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    Show Chairman/NESPA Vice President Kyle Chaikin (with scissors) kicks off the event with a ceremonial ribbon cutting. He is joined by (L-R) Past President Rob Romano; Treasurer John C. Migliaccio; APSP President Steve Gorlin; Long Island Chapter Administrator Karen Pinto; immediate Past President Clive Ensher; Nataliya Romano; APSP regional Director John Romano; and President Robert Blanda.

The wind gusts were high, but the haunting reminder of Hurricane Sandy was quickly replaced with optimism as the industry gathered for the 32nd Annual Atlantic City Pool & Spa Show.

The conference and trade show, held Jan. 28-31 at the Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center and organized by the Northeast Spa & Pool Association, kicked off the 2013 swim season on a positive note, with attendees and exhibitors expressing upbeat outlooks for the coming year.

“We were very pleased with the traffic in A.C. this year,” said Don Sommerville, chief marketing officer of Latham Pool Products. “We heard and felt a lot of energy and enthusiasm from many dealers.”

The event attracted a high turnout —  so  much so that NESPA extended the show hours for the first time to enable exhibitors to capitalize on the foot traffic.

“Doing business is what the show is all about, and if I can help by giving our exhibitors a few more minutes with a prospective client, I’m glad to do it,” said Show Manager Trish McCormick.

There were many other firsts for the show, including NESPA’s use of social media to promote the event, engaging attendees and exhibitors by way of Twitter. Using the hash tag #acpoolspashow, the organization said it generated a robust network of industry members who followed the show’s activities. It also featured Power Up and Stay Connected Center, an area where attendees could meet in person and then utilize social media before, during and after the event.

To navigate the winding 103,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, interactive touch-screen map kiosks were available in four locations, further emphasizing the trend toward digital technology. New attendees also made their way around a show floor that consisted of more than 400 firms displaying products. That was the case for America’s Swimming Pool Co. service franchise owner James C. King, who had yet to attend a major industry trade show.

“I really enjoyed walking around and bumping into a lot of people I’ve worked with in northern Virginia,” said King, an ex-Marine who started his Springfield, Va.-based business “A lot of the things I saw, some of the technology, the toys and equipment, were all new to me.”

While there, King participated in several of the education programs, an experience he said was very valuable. In fact, the takeaway was so strong that he plans to return next year along with several members of his crew, he said.

King wasn’t the only one to take advantage of the opportunity. According to NESPA, a record number of attendees participated in the classes, with more than 40 percent of show registrants sitting in on at least one of more than 75 technical and business seminars.

“What was especially thrilling this year was to see so many of our business-related courses drawing large crowds,” said Show Education Director Paulette Pitrak. “Courses on high-end selling, customer service and pricing strategies were well attended and really highlight the turnaround our industry is seeing as the focus turns to business growth in 2013.”

The organizers also saw an uptick in individuals taking part in certification programs, particularly for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, a trend Pitrak anticipates will continue as more areas in the Northeast, such as Connecticut and Long Island, N.Y., require licensing for builders. Also popular was a Special Panel Discussion on Storm Recovery, which was presented with the help of members of the Florida Swimming Pool Association.

“Being connected to organizations throughout the industry helps build our show and helps us to meet our attendees’ needs,” said NESPA Executive Director Lawrence Caniglia.