By Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D.

Surrounding your customer with a more diverse group of products usually results in greater business security. Alternatively, selling to customers in other related market segments with existing products also provides big advantages. These two strategies can improve profitability through better use of existing resources (people, equipment, facilities and products) to serve more customers.

The first step in exploring a new market is to better understand its customers and how other companies (competitors) are meeting those customers’ needs. Trade shows are an excellent opportunity to view the business landscape in a new field. Although there are many small trade shows available in different regions, large shows give the most diverse view of the market.

Let the shows begin
The International Pool and Spa Expo (IPSE), the largest pool and spa industry trade show in North America brought, 15,500 total attendees to Las Vegas, Nev., this past December, exceeding last year’s total by more than 28 percent, evidence that business confidence is increasing. According to many exhibitors, the 675 organizations that occupied booths saw stronger traffic this year than last. Rick McConnell, the IPSE show director for the last four years, noted that, “[the IPSE] has been one of the 50 fastest-growing trade shows in North America.” The expo is owned by Hanley Wood LLC, a leading trade show organizer and trade periodical publisher.

The increasing size of the show has provided several benefits to attendees and exhibitors. “Part of the reason that I come is to see people that I may not see for a year,” says Bill Kent, president and owner of AquaCal heat pumps, Autopilot purifying systems and LoChlor specialty chemicals. “We get to reconnect with existing customers and build a network to new customers.”

This year’s growth signals overall confidence in industry businesses since other leading trade shows have also expanded. The AQUA Show, which was held in Las Vegas a month earlier (November 9-11, 2004), had “10,100 total attendees, a three percent increase from last year,” according to Stan Chambers, the exhibit director. More impressive was the 16 percent increase in the number of retail stores with buying representatives who attended the AQUA Show, according to Chambers.

It is too early to tell if the other two leading U.S. pool and spa industry trade shows will experience similar growth. However, promotion for the Northeast Pool and Spa Expo (11,890 attendees in January of 2004) and the Florida Pool and Spa Show (5,000 attendees in March of 2004) are in full swing.

The pool and spa industry trade shows have met success partly due to their effort to use existing capabilities to attract customers from new markets and to offer a broader product line to their existing customers.

You may ask, “What does all this information about pool and spa and backyard trade shows have to do with companies that focus on water conditioning and purification?” It may not make sense for your company to start selling pool toys and backyard accessories, but do please keep an open mind. Consider what other products your organization buys and resells. If you can provide those products to your existing sales force or marketing or distribution network, an opportunity may exist.

Consider how your existing products may meet the needs of a pool and spa retailer, a service company, or other related organization. For example:

  • If you sell point-of-use (POU) water purification products, could there be an opportunity in a “backyard kitchen?”
  • If you sell a technology that removes contaminants from water, could it also help purify recreational water?
  • If you retail drinking water purification products, could you also become a hot tub retailer?
  • If you have some out-of-spec filter housings, could they be converted into yard art or a bird bath?

Current trends
When investigating the pool and spa industry as a potential new market for your products, think about whether they address some current trends. As more people look to their backyard as an oasis for family and friends, consider how your products can help automate and simplify the homeowner’s life. For example, electrolytic cells that generate chlorine to maintain sanitary water are becoming more popular because they eliminate the need to purchase and apply as many pool chemicals. Automated systems to control pumps, lights, heaters, circulation and water quality measurements are becoming more common.

Educational programs play a role
As you select the right trade show based on your calendar, timing, location, etc., also think about attending the educational programs that are offered. These programs are growing at trade shows. The IPSE had 40 technical seminars and 33 business seminars; classes are being planned now for next year’s IPSE with several new classes to support the Backyard Living Expo. The AQUA Show posted an impressive 25 percent increase in attendees to their educational sessions according to Chambers. The growth in students was partly due to new offerings of classes on “high-end pool construction,” Chambers added.

Educational programs at trade shows focus on topics that immediately apply to a business to improve profitability and to better serve their customers. This type of applied education serves an important benefit. The leading trade shows offer strong educational programs. However, more future-oriented research that reveals technology gaps and issues is not commonly covered at trade shows. Fortunately, scientific conferences like the Aquatic Health™ Conference sponsored by the National Swimming Pool Foundation® are available.

Conclusion
Trade shows and their respective educational seminars are a terrific way to explore new opportunities face-to-face with people in the pool and spa industry. Fortunately, there are several large shows that provide a venue to investigate new product offerings, to meet new potential customers and to evaluate the competition. The International Pool and Spa Expo continues to set a high standard, brings vendors and customers together and educates the industry.

About the author
Dr. Thomas M. Lachocki is the chief executive officer of the National Swimming Pool Foundation.® Before joining the Foundation in 2003, Lachocki was responsible for product development for a leading recreational water treatment company. He has performed research, presented findings and published papers in diverse fields including recreational water treatment, surfactant science, synthetic lubricants, industrial catalysts, solvents and combustion chemistry. Lachocki earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Louisiana State University and his bachelor’s degree from Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, PA. Contact him at (719) 540-9119, (719) 540-2787 (fax) or tom.lachocki@nspf.org

 

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