National Swimming Pool Foundation Enters Historic Merger

By Rebecca Robledo

      The board chairmen for APSP and NSPF have shed some light on the merger announced earlier today.The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals has agreed in principle to merge with the National Swimming Pool Foundation. “We believe that the industry is better served with these two organizations … linked arm in arm to provide … governance, programming and education,” said Rich Garbee, APSP’s chairman of the board.It may take weeks or even months to shepherd the transition and iron out the specifics, however the leaders have shared some details, including why the group has made this decision.
     First off, the transaction will be a true merger, and does not signify that either group was in crisis, said Bruce Dunn, NSPF’s chairman of the board. “Nobody’s on the ropes,” he said. “Nobody is trying to [say], ‘It’s our way and not your way.’ It was a unanimous feeling of merging, not a buying or an acquisition, or not a parts and pieces.”
     The groups see their structures and memberships as complementary. Not only does one largely address the residential sector and the other commercial, but certain operational aspects of the organizations should prove helpful in carrying out the other’s mission, they said. “Some of our content can be potentially delivered more effectively through the delivery system that NSPF has put together,” Garbee said. “And the coordinated efforts in codes and standards should be a really positive event for our two organizations and the industry as a whole.”
     NSPF’s programs to promote aquatics, such as the Step Into Swim initiative meant to drive 1 million to take up swimming, will help APSP members, Garbee added: “More swimmers mean more people comfortable with water, and we want people to celebrate water.”
     Among its benefits, APSP will add sheer scale. “They’re a much more recognizable organization,” Dunn said. “They’ve got a nameplate that has been there for a number of years as an independent representative, a government-relations organization. You’re bringing to the table a large group of members who suddenly become the conduit for disseminating the kind of information, programs and visions that you have for the industry.”
     Now, the organizations must tackle many points of the new business plan, from the basic to the granular. It is not yet known whether the merged entity will be housed in one location and, if so, where. Officials also must figure out how each group’s current certifications, such as NSPF’s Certified Pool Operator and APSP’s builder and service tech designations, will be handled. The same holds true for the ANSI/APSP standards and government advocacy.
     Staffing decisions also are unclear at this point. For the time being, both staffs will remain working in their respective headquarters, each under their current directors, NSPF CEO Thomas Lachocki, Ph.D. and APSP Executive Director Rich Gottwald. “It was the collective feeling that the people who are working in the business, making the successes that they currently have, continue doing that,” Dunn said.
     However, some information is known about Genesis. This new merger comes just five months after the design and construction education group joined with NSPF. At the time, NSPF said Genesis would remain largely unchanged and that cofounders Skip Phillips and Brian Van Bower would stay with the organization, with their titles changed to ambassadors.
     That transaction took an organization mostly associated with the commercial and public pool sector – NSPF – and brought it into the residential realm. At the time, industry observers wondered if this signaled a plan on NSPF’s part to snag APSP’s spot as the dominant national organization for the pool and spa industry. With this new move, NSPF takes a step deeper into the residential sector.
     Dunn confirmed that Phillips and Van Bower will remain with the combined organization and that the program will stay in place. “No matter what the business plan is as we go forward, it would only be foolish to either dissolve or even water down any of those programs,” Dunn said.
     This merger now places Genesis under the same umbrella as APSP, the organization against which it had rebelled when it formed in 1998 and against which it has continued to bristle.
     “This will not become a divisive issue whatsoever with Genesis,” Dunn said. “Genesis, just by its nature, is a forward-thinking, outside-the-box … program, because of its two principals. The whole purpose in acquiring something [Genesis] was to... move it further up the scale from a performance standpoint. Adding the APSP base and membership simply gives us that many more people who we can [reach]. It’s a big, big vision, and both Skip and Brian are big-vision guys.”
     Van Bower also saw the coming together as positive. “From an industry point of view, not a Genesis point of view, I’m thinking that having a stronger association that people can be proud of and that accomplishes more is worthwhile,” he said. The same holds true for APSP and NSPF themselves, which observers had come to view as competing organizations, given that some of their educational programs, certifications and work creating standards covered some of the same territory. “There’s really good stuff going on that can be leveraged with two organizations working together,” Garbee said. “At one point, you can probably look at it and say we were competing, and now we’re complementing each other. That in its very nature is going to be a productivity gain.”
     The merger continues a thread not only for NSPF, but for associations in general. Last month, the California Pool & Spa Association announced affiliation agreements with several other associations, including APSP, NSPF, the Foundation for Pool and Spa Industry Education and the Western Pool & Spa Show.
     “I think you’re starting to see an industry that is coming together,” Garbee said. “I think it’s very, very exciting.”

Rebecca Robledo is a senior editor at Pool & Spa News and Aquatics International.