As koi and pond professionals, we all know the importance of testing pond water regularly for potentially fatal levels of any nasty toxins that may cause our clients’ fish harm. Here, we will take a look at an aquatic retailer in the UK who offers such services to their customers free of charge and how this benefits not only the customers, but also the retailer. Can this be a way you can build customer loyalty, and fend off the serious challenges presented by big box outlets and discount Online outlets, in your store?
So, let us look at the pond water testing service offered by my local retailer. When a customer reports a pond problem, be it sick fish, a sudden surge of algae growth or just discolored water, first things first-they test the water.
Since few customers are technically minded, the service from an expert eye can be a lifesaver (or fish saver in our case). Some pond keepers may have a quick dipstick kit, and while these can be good for a weekly status check, they are not always as accurate as you may think. This is where more in-depth testing kit comes in. Better test, done by someone who can provide not only a free test, but a trained eye can be a priceless service.
Free testing also provides the opportunity for you to ask questions about your customer’s pond, and probe for problems that you have solutions for. Without the problem presenting itself, through your free water testing, you may never hear of the problem, thus the customer experiences a potential disaster, and you miss out on a wonderful service style sale opportunity.
This kind of rescue creates tremendous good will, and a strong incentive in your customer to bring you all their business in the future.
You need to be prepared to help your customers bring good water samples to you. In this store, they recommend using a clean glass jar. Some plastics or other containers can leach even small amounts of residues into the water leading to false readings, so ensure a thoroughly washed and rinsed glass jar with a water tight lid is used. Ask for about a pint, so you have enough for all the tests and some spillage.
**What to Test For**
My store tests with an API Liquid Master Test Kit, which gives a much more accurate reading than dipstick style kits, and can test for more things. The whole testing process will only take between 5 to 10 minutes. They generally look at pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, phosphates, and in the summer, salt levels. API supplies a chart sheet with the liquid test kits to record and note the results, which is then given to the customer to keep. If any problems are discovered, then a product or solution will be recommended and the customer given the choice whether or not to take the advice.
We know building loyalty with your local customers is an everyday challenge and it could be the key ingredient to the long term survival of your shop. Small businesses with passionate and knowledgeable staff are also key to keeping this industry alive. If small shops get pushed out by the retail giants, so do the excellent staff that go with them. Remember, what we have to offer is a personal, less ‘sales’ orientated approach where customers are always made to feel welcome, given excellent advice on an individual basis. This will always be the market advantage of the specialty retailer, keeping customers coming back again and again. Prominent signage offering free water tests is a great way to demonstrate that your shop cares about your customers’ needs and are there to help.
**Understanding the Nitrogen Cycle**
One of the most important aspects in keeping your pond healthy, is understanding how it works, and the nitrogen cycle explains just what this means. Many say that if you can come to grips with the process of the cycle and get it working in perfect harmony with your livestock, then the rest should take care of itself. So a simplified version is explained below:
In a pond, fish will release waste into the water. As the waste breaks down, ammonia is produced. Ammonia can be toxic if it builds up, so to keep ammonia levels from getting dangerous, beneficial bacteria called nitrosomonas will break down ammonia and convert it into nitrite, which is still toxic if it builds up, but less so than ammonia.
After the ammonia is converted to nitrite, another group of beneficial bacteria called nitrobacter will break down and convert nitrites into nitrates, which are far less toxic than nitrites. This nitrate is then utilized by the plant life in the pond as a source of nourishment, which helps to keep the nitrate level low and can also help with controlling algae.
So, the nitrogen cycle is essentially the amazing way a pond’s ecosystem cleans itself of harmful toxins and creates sustaining nourishment within its environment.