I entered the aquatics industry more than 18 years ago, and the majority of my experience has taken place in the commercial pool market. I have found during this time that the definition of the commercial aquatics industry is easily muddled and often described as a singular segment industry when, in fact, there are two very distinct segments: (1) the hotel/motel/apartment/condo market (HMAC) and (2) the institutional market.

As the aquatics industry enters tough economic times, making a distinction between these two markets can be the difference between success and failure.

There are exceptions, but smaller commercial pools tend to fall into the HMAC market, while larger pools (university and the like), make up the institutional market. An interesting comparison is that 70 percent of total commercial pools dug are HMAC, but only 30 percent of treatable water. Conversely, the institutional market accounts for 30 percent of the pools constructed and 70 percent of the treatable water.

Though related, these segments significantly differ based upon a number of important factors, and each has equal but different rewards and challenges. Understanding the two above-mentioned segments and their different needs and market strategies is essential.

HMAC pools are design/build and somewhat similar to the residential market. The pool contractor is positioned as the project?s expert. Certainly there are codes, government agencies, permits and so forth that must be recognized and satisfied. But the pool contractor serves as the experienced resource who is in the best position to make necessary decisions to complete the project. Everything from construction to equipment selection becomes the contractor?s responsibility.

To assist contractors in the HMAC market, manufacturers need to provide competitively priced and reliable products with complete installation and maintenance instructions. Their equipment is provided mainly through distributors, so it becomes the distributor?s responsibility to stock the products for immediate availability to the customer (contractors, dealers, etc.) and maintain the stock of items.

Another challenge is to manage their inventory so the right equipment is in stock and readily available to the contractors or dealers. Thus, the contractor/distributor/manufacturer relationship is an important part of the process of designing and building an HMAC project.

In contrast, institutional-sized pools typically require an aquatics engineering design consultant. These are registered architects (RA, AIA) and/or professional engineers (PE) whom the government has authorized to stamp documents, drawings, studies and calculations.

Aquatics engineering consultants have a broad base of formal and practical knowledge. That comes in handy because the scope of larger pool projects tends to vary and require a diverse degree of applications. In most cases, the consultant is chosen by a main building architect, who is looking to subcontract this portion of the project to an expert who has extensive experience in this field.

The details of institutional pool design are contained in the construction/bid specification, which includes a comprehensive set of drawings and a book of written specifications that encompass all that?s needed to construct and operate the aquatics facility. The development of the designs is a culmination of the consultant?s experience and expertise, as well as input from the owner, contractor, manufacturer and commercial equipment distributor. The pool design consultant is the leader in terms of the design configuration and equipment used. But input from those other sources is solicited and welcomed to ensure that the needs of the project are satisfied functionally and economically.

It?s important to note that commercial distributors in the institutional segment perform additional services and are a key contributor to the success of the project. They stock specific equipment such as parts and embeds (anchors that are installed in concrete), so they are readily available to the contractor.

However, much of the larger equipment common to these projects is drop-shipped from the manufacturer?s plant. The commercial distributor coordinates the shipments and acts as liaison between the manufacturer, contractor, consultant and owner in satisfying schedules, special equipment designs, installation instructions, etc. This places extra duties on the commercial distributor to provide service and support at the time the specification is being created, as well as during installation, start-up and even after the project is completed.

Providing this comprehensive support gives all involved a clear path to deal with issues and rapidly fix problems that arise.

Many additional details must be considered when defining the commercial market. This is just a brief overview, a snapshot if you will, that is intended as a foundation. However, to enjoy success in the commercial market, all channels must be acknowledged and respected, with an emphasis on long-term goals and relationships.

This presents a challenge in patterning your business to support individual markets. But it?s also an opportunity for success if you provide the commercial industry with the service required.