Consider Your Strengths When Building Your Pond Business

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How you organize your pond department, publicize your business and educate your customers is as important as what you sell. If you are not creative in promoting your ideas, products and services, your competitors will be and your customers will follow them. This is the perfect time to re-evaluate what you are doing to market your pond department and examine how you can make changes that will ultimately affect your bottom line.

Follow these five steps for a successful pond department:

1. Create a marketing plan

In order to promote your product and services effectively you must clearly outline your goals. This outline should include measurable results such as your sales goals for the year or how many new customers would you like to see in your store each month.

Once you’ve outlined your measurable goals, it is important to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of your business. Start by listing the strengths and weaknesses of your store. A couple of examples of your strengths would be a great location or perhaps you offer expert advice through an e-newsletter. Weaknesses are areas that could be improved upon that you control. For example, you may have no one on your staff that understands the pond hobby or your pond department is too small to make a big impact. Take some time to be honest with yourself on your strengths and weaknesses.

Next, where are there opportunities for improvement? Is there more space to devote to the pond department, or is there money in the budget for a part-time pond expert (often a good pond customer can be a resource).

Threats are considered conditions, which could do damage to your store’s performance. Outside influences that affect your business are often out of your control but you should be aware of them. An example of a threat is another store offering everything at a discount or even be the economic conditions at that point in time.

2. Create strategies to capitalize on your marketing plan

After you’ve established the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your store, it is time to get creative! Make a list of strategies that can complement your strengths, minimalize your weaknesses and exploit your opportunities – while keeping mind of the threats.

For example, maybe there is an opportunity to partner with a stone or paver company in your town. You could supply your customer with the pond products and the other business can help with the landscaping and you both offer a discount to the customer for using the businesses in conjunction with one another. That is a great strategy to make the most of an opportunity!

As you plan out your pond department and your promotional ideas, keep your marketing plan in mind. Every strategy should improve your weaknesses, highlight your strengths, and create opportunities.

3. Plan your pond department

Your customers look to you to be their expert in pondkeeping. In order to attract new customers and keep the regulars coming back, you must create a pond department that is visually pleasing to your customer. Determine what space will be your “pond department” and post signs that clearly mark the space. Here are some ways you can dress up your department and enhance the shopping experience for your patrons:

• Visually build your pond department with existing well-branded point-of-purchase materials and product packaging for an impressive, cohesive look. Remember to ask your manufacturers for assistance – most welcome the opportunity to provide professional collateral or recommendations on creating billboards from boxes, or other strong visuals. Some may provide step-by-step brochures and guides that support your recommendations and help make their visions come to life.

• Whenever possible, arrange products upright to make a strong visual presence on the shelves. Consider creating end-cap displays using large buckets, boxes or product for high impact.

• Use life-size photography and posters of fish, aquatic plants and flowers, waterfalls and other features as a source of inspiration for shoppers.

• Consider where you place products. Keep consumables, such as fish food and water treatments, at eye level.

• Create a live display as room allows. It can be as elaborate as a full pond with fish and foliage or as simple as a water-spitting statue. The sight and sound of moving water draws customers in and helps them visualize and plan features for their home.

• Educate yourself on the newest products available, from food to equipment. Talk to your sales staff or regular customers to determine what products are cutting edge and set the trend in pondkeeping. Investigate the options, and then stock your shelves.

4. Promotions, publicity and advertising

Promotions

A well thought out and maintained pond department is the first step in creating more business for your store. Next, you must create a desire in your customers to take their hobby to the next level. The best way to do this is to promote the department in and out of your store.

• Work with your staff to explain the importance of customer service. Educate them on the pond business by supplying them with articles for reading and websites for training purposes. Your staff is your front line and your customers’ first impression. Expert advice will ensure repeat visits and build loyal customers. Don’t lose site of that!

• Hold events in the pond department that customers can attend. Try a ‘how-to’ workshop on topics such as: laying out a pond, pond fish selection, cleaning and maintaining your pond, and more! Encourage customers to sign up and provide valuable information such as their home and email addresses for future promotions, mailings and seminars. Provide a vehicle for proud customers to share their accomplishments and experiences through your website, in-store bulletin boards or local water garden “tours.”

• Cross-sell wherever possible. If you have containers in your store that are perfect for small ponds, but they are stocked in a different area than the pond department, consider placing a brochure or ‘take-one’ explaining how to create a container pond on this shelf. Spark an interest for first-time pondkeepers. Many may not realize how easy it is to create a backyard oasis.

• Consider a referral program for your customers. Develop a program that is easy for your pondkeepers. Let them know that for each person they refer to your store for a pond product, they will receive a chance to win a great product or service from you.

Publicity

Publicity is one of the most under-utilized tools for most business owners. Mainly because it isn’t their specialty and it’s hard to know where to start. Start thinking in terms of your customers needs. If you are holding a ‘how-to’ workshop in your store, send a press release with the details and specifics on the event (check with your local Chamber of Commerce or business group for help on writing a press release). Give the local media a reason to come to one of your workshops. Showing children how to build a pond or container pond is a great human interest story – don’t forget to toot your own horn!

Advertising

When determining where and how often to advertise, you should consider how you’ve obtained your customers in the past. Have many come in through word-of-mouth referrals? Or, did they see you in a local newspaper, on a billboard or hear a radio spot? Be sure to start asking new customers how they found you. Keep track of their responses and then make a decision on advertising. If you do decide to place an ad, be sure to discuss design and placement with the media outlet. Request a prominent location and consider placing the ad several times for a better impact. For television and radio, be sure it looks and sounds professional, upholding the image you’ve worked so hard to obtain.

Another no-cost opportunity to advertise your business is through online social networking. Build name recognition by participating in discussion groups or make comments in blogs; include your store name and web site address if you have one.

5. Customer education

As a retailer, you are aware of your responsibility to promote your products verbally to your customers. However, if your sales staff is one or two people, that may become a challenge. It may become increasingly hard to tell every customer about the pond products you stock as well as hear every problem they are having with their pond. You must remember to use your pond department to your advantage whenever possible.

• Offer to test customers’ pond water as a free service when they bring in a sample. It’s a beneficial-value added service that helps build a relationship with the customer while creating a sense of expertise for you. Plus, it provides retailers with the opportunity to provide a solution if the water needs a remedy.

• Have a clearly marked “Education Center” within your pond department and offer how-to books and inspirational magazines or guides that continually pique their interest.

• Offer a monthly or quarterly one-page newsletter that gives tips on anything from maintaining healthy, happy fish to choosing the right plants for a balanced ecosystem. You can also offer this via email. Check with your manufacturer as they may have an e-newsletter you can send to your customers.

• Consider implementing directional signage in and out of the store. Start by placing a banner or lawn sign near the entrance to your store. Then, place a banner outside of the store, in the parking lot or near the entrance. Some manufacturers can provide banners to you as a part of their packaged program. Lastly, place signs in the store (above display height for easy visibility) directing customers to your pond department.

This winter, take some time to create a marketing plan for your business. Determine your goals by conducting a SWOT analysis. Then, organize your pond department to highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Be sure to publicize, promote and advertise as often as possible. And lastly, add value by giving customers educational materials to increase the enjoyment of their hobby. A well-educated and informed customer is one that will remain loyal for many years to come.

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