Contractor’s Corner | It’s Fun to Build at the YMCA

By Travis Whitaker

Published on August 1, 2017

certified wildlife habitat
WF Waterscapes set the project up with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a certified Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Life program, which will benefit the YMCA programs and continuing education.

I learned a long time ago that sometimes in life, the best way to grow something is to give part of it away. You do this as your company grows, allowing key individuals to take control of key roles. This allows you time to plot a course and steer the company in the right direction.

You can do this with traditional marketing efforts; i.e., you give away part of your hard-earned cash to advertise in various media with the hopes that some of it will come back to you. But if you have ever done any local newspaper or magazine advertising, you know full well that it’s a mixed bag of results. Over the years, we have found that the best way to sell our water features is to show them to the end user firsthand. If the end user can see our work, we can sell a water feature.

Waterscapes building crew
The waterscapes crew included (L-R) Travis Whitaker, Shannon Whitaker, Silas Headen, Elrico Long and Johnathon McDonald on the YMCA project.

With that realization in hand, we started to think of ways we could put potential end users in front of our work. The usual idea of a tour — both guided and unguided — worked OK, but it did not net the results we were looking for. After some trial and error with tours, we finally decided that water features ultimately needed to be where the end user was going to be.

The million-dollar question was, where were our best potential end users going to be? This question helped focus us and forced us to look with purpose. Our first landing spot was an easy find. We started showing at local home shows. This helped us become a bigger part of the local community, gain exposure and generate more sales. We saw our construction and renovation sales increase at the rates we were looking for. But as our company grew, so did our efficiency at installing water features. A bigger crew needs more sales to continue growth. Home shows were great at adding a few jobs early in the year, but now we needed a way to continue to show our work all year long.

Where, oh where are our customers all year long? How do we put a water feature in their way? It was an even easier answer than we thought — all we had to do was ask existing customers when we saw them. We heard about their favorite restaurants, coffee shops and parks. But one local spot kept coming up regularly in conversation — the local YMCA. We did a little research and made a couple of visits. What we found was exactly what we were looking for: a location with our target market visiting multiple times a week. They also had some landscaping needs and no real budget to make it happen, so we became friends of the YMCA.

YMCA water feature
The water feature is located at the main entrance to the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA, which allows the most visibility with people traffic in the hundreds daily.

Our local YMCA is not only a place to go and get in a good work out; they also offer many different programs for all ages. After taking a look at their after-school fun club and summer day camps, we noticed right away that they could use an outdoor teaching area to help add a bit of nature to their lesson plans. The management with the YMCA was on board with anything we wanted to do. And, as always, we started with one idea and grew it to the final product. In the end, we donated the feature to the YMCA.

We installed a 45-foot-long pondless waterfall with a boulder bubbler at the top, which consisted of Atlantic products, as well as a 500-gallon rainwater harvesting system. Due to the environment and the high foot traffic during the day, we had to work nights to accommodate moving heavy boulders and using large equipment. So, all in all, it took three full nights at eight hours each, with one partial day to do the landscaping and mulching. Overall, the project was a fun one, we learned a lot, and it was a true team effort. Our crew consisted of Johnathon McDonald, Elrico Long, Silas Headen and myself building the feature, while my wife Shannon Whitaker helped landscape with the finishing touches.

waterfall YMCA facility
Close up of one of the naturalistic water falls.

The finished product turned out to be a show-stopper that I could not be prouder of. We have had so many calls with compliments and interest, and within one month we got two consultations and one sale. We are looking forward to many more new connections as a result.

The addition of this self-sustainable water feature to the YMCA allowed the organization to be certified with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Wildlife Program. Thus, this was a project that benefited all parties involved.

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Designer: Travis Whitaker

Consultant/Adviser: Sean Bell, Atlantic Water Gardens

Crew: Travis Whitaker, Johnathon McDonald, Elrico Long, Silas Headen, Shannon Whitaker

Location: Randolph-Asheboro YMCA, North Carolina

Contact Info:  336/382-0686

Size: 345-foot-long pondless feature


  • Rainwater-harvesting system, 
  • Eco blocks
  • Liner
  • Pumps
  • Biofalls
  • Boulder Bubbler  
  • National Wildlife Federation certification
  • and a lot of grit

Time to Complete: 35 hours

Cost:  $15,500



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