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For decades I was accused of being "the little boy who cried Pond!" by folks in the trade; no longer. Look around you, there are a dozen manufacturers offering full pond product lines; complete lines with liners, books, pumps, filters, chemicals... Ponds ARE big business, and if you're part of the pet trade, should be part of YOUR business. With the aging of our population, upbeat new-housing starts, more folks owning their own places, and so much emphasis put on improving their landscapes, water gardening is absolutely booming. In this and the next installment we will cover the basics of what aquatic garden elements are of interest to retailers, and the wherewithal of their merchandising and application.
Now! All but the beginning and dead of winter (in frozen over climes) are great times to be selling products (and services) to the water gardener. Only when ice covers the systems, slowing fish respiration and halting photosynthesis is there no market for foods, chemical treatments and such. Even during winter some folks operate their pumps and possibly anti-icing heating mechanisms. However there is definitely a seasonality to pond sales... the pet dealer in the know recognizes these, setting up displays and rotating promotions with the four major seasons, Spring, Summer and Fall.
Non-Seasonal Items, the Most Important:
Pumps, related parts like impellers, gaskets, traps and baskets, bearings, plumbing and fittings are in demand all year and you should stock and display these in a permanent section of the store devoted to Pond Supplies. In our chain, Wet Pets, we were fortunate to plan ahead and utilize the same makes and models for store use as well as retail, giving us the double benefit of inventory for back-up replacement and resale.
Some of the same lines of submersible and emersed pumps for reef and large freshwater aquarium systems (e.g. Little Giant, Calvert Engineering, Eheim, Quiet One, Iwaki, and others) are appropriate technology for both indoor and outdoor use; check their manufacturer inserts for use specifications. A small sign referring pond customers to their location in your store adds sales. Larger direct-drive centrifugal pumps like the Sequence, RK2, and Aquanetics lines produce larger volumes and pressures and should be stocked adjacent their sealed cartons.
Filters and media likewise are year-round offerings. Along with pumps they often are run continuously even by some folks where there is freezing temperatures, and serve as continuing reminders to your non-pond customers that you are also a source for gear and information when the weather warms. There are several approaches to water garden filtering, and many of these units are bulky; so you'll need to develop your own strategy concerning which lines to display. My real advice is to do what we did; offer at least two competing models, and make up a Special Order book and place a copy of it in the Pond Supplies area. Consider what this sales aid might take the form of; plastic sleeved pages with product pictures, features, and specifications. Pricing, terms of delivery and Order Instructions. Our stores more than doubled our sales volume with Special Orders; without directly investing the space and money for standing inventory. Do get a hefty deposit with such orders (we collected half up front), and offer services on install and possibly maintenance (see next months continuation of this article).
Much of the filter media for ponds you probably already stock; those high technology wet-dry plastic which-a-ma-bobs for reef tanks, Dacron pads and loose filter fiber, and natural aquarium gravel in bulk all have their place in pond filtration. There is a veritable fortune to be made in selling "extra" or replacement filter cartridges. You definitely should have these on hand for all makes and models you yourself sell. Read up, and cross-merchandise filter media as suggested for pumps.
Books, Videos, and other inspirational and informational media are non-seasonal items. Many retailers are "missing the boat" by not pushing book sales all year long. They are easy, and profitable... in many ways. Books don't die, or have to be fed; they're not easily broken and they lead to many and large tie-in sales. What better way of getting your customers all they need to know in such little space and amount of your time; and at a profit? Rotate your display fixture and its wares around your store, and utilize some of your counter space for bound book offerings; yes printed media can be a solid impulse sales category.
Tetra/Second Nature, T.F.H. Publications, Barron's and more have excellent water gardening titles. Check with your distributor and/or manufacturer representatives for racking, display and shelf talker offerings. These are highly effective.
Liners and related construction tools and materials, may seem like warm months only merchandise, but sell quite well for indoor uses during the winter. What are ponderers going to do with their fishes and much of their plants during the winter? Many of them "bring them inside" in a basement, patio or other room setting; in a "wading pool" aquarium... or liner pond! You can help them perfect such a set-up by offering technical expertise, manufacturers flyers, sales of materials, and possibly the services to clean out their outdoor system, construct a seasonal one inside, and move their livestock between them.
Precut and do-it-yourself liners are offered by several manufacturers in our trade; Tetra, and Danner Manufacturing (Supreme) among others. Their informational packets sell their products very well.
Spring, Summer, Autumn:
Your Pond Promotion Program.
By late Winter you should have more than decided what your pond program is going to be for the upcoming season. Are you just going to offer "maintenance" items like foods, chemicals and nets? Perhaps tie in an offer of cleaning/inspection services with an outside Aquatic or Landscape maintenance service, or start one of your own? Or perhaps you'll opt for a full blown promotional water garden set-up. This is THE killer sales generator for all pond products. At its simplest (and these are very easy to assemble, even fun) a temporary structure can be contrived, either of liner or pre-made basin materials.
Holy Lincoln Logs, the liner type arrangements are peeler poles, four by fours or other lumber that is stacked, drilled and fitted with threaded rod and nuts to hold it all together. These can be more than simple squares or rectangles; any number of side polygonals have been constructed. A suitable pond liner is draped inside, folded over the upper wood structure edge, and voila (!) instant pond. Pre-made plastic and fiberglass/resin units are even easier; place one on the floor and fill; with addition of decorative edging and some potted plants, you're done. What better demonstration of the gear and your expertise is there than its actual set-up and operation at your store? Ah, the sounds of spilling water, and splashing fishes, and coins going into your "gum-ball" fish food dispenser. Yes, our "feeding" sales routine used to be a substantial profit center in our permanent in-store pond displays in Southern California. If your Water Garden display can't be located near your drygoods, at least direct customers to same; maybe even adding "Got Pond Questions? Ask Us!"
Specialty, Construction and Hard to Find Items: Where will your customers get their electrical junction boxes, timers, G.F.I.s, conduits et al? Plumbing fittings like venturis and check valves? Chances are "hardware" stores in your area won't be carrying the types and sizes they need. How 'bout just oak half-barrels, with or without a fitted liner? These can be profitably resold from aquatic garden suppliers if not located too freight-far away. Given adequate space, you may even have a market for pre-cast fountains and statuary. Is there anyone else offering these in your area?
Foods and Chemical Product Lines sales, with the possible exception of dechloraminators all go flat with the end of "pond season", at the end of fall/beginning of winter. Pond fishes for the most part should not be fed when water temperatures drift and stay below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And most folks are bundled up inside and not doing much with the ponds water when it gets cold. I suggest switching out merchandise for more Holiday (as in gifts) promotions and merchandise, say, during the months of October through April or May.
Make no mistakes about this, chemicals and foods are your biggest source of sales and profits in water garden lines. More than anything else, all other products and displays, livestock and dry, should principally be arranged to drive these sales. So, it is imperative that you not "shoot yourself in the foot" in chemical and food offerings. Listen carefully: by intent study of hobby and trade publications, observant attendance at trade shows, and active listening to your customers and employees you can discern what particular types of products and manufacturers are most in favor. Though carrying a complete offering may seem unwarranted in terms of space and cost, better money cannot be spent. I strongly encourage you to stock at least one "best" and an alternate for every line. Pellets of animal and plant derivation, food sticks, medications, dechlorinators/dechloraminators, algicides, dips, defoamers..., if at all practical at least one "set" from one of the many companies offering these (Rena, Mardel, Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, Jungle Laboratories, Fritz and others for chemicals; Tetra, Hikari, O.S.I., Ocean Nutrition, Wardley and more for foods). I like to like to line these up linearly by manufacturer, larger to smaller sizes left to right, with the alternate, lower price point items directly below. How would you do it?
Maintenance gear, where is it? There is a semi-missing gap of available products in this area in our trade. Sure, some manufacturers make gear that can cross over to pond use; like Python Products extended vacuum tube attachments. But where are the real nets, scrubbers and scrapers; or the pots and fertilizers for re-doing the plants in the Spring? Don't despair, they really are made and available. Let the Pet Dealer annual Purchasing Guide be your starting point. Check out the manufacturers list of Outdoor Pool Supplies. There's Aquanetics Systems, Aquatic Eco-Systems, Beckett Corp., Laguna, Rainbow Plastics Filter Div. and many more! Not finding enough? Consider a trip to the library to peruse the yellow pages of the nearest large town for "wholesale pool (as in swimming pool and spa) supplies". They have a great deal of gear that is useful/adaptable to water gardening use.
End of season; items include bags, containers to move and store livestock till next season, medications for treatment in moving, and equipment to clean, empty and over-winter the water garden during the cold down months of the year.
What are you going to do to bolster the slowdown in aquatic summer sales for your company? There's nothing better than pond sales and service to pick up the warm weather slack. And yes, it is part of your business... aquatics for indoors and out.
This is yet another area of added service and expertise where the independent retailer can and should have a great advantage over the mass merchandisers and chain stores. They lack your nimbleness of foot and capacity for breadth and width of specialization in such fields as water gardening.
Next issue we'll cover the livestock component of water garden merchandising, plants and fishes, as well as aspects of providing pond services directly or through an outside vendor. See you there.
Looking for more information and pond ideas? I have written on most aspects of aquatic gardening for the hobby magazine Freshwater and Marine Aquarium in my Aquatic Environments column over the last ten years. Of the national magazines in the hobby, FAMA ranks supreme as a listing source for aquatics manufacturers.