17 Steps to Empower Your Customer’s Choice

The water feature industry is relatively young when compared to most of the established trades within construction, so it’s not uncommon to see seminars at sales conferences that focus on the bidding of a project, selling a project and closing on a deal.

No question, the initial project consultation should instill confidence in the customer regarding your abilities as a contractor and show off your expertise in each aspect of the project. Every contractor has their own construction style and skill set, but the overall process tends to be the same. The goal is to be the last contractor standing after the potential client has interviewed all the interested bidders.

Keep it Simple

Have a list of topics ready to review with client in person, allowing them the opportunity to understand the importance of each component of a successful pond. This list should include every potential detail, such as the method of skimming the surface and moving the water from the bottom of the pond to the top, oxygenation, circulation, prefiltration, biofiltration, redundancy and maintenance. It sounds like a lot of technical stuff, but once you get used to doing it, it will become more casual. The client will not only appreciate your expertise, but they will also feeling empowered with a level of knowledge that they will expect when interviewing your competition. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are giving up trade secrets — you’re not going to talk about specific construction techniques unless you feel that it benefits you.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own list of questions that accompanies me to initial interviews with contractors, architects and their clients. I’ve found that the list makes the client more comfortable having a conversation with you. If the client has not hired an architect or contractor, they can apply the information you give them to clarify their expectations. This gives you the opportunity to establish a good rapport, with an early relationship established between you and the client. Others involved with the project will respect this relationship, and you will establish a line of referrals for when your expertise is needed.

What’s on the List?

Every list needs a header, and it’s best to try to fill it out beforehand. Make sure to include the client’s name, contact information, the project type and description, and the names of other contractors or architects on the job.

Next, in no particular order, include line items for each of these 17 data points:
Size should include dimensions, depth and approximate square footage along with gallons per foot of depth. Volume of filtration and target turnover rate come next. If I receive a set of plans from an architect, landscape architect, pool contractor or general contractor, I can usually fill these out ahead of time.

Filter location may not be determined until you’ve had time to examine the project, but it definitely belongs on the list. Next, include the type, and location and number of skimmers, including the mid-water drain when appropriate.
Have sections dedicated to discuss bottom pond water removal and circulation, explaining the benefits of bottom drains, suction grids, aeration-only systems, vertical pond returns or whatever best fits the pond type and gets the job done. Do the same with aeration.

Include a conversation about the types of prefiltration and biofiltration that might best fit the project, and list the preferred locations. Then, specify whether a submersible, external, airlift or a combination pump is preferred, and include its location. For circulation, does the shape of the project need to be adjusted, or does the current plan just need a few returns? If you’re using a UV light, which circuit will it be on?

Next, list strategies for redundancy. Can you put multiple pumps on separate ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) or separate the aeration or UV light from the water pump? Mechanical and electrical devices all fail at some point, so making sure the whole system doesn’t go down when one component fails is important.

Have a small section with what type of surface and sealing is planned — EPDM, polyurea or another type? Even concrete ponds crack over time and need to be sealed appropriately. Suggest the options for edge treatment based on the style of pond you’re building. Is formal or landscape (garden) edging, or is it a combination. If the pond is raised, the exterior becomes an architectural element and needs to feel like it fits in with the surrounding landscape or hardscape.

To make sure everything is done by the book, discuss steps for egress, lighting and any other issues that might involve local codes. Are there additional water features or alternate lighting that might be integrated? What will the maintenance look like? (Who will do it? Is there a contract? Where will the cleanout water go? How will water changes be accomplished? What type of autofill will be used? Be as thorough as you can.)

Finally, perhaps most importantly, calculate the overall budget range. The system must be designed properly for the size of pond. If the budget isn’t there for a given size pond, the customer’s expectations need to be adjusted now, and not later. At least get a ballpark price range in place before you spend a lot of time on a design the customer wants but can’t afford.

Wait — 17 Items?

If you think about it, these are all topics that you must address anyway, so why not do it with all the other parties involved? Once you get used to it, you’ll be surprised at how fast you can go through these in front of a client, architect or contractor. The list also helps you stay focused and on target. Many times, the conversation will jump around a bit, because the client wants to talk about their favorite part or something that is troubling them about the project. Having the list helps you get back on track without leaving anything out.

It’s a good idea to double or triple-space the lines to leave plenty of room to write and take notes. If you take a couple of copies with you, it’s easy to clean it up a bit before you leave it behind to show the client that you are paying attention to their needs.

Another good use for your completed list is to send it directly to an architect or contractor before or after they’ve sent you a set of plans and get them to fill it out as much as they can before a meeting. This allows them to think about the requirements themselves and can lead to a better understanding of the needs and desires of their client — as clear communication with architects and contractors is often lacking in our industry. Over time, they will start to use your list before they call you with a new project.

By empowering your client, you stay ahead of your competition. This will set you apart from those who may not be as thorough. By using this list, your client will begin to recognize statements like, “you don’t need all of that,” and “this isn’t important” when talking to other bidders, and they will know that they should expect more.

I encourage you to make your own list based on this article, or feel free to copy mine and modify it to fit your needs.

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