Pond Profits Come from Expertise
Increasingly, water garden retailers rely on livestock sales, word-of-mouth, and providing full-service pond installation and care to build their businesses.
Rising rates of home ownership and a generally improving economy are providing tailwinds for the pond industry, according to industry insiders, but growing competition and industry consolidation mean retailers have to stay nimble and evaluate their approach to the business.
The pond business is doing well, participants reported, with growing sales and more interest in pond installation.
“With home ownership and remodeling on the rise, this hobby offers a great opportunity to introduce new consumers to the beauty of an outdoor water feature,” said Sean Raines, director of aquatic marketing product development for Tetra of Spectrum Brands—Pet, Home & Garden division in Blacksburg, Va. “Consumers are also more willing to spend a little more on quality products.”
Business is good on the retail side, as well as in pond construction, retailers reported.
“We just moved to a new, much-larger location,” said Sean Gallaway, service and retail manager for Aquatica Water Garden Shop in Wales, Wis. “Last year, we actually had a nice increase in retail [sales], so we have a lot of nice goals that we’re going to be setting now. We’re doing great. We work with a lot of landscapers with construction. Not a lot of landscapers want to get into building water features. We work hand-in-hand with them doing that.”
With the average pond keeper leading an increasingly busy lifestyle, companies that offer maintenance services are also doing well.
“People’s lives are busy, and they don’t want to have the upkeep of a pond,” said John Ohling, owner of Suncoast Water Gardens in Spring Hill, Fla. “For most average-sized ponds, we charge $55 a month, and we come by twice a month and keep their ponds looking great. I have more than 80 customers who we do maintenance for every month.”
In line with the trend toward performing less maintenance themselves, customers are increasingly interested in pondless water features, such as waterfalls.
“For those who don’t want plants, fish or the upkeep of a pond, we put in pondless waterfalls, pondless streams—something that has the sound of water without the pond, plants or fish,” Ohling said, adding that he’s seen an increase in demand for these types of water features.
Because pond keeping represents a heavy investment for many homeowners and a deep interest in the hobby, retailers find themselves offering a very high level of support to keep customers happy and returning for new products and additional services.
“I spend a great deal of time educating my clients so that they have a better understanding of the hobby and so that they can make more intelligent decisions,” said Miguel Cruz, owner of Redland Koi & Pond Co. in Homestead, Fla.
Though some customers want to build their ponds themselves, often, they’ll come into a retail location seeking advice, and end up hiring the company to do the construction for them.
“Customers come for an education a lot of the time,” said John Ohling, owner of Suncoast Water Gardens in Spring Hill, Fla. “They have a lot of questions, and we’re more than happy to help them with those questions. We even have a service for people who want to build their ponds themselves, where we charge a $55-an-hour consultation fee.”
Often, however, once his customers do the math on the dollar savings of doing it themselves, Ohling said, they decide to have their pond professionally built and installed.
Having a well-informed, professional staff and a well-maintained retail location helps project a professional, authoritative presence in the hobby to customers.
“Besides quality livestock and supplies, a clean store with clean ponds and educated store staff is indispensable,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa. “In addition, offering niche products that you cannot find in any big-box store really helps to bring the customers back to your store regularly.”
Introductions in Lighting and Koi Feeding
There are several developments in foods for pond fish. Sera recently introduced probiotic food for koi, said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa. The food is available in two versions: Sera Koi All Seasons Probiotic and Sera Koi Junior All Seasons Probiotic.
The All Seasons formulation is a granule for koi larger than 6 inches, while the Junior formulation is a floating pellet food for all juvenile koi up to 6 inches. Both foods are formulated to be fed throughout the year at water temperatures above 46 degrees Fahrenheit, Frenken said.
“Many people do not just want to feed the same food all the time,” he added. “They want to feed some variety. Special treats or snacks are always an appreciated diversion.”
In terms of new tech, lighting features for around the pond are increasingly popular.
“Customers want the option to add lights everywhere,” said Sean Raines, director of aquatic marketing product development for Tetra of Spectrum Brands—Pet, Home & Garden division in Blacksburg, Va.
The company has designed its Tetra Pond Triple Light Set, LED Fountain Light and Waterfall Light Set for use around the edge of a waterfall, the perimeter of the pond and above the surface, Raines added.
Increasingly, koi and fish breeders, some with retail locations, are formulating and introducing their own foods to the market.
“Everybody and their brother wants to put out a koi food,” said John Ohling, owner of Suncoast Water Gardens in Spring Hill, Fla. “Usually, some of the best food is going to come out of the large breeders of koi and goldfish.”
One such operation, Kodama Koi Farm in Mililani, Hawaii, has reportedly had success and growing interest in its koi food formulation, featuring high protein content meant to support koi growth and development.
“We have our own brand of koi food,” said TK Nishino, manager of Kodama Koi Garden in Davie, Fla., one of the company’s retail locations. “Our farm fish business is really growing well. Before we established our own brand, we used the food for our own fish.”
Generally, those that have success with their own formulations can also compete on price with larger pond fish food manufacturers.
“Kodama come out with their new food product, which people seem to like,” said Miguel Cruz, owner of Redland Koi & Pond Co. in Homestead, Fla. “That tends to be more what some of the larger commercial operations are doing. That’s because what’s available [commercial foods] are a little pricey.”
Make a Name for Yourself
Being involved in the pond industry requires marketing on multiple levels. Building a customer base still means relying on traditional word-of-mouth and reputation to drive business.
“It’s a very niche market,” said David Gute, manager of Barracuda Watergardens in Auburn, Calif. “Expertise drives sales. Customers like to visit a store where someone has some knowledge of what they’re talking about—it’s just a different experience.”
Having a presence on the internet is helpful, industry experts said, but building beautiful ponds and raising attractive livestock does more to drive business than most other forms of marketing.
“Livestock is a critical component of inspiring consumers to build or expand a koi pond,” said Sean Raines, director of aquatic marketing product development for Tetra of Spectrum Brands—Pet, Home & Garden division in Blacksburg, Va. “Livestock is also critical in returning business with food and water care to keep your koi healthy and beautiful.”
Carrying livestock provides retailers with a source of margin and also acts as a method of advertising via word of mouth for a particular breeding operation or retail location.
“It’s a major component to what we do,” said Miguel Cruz, owner of Redland Koi & Pond Co. in Homestead, Fla. “Because of the fact that we specialize in Japanese koi, we have a more intelligent buyer coming in to look for koi, versus someone that just wants livestock to stock a pond. I would say it’s at least 75 percent of our business.”
For some builders, it’s assumed that fish and plants will come as part of the package.
“With every water feature, we include an optional fish package for the client,” said Sean Gallaway, service and retail manager for Aquatica Water Garden Shop in Wales, Wis. “We also have a large water garden plant section, and we sell tons of plants every year. Fish and plants sales have always been very steady.”