The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals recently held its first leadership conference in four years.

“This was a very reaffirming event,” APSP President/CEO Bill Weber said. “What came through is that there’s still very much a vibrancy to this industry.”

Renamed the APSP Industry Summit, the gathering of leaders within the manufacturing, distribution, construction, retail and service segments of the industry took place June 28 to 29 in Arlington, Va.

“All of us felt the industry has gone through such an economically challenging time over the past four years that the survivors needed to have a place and a forum by which to get together and recalibrate our thoughts around the industry,” said Industry Summit Chairman Richard Garbee, also vice president of sales and marketing at GLI Products in Youngstown, Ohio. “The second piece was to bring leadership up to speed on changing times.”

The event, which was organized by the APSP Manufacturers Council, was attended by approximately 120 representatives from 76 companies. The group heard presentations by experts from outside the industry on topics ranging from the national economy to the future of social networking.

“We wanted to gain insight and understanding of how external changes have affected the industry and will continue to affect it,” said Bruce Fisher, chairman of the APSP Manufacturers Council and vice president of global marketing at Hayward Pool Products Inc. in Elizabeth, N.J. “We specifically brought in speakers to achieve that goal.”

Presenters included a principal policy adviser to former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who gave an account of how the financial crisis developed and how the United States will emerge from it. Bil Kennedy of Atlanta-based PK Data, which has long conducted market research on the pool and spa industry, provided his expectations on pool and spa demands in the future.

“I think people appreciated that [speakers] were pretty unvarnished, and straightforward,” Weber said. “Yes, there are things that are rebounding within the industry, but there are still a lot of challenges left in the economy.”

The attendees’ mood seemed to match that of the presenters, Fisher said, describing it as “cautious optimism. If we had done this a year ago, I think it would have been like going to a funeral. This year, there’s been some growth in the business, but the building community isn’t having anywhere close to the kind of year that we had all hoped for.”

The event also provided numerous networking opportunities, including a cocktail party and a luncheon, where industry members brainstormed possible solutions for many of the challenges facing the pool and spa market. The Manufacturers Council will assess attendee evaluations to determine how often to host the event. It will likely occur annually or biannually, officials said.

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