I’m entering my 23rd year helping pond clients see their landscape dreams come true. After all this time, one thing I am certain of is that people generally have a limited scope of what the final outcome of a project — especially a water feature project — will look like. Advances in technology and 3-D imaging have helped customers’ visions evolve; however, I still believe that in the end, clients buy our vision and commission us to paint a picture for them. Simply said, clients are left trusting us and believing in us to build them a full-color, living landscape that they could not otherwise imagine themselves. Think about it!
The title of this piece is called “Evolution of a Pond Client” for a reason. My staff and I have worked with many clients with whom it has taken years to develop relationships. It can take years to gain a customer’s trust and learn their lifestyle preferences and the intricacies of their landscape tastes. The end result for the customer is a waterscape masterpiece that they will fall in love with. Here is an example of a project that took time to evolve — and blind trust to develop.
Making the Most of a Mess
When our client, the Hofbauers, had a full-service landscape contractor install their first water feature at their home in New Berlin, Wisconsin, they already knew they wanted to enjoy the pond life. They did not realize, however, that the contractor whom they had hired did not have enough experience to create an enjoyable, well-built feature.
After wrestling with the poorly-built feature for two years, it was important for them to find a trustworthy contractor capable of executing the renovation they envisioned and taking advantage of their current, underutilized yard space. After meeting us at a local home show, they knew that Aquatica, having worked for almost two decades exclusively with water features with hundreds of outstanding references, was the best choice for the job. We knew it was essential to get the Hofbauers to see our vision for their backyard: a water-garden haven filled with usable space to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. After getting to know the Hofbauers and doing some initial planning, they agreed to a complete redo of their existing stream and pond system. In addition, they wanted an entirely separate system of pondless waterfalls that would follow the ridge of their property and become a great sight line that would draw the eye from the falls down to the main feature area — the pond. This was not going to be a small project!
A Challenging Canvas
The property’s backyard was a difficult one. We only had an 8-foot access path around the side of the house to get materials into place. All the grades pitched toward the home and needed to be addressed. The most challenging aspect of the project was the narrow, wooded backyard setting filled with mature trees that had no useful lawn or patio space of any kind. I could see the potential of the space — now it was my job to help the Hofbauers envision it, too.
Damion Draeger, Aquatica’s head foreman, took charge of the transformation. He had our crew start by dismantling the old feature, which was constructed entirely out of small stone and built with only one small waterfall over a 40-foot run. The stream was channel-like and very unnatural. The design did not take advantage of the natural pitch of the yard that could have easily afforded more waterfalls. We had to take special care during his portion of the project in order to avoid causing damage to any of the mature trees on the property.
Over the course of three weeks, the transformation took place. The new pond feature included two Aquascape Biofalls filters, one Aquascape Grande Skimmer, 22 tons of granite fieldstone, an Aqua Blue Boulder and twin Tsurumi 9pls pumps. This feature became an 18-by-16-foot ecosystem pond that was 3 1/2 feet deep. As with all deeper backyard ponds, we installed an under liner sump pump system to alleviate a groundwater issue we discovered during excavation. In addition to the pond, the Hofbauers also wanted a substantially long and winding pondless feature that appeared to feed the pond, riding along the back ridge line of their property. To accomplish this, the crew built a pondless system that included four Aquascape spillways, a 6-by-8-foot basin, Aqua Blox matrix cubes, twin Tsurumi 9pls pumps and an additional AquaSurge pump.
Mission Accomplished… Almost
Upon completion, I joked with the Hofbauers that they would be calling us to renovate the feature again in a few years. Little did I know how right I’d be! This first transformation took place in April 2012, and the following September I received another call from them. They wanted to make the pond even larger! They loved the first renovation, but they had caught the water-gardening bug and had become hooked. Assuming that they wanted the work completed by the following spring, I offered to design a new plan based on that time frame. However, they said they wanted the pond completed before the end of the year. In Wisconsin, no less — gulp!
Our crew came back in October to remove and then enlarge the pond. They had to deconstruct the entire pond, boulder by boulder, with even more limited access. We also removed the older, split-level, 35-by-20-foot deck area to make room for excavating the pond more deeply and widely. Three weeks and lots of weather delays later, the feature was rebuilt to its current size: 22 feet long, 35 feet wide and 4 feet deep. During this phase, we also added a large, 4-by-4-foot fish cave, multiple aeration points and key low-voltage lighting to accent pond life, waterfalls and aquatic plants. These varieties included hardy waterlilies, corkscrew and horsetail rush, sweet flag, iris cultivars and many more. Some stunning koi and goldfish were also added to make this feature complete. It’s safe to say that the Hofbauers are hooked on the pond lifestyle with their new backyard jewel!
A WLCA Winner
Each year, Aquatica’s goal is to enter at least one project into the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association awards program. Because this property had so many challenges all the way through the project — including tight spaces, groundwater, existing mature trees and grading issues — we thought it would be a great opportunity to enter this project. The Hofbauers’ project won the State Gold Award in the Special Projects category, and the Hofbauers were able to join our crew at the awards ceremony and banquet. It was a special night seeing our customers glowing with pride.
At present, the family enjoys their feature every day. Mr. Hofbauer is always happy to show off the feature to anyone who is interested. Sometimes, he will grab someone taking a walk down the street and bring them to see his backyard paradise. He often jokes with us that he no longer has the desire to go to his vacation home in upper Wisconsin. Mission accomplished.
We loved creating a beautiful scene out of largely unusable space in this backyard. The look of a patio blending into a pond edge is stunning if done properly, giving the client seamless views that carry the landscape theme throughout the surrounding area. The result: an instant woodland paradise!
Quality time with your client matters. Recently, at a local home show, a vendor approached me from across the aisle and asked, “Why do you have so much of your family attending this show?” I must have looked confused, because he added, “You know, all these people who keep coming up to you and hugging you.” I laughed and said, “That’s not my family — those are my clients!” Point taken.
As the relationship with your client evolves, so must you. Get to know your clients. Be genuine. Learn their kids’ and dogs’ names (the Hofbauers’ dog is named Jake, by the way). Go for the long goal instead of the short gain with all of your clients. Build trust, build the relationship, and before you know it, you will have built your business.