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Aquatic Marketplace: Ponder Re-emerging Trends

Posted: March 27, 2014, 3:25 p.m. EDT


Take advantage of the rebound success reported within the pond and pond products sector.

By David A. Lass

During the Great Recession, the pond segment suffered; however, retailers and manufacturers report this area of the aquatics business is making a comeback.

"The last few years dropped off some due to the economy, but we’re now seeing a good return to retail pond kits, along with pond construction on the commercial side,” said Dave Ouwinga, president of EasyPro Pond Products in Grant, Mich.

While customers might look to landscapers to build large ponds that are part of a garden, they still look to local fish stores for the fish to stock the pond and the foods to feed the fish.

"Consumers are realizing just how easy it is to incorporate ponds and water features into existing gardens,” said Damian Hall, event and marketing communications manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.

Pond Filters and Other Equipment
The leading brands on the aquarium side also are the leaders in the pond sector.

Preuss
When done right in-store, pond displays beautify retail space and encourage customer interest.  Preuss Pets

"We primarily sell Tetra pond filters and PondMaster pumps,” said Will Champlin, whose family owns Critter Hut stores in Narragansett and North Kingstown, R.I.

Most stores will feature one or, at most, two brands and will try to stock as much of the line as possible, Champlin added.

"The Laguna (Hagen) line is what we carry for pumps and filters,” said Jim Reiman, owner of Tropic Waters Pet Center in Eau Claire, Wis. "Also, Hagen is terrific in that it has a complete line of all of the parts for all of its products.”

Depending on the customer demographic, stores should stock filters and other equipment suitable for the sizes of ponds their customers own. Big custom pond installations usually are not something local fish stores get involved with.

"Lowes, Home Depot and local landscapers are selling most of the larger installation products and services,” said D.J. Ducharme, fish room manager of Little Critter Pet Center in Exeter, N.H. "We try to work with these local guys who install the ponds so they come to us for the fish and food.”

Pond filters haven’t changed much in the past two years, although manufacturers have made improvements in energy consumption and filtration technology.

Integrating ultra violet (UV) filtration into pond filters is the surest way to avoid or eliminate green water and other algae problems.

"UVs are our best-selling add-on piece of equipment, and they are the most important piece of equipment for a pond,” said Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise, a division of Pets Pets Pets in East Brunswick, N.J.

As important as filtration itself is, equally important are filters that can be cleaned easily, as pondfish generate a great deal of waste.

"Cobalt’s pond filtration lineup is geared toward small to medium ponds and is designed to simplify maintenance,” said Les Wilson, co-owner and head of marketing and product development for Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C. "Our pressure filters are designed to be partially buried and have a UV-stabilized and impact-resistant lid to withstand the sun, and even rocks that might get picked up from a lawnmower.”

Larger filters are designed for larger ponds, said Hall of Hagen.

"As powerful as we think our aquarium filters are, they can’t hold a candle to a pressurized pond filter with an integrated UV filtering 3,200 gallons an hour,” he said. "The power and performance of these filters, such as our Laguna Pressure Flo, is unsurpassed.”

Foods for Pond Stock
As with filtration equipment, most stores stick primarily to known brands when it comes to food.

"Tetra is our best-selling food by far, and right after that is Hikari,” said Berkowitz. "If possible, I try to offer foods that are not sold all over the Internet.”

Japan is the country most often associated with ponds and koi, and many foods for pond fish originate there.

"Cobalt is proud to be partnering with and bringing Japan’s JPD koi foods to the USA,” said Wilson. "JPD is a 200-year-old, family-run Japanese company with a long history of goldfish and koi breeding, and food production in Japan.”

Other manufacturers have made improvements to their food lines.

"We’ve relaunched our 1-liter-sized cans with the new weather-resistant plastic tins, and we’ve upgraded our popular TetraPond sticks formula to one with slightly less phosphorous,” said Sean Raines, director of marketing–equipment for Tetra/Marineland in Blacksburg, Va.

As pond fish, such as goldfish and koi, learn to "beg” for food very quickly, it is very easy to get them to eat new foods, Raines added.

"The first silkworm-packed koi treat has been brought to market recently (Silkworm Selects by Hikari), offering retailers a chance to get an add-on sale for any koi food they sell,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari USA in Hayward, Calif. "Retailers should remember that koikeepers love to interact with their pond pets, and incorporating a treat into their feeding regime may be easier than most retailers think.”

Perfect Pond Pets
Even if customers’ ponds have been built by local landscapers, when it comes to stocking the pond, they usually will come to their local fish store.

"We start bringing in pond fish in early April, but we encourage customers not to put fish into their ponds until May,” said Berkowitz.

What fish a store carries depends completely on the customer base.

"We carry koi, shubunkins and pool comets, and we sell 6-inch imported koi for $30 to $40,” Berkowitz added. "We also have some domestic koi for less.”

Most retailers said they buy their koi from their regular fish wholesalers and stay with modestly priced fish.

"We sell 3- to 5-inch comets and sarasas for the $4 to $10 range,” said Champlin of Critter Hut. "We carry grade-A koi from 3 to 6 inches, and they sell between $8 and $15, with larger gold ohgons going for $25.”

Stores with different clientele do sell koi at higher prices.

"We’ve sold koi varying in price from $2 to $400,” said Tropic Waters’ Reiman. "The most expensive we keep in stock are 10- to 12-inch koi that I have picked out personally, and these sell for around $200.”

Ponds and other water features are growing in popularity once again, and they can provide a good source of sales and profit, especially as the aquarium business starts to slow down in the late spring and summer.

"Ponds are about enjoying time with the family in the backyard garden, with the gentle sounds of running water,” said Hall. "Anyone who can plant a garden or a small bush can build a pond or water feature. Your first pond does not have to be a 10,000-gallon behemoth. A pond can be installed over a weekend and enjoyed for years.”

INDUSTRY VOICES

What are your best-practice marketing techniques for ponds and pond products, including stock?

"Our display pond is a plywood box with a liner, and paving stones around the top, with a small waterfall. We have half of the pond in the fish room, and the other half in the store itself. Pond products are displayed around the pond.”—D.J. Ducharme, fish room manager of Little Critter Pet Center in Exeter, N.H.


"I don’t have enough space for a demo pond. If you can’t do it right—don’t do it.”—Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise, a division of Pets Pets Pets in East Brunswick, N.J.


"Retailers should look to their product suppliers for counsel. One thing is certain; no pond products will be sold from a retail location that doesn’t offer them.”—Chris Clevers, president of Hikari USA in Hayward, Calif.


"We have 2- to 150-gallon watering troughs for comets, golds, sarasas, shubunkins, etc. The koi we put into our MARS systems, except for butterfly koi, which only look good from above. Pond products are on a special endcap.”—Will Champlin, owner of Critter Hut in Narragansett, R.I.


"For the typical pet store, the pond category can be intimidating, but it does not have to be. Seasonal pond endcaps will drives sales. Three out of 10 aquarium owners have a pond, and these consumers are in your stores and need pond products. Seasonal pond products lend themselves to promotions—opening kits, food specials and water treatment merchandise.” —Damian Hall, event and marketing communications manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.


"It’s really quite simple: staff training and working displays. With these two things you will be successful. Most people do not walk into a store knowing what they need to build a pond. It’s critical to have at least one person who is trained in pond design. Ideally it is someone who has built ponds in the past. Nothing replaces experience!”—Dave Ouwinga, president of EasyPro Pond Products in Grant, Mich.

 

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