We may have seen a little snow and ice outside Tuesday, but the inside of the Atlantic City Convention Center was covered with a thick coating of pools and spas.
It was the opening day of the exhibit hall at the annual Pool & Spa Show, which was scheduled to bring 11,000 professionals from that industry to town this week to check out 100,000 square feet of those products — and other stuff related to them, somehow — being sold by 430 or so companies.
The weather apparently held attendance down a bit Tuesday — even if the snow was nowhere near as much as most forecasters feared, at least in New Jersey. But the organizers and vendors said they expected the crowds to pick up before the show ends Thursday.
Because those vendors come from around the world, and their potential customers come from across the United States, the Pool & Spa Show changed its name this time around. In its first 33 years of existence, the trade-only event was called the Atlantic City Pool & Spa Show, but the sponsors said they officially dropped the town from its name to emphasize its growing reach.
“We felt we should be more defined by pools and spas than by the location,” said Kelly McKelvey, marketing director for the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, or NESPA, the show’s longtime sponsor, who added that vendors came from France, Germany and Canada, among other countries.
And around that pool-packed, spa-stocked floor, both sellers and buyers agreed they were happy with the location — no matter what the event’s called.
“It’s the one show I will not miss. I’ve been here every year (since 2000),” said Juanita Felix, president of Alaglas Swimming Pools of St. Matthews, South Carolina, who’s also a regular at similar shows in Las Vegas; Orlando, Florida; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Even in the midst of all those other sellers looking for business, Felix has found a way to draw more eyeballs to her brand-new pool, Alaglas’ Naples model. She was one of a few dealers on the floor who weren’t just covering a lot of ground with their products. They were towering over the ground by standing their pools on end — a move that put the top of Felix’s Naples pool at least 25 feet above the floor.
That display style also showed off a pair of tropical-colored dolphin fish — also known as mahi mahi — that Felix designed into the floor of the pool and the glass-tile mosaic that decorates the rim.
“I used to do a lot of fishing off the coast of Florida, so I would catch them,” Felix said, explaining her fondness for the fish on her latest model — which is 12 feet wide and has in-water seating at both the shallow and deep ends.
Her high-rise display was just a few steps from the collection of Artesian Spas that Brad Evans, of Las Vegas, came to town to sell. His biggest model on the floor was the EP-12, a combination exercise pool and swim spa.
“You’re seeing a lot of people replace pools with swim spas,” he said, adding that these models are popular with “baby boomers. You’ve got water resistance, temperature control and low-impact exercise.”
Most customers put these exercise pools — you can get a workout by walking, running or swimming against a current — outside, which is safe because “everything is sealed ... and insulated,” said Evans, who figures he’s been coming to the Atlantic City show for 20 years, and one main reason:
“The return is always there,” he explained.
But not everything at the show was sexy swimming pools and sleek spas loaded up with more jets than a shut-down airport. A lot of the vendors came to sell accessories and equipment for those glamour items, everything from covers to chemicals to pumps to pavers to sliding boards to swim-up bars to rock-climbing walls to rubber ducks — in a range of sizes from bathtub-tiny to 6 feet tall.
And they have a lot more stuff to see and show and buy and sell, which is just one reason why Paul Domey could say this Tuesday as he walked by a 7-foot-tall, Adrenaline-model sliding board from Inter-Fab Inc.:
“I am extremely happy I’m not in Sutton, Massachusetts,” said Domey, whose Heritage Pool business is based in that town — where “they have at least 24 inches (of snow) now, and it’s still coming down.”
He was thrilled to escape that crush of snow and get to Atlantic City on Monday, where our own predicted snowstorm was MIA.
“We came as early as we could to beat that storm,” he said, because the show is good for his business.
“I’ve been coming since it was in the old Convention Hall,” he said — the landmark now called Boardwalk Hall. “Because of the location and the time of year. The perfect time for a pool show for the whole Northeast Corridor is the last week of January,” when all his old jobs are finished and he’s just starting to get nibbles from people about jobs this spring.
“And because this is a beautiful place to come,” Domey added. “You have the Boardwalk, you have the ocean” — and almost no snow to keep all these spa and pool pros away.
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