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Founders Continue to Refine & Support Genesis Program

Pool Magazine goes one on one with the Founders of Genesis

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Genesis Founders Brian Van Bower and Skip Phillips continue to support the program now under the stewardship of the PHTA

Many in the industry accredit their success and achievements to the education they received attending the Genesis program. Genesis is one of the leading instructional training systems dedicated to higher education in pool construction and design. The program, first started back in 1998 by Skip Phillips, Brian Van Bower and David Tisherman, quickly became an important resource for builders who were looking to further their education in pool engineering and design.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Skip Phillips & Brian Van Bower while they were recently attending a meeting at the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance headquarters in Alexandria, VA. They were there for a 2 day strategy session with PHTA, discussing new refinements to the Genesis program.

During the course of our conversation with the two founders, we learned how they first got their start in the pool industry. We also found out the origin of this seminal instruction program that has been responsible for producing some of the most talented minds in luxury pools today.

Brian Van Bower, Co-Founder of the Genesis System became synonymous with designs like this one over his career. – Pool Construction – Reef Tropical Pools – Photograph by Jimi Smith Photography

How The Founders of Genesis Got Their Start

Van Bower first got his start in the pool industry back in the 70’s. Like many other stars in the pool industry, Van Bower had humble origins that first began as a tech performing pool service for other companies. A quick study, he eventually decided to start his own pool service company. After building up the business to around 600 accounts, Van Bower decided to change direction.

To Van Bower, the evolution of his career meant building instead of servicing pools. Setting out to educate himself, Van Bower started off small at first. He began building spas before eventually moving on to pools.

The year 1989 would prove to be a pivotal one for Van Bower as he progressed further into designing pools. He would eventually sell his first company in 1991.

Van Bowers work in luxury pool design has been closely studied for a generation by some of the most well known builders and designers in the world. – Pool Tile Interior – Mosaicist – Ray Corral – Photo by Jimi Smith Photography

Today, Van Bower’s current company Aquatic Consultants works on high end luxury pool projects all over the world. Their clientele includes a who’s who list of celebrities from Sir Richard Branson, to a certain quarterback for Tampa Bay whom shall remain nameless. “I am a product of the Genesis system,” said Van Bower.

Van Bower & Phillips Share Similar Origins

Co-Founder, Skip Phillips also started in pool service back in 1975 and over the next few years built the company up to 3 retail outlets servicing roughly 1,100 pools a week. In 1979 he decided he wanted to start building pools so he began studying for his contractors license.

“My second pool won a design award which is frankly an indictment on the pool industry more so than it is an endorsement of me, ” said Phillips, who would eventually become an NSPI instructor along with Van Bower.

“Our process for starting the Genesis system was actually a knee jerk reaction to invalid certifications and invalid educational processes that kept the industry dumbed down,” said Phillips.

Skip Phillips has made a name throughout his career for incredible over the top luxury pools like this one.

The Origins of Genesis

“Back in early 1998, Skip and I had been teaching programs for what was then NSPI,” said Van Bower, “Skip had approached them, because we decided that even though we were teaching programs, they weren’t programs that interested us that much.”

“We wanted them to go outside of the industry instead of having thinly veiled product demonstrations as education and actually bring in instructors who were credible.” said Van Bower.

It was Phillips that first spoke up to program directors. He asked them to bring in architects and landscape architects. Phillips said he and others wanted credible experts from outside the pool industry who could provide instruction in design theory as well as cover topics outside the normal realm of curriculum being taught at the time.

Upon hearing his suggestions, Phillips said that NSPI program directors shut him down cold. “They told me there was no market for an advanced program.” said Phillips, “In fact, they said if we held a venue like that, they would give us $100 per person that attended.”

Phillips said that the incredulous nature of those remarks planted the seeds for starting the Genesis program in that very moment.

I found it so offensive, that I got up and said: ‘That’s alright I’ll do it myself’, and Brian was in the room and stood up and said ‘No, he isn’t going to do it himself, we’re going to do it together.’ David Tisherman was also a partner in the venture at that time.

Skip Phillips – Genesis Co-Founder
The view of Morro Bay, CA from the location at the original Genesis school.

“When we put on our first school, we actually hadn’t thought it out any further than that,” said Phillips. “One of the students came into the Morro Bay location we were at and asked ‘Are you the Genesis guys?’, and I was almost hesitant to say yes, because I didn’t know what would follow,” explained Phillips.

Genesis developed a reputation for organizing event based trips for students & instructors like this one to ASU’s College of Architecture and Environment Design.

“Twenty out of twenty two attendees called the following week and said, ‘What are we doing next?’, and I said, ‘What’s this we thing?'” said Phillips. “We hadn’t really thought it out that far, but it became obvious that there were like minded people that knew that this industry didn’t have any valid education, ” explained Phillips.

“Initially there were a lot of obstacles as we moved Genesis ahead just trying to find venues,” said Phillips. As it often does in the pool industry, word of mouth quickly began to spread about the Genesis program. Interest rapidly began to grow as more and more people who had heard good things about the program, wanted to experience what others had conveyed had been a life changing experience for them.

This enormous inflatable pig symbolizing the three pigs used to hang above the Genesis 3 Pavillion at trade shows. It was there that they first began to get the word out about the program.

Much of the initial buzz about Genesis 3 was generated by word of mouth from a variety of people who had taken the program. They were discovering that Genesis offered something fresh and original the industry hadn’t seen; expert instructors without a hidden agenda to disguise a product pitch as credible education. David Tisherman, who was closely connected to the Genesis 3 program and was one of the original founders, would eventually sell his shares and depart from the organization in 2012.

Program attendees watching David Tisherman teach a drawing class at an early Genesis school.

Over the next decade, Phillips and Van Bower continued to grow the Genesis program into what it is today. Their legacy on the pool industry has left an indelible mark on the face of modern luxury inground pools. Over 6,000 people have gone through the Genesis program since its inception.

“All you have to do is flip through the pages of a magazine to see our impact on the pool industry,” said Phillips. “If you look at the vessels now versus twenty two, twenty three years ago, they’re not built the same, they’re not designed the same, and that’s really because of the Genesis system,” explained Phillips.

Brian Van Bower giving a presentation on vanishing edge pools with Skip Phillips at one of the early Genesis events.

Without question, many builders credit the Genesis program with advancing standards in education. Dave Penton of Ask The Masters, said attending the program made him a better builder. As did Benjamin Lasseter as have many other well known designers, architects and landscape architects. Those who have attended the program credit Genesis with dramatically advancing the quality of higher education in swimming pool construction.

Van Bower explained that it has been a long evolution for the program that he and Phillips started over twenty three years ago. Both founders felt that if they wanted to continue to grow Genesis they would have to involve core attendees and sponsors which would eventually comprise a board of advisors. The close affiliation of this board of advisors with the National Swimming Pool Foundation led to an eventual partnership. Eventually the NSPF, wished to take control over the program, which later merged with the APSP to form the PHTA.

Today, the program is managed by the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. Van Bower explained how this will be a game changer for Genesis. “Now we have great resources both financially and knowledge wise because instead of 2 pool guys and a couple of helpers putting together programs, we now have staff and training and people that are knowledgeable in marketing.”

There has been some reported turbulence, so we asked how things have changed since the PHTA took over the program. Van Bower remarked “We feel today we are stronger than we’ve ever been. We have better faculty and have been pleased with the outcome of our programs as of late”.

During our discussion with founders, Phillips and Van Bower, we asked about some of the major distinctions between Genesis and other emerging instructional programs to which Phillips replied, “Genesis is obviously the origin of really any of the advanced educational systems on the planet. We’ve been global for some time. We’ve had IACET approval, multiple schools in Europe and Australia. Genesis with its curriculum has really set the stage to launch careers. Frankly almost anyone you see or talk to who has reached some level of status in this industry came through our program. To our credit, the real value is in the success of the people that came through our program.”

Competition Emerges in wake of merger

We asked some pointed questions that have puzzled many in the pool industry. Point of fact, we wanted to know what the primary distinctions were between Genesis and other highly acclaimed programs like Watershape University.

Watershape U was recently started by Dave Peterson and Bill Drakeley. Other former notable supporters of the Genesis program including Dave Penton, Grant Smith, Ryan Oakes, Rick Chafey, Kevin Cobabe, and one of Pool Magazine’s own featured Op-Editorialists Paolo Benedetti, have also joined to support the new education program. All were closely connected to, had gone through or taught for Genesis in years previous before splintering off to start Watershape University.

Phillips replied, “Obviously the depth in Genesis is significant. We have a very deep staff on the design side working with Kate Wiseman who has her Masters in Landscape Architecture. Great designers… Feras Irikat, Kirk Bianchi are just a couple of names. On the engineering side, Terry Brannon is a great instructor – very knowledgeable. We now have 3 engineers to work with.”

When trying to characterize the distinctions between the two programs, Phillips said, “I really can’t speak to how these other programs are structured (Watershape University), but we do know that the basis for that and the basis for their credibility in their certifications is really based on what was learned in Genesis.”

Cause of the split

Shedding some light on why the founders of Watershape University may have felt a sudden compulsion to splinter off, Phillips said, “They were concerned (referring to Peterson and Drakeley), as we were that the merger (between APSP and NSPF) would result in some sort of challenge with our program. That turned out not to be the case,” he continued, “but they wanted their own program and wanted to do things their own way. There are some talented people there and I actually credit Genesis for that success.”

What it takes to graduate from Genesis

Van Bower outlined the specific requirements necessary in order to become a Genesis Associate. “You have to have taken our basic pool construction course, and engineering 211, and basic fluid engineering or hydraulic program and then you can use the title Genesis Associate.” said Van Bower.

Van Bower explained the process of matriculating to become SWD Registered. “When you move on to the registered level,” said Van Bower, “you step up to a requirement for over 150 hours in order to achieve the title SWD Registered. There are several principle courses required along with some electives.”

The next and highest level of the Genesis system, Van Bower explained, is that of SWD Master; which is currently only achievable through project submittal and an evaluation by the Genesis advisory board.

Recalibrating to Covid

In comparing Genesis to going to college for pool construction, Van Bower agreed with the analogy. He explained how Genesis was adapting to distance learning in a virtual environment as have many universities and vocational training programs since Covid-19 began.

Virtual courses have been widely used during the pandemic and have been something Genesis has focused on adopting.

Traditionally, tradeshows and expos have been the primary method in which Genesis disseminates and reaches much of the pool industry. The recent events of last years pandemic have caused them to focus on refining and recalibrating much of the content to be consumable via online learning courses. “We approached it with some trepidation about how well it was going to be received.” said Van Bower, “The exit surveys and comments of our attendees were of the highest level. We were shocked at how highly regarded the virtual program was. We have quotes from the builders that attended, where we feel really good about what we are doing.”

Program attendees watching the Color Theory & Application course online via Genesis 3’s distance learning program.

Phillips broke down the pool construction program at Genesis “Our construction program is something that every single builder, regardless of perceived experience should take. We get down to basics and cover issues that are so effective, that even 20 years ago – people would come out of our class during the first break and call their office and say ‘Don’t dig another pool, don’t shoot another shell, don’t put another stick of plumbing in til I get home. We’re doing this all different.'”

Distance learning will continue to be part of the Genesis program long after Covid-19. Seen here, Kirk Bianchi teaching participants via Zoom conference call.

One of the programs that has become incredibly popular with designers is the color theory and application course which Phillips elaborated on “What’s interesting is going back over a decade, we saw the value of incorporating color theory and learning some of the vocabulary and the influences of all these various design features.”

“Color influences everything we do,” continued Phillips, “from the clothes we wear, to the cars we purchase to how we decorate our houses. It also influences the materials and color palettes of the pools. Frankly, if you don’t understand and haven’t been to a class with Feras (Irikat) then it’s almost the equivalent of going into design blind.”

Tours to iconic world class destinations with a strong architectural tie in are a strong part of the program. Since its inception, tours to places like Hearst Castle have been a mainstay throughout the history of Genesis.

We have spoken with many designers and builders here at Pool Magazine, and one of the major aspects attendees seem to enjoy the most seems to be the events that Genesis puts on. Elaborating on what those are like; Phillips said, “In some cases these are events that are specifically structured around travel to a destination with architectural references. Our very first schools were in Morro Bay for a reason, and it was because of its proximity to Hearst Castle which has two of the most iconic pools in the world. We worked out an agreement with the state of California to have special focused tours.”

Since those very first tours, Genesis has taken the lead on creating destination events all over the world. Setting up architecture based events that are strategically tied in with teachable design references throughout Germany, Italy, France, and Australia.

These tours have as much to do about food and wine as they do about pool construction. This lifestyle destination trip combined with an educational tour that delivers a premium experience; has been closely interwoven into the events and tours participants attend.

Van Bower and Phillips were in Alexandria, VA at PHTA headquarters consulting with the team on the future on Genesis.

Van Bower said that the power of PHTA to help propel the program to an even wider audience means incredible things are on the horizon for Genesis. “Skip and I continue to work with Genesis because we believe it’s important. We are really thrilled to see what the merger of the two organizations (NSPF & APSP to form PHTA) will bring to the table.”

The outlook for the future of the program is something that Phillips and Van Bower are incredibly optimistic about. “We’re fortunate that the leadership of PHTA, particularly the head Sabeena Hickman recognizes Genesis for the benefit that it is,” said Van Bower, “doesn’t want to degrade it any way, and is strongly in favor of keeping it in the forefront.”

“Of course now we have the power of the PHTA behind Genesis, so we have chapters and members spread all over the country that will be interested and are interested in our programs.” said Van Bower “Right now the future is bright. Skip and I are in a meeting in Alexandria, VA at the headquarters of PHTA, in a room with 20 people sitting around a table doing nothing but working on Genesis programs and future events. It’s an amazing team that we have and we’re stronger than ever”.

Listen to our complete interview with Skip Phillips and Brian Van Bower on the Pool Magazine podcast.

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Editor in Chief of Pool Magazine - Joe Trusty is also CEO of PoolMarketing.com, the leading digital agency for the pool industry. An internet entrepreneur, software developer, author, and marketing professional with a long history in the pool industry. Joe oversees the writing and creative staff at Pool Magazine. To contact Joe Trusty email info@poolmagazine.com or call (916) 467-9118 during normal business hours. For submissions, please send your message to submissions@poolmagazine.com

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7 months ago

I missed the boat. I went to one session hosted by Tisherman in Orlando many years back and came back and told our guys over dinner, “Wow they are really on top of it – but holy cow what a jerk that guy was to people. Unbearable. I have never seen someone so full of himself.” That painted my perception of Genesis as undesirable to pursue. We built an average pool, the crash hit in 08, and we stuck with service. Here we still are today. Rinse repeat every year :/

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Claffey Pools Acquired by Riverbend Sandler Pools

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Claffey Pools Acquired by Riverbend Sandler Pools

The pool industry has seen a spate of recent acquisition announcements. The latest, being the recent acquisition of Claffey pools by Riverbend Sandler Pools. Backed by Chicago-based Concentric Equity Partners, they are continuing efforts to consolidate the swimming pool construction and maintenance industry in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

The acquisition agreement was signed on December 31, 2021 but only made public on Thursday. Full details about the exact terms of the deal were not disclosed.

This marks the third major pool builder purchased by the holding company, after acquiring Pulliam Pools back in November. The acquisition of the Fort Worth-based firm made it one of the nation’s largest pool construction companies.

This recent acquisition of Claffey Pools which is ranked within the nations top pool construction companies with about $32 million in reported residential construction revenue in 2020. A builder of high-end inground swimming pools, Claffey’s average pool project costs around $142,000.

Riverbend Sandler intends to make considerable advancements by acquiring existing service and maintenance companies, in addition to focusing on construction. Consequently, they hope to become a key service provider in the state’s pool service and maintenance sector.

This in itself appears to be a key decision point for the Claffeys who are looking to expand their pool service and maintenance divisions. Last year’s Texas Pool freeze caused unprecedented amounts of damage across the Lone Star state and saw Claffey perform over 1,000 repairs as a result.

In regards to any restructuring of the organization, the Claffeys, along with their 95 employees, will remain with the company. Riverbend Sandler has announced its intentions to continue its expansion. It will continue to concentrate on Texas, for the time being, looking seriously to expand into the Austin, Houston, and San Antonio markets after having established the predominant marketshare in the Dallas area.

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GENESIS Announces Newest Platinum Sponsor: Pool Magazine

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GENESIS Platinum Sponsor - Pool Magazine

(Alexandria, Va.) – GENESIS is pleased to announce its newest Platinum Sponsor, Pool Magazine. The GENESIS sponsorship program showcases companies that are dedicated to the highest standards of best practices, quality, and ethics in the pool and spa industry.

“We look forward to collaborating with PHTA and expanding our relationship as a Platinum Sponsor,” says Joe Trusty, CEO & Editor-in-Chief. “We are excited for this next chapter and look forward to making a positive impact on the industry.”

As a Platinum Sponsor, Pool Magazine will have the opportunity to maximize its brand visibility, connect with thousands of engaged industry professionals, and unlock valuable opportunities.

“We are delighted to add Pool Magazine to our distinguished list of Platinum Sponsors,” says Janay Rickwalder, Vice President of Communications and Public Relations of PHTA. “Pool Magazine has everything we look for in a partner: quality services that can benefit our members, an understanding of the importance of continuing education, and a finger on the pulse of industry trends. I am excited for this collaboration and to working together in 2022.”

For more information, please contact Janay Rickwalder, PHTA’s Vice President of Communications and Public Relations, at jrickwalder@phta.org or 703.357.3918.

###

About the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance 

The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA), a non-profit organization with nearly 3,500 members from around the world, was established in 1956 to support, promote, and protect the common interests of the $36.5B pool, hot tub and spa industry. PHTA provides education, advocacy, standards development, research, and market growth to increase our members’ professionalism, knowledge and profitability. Additionally, PHTA facilitates the expansion of swimming, water safety and related research and outreach activities aimed at introducing more people to swimming, making swimming environments safer and keeping pools open to serve communities. For more information, visit www.phta.org

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Pool Contractors Gift New Pool To Grandma After Disaster

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Pool Contractors Gift New Pool to 80 Year Old Grandmother in Indianapolis

A group of pool contractors are the answer to one homeowners prayers. For years, Kitty Smitth, an 80-year old resident of Indianapolis, had dreamed of having an inground swimming pool for her 29 grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy. Smith had just recently used her life savings to purchase a home and property in South Indianapolis that she was hoping would allow her to finally realize those dreams.

Smith acknowledges that the home she purchased needed a lot of work inside, but held out hope of enjoying the backyard with her family. For Smith and her grandchildren, the backyard pool meant a safe haven from the dangers of the pandemic that was sweeping across the country last summer.

“They were here, swimming and playing. I can’t tell you how great that was. This has just been my dream my whole life,” she told reporters.

Smith’s pool collapsed after a snowstorm this February. Photo Credit: WTHR

Future summer dreams would be put to an end this February when a winter storm caused her pool to collapse into a heap of disintegrating concrete and collapsed fiberglass walls. Smith was horrified to find that her backyard pool had collapsed in on itself in the night. “My whole body just started going numb and shaking. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she told reporters.

An engineering report was conducted to determine the cause of the failure. Analysis determined that a leak may have contributed to its collapse. A new pool cover, which had just been installed, combined with the inadequate water level in the pool may have contributed to adding stress on the walls of the pool.

To add insult to injury, Smith quickly found out that her homeowners insurance would not cover the damage. Despite being a customer of the same company for over 40 years and having a policy that includes the replacement cost of an inground pool, her insurance company refused to pay a cent. They claimed her policy excluded any leak in the structure of the pool.

Smith was faced with an impossible problem. The cost of installing a new inground pool would be at least $60,000 plus an additional $20,000 for hauling away the debris from the old pool that had collapsed. “I just put everything into my house”, Smith told reporters, indicating that she didn’t have the financial resources to rebuild the pool. She stated that she felt like her insurance company had left her high and dry.

Smith contacted investigative reporters and discussed her problem with them. The reporters shared her story with some folks they knew in the pool industry that could help lend a hand. Ultimately, eight separate Indiana companies came together headed up under Automatic Pool Covers owner, Michael Shebek. Shebek pooled his resources and network to help put together a team that will help rebuild Smith’s backyard.

What is truly incredible about this story is that although some of the companies on this list are competitors, they are all united in the single goal to help one local resident recover the usage of her pool.

Shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, Smith was greeted with the surprise of a lifetime. The contractors who have agreed to rebuild her pool at zero cost, showed up at her house along with the 13news team to break the good news. Overwhelmed with emotion, Smith hugged them all and said “I don’t know your names but I know your hearts,” telling the contractors, “I love you.”

A team of local pool contractors has vowed to help Smith rebuild her pool. Photo Credit: WTHR

Smith will hopefully have a new pool to enjoy with her grandchildren this summer. The contractors have all assured her that the unsightly mess in her backyard will be removed and a new pool installed. The entire cost of the project is estimated to cost approximately $90,000.

“Just no words. There aren’t words big enough to thank everyone,” Smith said. “I’m just so thankful.”

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