From the moment the ribbon was ceremoniously cut on opening day, the 2006 International Pool & Spa Expo was humming.
A total of 2,810 booths displayed every imaginable product relating to pools, spas and backyard living. A few exhibitors were even caught off guard by the seemingly endless throng of attendees.
“On the first day, we were completely slammed with people at our booth,” said Trish Terry, director of marketing at American Leak Detection in Palm Springs, Calif. “We went through a whole roll of tape on our card scanner. We’ve never done that before.”
Held at the Las Vegas Convention Center Nov. 29-Dec. 1, the Expo set numerous records, according to Rick McConnell, vice president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions, which produces the event.
The numbers were up this year compared with 2005: The 2,810 booths were a new high, beating the previous year’s total by 130. The 756 exhibiting companies on hand topped the prior number of 725. And at 281,000 net square feet, total show-floor space surpassed last year by 13,000 net square feet.
“In my opinion, it was the best Expo since Hanley Wood has owned it,” McConnell said. “And the numbers back that up.
“The mood was very upbeat and the quality of the education was excellent,” he added. “There were new features, including the New Product Pavilion that, along with the keynote speaker and Welcome Party, were very well-received.”
Total attendance at press time was estimated to have passed the 15,500 mark, setting yet another record.
Organizers said that one reason for the attendance upswing was the addition of the Backyard Living Expo. Retailers, in particular, seemed pleased with this relatively new dimension to the event.
“We’re seeing more barbecue manufacturers,” said Bob Anderson, owner of Custom Design Pools in Friendswood, Texas. “You used to go to the show and see all pools and spas. Now you have this whole section devoted to the backyard. One thing this show does is to give you a lot of good ideas that you can use the following year.”
The Backyard Living Expo itself grew as well. This year it featured 302 booths, up 55 from last year.
“It got a really good response,” McConnell noted. “There were a lot more upscale décor items and play-scape items new to the mix. Some of the casual furniture people did a drop-dead job setting up their booths.”
The Expo’s cornerstone — the education track — also drew rave reviews. One reason, said conference manager Tracy Beaulieu, was the introduction of new classes, along with an overall consolidation of the program. It was all designed to make things easier for attendees.
“Overall conference attendance grew by about 10- to 15 percent,” Beaulieu said. “We had 77 seminars, which was down from over 100 last year. We discovered that having too many classes could be overwhelming.
“Of the 77 classes, 58 were new topics because we must address the needs of the industry, which is always evolving,” she added. “We have a responsibility to the industry.”
In addition, the educational program provided an opportunity for many attendees to work their way toward industry certification.
“I came to get course credits and certification,” said Delford Julal, managing director of Tropical Pool Supplies in Kingston, Jamaica. “Even if I’m familiar with a subject, there is always something new to learn.”
Organizers also cited the Advanced Builders Program as one of the Expo’s highlights. It doubled its attendance from last year to nearly 200 students. That’s a significant accomplishment because the program requires an investment, McConnell said.
“The ticket for ABP is almost $500, so [increased attendance] is a pretty big deal,” he said.
The growth bodes well for next year’s Expo, which will be held Nov. 28-30 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. Many said they look forward to returning.
“This was definitely a good show and we got some new leads,” said Robert Spillar, vice president of marketing at Balboa Instruments in Tustin, Calif. “There was a lot of momentum with our new products. You know we’ll be back next year.”
Hanley Wood Exhibitions of Irving, Texas, is owned by Hanley Wood, LLC, which also owns this magazine.
Rhonda J. Wilson, Shabnam Mogharabi and Rebecca Robledo contributed to this article.