shutterstock_1636443088

The pond and water garden industry is enjoying a surge in sales, with water feature installations and maintenance services both increasing, retailers reported. Dry goods, livestock and almost anything pond or water feature-related is doing well, and industry experts expect the trend to continue into the spring of 2021.

There was a notable increase in pond installations last year, according to retailers, though foot traffic in pond stores also showed growth.

“Business has been in an uptick since 2020,” said David Gute, manager of Barracuda Watergardens, a water garden and pond store in Auburn, Calif. “Installs were up last year. The retail store also saw an uptick in traffic, too.”

Though other segments of the pet industry experienced dry goods shortages and problems with delivery in 2020, the pond industry was not as impacted by these trends, retailers reported.

“Early on, there were some suppliers that were experiencing some lag processing orders,” Gute said. “But I think that was just from the uptick in the demand coming unexpectedly.”

With more people staying home, they have had more time—and more disposable income—to invest in the pond hobby.

“We were up quite a bit last year, but I attribute that to COVID more than anything,” said Mike Lucas, owner of Garden Ponds and Aquariums Unlimited, a store in Moore, Okla. “People are at home. They’re messing with their gardens. If they’re not jet-setting off to Europe, there’s an extra $20,000 to spend on ponds.”

Those in the pond industry are also more accustomed to cyclicality, as so much of the hobby depends on seasonal trends and limited availability. This has likely helped pond installers and retailers weather difficult business conditions that have affected others in the pet industry more acutely.

“There’s an ebb and flow [in this industry],” said Zachary Krohne, owner of Krohne Tanks and Ponds in Atlanta. “Things come and go in terms of availability. … Things will run thin, and then all of a sudden they’ll get caught back up. We’ve had to find other brands that we have to use, or settle for brands that we don’t particularly like. Sometimes, we have had to order something off Amazon to keep the fish alive.”

Many retailers noted that they were already situated to deal with shortages, and some did not even notice shortages until later in 2020.

“We’ve had some back orders, but nothing too crazy,” Lucas said. “We’ve been pretty lucky. We buy most of our stuff early and get it at the very beginning of spring. So we try and get about 80 percent of what we would sell all at once.”

Ponds and water features are also increasingly accessible, as setups designed to accommodate a variety of budgets are available.

“There truly are water features for every budget,” said Brian Helfrich, vice president of construction for Aquascape, a manufacturer of water features and pond products based in St. Charles, Ill. “Small fountain kits and mini ponds serve as entry-level options for the hobby. Once people are exposed to water features, they typically want to expand their options and desire something larger. Even people who start with a pond end up expanding it or customizing it over the years.”

Construction Trends

The lockdowns early in 2020 coincided with the usual pond installation season, which helped drive demand.

“We are seeing more people entering the pond hobby as they engage in home improvement projects,” said Catherine Langford, senior brand marketing manager for Tetra, a brand of Blacksburg, Va.-based Spectrum Brands Pet. “New ponds are typically constructed in the spring, so the lockdowns certainly encouraged new pond builds in 2020, especially with DIY [do it yourself] container ponds.”

More people are putting in ponds, and those with existing ponds are upgrading them and adding to their volume. Also, ponds intended to house aquatic species are increasingly popular.

“Based on what we are hearing from consumers who contact our customer support team, it appears there has been a nice increase in new ponds and also pond enhancements or size upgrades,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a Hayward, Calif.-based manufacturer of aquatic diets. “As people spend more time at home, their backyards are getting facelifts, and ponds or water features with fish are a part of those improvements.”

Installs have been larger on average, industry insiders reported. Conversions are also trending more than in typical years past.

“We’re doing larger ponds overall,” Lucas said. “Also, we’ve converted more pools to ponds. We’ll typically do one a year, if we’re lucky. In 2020, we probably did five where we’ve converted swimming pools into ponds.”

Most installers still use pond liners, when they are not designing or installing another type of water feature.

“We exclusively install ponds with liners,” Gute said. “It’s an issue of price and ease of use.”

Novel pond designs are appearing in some areas, insiders reported, though most installers deal only with liner setups.

“There is a movement toward blending a bit of formal details with a natural-looking, informal water feature,” Helfrich said. “For example, a pond might incorporate straight edging on the patio side of a pond, while the rest of the pond uses boulders and rock for edging.”

Pond Nutrition

Koi ponds are increasingly popular, insiders reported, and with the inclusion of livestock, pond keepers have to pay attention to providing the proper dietary profile to their fish.

“We are making a big push in sustainability utilizing black soldier fly larva,” said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for Mansfield, Mass.-based the Hagen Group, which manufactures the Laguna brand. “It is beneficial to the environment, and fish absolutely love them.”

Hagen’s focus on sustainability led it to develop its Pond Bites, a koi and goldfish floating fish food with sustainably harvested black solider fly larvae, Hester added. The larvae are gut-loaded with fruits and vegetables that would have otherwise been thrown away and that are sourced from local grocery stores, he noted, and the diet is formulated to be closer to what black soldier fly larvae eat in nature.

Other manufacturers are changing their formulations to ensure better fish health.

“The company Sera has removed all the artificial additives and colors in its foods,” Krohne said. “They’re making their food all one color, which is risky from a marketing standpoint, but it’s better for the animals. Half of the sales pitch behind fish food is its coloration. They’re really taking the chance of making their foods less visually appealing. I’ve already received some of my first orders, and I’ve had to tell customers that it’s the same food.”

Probiotics-based products are becoming more common in the industry, though customers will likely require guidance to find something that works for them.

“Given Hikari was the first in the industry to offer these products more than a decade ago, we see people still very interested in using them for their fish,” Clevers said. “Retailers have to be careful they are offering products with probiotics that actually have some longer-term benefits for the fish.”

Establishing rapport with customers and tailoring nutritional information to their setup based on various parameters, including seasonal considerations, is essential.

“A good nutritional regimen is imperative for new consumers to understand, and information about what to feed and when, depending on the water temperature, is typically printed on most pond food labels,” Langford said. “Since the air and water temperature, the time of year and where you live all affect how, what, and when you feed your pets, retailers are best suited to provide regional information to their consumers and provide advice on what to feed.”

Pondless Water Features

Certain types of water features, such as pondless waterfalls and mini pond setups. are becoming more sought after in the industry.

“Pondless waterfalls are still trending higher in popularity,” Gute said. “That’s been the biggest trend we’ve seen.”

Other novel configurations are also increasingly in demand.

“’I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz around mini ponds, which would consist of ponds under 1,000 gallons,” Hester said. “These come in a wide variety of builds including concrete, preformed, liner and smaller, all in one self-contained kit.”

Not everyone is seeing demand for novel configurations increase, however, and there may be a move back toward traditional ponds.

“For several years, pondless waterfalls were trending in the water gardening industry,” Helfrich said. “Today, we’re seeing the trend move back toward ponds.”

Aquascape has several products slated for release in 2021, including expansions to its line of Smart Control Products, such as a new Smart Pond Thermometer. Products in the line are designed to use Wi-Fi connectivity to allow users to adjust lights, pumps and other outdoor features remotely, Helfrich added.

Aquascape is adding to its line of Fire and Water products as well as introducing other decorative water features in 2021. Additionally, the company is introducing a Koi Sock Net and the SLD 2000-5000 Adjustable Flow Pump.

“Adding urns and fountains to an existing water feature is also growing in popularity,” Helfrich said. “Those with a pond or waterfall are looking to upgrade their water feature. An overflowing urn or bowl can easily be incorporated for a unique, custom look.”