After a strong attendance initially — including the most successful pre-show education day ever — the Atlantic City Pool & Spa Show tapered off a bit due to foul weather.

In all, 8,291 attendees made it for the three-day trade show, held Jan. 27-29 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The event was 11 percent off last year’s attendance, which reached 9,350. This year’s show also saw 420 exhibitors, 9 percent fewer than last year.

Threats of snow storms to the north drove first-day attendees home early and discouraged others from coming at all. Undoubtedly, some just wanted to duck bad weather, but others have side businesses plowing snow.

“We could have hit our last year’s numbers very easily, had we not experienced weather problems,” said show manager Trish McCormick.

The economy may have accounted for some of the drop, too. Most of those who pre-registered were principles or managers, McCormick said, indicating a continuing trend of sending decision-makers to the event. “In this economic time, it certainly looks like the serious people who knew they were going to a show were going to do business,” she said. “The exhibitors were impressed with the quality of the people.”

On the educational side, a record was set. The pre-show conference saw its highest participation ever, with more than 1,100 in attendance.

In addition, show organizer NESPA enjoyed the most successful educational event in its history — a five-hour code forum featuring a panel of experts and question-and-answer period. Presenters discussed several codes, including the National Electric Code, International Building Codes and the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. The forum attracted 283 people.

For perhaps the first time, service-related topics attracted larger audiences than construction in what may be a reflection of current sales trends. The business program remained healthy, with 1,040 in attendance, about the same proportion of seminar attendees as last year.

As for exhibitors, those with products geared toward safety and energy efficiency seemed to attract the most attention, McCormick said.

“Those booths were just pumping … It was really exciting to see so many people care about safety and the future of the pool industry.”

The spa category was better represented than it had been in recent years, McCormick added, with at least 20 hot tub manufacturers exhibiting. “Four or five years ago, [there were] spa companies everywhere,” she said. “Then, over the last few years, they didn’t have as strong a showing. This year it really seemed that they popped back in.”

The Commercial Exhibit Venue, in its second year, had 20 companies on hand, the same as in 2008. “We’re keeping that section because we see the need for it,” McCormick said. “It originally was a three-year plan, but we’re going to say it’s a five-year plan now, to grow that area.”