A Long, Strange Trip

By Jim McCloskey

As this newsletter appears, I’ll be heading north to Paso Robles, Calif., to participate in the 20th Anniversary Celebration for Genesis – very much aware of the fact that it’s a two-decade landmark for WaterShapes, too: We started pre-launch activities related to the magazine at about the same time the founders of Genesis began organizing their first-ever school in Morro Bay, Calif., for the fall of 1998.

The first phone call I made about starting WaterShapes was to Vance Gillette, checking in to see if he figured there was room for a new publication and, more important, if he would support the idea as a prospective advertiser. He said yes on both fronts, then immediately suggested I contact three guys who were talking about starting a school to raise the skill levels of pool/spa designers and builders.

He gave me their names and I burst out laughing: Those he offered – Skip Phillips, David Tisherman and Brian Van Bower – were (after Vance) numbers two, three and five on a list of six people I intended to call that very afternoon. It was a beautiful nest of coincidences, and by the end of that first exploratory day, I was convinced WaterShapes could be exactly the sort of iconoclastic magazine I wanted it to be.

In the months and years that followed, Genesis and WaterShapes became so philosophically interlinked that people figured that either Genesis owned WaterShapes or vice versa. I took a bit of umbrage the first time I heard that one, because ours was a much broader marketing proposition that cobbled together a community including not only pool and spa people, but also landscape designers and architects as well as pond and fountain designers and installers – a community defined by shared involvement with contained, controlled water on a spectrum from birdbaths to lakes.

Before long, however, I was serene in my acceptance of the thought that the “ownership misperception” was generally encouraging (maybe even flattering) and reflected the awesome balances we had struck as both the magazine and the educational system developed. It was also true that Genesis had widened its focus over time, seeing the same value we did in bringing designers and builders from other disciplines into the fold.

It was a real, honest synergy – and a shared conviction that what we were all doing was having a positive effect on everyone who came in contact with us.

The two entities were marching on crisp, parallel courses until the Great Recession hit. The advertising base for WaterShapes effectively collapsed in 2009 and 2010, and we had a choice between reinventing the operation or joining a whole lot of other defunct boutique publications on publishing’s back pages.

Obviously, we chose reinvention – now as an all-digital enterprise. It took a couple years, but we retooled everything after stepping away from printed magazines once our July 2011 edition went into the mail, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I look forward to celebrating their anniversary with my Genesis friends in April, then do some private celebrating here in May. Twenty years ago that month, I conjured up WaterShapes while sitting in my spa on a warm spring evening with a tall, frozen margarita within reach. I knew before the plastic glass was drained that this was the Big Idea I’d been looking for when I’d started my publishing company a couple years earlier.

I knew as well that reaching out to Vance, Brian, Skip and David would be critical, and I cherish my memories of phone conversations and then of face-to-face meetings that helped me and WaterShapes’ founding editor, Eric Herman, align our thought processes and set our sights even higher than we ever figured we could.

It’s been an awesome ride. Thanks for your support through the years and dedication to the proposition that excellence in design, engineering and construction is not only a worthy, but also an attainable and essential goal.

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