For more than 50 years, the Northeast Spa & Pool Association (NESPA) has been the voice of the pool, spa and hot tub industry in the heavily populated regions of New Jersey, Connecticut, eastern New York and eastern Pennsylvania. NESPA has more than 800 member companies and stays in constant contact with a well-balanced mix of print and online publications that complement its website, member help line and massive annual convention.
Going digital with their communications has saved NESPA money while allowing them to reach members where they are communicating, including social media platforms. “You’ve got to provide all the tools to all the members all the time, even if they don’t use them all the time,” says NESPA Executive Director Larry Caniglia.
“The power of the NESPA brand is that when we give information, it’s the most objective, unsanitized, unpolitical timely news about standards and codes you can find if you do business in the northeast,” says Caniglia. “All our communication vehicles are about our mission: Making sure our members have the certification, knowledge and tools they need to win any and all bids they have on the table.”
Positioning themselves as the industry information leader
Despite serving a highly competitive “luxury market” during a tough economic climate, membership has been holding steady according to NESPA Executive Director Larry Caniglia, a former civil litigator who has been at the helm of the organization for seven years.
As Caniglia tells it, NESPA reached a crossroads about five years ago when it realized there was just so much information out there competing for members’ attention. “We asked ourselves: How do you get members to follow us and stay with us? How do you make it really important to them?”
As a result, NESPA shifted its member communication focus from nice-to-know to need-to-know. In other words, there would be more emphasis on industry news and contractor best practices versus news about the association. Instead of who’s doing what at the association, editorial coverage focused on: What’s new in the industry? What’s new in pool and spa technology? How can you help me win a competitive bid and keep me out of trouble when I’m on a difficult job? What specific issues do I have to wrestle with here in the northeastern climate and building codes? “That’s also part of our brand,” related Caniglia. “Just because an expert says something is true, we still check it out anyway and vet the information if it doesn’t sound right to our in-house experts. Not everyone else does that.”
NESPA’s eye-catching quarterly magazine, The Edge, added a digital component and revamped its editorial coverage 50/50 between technology and business articles. Caniglia said NESPA doesn’t try to compete with Pool & Spa News, published by the formidable trade media company Hanley Wood. “That’s national in focus, while we’re focused in the northeast only and bring special expertise regarding the climate, regulations and dense population challenges faced by contractors and home owners in this region.”
NESPA also has to balance the seasonal peaks and valleys of its members’ business cycle with a year-long commitment to serving members.
Does NESPA compete with anyone else for members’ attention? “Well, to a certain extent we compete with manufacturer reps who have their own ‘lunch & learn’ shows for the dealers,” recounted Caniglia. “People in our industry are very hands-on. They really want to see, hold and touch the new products, take ‘em apart and see how they work. The dealer shows can be very effective tapping into that need, but again, they’re only going to show their own product line while we’re more agnostic. We introduce you to all the products serving a need you have.”
Placing importance on digital communications
NESPA also took a closer look at Update, its hard-copy newsletter that was published 10 times per year. Caniglia said the decision to go digital was driven by the need to be more timely and to save money. In fact, Update’s frequency was bumped up to bi-weekly, which members initially loved. But about three years ago, NESPA noticed the open rates were dropping and editors were struggling to get enough relevant content from the association world to fill its pages.
Now, Update remains an electronic publication, but has settled in at a monthly publishing frequency. Caniglia said this allows it to remain timely and relevant, but still do more in-depth coverage about important regulatory topics, board meetings and committee meetings. Sure enough, open rates have improved to far above industry standard.
NESPA has also made a major commitment to its member website, www.nespapool.org, which is now the communication flagship of the organization. The site is now the main information tool for members. It’s not just a place to find need-to-know information that will help pool and spa builders in their business, but it’s chock full of technical expertise. And if members can’t quickly find the solution to a question they need answered ASAP from the field, they can utilize the member help line which is staffed with a variety of technical experts about complex pool and spa construction issues. Members can call or email the hotline and get an answer sent right to their PDAs, cell phones or smart phones.
At many associations, members cancel their dues when they don’t see value in their membership anymore. “I don’t think we’ve ever lost a member who’s used our membership help line, “said Caniglia with a chuckle.
The site is also going through an evolution, said Caniglia. “As time goes on, the information keeps growing and you have to be careful to prevent it from being an endless series of add-ons and patches,” related Caniglia. “We’re designing an all-new site, which will have much simpler navigation. Just three tabs: Industry, Members and Consumers. We’re always mindful of consumers as they come to the site a lot to see the design award winners and to get ideas.”
NESPA’s highly anticipated annual convention, The Pool & Spa Show, just celebrated its 30th anniversary, attracted 420 exhibitors and more than 10,000 attendees, and held 75 educational seminars. “We had a nice uptick in attendance and exhibit space despite the economy,” said Caniglia. “We also launched our first social networking pilot program at the show—text messages from local vendors and restaurants sent to attendees’ mobile phones—and it went well. While we don’t offer virtual attendance per se, we do put certain presentations on the website which are free to members. Non-members only get the FAQs.
Caniglia admits he’s a bit “old school” when it comes to social media, but he understands the importance it has for many members. “You’ve got to provide all the tools to all the members all the time, even if they don’t use them all the time.” As part of an effort to recruit and retain younger members, NESPA teamed with Association of Pool and Spa Professionals International to create www.myAPSP.org, the pool and spa professionals industry network—a stand-alone site and social networking hub with more than 2,500 members.
“The power of the NESPA brand is that when we give information, it’s the most objective, unsanitized, unpolitical timely news about standards and codes you can find if you do business in the northeast,” said Caniglia. “All our communication vehicles are about our mission: Making sure our members have the certification, knowledge and tools they need to win any and all bids they have on the table. If you can help members win business and consistently keep them out of trouble, then you won’t have a hard time convincing them to keep coming back at dues renewal time.”
So how does the Northeast Spa & Pool Association manage to produce highly technical articles for its print and online publications, plus a comprehensive website, a heavily used member help line and a mammoth trade show with only eight full-time staff? Volunteers and smart outsourcing. In addition to Naylor’s expertise on the non-dues revenue side, which according to Caniglia works well because they’re diligent and take the time to understand what makes the pool and spa industry tick, “we have a versatile in-house team, a great outside editor and the best group of volunteers in the world,” he says. “Our volunteers really help us write and edit technical content, staff the help line and put the conference programs together. We couldn’t do it without them and our partners.”