An interview with Wendy Parker Barsell, Executive Director of the Florida Swimming Pool Association
The power of positivity and persistence is strong with Wendy Parker Barsell, CEM, Executive Director of the Florida Swimming Pool Association. Wendy was determined to have the Everything Under the Sun Expo return as the first in-person industry trade show in more than a year.
And, she says, “We did it! It felt good to get people going again. It’s possible. It gave everyone hope that we really can do this. We can’t expect it to be what it was pre-pandemic for a while, but this is possible.”
Everything Under the Sun returned to the Orange County Convention Center in February for the 18th consecutive year of the 49-year show to celebrate the energy and success of the pool industry. Wendy says her attendance and exhibitor goal was 50% of last year’s trade show, and that’s exactly where they ended up, with 120 exhibitors and 2,300 attendees.
“This is very much a personal choice to attend in person,” said Wendy. “People who are not ready will choose not to attend, and that is OK. When you think about how you market your event, it’s not going to be normal for most people this year, and you have to move ahead however best for you.”
Education and exhibit hall setups
Including an online portion was not an option for FSPA, because all education classes must be approved by the state, and they were not approved for an online format. Knowing that attendance was 50% and taking COVID precautions into consideration, Wendy modified the education room setup.
“We set up classrooms with 50% capacity and seats six feet apart. We did not have tables,” explained Wendy. “We also utilized block scheduling. In a typical show, attendees can choose between 60 classes. This year, attendees would choose one of six blocks and stay in the same classroom. They were in the same room and the same seat for that block of education.”
This set up avoided crowded hallways in between sessions and reduced the amount of necessary cleaning. FSPA also cut back on F&B and coffee breaks.
For the exhibition space, which went from 36,500 net square feet to 18,700 net square feet, Wendy and her team designed a show floor consisting of four-booth configuration quads. “Everyone had a corner space, with no additional charge,” said Wendy. “We used 8 ft. high, 10 ft. wide drape on both sides. Normally we would have 3 ft. side rails, but we used 8 ft. drape between every space for separation between exhibitors.”
One adjustment that took some getting used to for Wendy was going without the typical blue carpet on the show floor. “It was hard to make that decision,” she said. “We had to make it early, and it was the thing that hurt me the most personally. I feel like carpet is one of the things when you walk into a show, it finishes the look at a show. It looked different this year, but it was just a different year.”
Working closely with long-time partners in host city Orlando and being able to rely upon those strong relationships was a great benefit to Wendy and her team. “We had a lot of conversations,” said Wendy. “Three weeks before the event, the Center reallocated 200 people into different county jobs. We got a new event manager less than a month before the event. It was an easy transition but a lesson learned to be prepared for someone being reassigned.”
In another unexpected turn, Wendy had to identify a new registration company 27 days before the event, due to a travel ban with her original vendor. “There are still companies with travel bans in place,” Wendy said. “Make sure that everyone is planning to be there.”
Putting these unexpected pivots aside, Wendy said that attendees were flexible and understanding. “Everyone knew this would be a different show. They practiced social distancing, were respectful of each other, and followed the rules. What worked well was that everyone came to the event knowing that we were here during a pandemic, and acted accordingly.”
FSPA opted to use waivers instead of temperature checks onsite, which Wendy said worked well. The security and staff teams utilized paddle signs to remind attendees about wearing their mask properly. FSPA also provided plenty of masks onsite, making “buckets of” disposable and cloth masks available.
Wendy’s advice for her peers is to have some faith. “Have confidence that people coming to your event will do the right thing. Trust that your audience will do what’s right. Prepare for everything – markers on the floor, tons of signage – but in the end, trust the people.”