Creating an Experience

NESPA moves to streaming experiences for 2021

It’s been a year of in-person intentions and shifting realities. While the nation continues to work toward flattening the curve, the expos retailers enjoy have become virtual events. Lately, that means The Pool & Spa Show hosted by NESPA, held January 26 to 28.

“Everything is moving so quickly,” says Trish McCormick, show manager for The Pool & Spa Show. In October, the event was moving forward with an in-person platform, but by late November, rapid changes had to be made.

“We were heartbroken to realize we were not going to have an in-person show,” McCormick says, adding that the decision was based upon pandemic regulations for the East Coast, specifically the inability to travel between states.

Knowing, however, that in-person may not be possible, backup ideas have been tossed around for the last eight months. “We’re reimagining everything that everybody has come to love and expect from The Pool & Spa Show and are creating an interactive experience,” she says, “not a canned virtual trade show.”

McCormick says she is avoiding the terms ‘canceled’ and ‘virtual,’ instead framing it as an experience. “We’re working harder than ever to create something special to connect because, I don’t know about you, but I’m starved for personal and professional connection,” she says.

Despite backup preparations, pulling everything together for a live streaming event just two months before the expo presents challenges. For instance, the platform NESPA is using for the show doesn’t open to account managers until six weeks before the event. That’s why registration just opened.

PSAV, a global live event company, will be partnering with NESPA to create the show’s streaming experience. “They have a robust and fun platform for trade shows,” McCormick says. NESPA is also partnering with Atlantic City — where the in-person event is hosted each year — to help conduct the event within local and state safety restrictions, all while bringing a little bit of AC to the world.

The event will be live streaming speakers, demonstrations, interactions with platinum sponsors and even giveaways for upwards of 10 hours both days. “We’ve contacted a lot of industry personalities and celebrities, if you will — fun, engaging, energetic speakers who we’ve had in the past — people who play well off each other,” McCormick says. “We want a nice, interactive, engaging experience for the attendees watching us, with a lot of connection with our audience.”

In addition to the main stage, the tradition of the Training Wall will continue, with exhibitors providing product demonstrations throughout the day to encourage attendees to visit the exhibitor hall. Attendees can interact with exhibitor booth personnel on a whim or through a scheduled meeting, conducted through Zoom or live chat. Contact information will also be available if a later interaction is preferred.

Live and on-demand classes will be available, too. As of publication time, the schedule of classes was not yet available, but McCormick did note that 45 to 50 classes will be provided, including a business development track, technical track with CEUs and a PHTA education track. There will also be two peer panels specific to the Northeast covering pool winterization and pool openings.

Tuesday, January 26, at 4 p.m. is a live, interactive welcome party for attendees, including the band the show usually hires live streaming from a garage. Prizes will abound, but attendees must visit exhibitor booths during the day to qualify, encouraging more ways for them to connect.

McCormick says the fast-paced process of pulling a live streaming experience off has been exciting because of so many unknowns. “I don’t do anything ‘fine’ or allow my staff to do anything ‘fine,’ ” she says of her high expectations for the event. “Customer service is No. 1 for us at the Pool & Spa Show. We treat our show like a small family-owned business because most of our member companies are family-owned businesses. We’re fortunate that our industry as a whole is doing very well through these trying times, but the association does live meetings and that part isn’t doing well right now. We bring people together; we want to continue doing that the best way we can.”

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