Feature Article - September 2021
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Your Pool Toolkit

Support Aquatic Programming With Pool Accessories

By Joe Bush

There are many ways to use a pool, and every way needs accessories.

Rarely do pool users simply get in the water and float. When parents swim with small children, not much else is needed. Same with teenagers racing or doing cannonballs and backflips.

But pools today are usually designed for certain uses and have the tools for each. Lane lines define lap swimming. Timing systems and starting blocks are musts for competition. Many products make pools more fun—climbing walls, diving rings, inflatable bridges and slides for instance—and safer, like paddle boards and noodles and life jackets. Swim classes need those safety items too. Aquatic exercise and therapy sessions have their implements too, like treadmills and weights.

All those uses of a pool are part of a facility's programming and revenue streams, and can be made permanent—like slides—or modular and added anytime, like obstacle courses, which have gained popularity in the past decade. One manufacturer, for example, offers inflatable structures that are not only modular but interchangeable for variety of experience and visual impact.

The rise of aquatic entertainment in the 21st century will only be bolstered by the ending of the pandemic, said Chris Thomas, marketing director for a manufacturer of splash play products, pool slides and more.

"The pandemic has pushed consumers to want to spend more time outdoors, so aquatic facilities have an opportunity to draw in new patrons with fun accessories like slides and spray features that are interactive and appeal to a large range of ages," Thomas said. "From off-the-shelf solutions to customized designs, there are many play accessories available to meet the needs of any aquatic facility."

These types of accessories have evolved in a short time, and only creativity is a limit it seems. Ease of installation and takedown and storage are operator-centric highlights as well.

"Facilities are looking for renovation they can do fast, without having to tear up their decks and can be operational quickly," said Thomas. "In addition to ease of installation, having 'themed' water features really helps renovate a facility and gives facilities a memorable feature that kids will talk about, remember and want to return to experience."

Typically, companies like Thomas' make products for pools, waterparks and spraygrounds as well. He said his company works with aquatic designers and aquatic facilities to help them select the best aquatic features for their facility, their timeline and their budget.

"We always work with the client to determine their short and long-term goals and direct them to the products that will meet their needs," he said. "Right now we know that many commercial aquatic facilities suffered from being closed during the pandemic, so we are definitely showing them the many benefits of installing smaller slides to quickly re-attract patrons without having to do any major renovation to the facility."

For example, when helping a facility choose a slide, Thomas' company shows the many themes available, then narrows down a slide that will fit into their kiddie pool, splash pad or beach entry area so that there are the safety zones and clearances needed around the structure to be in compliance with all ordinances.

"And we point out that best of all, there is no need to break up any of the deck," he said.

Not only do companies focus on creativity and safety, they also customize with themes and color elements, as well as sizes and difficulties for different age groups. One slide made by Thomas' company has 40 different designs and can be sized for 2-to-5-year-olds as well as 5-to-12-year-olds.

Thomas said the future of fun pool accessories is strong, partly because many pools want to increase the entertainment value of their facilities without spending too much. "All pools want to have some 'excitement' that makes them feel more like a waterpark," he said. "It's a way to add excitement to existing aquatic facilities, pools, kiddie pools and splash pads. Many of the accessories on the market are designed specifically for ease and speed of installation, using existing plumbing.

Not to be forgotten, said Thomas, accessories can also be used to make facilities more efficient.

"We find that the most successful aquatic renovations leverage underutilized space or underutilized water features so that there isn't a need to completely overhaul the facility," said Thomas. "We always find out what features and plumbing are already present and try to build and add to it in order to maximize untapped potential."

Other accessories aren't as adrenalized but just as important. Mike Fowler works for a company that sells items that help keep water and air safe so fun can be had without sickness or accident—maintenance equipment, such as poles, nets and brushes, as well as UV systems, ADA lifts and deck equipment such as lifeguard chairs, ladders and rails, as well as chemical controllers. Fowler said these items too could see a surge in pandemic-related sales.

"The pandemic has put tremendous attention on sanitization," said Fowler. "Looking at UV or ozone systems as a way to bring a better swimming experience to your guests and members is one of the growing trends and will continue to be, especially with indoor pools."

Fowler said it isn't hard to convince clients of the need for his company's products; a safer environment keeps users returning. "Providing UV and ozone systems to enhance the air quality in indoor pools helps limit air issues, and providing necessary ADA lifts provides access to all people so they can improve their lifestyle and health," said Fowler. "And when you speak with customers, you always mention improving their main equipment—pumps, lights or heaters that may be much more efficient that would allow more money savings in energy costs and give them extra income to pursue other accessories to make their facility the best it can be."