employees, spouses and vendors in attendance, representing 6 5 member firms and 37 vendors.

Such conferences, including the upcoming Fall Meeting, are meant to provide education, networking opportunities, face time with suppliers, and to update attendees on Guild business.

“They’re always very effective,” said Rick Whiteaker, president of Pool Tech Midwest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Noting the Guild’s desire to constantly improve, he added, “... It’s always asking, ‘How do we get better so we can make others better?’ The conferences always help in not only knowing how to handle creative thought processes with our customers, but business-related issues like insurance.”

Master Pools recently began ramping up its educational offerings at the sessions. The Spring Meeting had a menu of nine seminars, including three by Artistic Resources and Training. ART, the group founded by former Genesis 3 instructor Mark Holden and Genesis 3 co-founder David Tisherman, contributed three courses — the 12-hour seminars “Introduction to Drawing and Perspective” and “The History of Water in Art and Architecture,” and a shorter session titled “The Design and Business of High End Projects. “

Two classes related to the Web, “Social Media 101” and “Google 101 – Find Your Way To The Top,” continued the Guild’s efforts to acquaint its members more with these media. Other topics covered the creation of fire features, presented by Fire By Design, and managing risk, given by CNA Insurance.

Approximately 170 design awards were presented, including eight “Outstanding” awards. A best-in-show-type award, called the Grand International, went to a project by Medallion Pool Co. in Arden. N.C. Called The Cloud Pool, it has been featured on the Home and Garden Television show “Cool Pools.” Winners of the Outstanding awards included Mission Pools, Escondido, Calif.; Gib-San Pools,  Toronto; Claffey Pools, Southlake, Texas; Klimat Master Pools, Highland Heights, Ky.; Neuman Pools, Beaver Dam, Wis.; Bluestone Pools, Perth, Western Australia; and Rainey Pool Co., League City, Texas.

“The design-award winners get better every year,” said Master Pools Guild Chairman Jeff Clarkson, also president of Florida-Bonded Pools in Jacksonville, Fla. “Three of this year’s have been featured on television.”

The Guild also gave out its first-ever Industry Icon Award to Vance Gillette of Zodiac Pool Products. The award will be given when Master Pools wishes to recognize exceptional participation in the group. It was largely inspired by Gillette, who retired March 31. “The idea came up when we asked what we could do for Vance,” said Master Pools Executive Director Dick Covert. “It is something we plan to continue.”

Attendees also took a tour of vanishing-edge pools by host company Lifetime Pools, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

The 125-member Guild continues to increase its international presence to include pool builders in Australia, Mexico, the Caribbean, Guatemala, Costa Rica, India, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. This is largely due to interest generated by the group’s website, Covert said.

Many in attendance reported an increase in business compared with this time last year. “Right now, I’m optimistic,” said Scott Burton, president of Las Vegas-based Prestige Pools. “It looks like it’s going to be a pretty decent year. Last year, even with high-end customers, it was just price, price, price. This year, price isn’t the only thing on their minds.

“I’m crossing my fingers to see what happens,” he added, “but it looks like it’s turning a little bit. It’s not all doom and gloom.”

The next gathering of Master Pools Guild will be its Fall Meeting in Indianapolis Oct. 23 to 26.