APSP outgoing Chairman Rich Garbee and NSPF Chairman Bruce Dunn (l-r) discuss the potential unification of the associations.
National Swimming Pool Foundation APSP outgoing Chairman Rich Garbee and NSPF Chairman Bruce Dunn (l-r) discuss the potential unification of the associations.

For the first time, luminaries from the aquatics and pool/spa industries joined together for the Industry Executive Forum, with much of the talk surrounding the potential unification.

At the meeting, held in New Orleans in conjunction with the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo, the heads of APSP and NSPF addressed a room full of executives from all sectors of the industry. NSPF Chairman Bruce Dunn and outgoing APSP Chairman Rich Garbee led a brief discussion and question-and-answer period, at which they reiterated their commitment to the merger on which they agreed to in principle last April.

“I want you to know it wasn’t a question of one outfit taking over the other -- it had to do with bringing culture together in the industry to produce better programs,” Dunn said to the group.

The duo reinforced that they believe it makes sense to combine the groups to remove redundancies. “The ability to take the research from NSPF and connect with customers … that is an opportunity,” Garbee said.

He said representatives from the organizations began discussing a potential merger in October, 2015 and that “clandestine” meetings took place between the two chairs to test the waters before they presented the possibility to each board separately.

“We want to bring to the industry an organization that’s bigger and better than what we currently have individually,” Dunn told the crowd. “We believe that the synergies are such that one plus one equal three.”

But the Forum, sponsored by NSPF and Hanley Wood (owner of Pool & Spa News), was not intended just to discuss the potential merger. It was also meant to bring together members of the pool, spa and aquatics industries to discuss shared goals and challenges.

One goal sits top of the list, argued NSPF staffers Tom Lachocki and Lauren Stack. Studies show that introducing children to an activity before the age of five can make them lifelong devotees. “If we reach them before five, they will love the water and be swimmers for life,” said Stack, mission development director, national accounts for NSPF, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Additionally, said NSPF CEO Lachocki, swimming touches on two things people value most: “People don’t care about vinyl liners or gunite… they care about their family and their health.”

The following day, the boards of APSP and NSPF held a joint meeting to plan the potential for a unification – which has only been agreed to in principle but has not been finalized. They were not ready to divulge details yet.

“We appreciate the fact that stakeholders are anxious to hear how it’s going, but we ask everyone to have patience,” said APSP’s new chairman, Jack Manilla. “We are collectively working hard, have made significant progress in the last few months and are considering all options to create an organization we can be proud of and that serves all segments of the industry.”

He said the groups expect to formally vote on unification by the end of the year and make an announcement by mid-January.