In spite of a down economy, the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo was an unqualified success.

Held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 18-20, the show floor opened up to sprawling booth displays and brisk foot traffic.

“The show was fantastic. A lot of custom pool builders were interested in our product,” said Kevin Kashani, who handles client services for Cactus Stone & Tile in Phoenix. “It looks like there’s more awareness of higher-end materials.”

Though the industry was hit hard in 2008, more than 600 exhibitors came to show products and meet with clients.

“The first two days of the show were very solid and actually beat our expectations,” said Rick McConnell, vice president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions.

Through live workshops and interactive displays, exhibitors found ways to engage potential customers.

“We’re seeing that more and more of the exhibitors are really welcoming the concept of hands-on education,” McConnell added. “The day of the static exhibit seems to be behind us, and I think that’s going to improve the success of exhibitors at the show.”

The interest wasn’t limited to the show floor either. The Green Pavilion and New Product Pavilion contained product displays to entice visitors to follow up at the booths. And though final attendance numbers were not available as of press time, there was a steady steam of traffic throughout the exhibit hall, according to Expo officials.

In addition to solid attendance, IPSPE offered plenty of educational opportunities for industry members. Among the 80-plus seminars, business and management classes were especially popular.

The Executive Academy, a seminar series on upper-level management, made a successful debut as well.

“I attended the Executive Academy and each of the speakers was an expert in their field,” said Mark Ragel, president of Patio Pools & Spas , a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Tucson, Ariz. “To have all four together was one of the most educationally enlightening conferences I’ve attended.”

Genesis 3 made its first Expo appearance with strong seminar attendance and a high-energy pavilion on the show floor.

“We were thrilled with the attendance and ... the number of people who continue to see value in truly advanced, credible education,” said Skip Phillips, co-founder of the design group. “Our booth was absolutely jammed — all day, every day.”

Another popular draw was basketball great Bill Walton, who delivered the keynote address on Nov. 18. With a playful sense of humor and a commanding 6’11” frame, Walton regaled the crowd with inspirational anecdotes from his career to demonstrate how to overcome adversity and achieve success.

“He shared a lot of the things he learned from [coach] John Wooden, and that carried throughout his entire message and pumped people up for the show,” McConnell said.

The enthusiasm and involvement of the events challenged the outside gloom of a troubled economy and shrinking construction trade.

“I’m encouraged by the people who came,” said Pat McCoy, sales engineer at A.O. Smith in Ashland City, Tenn. “It says that people can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re looking ahead to 2009, and they’re going to survive [the economic downturn].”

The International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo will return to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Nov. 16-18, 2009.

Hanley Wood Exhibitions is owned by Hanley Wood, LLC , which also owns this magazine.