Contractor’s Corner Exclusive | Channeling Co-opetition

By Carl Petite

Published on March 6, 2017

water pond build
An image from the “Build a Pond Day,” hosted by Aqualife Ponds assisted by Columbia Water Gardens, Skyline Ponds, Pond Man, and Terrascapes for Irvine Community College.

Before I get started, I want to congratulate the folks at Pondliner for hosting such an amazing event this year at the Water Garden Expo. Although I was unable to attend the WGE this year, I looked at pictures shared by friends on Facebook, and I saw something truly special — unity. I saw industry leaders working side by side, not representing their brand, but instead representing leadership. You see, it takes great strength to be a true leader, as there will always be people out there hoping to see you fail.

Many of you know me either personally or via social media. Those who really know me are familiar with my heart. I was raised in this industry to respect one thing — co-opetition. My personal definition of co-opetition is the collaboration of ideas from competitors, local and far, for the betterment of the industry. In fact, it is because of idea-sharing that we actually have diversity, advancements in technique and what I call a different way to paint. Sadly, we all fall into situations that require even the very best of us to take a step back and evaluate whether or not we truly have become a leader, or if we have turned into someone we swore we would never become.

How many of us have fallen into this trap? You are called out to a client’s home for an in-home consultation, and right before your eyes is something that you wouldn’t have installed. For whatever reason, be it the filtration, design or something else, you’re tempted to tell the client how you would have done things differently. Maybe the problem is far worse, and you feel a connection with the client that permits you to make an example out of the contractor who installed the undesirable pond or water feature.

We all have to remember that there are ramifications for this behavior. Here’s a short list of things you should avoid doing and their potential consequences.

• Don’t talk down about your competition. Ah yes, the golden rule of sales! I know it’s tempting when you’re so passionate about what you do and just want the best for the client in front of you. But remember, this client has likely already sought you out via social media, your website and review services like Yelp. They don’t need to hear you tell them how epic your installations are; they just need your help solving the problem that’s staring them in the face every day. Discrediting your competition discredits you, 100 percent of the time.

Water Garden Expo
Masterminds at work at Water Garden Expo.

• Don’t badmouth another manufacturer. This can be a tempting one if you have bad blood with a manufacturer or are very passionate about the one that your client routinely chooses to use. Neutrality sells. As an example, our installation team is very busy, and on average, we install, remodel, repair or upfit more than 60 water features every year. We rarely are asked what components we are going to install. What do the clients want? They want functionality and reliability, and they’re depending on your product to deliver that. Badmouthing another manufacturer opens up a Pandora’s box that could leave your client confused enough to have to do their own research.

• Don’t criticize your competition’s selling techniques. For instance, if your competition charges a consultation fee, and they seem to be selling a lot of jobs, perhaps you should start charging fees yourself. I firmly believe in charging consultation fees and giving my clients great value for them. I spend time with them discussing location, orientation and pros and cons of one manner of installation over the other in order to provide a purpose-driven design. If your selling practice is not to charge for your time, and that’s working for you, that’s great! But criticizing your competition’s decision to run their business in their own way makes you seem divisive.

• Don’t ever publicly shame your competition. Your work shows that you don’t need to talk badly about anyone. Most of the time, your client has already seen photos of your work and chose you before you answered the phone. As tempting as it is, shaming your competition is likely to be the worst thing you can ever do. In working with your competition and your clients, make sure you get all the facts from all sides. This is a time to shine, not to destroy each other. Remember, it’s easier to tear down someone than to lift them up. Do hard things.

• Don’t fail to give credit where credit is due. We all have times when we just don’t know the right answer. It’s OK to let the client know that you are going to have to make some calls. Showing your client that you’re resourceful and connected is far better than being on an island. Not that I have problems with islands, as long as they are inhabited and have boats that travel between tribes. Having warring island nations is terrible for the industry — and it’s illogical. Remember, islands are connected by the same thing regardless of the distance between them — water. Losing that connection with other professionals in the community puts you at a disadvantage in the arena of idea-sharing.

I know this post is a hard one to swallow. On a personal note, I’ve been on both sides of every argument — the perpetrator and the victim. Even the very best people in this industry have broken these rules, so I know I’m in good company. All we can hope for is that when one of us makes a mistake, we find ourselves on the receiving end of grace, mentorship and wisdom.

Ultimately, what I’m saying is that the world is too small to begin with, and as pond professionals, the world is even smaller. The fact is that we all end up bumping into each other from time to time. The impact we leave shouldn’t be a bruise, but rather a transfer of positive energy that helps the professionals in this industry grow stronger together. That’s always better than the alternative.

The impact we should always leave is a positive one. Whether it is with our clients or our competition — people seen and unseen — we must always put our best faces forward. It’s not only good business practice, but it’s just the right thing to do.

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2 thoughts on “Contractor’s Corner Exclusive | Channeling Co-opetition”

  1. Beautifully said, Carl, thank you for the well-thought out and well-written article. I hope all your readers take your sage advice to heart. I have personally seen communities where “co-opetition” among the various builders in an area has brought the quality of everyone’s features way up, increasing customer satisfaction and driving a strong water feature construction boom where everyone benefits. The basis of this type of cooperation is education. These areas thrive because all of their builders work to be skilled in their craft, so the quality of everyone’s work is high; you will find these “competitors” at the same builds and seminars, learning to perfect their craft together.
    On the flip side, excessive negative competition, where builders aggressively attack and put down their competitors, can easily turn customers off to water features entirely. Where folks aren’t working together to keep the quality of ALL the water features in an area high, the entire category suffers as people hear of problems and maintenance issues and spread the word to avoid water features entirely.
    Thanks again Carl, and keep up the great spirit of ‘co-opetition’ – it sure worked for all of us at the build in Shawnee Oklahoma!!!
    Let’s ALL have a great season! Be Well, Demi

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Demi. I expected nothing less than a genuine and kind remark from you to this article. Your reputation for kindness and sincerity precede you and that’s hard in today’s world. My business is off to a great start this year, and we are back to having fun building for the greatest reward there is…. The smile of a satisfied customer.


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Author Profile:

This year, Columbia Water Gardens is celebrating 10 years in the pond and water feature industry. Columbia Water Gardens has been featured on the DIY Network several times. We were named Aquascape’s Business of the Year in 2014, ranked No. 2 nationwide as a Certified Aquascape Contractor Retailer in 2015, and recognized as a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor.

Carl Petite runs his business with his wife Michelle, his son Ian, his brother John and other staff members. He is very active in his community with local schools, garden centers and churches.




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