By Doug Walsh
For the first time in the 27-year history of the Northern California service show, David Dickman will not be attending Pool Industry Expo when it opens its doors at the Monterey Conference Center on Sept. 26-28.
The iconic editor and publisher of Service Industry News and his wife Janice are choosing rather to enjoy their retirement at home in San Clemente, another beautiful California coastal community about 380 miles to the south.
But it’s safe to stay that the show and the Service Industry itself would not be the same without the tremendous impact that David has had on it over the last four decades.
It was back in mid-1985 at a service association meeting in Palm Springs, Calif., that David — then editor of Pool & Spa News — met his former partner and founding co-publisher, Bob Lowry, when they were teamed up in a game of Trivial Pursuit.
“We found that between the two of us, we knew everything,” David said, and a friendship — and partnership — soon developed.
Bob had just sold a chemical company and was looking for a way to publish and market water-chemistry lectures he had given to service associations over the years.
David, who began his career in journalism in college and honed those skills as the Features Editor at the Valley News in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California, knew a thing or two about publishing. In addition, his stint as an electrician in the U.S. Navy and his gig at Pool & Spa News gave him a unique insight into the technical end of the pool and spa industry.
Over the next several months the two began discussions about starting up a publication that aimed its message directly at the service segment of the pool and spa industry.
“At that time, the segment was definitely the bastard stepchild of the industry,” David said.
The sheer fact that their idea was soon up and running and has stood the test of time — this issue is No. 582 in a continuous, twice-monthly run since January of 1987 — is testament to its genius.
But the publication’s impact on the industry goes well beyond the number of issues going out to some 10,000 professionals 24 times each year.
In a word it can be summed up with — “professionalism.”
Before the first issue of Service Industry News hit mailboxes and wholesale distributors across the country, a “service technician” in the pool and spa industry was commonly referred to as a “pool man.”
Certainly, there were growing numbers of women performing repairs and maintenance in and around pools and spas, enough to make the term outdated at best. Worse yet, the term was often used in a derogatory manner.
“From the very first,” David said, “we made the decision that we would use the term ‘Professional Pool and Spa Technician’ when referring to our readers. And when we referred to our industry segment, it was the ‘Service Industry’ using capital letters.”
Subtle? Maybe. Effective? Without a doubt.
Within a year, every publication in the industry was using the terms. The growth of the professionalism in the industry and respect from other segments has certainly followed, to say nothing about the increase in service pricing nationwide.
Bob and David went their separate ways in the early 1990s with David taking over sole control of the trade newspaper and Bob returning to consulting. Following the breakup, David’s wife Janice joined the newspaper staff, talking over key business and production functions at the company. The change only added to the newspaper’s growing influence within the industry.
With this being the Pool Industry Expo issue, it’s also important to point out the impact the publication has had on the two largest service shows in the industry.
Prior to 1987, the Western Pool and Spa Show was largely a tabletop event bringing together hundreds of manufacturers’ representatives and pool service technicians.
Service Industry News placed a major emphasis on promoting the show, even coming up with the idea for the first truck giveaway to promote attendance. Needless to say, show attendance grew handsomely that year and now attracts thousands of technicians eager to improve their education and knowledge.
Also in attendance at the 1987 Western Show in Pasadena, Calif. was a group of Northern California pool pros looking into starting up a similar show in their neighborhood.
What they lacked was a clear avenue to get their message out to the many service professionals in the northern portion of the state and beyond. With Service Industry News, they found that avenue.
The result was the first Pool Industry Expo, which debuted in October of 1987 at the Holiday Inn on Milpitas, Calif. A modest 981 service professionals showed up that initial year, enough to demonstrate the potential of the show to manufacturers and an eager-to-learn service trade.
Don Koss, one of the P.I.E. founding board members and still active in the planning and execution of the show, called the relationship between the Service Industry News and the show a symbiotic one.
“It’s really worked both ways, providing editorial content for the paper and at the same time promoting the show,” he said in a rare moment of seriousness.
The close-working relationship between David and Don began right off, at the conclusion of the first show. Ironically, it involved yet another trivia question, this one about the famous Chicago Cubs’ double-play combination of the early 1900s: Tinkers to Evers to Chance.
“We were at the bar following (a show wrap-up) dinner and the subject of baseball came up,” Don said. “I knew the answer to the trivia question: ‘who played third?’ David was obviously impressed. We’ve been friend ever since.”
Harry Steinfeldt fans notwithstanding, the growth of P.I.E., Service Industry News and the friendship of Don and David are certainly intertwined.
Much of it is based on their love of trivia, or “minutia” as others, including themselves, might refer to it. Anyone who’s been in and around the Service Industry News office for the past 27 years can attest to literally hundreds of conversations between the two that began with timely banter, a joke, a piece of trivia, an occasional yet limited amount of business — and lots of laughs.
The pair also teamed up for about five years to present a seminar that David initiated years ago at P.I.E. and WPSS on “Promoting Your Service Business.” David would offer some sound advise of using professional logos, uniforms and other effective promotional strategies. Don would appear at the back of the seminar in less-than-professional attire including an obligatory baseball cap to drive home the importance of looking and acting the part of a true professional.
Don recalled a show in San Antonio years ago when he popped up at the back of the class to begin his act.
“A big Texan thought I was being disruptive and asked David, ‘Do you want me to get him outta here?’” Don said.
“All kidding aside we were always mindful that we were not there to entertain each other,” Don said. “But rather we knew that we must do more to give the seminar goers some solid information.”
He echoed David’s thought that the most gratifying part of doing the seminar came when an attender would come up to them a year later to report that his business had grown and thanking them for the knowledge they provided.
David has also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and greet a large segment of the industry at trade shows over the years. As an amateur magician, he has amused thousands of professionals and their family members at the Service Industry News’ booth while promoting the newspaper and its supporting publications to new generations of readers.
“Early on I was overwhelmed when people would walk up to us in the booth and thank us for just starting the publication,” David said. “But later as we became more well known within the industry, the ‘thank yous’ continued. I would leave the hall literally ‘floating’ every year.”
As David retires into the sunset of San Clemente, he wants all his friends in the industry to know that he’s not going away completely.
While the paper has been sold to the company’s long-time employee, Carolyn Dibrell, the transition has been a fluid one. After an intensive 2-year internship under David’s expert tutelage, Carolyn has been in complete control of the design and look of the paper for more than a year.
She has been instrumental in carrying on some of the best traditions of the trade newspaper, including the yearly survey of readers, educational opportunities and the infamous Horror File so popular with readers. She has also been the driving force behind increasing the paper’s use of color graphics, charts and a new website to help readers understand the more technical side of the industry.
In addition, the transition has been made a smooth one with the retention of two long-time employees: managing editor Doug Walsh, who has written and edited feature and news stories for the trade newspaper for more than 25 years; and advertising manager Lisa Lacey, who has developed an excellent working relationship with all Service Industry News business clients over the past 17 years.
The change in ownership has also opened up a mutually beneficial opportunity for two new employees. Marcelle Dibrell, who has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from UCLA, has been crafting feature articles and news stories for the past year.
In addition, the paper’s product releases are now under the able direction of Jeanette Dibrell, who holds a B.S. in Business, a Masters in Psychology and is certified in English writing and grammar instruction.
And never fear, David remains a consultant to the entire staff — and the industry, for that matter — on almost any topic, be it water chemistry, new technologies, equipment repair, baseball, collectable trading cards, Naval clocks, Disney cels, gold and silver coins — or just about anything else.
And that’s no trivial matter.