Steve Pham

Charles Dickens famously began his epic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...”

I’ve just returned from the Piscine Global Europe tradeshow in Lyon, France, and this sentiment perfectly describes the atmosphere of that show. The uncertainties of the pandemic had had its effect on the Lyon show, making this one its first in four years. The return to an in-person tradeshow was invigorating to the predominantly European attendees and exhibitors alike. I spoke to many who were exhilarated to be back, making new contacts and reconnecting with colleagues within the industry.

But despite the excitement, a near-universal fissure of worry was etched on people’s foreheads, echoing the murmurs from industry folks stateside, albeit with much more urgency in France. To provide some context: By the end of 2021, the French economy was pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent ripple effects had caused a huge “energy shock,” as the International Monetary Fund calls it, and, despite the country’s low dependence on Russian gas due to its reliance on nuclear energy, the continued spikes in gas prices and skyrocketing inflation have destroyed consumers’ purchasing power and confidence, leading to a distinct downturn in the swimming pool market.

Therefore, representatives for a few European pool and spa manufacturers expressed interest in broadening their market reach and expanding into the States. “How is the economic forecast for the pool market there?” was a popular question. But concerns about being able to pass the United States’ stricter pool and spa codes dampened some of that initial enthusiasm.

Other concerns that plague our European counterparts are those we continue to experience here, to wit: lack of skilled labor and higher costs of materials and supplies. While I sympathized over these familiar pain points, it was somewhat reassuring to know we’re rowing in the same boat.

Lastly, I observed a stronger presence of U.S.-based manufacturers exhibiting at this show in large, spacious booths with very impressive booth decor. The Big Three in particular dominated the tradeshow floor in one of the three enormous exhibit halls, alongside smaller but no less mighty U.S.-based pool and spa manufacturers. Many commented that their business continued to expand in the European market, so their presence at this tradeshow had now become essential.