For Jon Temple, it began nearly 20 years ago with an opportunity.
A sales representative from decking and finishes manufacturer SGM had a customer in Qatar who needed help understanding a product. Temple, president and owner of Tempool Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., was considered an expert in the material and its use.
“They were just starting to build a lot of pools then,” Temple recalls of the Persian Gulf nation. “So I went over and showed them how the product worked and how to apply it. A lot of plasterers are doing more jobs overseas now, and we do work there, too. But when we’re there, I like to educate as well. That’s what I really enjoy doing.”
In addition to Qatar, Temple has conducted training in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Honduras, Spain, Trinidad, Mexico and Canada. These days, he leaves the U.S. about a dozen times a year; and the bulk of his work is done on behalf of Aquavations and CL Industries.
Temple isn’t alone. More and more pool professionals are exporting their expertise in today’s increasingly global society, with some traveling as de facto manufacturer’s representatives and others working at the behest of trade associations, or even faith-based organizations.
Here, several industry veterans describe how they get to these exotic locales, what they teach once there, and the logistical challenges and nuances of working in a foreign land.
Tom Murr of Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio is a retired schoolteacher. The business he owns with his wife Brenda is located about 80 miles south of Ft. Wayne, Ind., the home of Ft. Wayne Pools.
Murr had been installing Ft. Wayne Pools since 1979, he says, and about two decades later, he received the call. As it happened, the package pool manufacturer had recently sold a number of pool panels to developers of several condo complexes outside Cairo, Egypt.
“Ft. Wayne was trying to expand globally, and these people [in Egypt] knew nothing of pools at the time,” Murr says. “They needed training. [Officials at Ft. Wayne] knew I was a teacher, and I’d been putting in their pools for years.”
So Murr embarked on a two-week trip to the land of pharaohs.
Around the same time, Mike Stachel was sent to the Ukraine for two months — the trip was coordinated between government officials there and the National Spa and Pool Institute — as part of an effort to help rebuild a city block. The co-owner of Mt. Lake Pool & Patio in Doylestown, Pa., instructed local engineers and architects, and oversaw the construction of four swimming pools, he says.
But perhaps no organization trains internationally with as much regularity as the Genesis 3 Design Group. Co-founder Skip Phillips, president of Questar Pools and Spas in Escondido, Calif., last year traveled to Gold Coast, Australia, to conduct a session in vanishing-edge design and construction at the SPLASH trade show in late July.
Working alongside fellow Genesis 3 co-founder Brian Van Bower, Phillips says the three-hour course was well-received, with more than 100 attendees squeezing into the makeshift classroom.
“The Australians are a great group of people,” Phillips says. “We did have some debates while we were there. But it’s important to remember that anytime you go somewhere, you have to be careful not to be dismissive of their abilities or why they do certain things. Just show what you can do and why you do it.”
Meantime, Penny and Tommy Johnson have twice traveled to Vietnam in recent years to teach marketing at the University of DaNang. The owners of Johnson Pools and Spas in Huntsville, Ala., are part of a group organized through their church, and the course itself is sponsored by a company based in Atlanta.
But the nature of the venue, Penny explains, brings certain restrictions.
“Our church considers it a mission trip, but because it’s a communist country, we are not allowed to share our faith or even talk about it to the Vietnamese,” she says. “Therefore, we are just considered teachers.”
The Johnsons teach a one-week segment of a longer continuing education course for business owners
“We mainly tell of our experiences of being in business, what has been successful and what has not,” she says. “But a lot of it also depends on the questions they ask. You might think you’re going to talk about one thing and end up talking about another.”
In addition to time in the classroom, attendees can invite the instructors to visit their businesses and meet personally with their marketing teams. English is a second language in many parts of the country, but an interpreter is on hand to accompany the teachers all week.
In Egypt, Murr spent nine days guiding the construction of three or four pools, he says. They were small, non-diving and fairly standard, though he recalls a local sheik had a larger one.
“Every day was a new experience for them,” he says. “And they had a team of videographers there to document it all, because they knew eventually I’d be gone.”
Video cameras are common for many of Temple’s overseas exercises as well. And his too is an extensive curriculum: He teaches how to prepare a pool for plaster, the basics of mixing and applying materials; exposing finishes; acid-washing and repairs.
But, Temple adds, the lessons often continue for years after the initial visit.
“I bring over a manual and explain that with pool plaster, you’ll never know it all,” he says. “So we’ll do a few pools together while I’m there, and then stay in touch on things like chemistry. Figuratively speaking, we’ll revisit those pools a month, two months, a year later. It’s an ongoing process.”
Much of the equipment Stachel would use for his pools in the Ukraine had to be shipped from the U.S., everything from skimmers and fittings to filters, heaters and even tile.
What was particularly interesting, he noted, was the fact that these products were first flown into Warsaw, Poland, and then trucked some 8 hours into the Ukraine.
“You couldn’t deliver it to most of the airports because there was so much thievery there,” he remembers.
In Egypt, no logistical nuance stood out more than the tools and techniques employed by Murr’s local workforce. Comprised largely of youths — and lots of them (“manpower is not a problem there,” he states emphatically) — his “crews” excavated the vessels by cutting into the earth with axes and hatchets. As for the shell, the workers mixed a blend of sand, lime and cement by hand, and applied it with shovels and hoes.
But it didn’t stop there, as the workday itself was unique, he recalls. The jobsite never got going until 10 a.m., and then by 11:30 it was time to break for tea. An hour later was lunchtime.
“So we started back up again around 1 p.m., worked a few more hours, and then we had to have tea again,” Murr says. “But it was great fun, and I made some real good friends. We got to meet people on a personal level as opposed to being a tourist.”