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Reading the Tea Leaves

By Brian Van Bower

5-yrsIn his year-end column five years ago, Brian Van Bower began by addressing the need every businessperson has to step back periodically and evaluate ‘where you fit within your corner of the industry.’

‘To me,’ he continued, ‘understanding the Big Picture is a practical necessity, because failing to do so means I’m almost certain to miss opportunities and, just as bad, will not be prepared for conditions in the market that influence my success.’


‘Even in prosperous times, there’s peril in not thinking on a broader level. But when times get tougher, a heightened level of situational awareness may be the key to securing ongoing success – or surviving. I inserted the word surviving there for a reason: Many of you are certainly aware that there are ominous signs of a major slowdown in the housing market, and it’s my observation that a great many of you have never worked your way through down markets. After all, it’s been about 15 years since the last time the housing market tanked, and the fact that it’s happening again to varying degrees around the country and across all levels should not come as a surprise to anyone.’


‘My own experience in tight times has taught me in no uncertain terms that when the overall market cools, the middle ranges and especially the lower end of the market are particularly vulnerable, while the upper-middle and high ends are far more stable. Defining the value of that stability has been an undercurrent in this magazine from the very beginning: Indeed, we’ve heard countless voices extol the virtues of moving toward custom, higher-end work largely because people with money will still have it when the economy drops a stitch – and they’ll still be interested in spending it.’


‘It’s [also] no secret that what happens beyond our borders can have a huge influence on watershaping here: All it takes is remembering that vanishing-edge pools hit the scene in France big time well before they started appearing all over the United States – and that those here who embraced the vanishing edge years ago were better positioned to ride that wave than were those who didn’t.’


‘I believe that fear of the outside world among professionals will only retard our growth at home, mostly because people in Europe and Asia are sponges when it comes to what’s happening here and embrace all things international in ways we Americans seldom do.’


‘Consider [also] the fact that our population is aging and that Baby Boomers as a category are more health and appearance conscious than any other generation that went before them. As these Boomers (myself included) collectively get older, it’s easy to see that the benefits of swimming, aquatic exercise and hydrotherapy are going to become increasingly powerful enticements for those considering some type of watershape in which those activities might occur.’


Brian concluded his column with an urgent point: ‘How we think about our world is a personal matter, no question, but we do live in an age when information is king and there are plenty of ways of accessing it. In that environment, there’s no excuse for ignorance, no matter how bewitching day-to-day operations may be.’
Published in December 2006, Brian's words clearly foreshadowed the downturn that has consumed not just the housing sector, but the entire economy in recent years. Did you see this coming as well? Were you able to reassess and restructure as effectively as he suggested you should? Please share your own experiences and insights by commenting below.


Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ..

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