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Pond-ering Filtration

Posted: May 31, 2012, 2:00 p.m. EDT

Keeping ahead of the game and educating customers can help retailers retain their share of sales in this category.

As winter turns into spring, fishkeepers start thinking about outdoor fish ponds. When ponds thaw in some places, and otherwise see increased activity along with rising temperatures, customers begin to think about upgrading and maintaining filtration and pond-maintenance systems, those in the industry reported. During this time, there are opportunities for retail stores to make profits in this market.

“The goal is to create yourself as the ‘go-to’ destination for water feature products,” said Dave Ouwinga, president of EasyPro Pond Products in Grant, Mich. “Having trained staff that can answer questions sets the retailer apart from others in the area.”

Pond Filtration
Helping customers achieve a balance between fish and plants can help ensure long-term success and keep them coming back to the shop for consumables.
Best Sellers
Depending on the amount of space that can be devoted to pond products, stores reported various differences when it comes to what they stock and sell.

“A full-service water garden and pond store should not only carry pumps, filters, skimmers and UV clarifiers,” stated Lisa Burns, who along with her husband Dave owns Backyard Getaway in Myakka City, Fla. “[Stores should also stock] water treatments, especially dechlorinator and beneficial bacteria, koi foods, aquatic plants and plant supplies.”

Retailers reported stocking various filtration and aeration products based on what sells best in their area, indicating that differences in demand between regions is a large consideration when it comes to stocking products.

With that caveat in mind, well-known brands continue to have a large share of the pond market, retailers stated.

“Hagen’s Laguna [line] and Tetra are the brands we feature and do best with,” said Jeff King, owner of Pets Plus in Taylor Mill, Ky.

Other retailers reported doing well with these manufacturers.

“Tetra and Laguna are our best-selling brands,” said Michael Nallen, owner of Oceans of Pets in Woonsocket, R.I.
However, business owners referred to other manufacturers are well, when it comes to their best sellers.

“Supreme is our best seller,” stated Andrew Lankasky, general manager of Rick’s Fish and Pet Supply in Frederick, Md.

Personal preference plays a role, and some retailers reported sticking by the products they like personally.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Supreme, and their products do well for us,” said Jim Gentile, owner of The Pet Shop in Allston, Mass.

Staying Competitive
Deciding what not to carry can be just as important as figuring out what to stock. Several aquatic store owners reported that competition from Internet-based retailers and large home and garden centers on costlier products is difficult to deal with.

“We simply can’t compete on price with the Internet on big pumps and other expensive pieces of equipment,” Nallen said. “We concentrate most of our efforts on the fish, and I go and hand-pick koi from wholesalers.”

Retailers indicated a need to be able to adapt to a marketplace that is changing very quickly due to the Internet and big box stores.

“Garden centers and the big boxes have taken much of the pond building business,” said Allen Fefferman, owner of Old Orchard Aquarium in Skokie, Ill. “Then they have trouble after the hole is dug and filled with fish. Local fish stores need to be willing and able to help pond owners with their problems.”

In some markets, and under certain circumstances given various sources of competition, brick-and-mortar based retailers stated that it may be to their advantage to forgo carrying certain products.  However, opinion wasn’t necessarily uniform, and retailers still reported carrying filtration and aeration products.

“We carry PondMaster for pumps and filters, and at the end of the season we carry de-icers,” Fefferman stated.

Industry Voices

What do you recommend to customers to support filtration and general pond health?

“It is important that retailers are able to educate the consumer and help them understand the importance of balance in a pond. The balance of fish and plants. People have a tendency to overpopulate with fish. It is always best to overpopulate with plants, as the plants will also help to naturally filter the pond.”
—Chris Their, U.S. division manager with Laguna Water Gardening, part of Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., based in Mansfield, Mass.

“We try to make sure that our pond customers are feeding the right foods for each time of year. Besides proper feeding, the next most important factor is dealing with nuisance algae, and we stress that overfeeding is one of the causes of nuisance algae.”
—Jim Gentile, owner of The Pet Shop in Allston, Mass.

“Over crowding the pond with too many fish is something retailers should keep in mind. Too many fish can lead to overfeeding, eutrophication of the water, and unwanted algae growth.”
—Les Wilson, owner of Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C.

“Faithful maintenance is key for homeowners to enjoy their ponds. I always tell customers who complain about having to maintain a pond, ‘do you buy a hot tub or a pool and then never maintain it?’ A pond is no different. A small amount of preventative maintenance makes the feature much more enjoyable.”
—Dave Ouwinga, president of EasyPro Pond Products in Grant, Mich.

Changing Trends
Water features have become very popular, those within the industry said, and retailers may wish to take note of this when it comes to stocking and selling filtration and aeration equipment, because generally these types of ponds require less of both.

Part of water features’ growing popularity involves their low maintenance requirements due to their generally not supporting live fish.

“[Water features] provide the sound of running water without any of the problems of a full pond,” said Marc Crane, general manager of Something Fishy in Warwick, R.I.

As interest in lower maintenance water features grows, retailers may expect to transition their stocking decisions to accommodate this reality. In addition to changing consumer demand for lower upkeep features, customers are also demonstrating an interest in energy efficiency and power savings when it comes to filtration equipment.

“There are many new items being developed around energy-saving technologies,” said Les Wilson, owner – marketing and product development for Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C. “Pond pumps developed with uni-directional impellers can save as much as 50 percent of the power needed to get equal flow from pumps made just two years ago.”

These kinds of energy savings in pumps mean filters and similar products are moving water more efficiently, and customers repeatedly show they want this, retailers stated.

Meeting customer demand is important, especially considering tight competition in the marketplace, and one aspect of pond keeping customers frequently complain about is something retailers can sell filtration and skimmer products to directly address.

Algae infestations are one of the most prolific problems with ponds, industry participants reported, and there are always new products coming out to combat them.

“[PondMaster’s] Supreme submersible UVs are the best products for dealing with green water,” reported Jeff King, owner of Pets Plus in Taylor Mill, K.Y. “Hobbyists just need to remember to pull them out of the pond in the winter. Otherwise, they will freeze.”

Display Ponds in Store
Many in the industry noted that having working ponds stocked with plants and fish is an effective way to sell pond products such as filtration and aeration equipment in a retail setting.

“A working display is so critical,” said Dave Ouwinga, president of EasyPro Pond Products in Grant, Mich.
Store owners echoed this sentiment.

“We have a pond outside our front door, and a pond and two waterfalls by the entrance,” said Marc Crane of Something Fishy. “It is important to give customers the actual feel of what their pond is going to be at their home.”

The only problem is that many stores do not have enough room to set up a working pond, or the related external filters. Also, some products, such as internal or submerged UV filters and overflows can be difficult to highlight in a setup. Some of these products would be hidden in an actual application, but when it comes to displaying them in use, retailers need space and have to be creative.

“To do pond [displays] right requires space,” said Rick’s Fish and Pet Supply’s Lankasky. <HOME>

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