By Eric Herman
By any measure, the past year has been a time of tumultuous change – and I’m not referencing the current microbiological situation. (In fact, let’s just declare this space a “virus-free” zone for now.)
Rather I’m talking about the tumbling dominoes that have been falling throughout the pool and spa industry since last spring. Dating back to the formation of the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance in April last year, there has been widespread, and at times head-spinning realignment within the association and educational segments of the industry. All of which has had a ripple effect on just about everyone else from manufacturers to dealers.
The familiar acronyms APSP and NSPF are now relics of the past replaced by the new “alliance” with largely new and shifting leadership. At the same time, this past year has seen an unprecedented surge in grassroots groups taking advantage of the immediate access afforded by social media and other online platforms. Industry podcasts have emerged and developed audiences, as have Facebook pages focusing on questions and concerns from professionals and consumers alike, and there are industry-related YouTube channels aplenty.
A prominent feature in this dynamic landscape has been the formation of Watershape University. I first heard the news last August, just before it became public, and have since then been amazed watching the rise of WU. I’ve known founders Dave Peterson and Bill Drakeley for just about 20 years apiece and have worked with both in a number of editorial capacities.
Given their almost incomparable professional track records and experience teaching, it’s not the least bit surprising to see them now establishing the foundation for the future of education within the industry. One of their first moves was hiring association management impresario, Lauren Stack, forming the core of what looks a lot like a dream team, and they’ve engaged a number of prominent watershapers to teach and help develop curriculum.
A NEW WORLD
I was, however, surprised – even shocked, stunned, flabbergasted and enormously flattered – when I was asked to join that formidable WU team, a.k.a., The Wolf Pack. The reason I’m here in these digital pages is because Watershape University decided late last fall to acquire Watershapes.com, the titular resource that has been encouraging and defining change for more than two decades. It’s a perfect, almost inevitable pairing, a union that benefits everyone involved and it has certainly had a major impact on my own life.
As some of you may know, I was once upon a time the founding editor of WaterShapes the magazine, a 12-year run that ended in 2011 due to the recession. Over those years, I worked side-by-side with Jim McCloskey, the publisher, creator and keeper of the magazine and its online descendant, Watershapes.com. Now, as I work to step into Jim’s shoes, which is no small challenge by any stretch, I am both overjoyed by the opportunity to return to work that I love, and deeply humbled by the opportunity represents. Ultimately, it’s where I’m meant to be and it’s great to be back.
It does seem like a different universe compared to when I left the magazine. Today’s watershaping world is much more fluid (pun intended) and far more diverse. Terms like aquatic consultant or watershape designer aren’t so new and unexpected anymore. Taking an even longer view, it’s odd to think that when WaterShapes started back before the turn of millennium, many people in the industry didn’t even have email, even cell phones were still relatively new, and the advent of social media was still a decade away. It is striking how things have changed.
Of even greater and more recent impact, we’ve also seen the influx of a new generation of professionals who are not tethered to traditional ways of thinking and institutionalized habits that have long held back the traditional pool and spa industry. In fact, it’s fair to say the industry that existed in the 50s through much of 90s is almost unrecognizable in some respects today.
We’ve seen a more evolved approach take hold, one that is largely driven by technology but also focuses on the consumer experience and the idea that integrated exterior spaces are attainable by a widening swath of society. We’ve also developed a widespread recognition that wellness and fitness are an increasing part of watershapes’ appeal and value.
For my small part, it’s been exciting to be a part of this ongoing evolution, and I’m thrilled by the expanding possibilities. I see a future where watershapers and the industry at large become more integrated with the worlds of architects, landscape architects, general contractors, developers, healthcare professionals and even fine artists. And, I imagine a world where the power and beauty of recreational and decorative water touches almost everyone in society.
Yes, change means stepping away from our comfort zones, but ultimately that’s one of the healthiest ways to grow, personally and professionally. By embracing times of change, we discover new directions and capacities within ourselves – along with new ways to plumb an attached spa, light a fountain or mount acrylic panels in the side of a pool.