Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO,NSPF
Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO,NSPF

It seemed like an inevitability. Now it has become a reality – with a twist.

For months now, the National Swimming Pool Foundation has seemed on track to form a trade association that would compete directly with the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals. It has done so by joining with the California Pool and Spa Association to create The Pool, Spa & Aquatics Alliance.

CPSA Executive Director John Norwood
CPSA Executive Director John Norwood

Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the CPSA officially takes on the name of the new organization, which is shorthanded to “The Alliance.” It will serve under the umbrella of the NSPF. For now, it continues to do business as CPSA and may continue to do so, to retain its brand equity.

“I think this brings together the leading education programs, the largest membership organization in our field, and an organization with exceptional skills in government relations,” said NSPF CEO Tom Lachocki.

The Alliance will operate as part of NSPF, and will hire its own executive director at a time to be determined. However, NSPF, a 501(c)(3) foundation, and The Alliance, a 501(c)(6) trade association, will remain separate corporate entities, Lachocki said.

NSPF Board Chairman Bruce Dunn
NSPF NSPF Board Chairman Bruce Dunn

This marks another development in the clear growth trajectories undertaken by NSPF and CPSA in recent years. It also comes shortly after each group had its own sort of falling-out with APSP. Last month, the CPSA abruptly ended its affiliation agreement with APSP only halfway through the agreed-upon term, following disputes about financial allocations. Last year, NSPF explored a possible merger with APSP, but the groups chose not to combine.

Despite the timing of this merger, both groups said it is not related or in reaction to their relationships with APSP.

It is not yet known exactly how the Alliance will be structured, Lachocki said. Officials still need to flesh out such issues as whether member services and benefits will be delivered from the Colorado Springs headquarters, or through regionally located offices, how one will become a member, and whether it will add educational programs targeted specifically to the retail segment.

"However, when we focus on growth and promotion of the industry, that’s relevant to every sector," Lachocki said.

Officials will be stationed at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo next month and at the World Aquatic Health Conference next week to receive input and impressions from industry members. "The decision that’s been made now is we want to bring the [CPSA and NSPF] families together," Lachocki said. "Exactly how we’re going to do it is going to depend on input from the people we’re going to serve."

In the meantime, professionals and companies still can join Genesis and CPSA through existing channels.

Lachocki said the Alliance likely won't get into the standards-writing business. "There are many organizations that are working on standards," he said. "The wisest move, I think, is to explore ways to work constructively with those many organizations."

For CPSA, this arrangement provides the more solid financial base it has sought since it formed, initially as the California Spa and Pool Industry Education Council (SPEC), in the early 1970s. But it also provides the vehicle to help the organization carry out its intent to broaden into a full-fledged industry association, rather than specializing solely in government advocacy. Though the organization announced this plan in 2015, it had to channel all resources toward combating water restrictions during the recent drought. So, by all accounts, CPSA was not able to move in its new direction as quickly as it wanted. This reinforcement comes at a time when it may be sorely needed, as APSP announced earlier this year its intention to base a staffer out of California to foster a stronger presence for the organization in the West. That person has been hired, said APSP CEO Rich Gottwald.

This development also allows CPSA Executive Director John Norwood to focus on advocacy, taking the title of CPSA National Government Affairs Director. While he reverts to his core specialty and away from issues such as education and membership recruitment, he is expected to expand his services geographically beyond California and, at the very least, throughout the western U.S. As before his company, Norwood and Associates Government Relations, will serve as an independent contractor.

“[CPSA] becomes the model for additional members of the Alliance,” said NSPF Board Chairman Bruce Dunn. “It’s the model for [those] outside of California.”

The Alliance will then round out services offered to CPSA members by providing discounted access to its education programs, said CPSA Chairman Jerry Wallace.

NSPF also has been expanding its reach since, 2015, when it merged with the design/construction group Genesis, officially entering the residential pool and spa arena. Since then, it also has launched a residential service certification program. But the organization now wanted a means to take part in government advocacy, Dunn said.

“It came before the board a direct point that said, ‘If we’re going to round out the organization in total, this is an area where we definitely are experiencing a void,’” said Dunn, also president of Mission Pools in Escondido, Calif.

Other than adding an executive director for the Alliance, the move is not expected to cause staff changes, officials said. NSPF and CPSA will retain their current boards of directors, though now each will assign representatives to sit on the other.

Upon hearing of this new development, APSP officials expressed some disagreement about the strategy. "I don’t think it’s the best use of resources," Gottwald said. "Our goal would be to continue to find ways to collaborate."

APSP has worked the past few years to foster affiliations such as the one it had with CPSA, and that approach won't end, added the organization's chairman, Jack Manilla. "We’ve been dedicated to unifying and building supportive relationships in the industry nationally and globally," he said. "...Unfortunately some have decided to go it alone as opposed to sharing that growth, but that’s okay. We wish them well."

If there is a direct competition in the works, APSP officials feel well-positioned. Since Gottwald was hired in 2013, he said, the organization counts 500 additional companies on its membership roster and solved its previous financial problems such that it could invest $1.3 million in a new education program meant to position APSP to lead the charge in solving the industry's labor shortage (for which it has partnered with PSN parent company Hanley Wood). Additionally, its affiliations have extended beyond US borders, with agreements signed between APSP and pool/spa trade associations in Canada, Britain and Australia. More are expected.

"We’re global in scope, we’re looking out for our members’ interests not only in the United States but around the world," Gottwald said. "I think in the long run, we’re going to be the association that people who are in this industry will want to be part of, because we truly are looking out and helping protect and grow their interests."

NSPF claims more than 120,000 individual and company members, as well as manufacturers and distributors. CPSA has more than 300 members, Norwood said. APSP reports membership of approximately 3,200 companies and their respective employees.

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