Long-time industry icon Vance Gillette is retiring at the end of March.
“After 47 years, I figured it’s time to throttle back a little bit,” said the vice president of business development with Zodiac Pool Systems in Vista, Calif.
Gillette will continue in an advisory role with Zodiac and serve on board and committees with other industry organizations.
“He’s going to be with us for as long as he chooses,” said Troy Franzen, Zodiac’s managing director, Americas. “When we heard of Vance’s decision to retire, we were ... one part happy and thrilled for him but equal part sad to see him go in an official full-term capacity.
“There’s nobody whom I’ve come across in this industry that has had the influence or knows the people or has the friendships that he has. I don’t know that there’s anybody that has as far reaching an impact, both internally and externally.”
Gillette entered the industry in 1966, as a teenaged telemarketer selling pool cleaners for Arneson Products. He was eventually promoted to salesperson and, in 1975, left Arneson to serve as vice president of marketing and sales for Geni-Chlor, a producer of chlorine generators.
He began his road to iconic status two years later, when hired as executive vice president of Jandy Pool Products, a San Francisco Bay-area controller producer.
Gillette remained with the Jandy brand through various ownerships, leaving only briefly in 2009 to serve as president of his own firm, Gillette Consulting. He then returned to Zodiac the following year, when he was given his current title.
Yet Gillette was known throughout the industry for much more than his role with manufacturers.
Beginning in the early 1990s, he became frustrated with the messages that some pool and spa organizations were sending to the public.
Gillette believed that, in an effort to promote water safety, some trade groups placed too much emphasis on the hazards of swimming. Over time he became famous for his oft-repeated phrase, “Fillet Gus and Goldie!” in reference to the mascots for the National Spa & Pool Institute. Called by some the “industry spokesfish,” Gus and Goldie taught the public about water safety.
“I said, ‘Is this is the best we could do?’” Gillette recalled. “Then a light came on in my head and I realized we had this thing all wrong.”
Through dozens of articles written for the trade press and hundreds of speeches given at industry gatherings, Gillette has been highly vocal in his philosophy that the industry should promote the positive lifestyle it helps create.
He’s also advocated that mindset through his involvement with several committees of NSPI and now, the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals.
“What’s kept me interested, involved and excited is what we offer the consumer,” Gillette said. “There’s no other investment, product or experience that can replicate the pool lifestyle ... I never got over the impact that it has on the consumer.”
Over the past few years, he has taken his message to social media, posting hundreds of photos of high-end pools and spas, which are enjoyed by thousands of followers across various platforms.
“Vance has always seen the big picture,” said Lew Akins, president of Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins in Belton, Texas. “He always understood the motivation of pool buyers, and he spent his career trying to convince pool builders of that.”
In this next phase of life, Gillette plans to do more traveling with his wife, Dana.
He will also take with him the memories of working for Zodiac.
“Zodiac has treated me so well,” Gillette said. “It’s a great company and they couldn’t be more sensitive and nice. I could stay longer, but I decided that this is my time.”
Just as important, he thinks the industry should continue to improve its ability to get the message out.
“Just remember, it’s all about the experience and connecting our message positively to the consumer and feeling ecstatic about what we offer. I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for what we do.”