Jeff Weemhoff Reflects on the Company’s Milestone Anniversary
You could almost say it all started in a hole in the sand at a beach on the Jersey Shore. Founders Bill Lynne and Bashir Soudan established Meridienne International doing business as Atlantic Coast Spas in 1985. The “Atlantic” part came from the location of the warehouse and manufacturing plant — less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean in Mays Landing, New Jersey.
Bill and Bashir’s initial focus was on residential, jacuzzi-style bathtubs and outdoor hot tubs. After becoming proficient in designing and producing the molds for the spas in house, the next step was to open a fiberglass molding shop to produce the spas themselves.
The fiberglass shop allowed for a lot of creativity and thinking outside the box. When Bashir saw preformed ponds at a home center, he thought it was a great idea — something that could be made with the company’s existing equipment!
And so, in 1988, with an hourglass pond, a kidney pond, a diamond pond, a rectangle pond and a teardrop pond, Atlantic Water Gardens was born.
These six ponds did well enough that Bill and Bashir started thinking about national sales and distribution. That’s when I joined the team. I had been working full time as an independent lawn and garden sales representative at Weemhoff Associates, the agency my dad George founded. I learned a lot about sales and business from him. I’m proud to say Weemhoff Associates is still going strong today under a new name and management.
We had already dipped a toe in the water by 1990, having added pond pumps and accessories to our line card when I met Bill and Bashir at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) in Baltimore. I liked what I saw and signed on as their Midwest regional independent sales rep.
After a year or two, Bill asked me to help develop a sales team and a national distribution network. I started working part-time as the National Sales Manager for AWG. It was a good fit.
I inherited a love for selling and a love of the green industry from my father. Over the years as a rep for other lawn and garden lines, I developed strong contacts in the network of rep agencies. I could see the potential of water gardening in the lawn and garden market. It was all coming together.
An Industry is Born
In the ‘90s, the industry was really starting to take shape. Many manufacturers, distributors, dealers and contractors were getting into the business of water features. We sold Atlantic Coast Spas and began focusing solely on the water-garden industry. By the late ‘90s, we had grown the Atlantic line to 12 ponds, an up-flow bog filter, and even a couple of “pond-free” fountain and waterfall kits with graveled basins — way ahead of the curve, and all for the retail market.
It was time to get serious. We started developing higher-end retail equipment like pond skimmers, waterfall filters, spillways, whiskey barrel liners and kits for water gardens and water features for the dealer market. We added C&C machines to keep pace with demand and scale up production. Believe it or not, we still use the same machines today in our current facilities.
We developed great relationships with companies in lawn and garden distribution, including Servistar, Arret, US Garden Sales, Mollema, Commerce Corp., Bradley Caldwell, BFG, L&L and many others.
The specialized pond distribution market was born during those years. Many are still customers today, including AKT, Discount Pond, Webbs-Universal, Pond Supplies of Ohio, Holmes Farms, Fourth Generation, Coastal Pond, Unit Liner, Van Isle, Linzel, Water Landscape Supply, Castle Aquatics, Complete Aquatics, Jolie, Greystone, Oregon Aquatics and more.
Public interest in ponds was booming. Most water-garden manufacturers and distributors, many dealers and even some contractors would attend Roseanne Conrad’s now legendary Pondapalooza shows, which were typically held twice a year in Atlanta and Portland.
They were can’t-miss industry events with booths, builds, lectures, networking and much more. Many great business relationships were born there, and many industry friendships were established. Even today, many of those same friends and businesses are still actively involved in the pond industry, and those that are not have left a lasting and memorable legacy.
By 2004, we had outgrown our facility, and the business needed a boost in terms of space and talent.
First, we needed to move from the Jersey Shore. We bought a 30,000 sq. ft. facility in Mantua, Ohio, and moved operations there in the fall of 2005. For me, Ohio was the perfect choice, and not just because I grew up there. The Greater Cleveland area had hardworking, dedicated employees, a well-developed plastics manufacturing infrastructure and major shipping lanes to the east, west and south. We set up the facility for distribution, light manufacturing and C&C machining, outsourcing thermal forming and injection molding to local manufacturers, many of whom we still use today.
Things started to change quickly. We bought out Bashir, and I became an owner and President of AWG with Bill Lynne. We brought many talented people on board, like our current vice president, Brandon Dwyer, a key hire who helped us move into professional equipment. I started to travel the world to research and find partners for pumps, lights and other key items. We developed the Colorfalls and established an office in China.
The demand for backyard ponds was starting to level off just as outdoor living and the idea of staycationing in the backyard oasis was building up momentum. The Colorfalls, the first lighted spillway, had launched us into the hardscape market, opening new opportunities at the perfect time. With Brandon’s expertise in design, we developed Fountain and Colorfalls basins, pump vaults, Eco-Blox, lights and other “pond-free” products, while continuing to refine our pumps, biological filters and skimmers for the evolving pond trade.
We organized similar products into systems with interchangeable components — a major sales advantage. This greatly simplified the job of specifying equipment for both the installer and the counterperson. We had always had great relationships in the traditional pond-distribution market, and we could now add key distributors in the irrigation and landscape contractor space.
The Roaring 2010s
I’ve always felt that businesses are grown by their employees and that good people are the key to success — and they were. Our staff, starting with just five people in New Jersey, now numbered 20, with some very dynamic and talented employees.
Now, we had the people we needed to concentrate on more than just building and shipping product. We began working on support materials – brochures, videos, presentations, social media, blogs and posts to help our customers with sales and installation.
Our systems-based approach to water features, which contractors and homeowners appreciated as much as our distributors and dealers did, was one factor contributing to double-digit growth through the early 2000s and into the early 2010s. We had to add another 7,500 sq. ft. to our facility in 2014 and built various water features on the property to provide photos and backgrounds.
We embarked on an ambitious training campaign to get the word out to our distributors across North America. Within a very few years we were again bursting at the seams. By our 30th anniversary in 2018, we were again looking for a new place to call home, having outgrown the 38,000-square-foot facility in Mantua (even with storing a lot of product outdoors). Things were about to change again.
Oase Living Water, the water-feature giant based in Horstel Germany, had expressed some interest in Atlantic and sent out some feelers through their national sales manager. It didn’t happen overnight, but Thorsten Muck, CEO of the Oase Group, and I sat down together at Randy Stewart’s Water Garden Expo in 2018 and found that we had something to talk about.
Our visions aligned; we both felt that the product lines would intertwine well. The idea of Atlantic Water Gardens and Oase joining forces made pretty good sense to everybody. The companies’ philosophies and product lines were natural complements to each other with very little overlap. At Atlantic, we focused on the waterfall and making beautiful water features easy to build and maintain. The key products in the American market were strong, dependable pumps in skimmers to collect floating debris and deliver generous flows to waterfall boxes at the tops of streams. Oase is renowned worldwide for its cutting-edge pumps, pond filters, ultraviolet clarifiers and pond vacuums, not to mention fountain technology that caters to the European style of water gardening.
Across the pond, they favored economical pumps on the bottom, pushing solid wastes into sophisticated filters to deliver incredible water quality. Streams and waterfalls were almost irrelevant. A merger would bring the two complementary water feature philosophies together; ponds that combined the best of both worlds would be filtered from the top down and the bottom up.
In the fall of 2018, Oase acquired Atlantic Water Gardens, merging to create Atlantic-Oase here in the U.S. market. We moved into our 180,000 sq. ft. North American headquarters in Aurora, Ohio in January 2020.
Here and Now
Atlantic-Oase is a now proud member of the Oase Group, a global leader in the water-feature industry. Regardless of point of origin, all our products are our own; i.e., we design and develop everything we sell. We offer a continuously growing roster of the most respected products in the world. Our in-house production team in Aurora builds, inspects and packages all products made in the United States.
We handle the sales and distribution of all Oase Group products for the North American market — Atlantic-Oase, biOrb, Oase Indoor Aquatics and more — ensuring the most efficient possible operation. Our expansion brings the vast array of products we produce in Europe and beyond to the North American market, and we export our American-made goods to countries throughout the global Oase network. Together, we have more than 900 employees, 22 offices and seven production facilities worldwide, making us the largest water-feature equipment company on the planet.
We continue to deliver unparalleled quality, innovative products and unmatched customer support. We are dedicated to our customers’ success and delivering value to them every day. With American ingenuity and German engineering, the sky’s the limit for Atlantic-Oase.
Finishing our 35th year, Atlantic Water Gardens has grown stronger than ever. I am proud to have been a part of that growth and to have worked with every employee over the years. I’d like to thank everyone, past and present, who helped get us here. We are bringing a new dawn to the water feature and pond industry, and we are very excited about the future!
About the Author
Jeff Weemhoff has been active in the water garden industry for 33 years. He has spent the last 20 years as owner an president of Atlantic Water Gardens, now known as Atlantic-Oase.