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Do You Have What It Takes?
| Aaron Scarlata
>> Published Date: 5/29/2014
A water garden store. Pond shop. Water garden retailer. All of which are names for the same type of business. B to C business, typically: business to consumer—where today’s economy shows an aggressive marketplace; highly competitive, accessible products and plenty of people to sell them. So today you have to ask yourself: do you have what it takes to be in the water feature business for today’s customer and the customer of the future? What we hope to accomplish with this article is an overview understanding of some of the key characteristics of those who have been successful and appear to be on track for what it’s going to take to be successful in the future.

Pictured: An example of a complete line of water gardening products, plus display. 

Is Water Gardening For You?
So, who should own a water garden business? I would describe it as the type of person who’s very resourceful, who understands that projects that come in and what consumers are looking to do are wide, unique, oftentimes complex, and then, at times, very simple. And so, the type of person should not only be resourceful, but know how to listen and diagnose, almost like a doctor. And since every patient, every water feature, is different and unique, then you really have to study the things you know in order to determine what you don’t know. And there’s some blogs on pondbuilder.com that help bridge the gap between those details that you do know about a water garden and those that you don’t. So, you’re resourceful, you can listen and you’re creative. To be in today’s water garden business, you have to be creative because it’s a very visual business.

What you will likely find is that the type of consumer who’s interested in a water feature really wants to learn—really wants to understand their options. And with there being six types of water features and some variance within there (and every single one’s unique), you can kind of categorize options into six types as PondBuilder has done for its brand. Water features have some basic rules and, once you instill the knowledge of those rules into your employees, those consumers are going to understand that: “Hey! This is really great knowledge and I can come into this store, maybe once a month, sometimes several times in one day, and I can find the solutions and answers and be inspired, and I can see it through everybody that’s working here. And when I come in here, I see displays, I get to see how the water flows and the difference between a high-flow pump and a low-flow pump.”

What It Takes
If you’re going be in the business to inspire, well, you’re still in business, so you have to make money. How much space do you need to do this and to be in the business? The retail footprint, when we focus just on the water garden department, can be broken down in two sizes: one for the core product itself, shelf material, point-of-purchase material, and the other for the displays. On the displays, do as much as you can afford to do in the size and space that you have available. If you could have a museum of water features, there’s a better chance that you’ll sell more; you’ll be known as an attraction and a destination, and those are things that even the most common little photos online fail to do in comparison to a brick and mortar location.

When you can capture that and nestle it into your property, you’re going to find yourself as the destination for not just the consumer, but for the other business people: landscape contractors, landscape architects and designers—the types of people who may travel hours or perhaps are part of a giant tour traveling through the country. Your opportunities now go from a local to a national level or beyond. And for that space, for the product, well, I’ve seen it done in as small of a space as 8 ft. of gondola shelving.
How Much Product?
What I like to say is you want to have a little bit of everything, but not too much of anything because with today’s supply and distribution models, you’re able to capture product and have it delivered in a matter of days. Have enough to show that you’re in business because the hobbyist can see right through your impression of being the one-stop pond shop if you only have a few items on the shelf and they’re old and dusty.

The footprint that we have at Blue Thumb is 1,000 sq. ft. That consists of 300 sq. ft. of fish tanks for fish resale, an additional 200 sq. ft. for displays of bubbling fountains, our fountain vase collection and babbling brooks and inspiration. So that leaves us with 500 sq. ft. of merchandise and checkout space. With the right marketing approach—taking on digital marketing services that help you market your business and grow—tag that with inventory, nice displays and inspiration, we’re able to create growth. First-year sales figures can reach $56,000. Second year, $123,000, and third year, you are on track for $180,000.

The steps to doing this does involve funding, so the cost if we were to stock a 400-sq. ft. space with merchandise, you could do it in as little as $5,000 to $8,000, but ideally, you’re bringing in $10,000 to $15,000. With those numbers, you can afford to put in a couple of displays and grow on those each year to use them as seminars to teach people and customers.

Products to include in your store would be consumables at first—pumps, water treatments and fish foods. Items consumers require on an on-going basis are key and will help keep your retail door revolving. When a retailer brings on minimum advertised price (MAP) branded products or those brands with MAP programs, the online retailer and the brick and mortar store all compete on the same price levels, therefore, making your competitive difference your displays, friendly service and your people. 

Create a store that’s vibrant and that matches your personality. Or if you’re dry, add some water to it. Find somebody else to come in, give you a creative eye and you run the business side. Recent market surveys show water features are top of mind. More than 83% of landscape architects in the 2014 survey said water features and outdoor living space are top of mind. Grab a hold and let’s begin this pond building experience. GP

Aaron Scarlata is Business Development Manager at Pondbuilders Inc. He can be reached at aaron@mipond.com.

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