Choosing Hardgoods and Supplies for Retail Purposes

Published on March 12, 2008


In recent years, those of us involved with retailing pond and water feature products are seeing an amazing growth in the number of choices we have. Recognizing potential, manufacturers of varying types are aggressively introducing scores of new and refined items. With the electronic age, marketing and distribution channels are in a state of flux, and the buying patterns of our customers are changing as well.

As the products evolve, so does our market and so should our buying/selling strategies.

How each individual retailer will determine what to buy for the coming season will depend on their knowledge/experience, how deeply they want to get into the category, and how much HOMEWORK they do considering a number of other factors. For ease of discussion, let’s group a bunch of these inter-related factors into what can be called the three “D’s”—Demographics, Destination & Delivery.


• Retail Location—Urban, Semi-Urban or Rural and what part of the country? Differing styles, customs and climates often sway decisions.

• How many active months of retailing will likely occur? What are the seasons? Geography and climate dictate much of this.

• How many and what type of water features already exist in the area? Water gardens, Koi Ponds, Disappearing/Pondless Features, Formal Fountains…Knowing this helps product supply item selection and usage.

• Who are the existing customers and what are their demographics?

• Who are the potential new customers? How do their demographics differ?

• Retail Competition—Who are they? How good are they? What products are they selling and how are they selling them?

• Pond Builders and Maintenance Contractors—Who are they? How good are they? What products do they like to use? How many and what type of water features do they tend to build/maintain? Who are their customers?

• Area Suppliers and Distributors—Who are they? What products do they sell? How do they support their retail dealers?

• Economics—Is the market big enough and segmented enough to support appropriate turns of inventory items in different price categories (good-better-best)?


• What kind of shopping destination/store front exists—Water Garden Specialty, Garden Center, Pet Store, Home Center, Stone Yard, Internet…

• What kind of image exists—Friendly/helpful/knowledgeable or not; High-Priced, Bargain/Discount, Lots or Limited Selection; Market Leader or Just Convenient?

• What kind of distinction/shopping experience and image is planned for the future?

• What types of products will help make that transition?

• How much space indoors/outdoors will be dedicated to the category/subcategory?

• What kind of displays can be developed to support the product choices?


• Where is the retail buyer in the distribution channel and how do the goods get out the door? Retail Dealer (Store Front or Mail Order) verses installer verses Dealer and Installer. If a retailer does not have an installation crew or a referral list of contractors, item selection will likely be oriented around smaller, simpler DIY projects.

• What products or services are already being sold that would synergistically benefit from adding tie-in or related goods?

oSelling plants—Add aquatic pots, fertilizer, island and plant combos.

oSelling fountains and statuary—Add algae/scale control chemicals, small pumps and accessory lighting.

oSelling small water features—Add building supplies.

oSelling larger water features—Add stone or vice/versa…

I hope you noticed that throughout the above I did not specifically mention cost, discounts and early-buy incentives, minimums, freight-free levels, packaging, plannagrams, kits verses components, co-op dollars or latching onto the self-branding or even the (hopefully everlasting) greening trend. It’s not because these things don’t weigh heavily in retail buying decisions, but because they are the details that seem to follow a purchasing plan developed around the 3 D’s. Although as good retailers we should offer impulse items to our customers, our purchases should not be so impulsive. We have lots of choices now—Hurray!

About the Author

Deb is co-owner of Water’s Edge in Lawrence, KS. She has been an avid water gardener for over 15 years and strives to make the hobby as enjoyable and low maintenance as possible She is a frequent speaker on a variety of pond-related topics and loves to “talk pumps and plumbing.”

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