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1:02 PM   April 27, 2015
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Wading into Winter

Pond sales slump during the cold season, but retailers can enjoy a surge before the snow falls.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson 

Courtesy of Ecological Labs
In some climates, it lasts a mere six weeks. In others, it could last months. The season for selling pond winterizing products -- typically from September through November -- blasts through quickly, says Dave Ouwinga, vice president for EasyPro Pond Equipment in Grant, Mich.

“The whole pond industry is seasonal to begin with, but for the winterizing products, you’re talking about a super-short season,” Ouwinga says. “Retailers go as fast as they can go for six or seven weeks, maybe two months, and then it’s over. People stock up and it’s done.”
When pet specialty retailers have winterizing products on hand and are prepared for the rush, they can make the most revenue out of the short time they have. It begins with knowing the chores, says Damian Hall, marketing communications manager for Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.

“When closing the pond for winter, you have to prep the pond itself, like pulling the pumps and shutting down your electrical equipment,” he says. “Then you need to determine what you need to do to protect your plants and the fish.”
These chores and their associated products can add up to rings at the register, especially when combined with consumer education, says Joe Olenik, fish room manager at Hoffer’s Tropic Life Pets in Milwaukee.

“Our goals are not just educate people and prepare them for successful over-wintering, but to demonstrate to them why my store is where you want to go,” he says. “I want to get them back in my door year after year, week after week.” 

Wintertime to-Dos
Winterizing chores depend on an area’s climate and hardiness zone, says Thomas Shannon, owner of Ocean Isle Pet Supplies in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. The warmer climates require very few preparations; the colder climates require a bit more.

“Down here at the coast, it doesn’t get too cold so there’s nothing to do: Just quit feeding the fish and clean up the pond for the season,” he says. “People up north where it gets cold, they really need worry about the pond freezing over.”
Keeping in mind the area’s climate, retailers can remind customers about these chores: Sucking up muck: The first winter prep chore involves vacuuming or netting detritus from the pond bottom before it gets too cold, Olenik says. Decomposing plant material releases noxious gases into the water, which can harm fish if the pond freezes over.

“Because organic garbage decomposing on the pond bottom sucks oxygen out of the water, we suggest that it be vacuumed, netted or otherwise removed to the extent that you can do it without totally mucking up the pond,” he says. 

To prevent leaves and debris from falling into the pond in the first place, Ouwinga recommends stretching a net over the pond.

“Pond-cover netting is one of our big sellers in the fall,” he says. We sell it like crazy [to pond owners]  trying to cover the ponds and prevent the leaves from blowing in there.”

Courtesy of Ecological Labs
Preparing plants: As temperatures cool, pond owners should trim plants of dead or dying foliage, says Curt Nuenighoff, TetraPond director in Blacksburg, Va.

“As marginal and deep-water aquatic plants begin to die back, cut back dead stems and leaves to prevent decay in the water during the winter,” he says. “Pond owners should also protect marginal plants that are about 4 to 8 inches below the surface by moving them to deeper water, and store nonhardy aquatic plants indoors for the winter.”
Slowing the feeding: Pond fishes’ metabolisms slow when water temperatures cool, causing them to go dormant for the winter, says John Bianchi, owner of Blue Ribbon Koi in Cathortman, Va. As fall cools into winter, pond owners can switch to a wheat germ diet, and when the water temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit they should stop feeding altogether, he says.

“Net the pond, keep it as clean as possible, switch to a wheat germ food and monitor your temperature,” he says. “You don’t want to feed after that water temperature is consistently 50 degrees. When you decide it’s time to stop feeding, you stop. Even if they start begging, cut them off, even though they’ll come up and beg on warm days.”
Stowing the equipment: In regions that freeze over the winter, Ouwinga recommends pond owners remove their water pumps and ultraviolet filters and store them until spring.

“Once we reach winter and we’re down to the cold months, pull out the waterfall pumps and stuff for the winter,” he says. “Always store your pumps in a bucket of water so the seals don’t dry out.”

Filtration systems and waterfall pumps should also be turned off for the winter, he says. They’re essentially ineffective in cold climates.

“The microbes and the bacteria don’t work in the cold, so the filtration becomes a moot point when the water gets in the 40s and below that,” Ouwinga says. “Most people bypass their filter or shut it down for the winter. The fish produce so little waste because they barely eat, so there’s not a need for filtration until it warms up again.”
Opening a hole in the ice: When the pond freezes over, pond owners should open a small hole in the ice to allow oxygen in and noxious gases to escape, Bianchi says.

“You need to keep a hole in the ice so the gas exchange can happen,” he says. “As organics break down through the winter, you have to have a place for those gases to come out and let oxygen in. If it’s sealed completely, all those gases stay inside and the fish will succumb to lack of oxygen.”
Retailers can suggest three ice-melting methods: a deicer, an aerator or a submersible heater, Ouwinga says. A deicer melts a hole in the ice; an air stone or bubbler keeps the water above it moving, preventing it from freezing; and a heater warms the water just enough to keep a portion of the pond open.

Temperate regions won’t need to melt pond ice, but pond owners in marginal areas should keep one on hand, he says.

“The areas in between that freeze once in a while, people may want to have deicers on hand in case there’s a long cold stretch, but certain points south, there’s no market at all for that,” Ouwinga says. 

Reminders and Resources

Make a List, Check It Twice

When preparing your merchandise for the winterizing season, don’t forget to stock these must-have products for pond customers:

  • Netting to cover the pond
  • Retractable net or vacuum to suck up the muck from the bottom of the pond
  • Wheat germ food for pond fish
  • Deicers, air stones and small pumps, and submersible heaters to keep a hole in the ice
  • Tub and filtration systems for those who winter their fish indoors
  • Oxygen testing kit
Well before the winter chill freezes over backyard water gardens, it pays for retailers to remind customers about the soon-to-come seasonal changes. Direct mail fliers, e-mails, newsletters and advertisements can invite customers into the store to take advantage of winterizing seminars and in-store specials, says Carolyn Weiss, consumer relations at Ecological Laboratories Inc. in Lynbrook, N.Y.

“Write up seasonal reminder cards that can be mailed to customers, reminding them of each stage of pond care,” she says. “Retailers can also send out monthly e-newsletters or hold classes at the retail store with manufacturer reps to teach customers the easiest way to manage their ponds.”
Olenik makes an event out of his seminars. Held in an on-site classroom, his weekly lessons detail winterizing chores and provide attendees with a bullet list of to-do items.

"The key that independent retailers should be practicing is education,” Olenik says. “They should go one-on-one with their salespeople to the customer, or they should conduct seminars, advertise them and get a group of people in.”

“I offer door prizes,” he says. “I make an event out of it, and then I run it every week for about four weeks. I get out my deicers, my vacuums, my nets, and I might have a Power Point presentation and some refreshments. I make it fun.” <HOME>

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