By Jim McCloskey
Pardon the impression I may have given in my November 18 blog that the 2015 International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo was entirely about Genesis and its merger with the National Swimming Pool Foundation. Far from it – and therein hangs a tale.
When I first started attending these shows in the mid-1980s, I was fairly well dazzled by what I saw as I wandered the floor: If you spent as much time as I did back then sorting through relentless piles of press releases about unfamiliar products and finally had the chance to see them up close and personal – and sometimes in operation – I suspect you’d have been impressed, too.
By the time my third expo rolled around in 1988, however, I had become good friends with the late, great Locksin Thompson, a California-based hot tub dealer who was quite active in what was then the National Spa & Pool Institute. Quite simply, he was one of the soundest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
He saw me browsing the aisles one day and asked what I thought. I was a bit less green with two previous national shows under my belt, but I let him know that I was impressed. “By what?” he asked. “I haven’t seen anything really new all day.” He joined me for a handful of long rows and made me see that I was responding to the show like a retail customer, pulled in by the displays and uncritical about what I was really seeing.
As we moved along, he let me know that he always walked the entire show floor, but that it was mostly to see people he knew – and in booths or in the aisles, it was clear that Locksin knew plenty of them. But he was always pleased when he saw something really new, enthusiastic if it was something he though he or his clients could use and generous in letting the people in those fortunate booths know about it. (This happened only rarely, as he stressed over and over and over again as we ambled along.)
As he saw it, the industry was pretty much stuck in neutral through the late ’80s, the victim of its own success toward the end of what had been, generally speaking, a very good run of years for pool and spa suppliers. Why, he asked, would manufacturers invest in research and new products when it was tough to keep up with orders for the old ones?
Every year since, I’ve thought about Locksin as I make my rounds and say hello to familiar faces around the exhibit hall, wondering if he would agree with me that the stasis he observed back then is pretty much a thing of the past these days.
Sticking to the spas by which he made his living, I wonder what he would have thought about today’s more efficient pumps, heaters and water-treatment systems, new covers and varied interior surfaces. I also wonder if, like me, he’d be a bit bothered by the proliferation of bazillion-jet arrays, complex interior contours, extreme lighting and booming audiovisual systems. I like to think he’d still be putting the stress on relaxation and intimacy, but I know that he was enough of a gearhead that he couldn’t have helped being pleased by how much more was available to distinguish the hot water experience.
And I bet he’d have been just as interested in what was going on with systems and materials for swimming pools. Solar power? He’d have been all over it. Advanced control systems? Ditto. He was rooted in kinder, gentler days, but I know the existence of these options would have intrigued him and that the rate of innovation, especially in the aftermath of Great Recession, would have impressed even his excessively well-informed eye.
I’m even willing to bet that he would have liked the fact that the expo has expanded its outreach to include “patio” within the nominal fold. Locksin was a man who loved to delight his clients, and if he had lived to see today’s displays of cool barbecues and outdoor heating systems and fire features, he’d have become a fixture in those booths, too.
Yes, there was lots of talk in my corner of the show about Genesis and NSPF, but I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to praise the expo’s diversity – and tip my hat to a dear, departed mentor.