Business Building Strategies That Are Cost Effective & Customer Friendly

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There aren’t too many things one needs to do to create a successful pond business that focuses on customer satisfaction through education. It is my goal to achieve success by bringing value to our customers. At Modern Design we put together an advertising plan in December and January that lays the foundation for sales for the upcoming year. By situating ourselves as the industry leader in the area and giving as much as possible to the people and the community, we get our name out there over and over.

These are some of the things we have done this year as an overall business building strategy:

• Continue to learn as much as we can about our business.

• Do industry-related trade shows as much as possible.

• Do a pond tour to increase community awareness.

• Build an awe-inspiring display garden.

• Set-up a retail operation in a successful nursery in our area.

• Send out press releases as often as possible to keep the free advertising working for us.

Learning as much as we can about our business is something we can never stop doing. Being the “Pond Guy” sounds short and sweet, but it can be as complicated as you want to make it. I believe the more I know about, the more I have to offer my clients. The more I have to offer my clients, the more value they get from me, and the more value they relate to me. It helps them to be sure there is no reason to seek the advice of another company because we spend so much time and energy to bring them the total package (with integrity). We have also developed a list of experts in other fields such as pavers, retaining walls, native plants, etc. that we network with. This helps us stay water feature focused while keeping the total package in mind.

We attend as many training events and seminars as we possibly can. We network with many other successful contractors during these events and sometimes the information we learn from them is more valuable than what we get from the seminar itself! These seminars also enhance the seminars we give to our clients, and strengthen the company by empowering all of the employees with knowledge and confidence.

Other forms of training include reading a lot of pertinent material. There’s no need to state the obvious, but read and learn as often as possible. It also helps to get everyone working hands-on with our projects so they have actual, field-tested knowledge of our products and systems.

Industry-related trade shows are an indispensable part of our advertising plan. We start out our show-year in February with our only large show, which keeps leads trickling in for the entire year. This booth was over two thousand square feet this year and gave the impression that it was representing a huge company (jackpot). In reality we networked with a company to bring in a gazebo, another to build a putting green, another to install a beautiful paver path and patio, and yet another to bring in beautiful marble and bronze statuary. In the end, we built two small water features, installed a truckload of boulders, brought in the plants, mulched, and coordinated a lot. All of this information is not to impress, but to inspire.

We got leads (and press) like we built a thirty thousand dollar display, when in reality it only ended up costing us about five thousand dollars to build. The lesson, which we learned the hard way at prior shows, is that the show costs much more than the cost of the booth. You have lost profits from construction and destruction time of your display, as your guys are not out making money. You have overtime expenses because of the long workdays during short set up and tear down schedules. You have to finance the hardscaping materials and plant material from the time of the show until you sell it on a project, and you have the cost of the booth.

By networking with so many people this year, our “break-even” from the show was much easier to achieve and we could get a lot more exposure by doing multiple shows on a smaller scale. We followed up with three more small-booth trade shows this spring and will do two or three more of those small booths this fall.

Let me end this section by emphasizing a huge factor in the success of our show response. We are not only driven to create an elegant booth for each show. We put together an aggressive seminar schedule, hands-on build schedule, pond tour dates, etc. for the year. This is how we show people we care. We then engage them in conversation at these shows and offer them the value of help and education for free, and put a seminar schedule in their hand (which includes a valuable coupon). They come to our seminars and they come to our store and they do business with us! I believe this “coupon” is the backbone of our success this year. It took a lot of preparation in January, and we spend a lot of weekend hours installing micro-pond kits and doing free seminars, but the end result is sales, both in the retail center and for the install crew.

Doing a pond tour to create community awareness is another great way to generate mid-summer sales and offer value to your customer base. Our summer pond tour is going on right now as I write this article! We are getting better and more efficient each time we do it. The cost of putting on a tour is dependant on how much of the work you want to do yourself. The press coverage for the event can be great, and if it’s well done it definitely helps offset the cost of the tour itself. We have been in newspaper and other print, covered by many local radio stations and talked about on a local show called “Garden Girls”. The people on the tour have given us a great response and heard about it in many different ways. We only paid for the banners we put out and all of the other press was free! Tickets were sold for ten dollars and the proceeds will be given to local charities.

There are several paid consultations for designs or installations scheduled as a result of the tour and it’s not over yet. There will be good sales in The Pond Shop, our retail division, this weekend. And Popes, the garden center where we set up The Pond Shop, will enjoy about 40 carloads of visitors this weekend because of the tour. Surely they won’t mind the increased traffic flow?

As a new addition to our event schedule this year, we will have a second, guided “Moonlight Tour” of all of our lighted water features. We will put this on in the fall when it gets dark sooner and hopefully generate some late fall and winter work. We will let you know how that goes.

Build an awesome display garden to inspire people. When people come see our display gardens, it does great things! It gets them thinking on a bigger scale. They come out with micro-pond kit in mind and leave with anything is possible in mind. It up-sells clients almost every time! It gives them total confidence in our company; if they didn’t have it when they came, they do after they leave. Our place is clean and organized, much like you would want a crew to keep your yard. The ponds are clean and beautifully landscaped. It is “eye candy”, and we encourage them to spend as much time as they need walking, talking, and planning. They are selling themselves every minute they spend out there. Our display gardens are without a doubt the number one advertising strategy we have, and yours should be too!

During the construction of our gardens over the years, we have gotten free publicity numerous times. Local papers responded from the very beginning to see what we were “pondering” on out here. They keep coming back every time we do something new and tell them about it. We did our biggest expansion and got the local T.V. crew to come out and do a before-and-after segment. There was over five minutes of footage on television in our region featuring our work and our staff and our beautiful gardens for free! Make sure to tell everyone every time you do something cool!

Set up a retail operation in a successful nursery/garden center. Use your senses to find a location and a group of people with which you fit. Sit down with them and find a way to make money together by bringing value to their customers. Anyone who is an intelligent business person is looking to do that! We went to Popes Garden Center. Our situation brought us The Pond Shop!

We rented a space in their garden center that was consistently a poor producer for them. We built a fantastic water feature there as the center piece of our store. We set up our own department based on ponds and pond products. We hired some great people to run it, set up a profit sharing system that works for all parties involved, and we keep on building water features from leads that come from there! We promote them and they promote us. Everyone is a winner, the installer, the retailer, the garden center, and all of the customers!

There are too many different ways to list how a mutually-beneficial relationship could be set up between differently structured companies. The main thing is to get one of them working for you, and as soon as you do, you won’t have to work nearly as hard to generate those leads! If I can give you any more information that you would find helpful on our relationship with Popes Garden Center, feel free to contact me, I’d be glad to help!

Send out press releases as often as possible to keep the free advertising working. I have a good friend, Scott Story, to thank for this one. He is the one who drilled this gem back into my head last year in our peer group. Put together a press list. Get a nice package with a CD full of your best pictures and put it in their hands. Send them an e-mail every time you do anything cool. You will get so much free advertising this way you will not believe it! The media will print your press release for you. Someone will print it this time and someone else will print it next time. Your name keeps getting out. Someone will say “I heard about you from…” and you won’t even have known about the article they’re speaking of. That’s cool (and it’s cheap and it’s easy)! Press releases are the best way to get “free advertising” when you’re building a water feature business!

There are enough things listed here to keep several people jumping, we have been proving that all year! Good luck with your Pondering endeavors and feel free to make contact if I can be of any service to you. I didn’t come up with any of these great ideas, I got them from other successful pond builders who were willing to help me and I’d be happy to do the same for anyone else!

About the Author

Modern Design Aquascaping offers award winning designs and installations including water features and their surrounding landscapes. Their work has been featured on the show “Style”, state-wide cable T.V., CityView Magazine and in HGTV Ideas. They have been recognized as a Certified Aquascape Contractor for 5 years running by Aquascape Designs. You can see their work online @ www.MDAquascaping.com www.MDLandscaping.com and also at www.MyPondShop.net . For more information or to schedule John for a pond-related speaking engagement, contact: John Adams at 865-995-1234. “Making Home an Awesome place to Be”

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