2015 Atlantic CIty Pool Show (178) In the early days of my pool career, I worked for a builder here in Michigan. From the start I constantly wanted to learn more. I pored over the magazines that came through the office, devoured the few books I could find on the subject, and constantly bugged my boss about going to the trade shows.

He was more interested in keeping the status quo than in expanding his horizons, and the pool shows were just not on his radar screen.

It’s not that he didn’t learn about new products; he would talk to the sales reps who came by with the latest pump or new gadget, and if it looked like something that could make his life easier without having to adapt the way he did things, he would use it.

Meanwhile, I was always curious and wanting to be ahead of the curve, always imagining new solutions to the challenges we faced in the field every day.

Several years later, after buying the company, we were struggling week to week just to keep our heads above water. At one point we owed a vendor a couple of thousand dollars, and the rep came into the office to collect. I had to tell him that he’d have to wait a few more weeks, because we were spending what little money we had to attend the pool show.

He was not happy. He couldn’t see past the dollar signs and realize that by attending that show we were investing in the company and committed to growth, which would mean a bigger account for him too if he could stick with us.

His reaction was a revelation for me. This guy’s shortsightedness represented a mindset of lack and want, and I realized he didn’t have what it would take to grow with us. We paid him off, but did very little business with him after that. Huge mistake on his part.

Not going to trade shows is the same kind of mistake in my opinion. In my years in the business I’ve found three specific reasons to keep attending trade shows, even when money is tight or business is crazy busy.

Reason One: The Products2015 Atlantic CIty Pool Show (169)

We did end up going to that event, and I saw a huge array of new stuff. Amazing stuff…products my sales reps never showed me, and things I never dreamed existed. The immersion in new products and technology was intense. It was a huge investment in my own knowledge base, and worth the cost for that reason alone.

At another show several years ago, I came across a product that beautifully solved an ongoing problem we were having with our concrete slides. This was early on in the hybrid pool movement, and we didn’t have a good solution for a finishing treatment.

We met a vendor using round penny tiles to surface a concrete slide. It was a wow moment for me, and I came home so excited. I took the crew back to six or seven previous jobs, stripped them down and used the penny tiles to resurface them. The customers were thrilled, and we were able to up our game and be ready for the next project.

Without speaking to this vendor face to face at the show, I never would have hit upon this particular solution. Industry shows give us the time to explore the off-book ideas or the “let’s try this” moments that lead to breakthroughs.

Reason Two: The Relationships

In this industry, we walk that fine line between searching for the best price and getting the best perceived value. For me, it’s important to build a supply chain I can rely on, so I can innovate and build with confidence.

2015 Atlantic CIty Pool Show (210)One vendor we’ve worked with for years was Kafko Pool Products. We started using Kafko liners through a local supplier and loved the product. When our supplier closed we went direct to Kafko for our needs, building a good relationship with the folks in the manufacturing division.

When Latham came along and bought up the Kafko line, we were concerned that we’d be too small a fish for them to pay much attention to us. We needed this product; it was a crucial part of our supply chain.

By making a point to reach out the Latham execs at industry events, we were able to get them invested and excited in what we were doing, and create a solid relationship with them, both on a business and a personal level.

Reason Three: The Hidden Solutions

Every once in a while you learn something at a show that completely changes the way you approach your work.

At one event I heard a presenter speaking about working with glass tile. He spoke about the science behind color theory, and my head started going a mile a minute. His ideas tapped into everything I had learned about art and design in school, and gave me an exact answer to all my questions about why color works the way it does. It has dramatically changed the way I approach color in my projects, and there’s no way I would be this successful without that knowledge.2015 Atlantic CIty Pool Show (145)

Sadly, I talk to a lot of pool guys in my local area who never go to the shows and see no reason to do so. And I hear those same folks grumbling that there’s not enough business or too much competition in the industry.

To them I say “Get out there.” Educate yourself, build relationships, get inspired.

It not only helps your own business, it also raises the entire industry to the next level. Instead of being wary of our competition, let’s work toward raising all of us up to the next level.

See you at the shows!

Al Curtis is the designer and builder for Legendary Escapes Pools. He has pioneered the hybrid vinyl liner/gunite swimming pool, and is known for his unique and innovative custom designs. Also known online as @askthepoolguy, he blogs, does video, training, and events for the pool loving public and fellow industry professionals. He can be found online at www.AskthePoolGuy.com.


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