The pond industry is growing, and it has largely avoided many of the challenges facing the rest of the aquatics industry, retailers reported. Rising prices and product availability have created difficulties, but for the most part, demand is stable and seasonal forces continue to dominate sales patterns.
“The pond industry definitely did see a bump after COVID hit,” said John Velazquez, manager for Koi Smart Pond Supply Store in Riviera Beach, Fla. “Without a doubt, there were some supply issues. However, there are plenty of projects out there. We focus a lot on Florida because that’s where we’re based, but it’s crazy. More pools and ponds are going in than I’ve seen since I’ve been down here.”
However, few consumers are likely to commit to a pond on impulse, retailers reported, and there are barriers to entry that tend to smooth out large shifts in demand.
“The pond industry has been somewhat insulated from the pandemic,” said Ian Glish, manager for Ultimate Aquarium in San Mateo, Calif. “The biggest obstacle for people is really having the space and the property to install a pond. Not a lot of people go out and put in a pond on a whim.”
While retailers saw a bump in consumer interest in ponds, the interest didn’t always translate into higher sales.
“Last year we saw a huge boom in quotes, but not a whole lot of people actually pulled the trigger on it,” said Zachary Krohne, owner of Krohne Tanks and Ponds in Atlanta. “A lot of people were working on their yards and thought maybe a pond would look good. ... Most of what we were doing was just restorations—people who had let their ponds go throughout the pandemic, which was kind of odd. I thought everybody was just working on their ponds themselves.”
New pond designs are increasingly popular, at least in some markets.
“The industry is constantly evolving,” said Mike Cruz, owner of Redland Koi & Pond Co. in Homestead, Fla. “A new trend that’s developing is beach-entry ponds, and it’s been pretty well received. People are getting creative. Ever since COVID hit, more people are turning their homes into a backyard oasis. Ponds have become a major component of that transition.”
Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a supplier of specialty fish foods in Hayward, Calif., also noted the rising trend in new ponds and renovations of existing ones, pointing out, as well, that brick-and-mortar stores are reaping the benefits of this consumer demand.
“We see a shift from online [retail] back to brick-and-mortar, and the new pond and pond upgrade business is still very strong,” he said, adding that MAP pricing has helped brick-and-mortar retailers remain competitive in the pond product categories.
Product availability, however, has been an issue, Clevers added.
“Availability has been a major issue for most brick-and-mortar pond retailers this past year,” he said. “While we have been able to ship almost 100 percent of every order we received, a number of other vendors did not fare as well with the supply chain issue and costs.”
On the other hand, stock shortages in e-commerce may have created opportunities for some physical stores.
“Out of stocks online have also driven consumers into brick-and-mortars, and if retailers can make their shopping experience a great one, they have a tremendous opportunity to keep those customers coming back,” Clevers said.
Fortunately, retailers reported that availability issues haven’t hampered business too much.
“That hasn’t really been a problem,” said Miguel Gutierrez, co-owner of Rainbow Aquarium and Pond in Arleta, Calif. “Most stuff has been coming in on a regular basis as far as food and chemicals. It slowed down at the beginning of COVID, but [went] right back up to normal.”
Many attributed this resilience to the character of the pond industry, which is less impacted by shifting availability.
“If we’re out of stock for a particular item, it’s because we sold it or we never carried it before,” Glish said. “When we want to get it, we haven’t had trouble finding it. Shipping hasn’t been too much of an issue, either. It might take an extra day or two, but it hasn’t kept us from getting anything. The pond industry is just different, overall. It doesn’t change as quickly. Customers come into the hobby more gradually. So it isn’t as impacted by some of the [other issues] facing the pet industry.”
The pond industry has always been highly seasonal; however, where weather permits, store owners report that sales have been strong throughout the year.
“Obviously, the industry is highly seasonal,” Glish said. “In the spring and summer, business is strong. By early November, everything levels off. But sales haven’t been stagnant [this winter].”
Others noted an overall increase in the number of installs.
“I didn’t see a drop-off in the off season,” Velazquez said. “We do operate an online website. We have an Amazon store. Obviously, we do see a little bit of a dip at that time of year. Nobody’s going to ship to New York [in the winter], because their ponds [are] closed. But for us, being based in Florida, our normal contractor and retailer business is not as impacted. We saw a lot of projects happening to close out the end of the year. I don’t see anything slowing down right now. Our retail store is getting a total revamp, so we’re full steam ahead. There’s no slowing down, no matter what happens.”
More customers are incorporating ponds into their living spaces, which has been influenced by the number of people stuck at home during the pandemic.
“In my particular market, because we’re in South Florida, we’re not really impacted by seasonality,” Cruz said. “Because more people are nesting, they’re not going out, they’re tending to turn their backyards into places where they can congregate with the family. We’ve been staying rather busy here in South Florida, in spite of increasing costs, because we do have great weather year-round. People are tending to enjoy their outdoor living areas a lot more than they would have in the past.”
Independent pond retailers are able to capitalize on the increased interest in ponds, industry experts reported.
“As people look for ways to take a vacation in their backyards, ponds have been a major improvement folks are taking on,” Clevers said. “The calls to our customer service line with questions about size of pond, number of fish and ideas seems to reinforce this trend.”
On the Market
Customers are interested in high-quality food for their pond fish, retailers reported, and a few brands tend to dominate sales.
“Nijikawa is a very good food,” said Mike Cruz, owner of Redland Koi & Pond Co. in Homestead, Fla. “Saki-Hikari is very good, particularly for commercial operators because the fish actually extract more nutrition from the food and it produces less waste. The initial cost upfront is realized in the savings on the pond maintenance end of the hobby. Customers are not putting as much strain on their filtration system. The Nijikawa is being employed because it bulks the fish up very nicely. I’ve found that people are mixing it with the Saki-Hikari and getting good results.”
Most customers are more focused on koi appearance rather than the nutritional content of the food they buy, retailers reported.
“Hikari is definitely our best-selling food,” said Ian Glish, manager for Ultimate Aquarium in San Mateo, Calif. “Their stuff is really high quality. Most people are more concerned about their koi’s coloration. We sell a lot of Hikari Gold. It’s not that customers don’t care about the nutritious makeup of their food, but they’re not as aware of it as people in the aquarium hobby are. And Hikari does a good job of meeting that need nutritionally anyway.”
Hikari continues to update its product lines and reformulate foods to meet demand.
“A reformulated Metro+ is once again available that will help pond keepers address wasting away or hole-in-the-head issues,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a supplier of specialty fish foods in Hayward, Calif. “Bio-Bandage Lite is a water additive that helps improve medication efficiency by offering vitamin B12 to speed healing and a selective slime coat that helps keep the medication in contact with the damaged areas of the fish. Both have been introduced in the past few months. We have also upgraded the packaging on most of our larger koi food packages to improve durability and freshness. These packages are already working their way through the distribution system.”
Product availability may not have impacted pond retailers as much as it has those in other industries, but price increases have been felt across the pond retailer space.
“Availability seems to be getting a lot better,” said John Velazquez, manager for Koi Smart Pond Supply Store in Riviera Beach, Fla. “Consumables have been fine across the board, and we’ve been able to get food and water treatments. We’ve had to do a little mixing and matching on the plastic containers and stuff like that, but it’s nothing that the vendors can’t get around.”
Passing on price increases has become a regular issue for retailers.
“We have to pass the price increases on to our customers,” Velazquez said. “We’ve taken hits, for sure. We saw multiple price increases across the board through 2021. But as the increases come in, depending on who’s manufacturing what and what it actually is, prices are changing a lot more frequently than once a year. We definitely have to increase when we get increases. We’re seeing some astronomical jumps on some stuff.”
For retailers who also install ponds or offer quotes for work, inflation can present a serious challenge.
“We did just have a price increase on labor by about 15 percent, mainly to cover travel costs,” said Zachary Krohne, owner of Krohne Tanks and Ponds in Atlanta. “As far as goods go, we have had to just be very careful with giving quotes and time limits that those quotes are good for. We did a quote … and six weeks later, we ended up having to eat a lot of costs on that because a lot of the costs had risen to what we were selling it for.”
However, many retailers report that they have been lucky in that customers are still willing to pay the higher prices, and for the most part, inflation has not slowed down sales.
“Of course, everything has become more difficult to acquire, if you can get it at all,” said Mike Cruz, owner of Redland Koi & Pond Co. in Homestead, Fla. “Prices have gone up, but I haven’t seen that many people balking. They realize this is something that’s impacted almost every industry. They want to enjoy the hobby, and they’re willing to accept these price increases.”