The pool and spa industry’s biggest trade show bucked the effects of the housing slowdown to draw strong attendee numbers and positive reviews.

“With the down market, I didn’t expect half the people who showed up,” said Marty Fisher, national sales manager for Tustin, Calif.-based Balboa Direct. “Our salt clinic [had people in] seats, booth and aisle. We had three clinics scheduled, and they turned into six.”

Held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., the Expo ran Nov. 28-30, offering educational seminars, product displays and live workshops to more than 14,000 attendees.

The show floor covered 252,000 square feet, with more than 10 percent dedicated to backyard living exhibitors. The Backyard Living Expo and attendee interest have continued to grow these past few years.

“Without exception, the [area] had really good traffic, and the product offerings seemed stronger than ever,” said Rick McConnell, vice president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions, which owns the show. “We had great representation in barbecue grills, gazebos, saunas and casual furniture.”

Those products also were on display in the New Product Pavilion. Now in its second year, the showcase presented new offerings from 73 firms.

Top honors for new offerings went to three firms: Pool Systems USA, Great American Merchandising & Events and Mart Products.

“The New Product Pavilion was very helpful,” said Howard Weiss, president of Contemporary Watercrafters in Gaithersburg, Md. “It’s much easier to differentiate new products in one venue than to find them in the manufacturers’ individual booths.”

Also well-received were two events that kicked off the Expo. First was a keynote speech by football icon Archie Manning. He energized a crowd of 1,500 on Wednesday morning with a talk on leadership and teamwork. And when the show floor closed, Universal CityWalk drew more than 1,100 people to an after-hours event that spanned six clubs and bars.

“I heard more compliments on our welcome party than we’ve ever had before,” McConnell said. “Folks really enjoyed the opportunity to network.”

The Expo’s educational offerings consisted of 73 sessions, 30 of which were geared toward business management. The remaining 43 focused on technical aspects of building and service.

APSP’s all-day programs for advanced pool building, service and retailing also were a strong educational component of the Expo. Retailers traveled to the Disney Institute for merchandising tips, while service professionals were treated to a backstage tour of SeaWorld.

Fisher, who gave the last presentation at the Advanced Service Program, saw sustained interest even after 5 p.m.

“I was slotted for 20 minutes and ended up doing 1 hour 15 minutes,” Fisher said. “They just kept asking questions.”

For hands-on training, APSP helped coordinate 19 live workshops during exhibit-hall hours. Manufacturers’ reps spoke on a variety of topics, including equipment, installations and construction.

These demonstrations will move with the rest of the Expo to Las Vegas for 2008. Combining the International Pool & Spa Expo | Backyard Living Expo with the AQUA Show, Hanley Wood Exhibitions will debut a megashow: the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo at Mandalay Bay Convention Center Nov. 18-20, 2008.

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