In his rich, baritone voice, Kenny Rogers made “The Gambler” a household tune and gave us all a lesson on experienced, calculated decision-making. In our pond-building world, we get the call and play the game when we contract and build a feature. The length of time to build the pond depends on the number of crew members and their efficiency and experience. At the end of the project, the pond is built, the water is flowing, the customer is happy and the money is in the bank.
However, this is where too many pond builders have chosen to “walk away” when there is more money to be won … or in our case, earned. For reasons unknown, builders have been taught to fold or run when they should have been raising the stakes and calling. If we’re to take Kenny’s advice, we should take happy clients and make them ecstatic while we are increasing our profits, without increasing our search for new customers.
Finishing the Masterpiece
Many of our customers have called us craftsmen or artisans. And, in every sense of the word, we are. Our medium is rock and stone, water and gravel, rubber and dirt. As we work with our hands, backs and muscles, we attempt to recreate the beauty found in nature. But I believe that if we are creating a masterpiece on our canvas, we need to consider a project incomplete without the surrounding plant life.
Consider the art world if some of the great landscape painters focused only on their focal points. What if Caspar David Friedrich or Claude Lorrain painted their beautiful masterpieces without backgrounds? Their artistry would be one-dimensional and lose meaning and expression. Background gives any artwork depth, flow and a sense of belonging. It draws one into the painting and causes one to “feel” what the artist is expressing. Without background, the subject will float like a disembodied soul.
By implementing properly placed landscaping, the rise in an otherwise flat yard becomes natural instead of an irregular mass of rock and gravel rising out of a desolate floor. The waterfall that poured out of a wooden fence before is now coming out of lush greenery, giving it a tinge of mystery and a sense of having been there forever. I have had customers tell me that visitors have remarked, “I didn’t know you had a stream on your property!” Isn’t that what all pond builders are looking for?
Isn’t that the ultimate compliment? But most importantly, isn’t that what our customers are looking for?
Raising the Bet
Let’s talk about the money on the table. For our example, we will consider a pond-free waterfall and a 15-foot stream. To do 15 one-gallon perennials, 10 three-gallon perennials or ornamental grasses and three 20-gallon shrubs should run you about $350 if you add in extra for mulch and gardening mix. Add in 8 total man hours of labor, and the finished product will retail for at least $1,200. Not bad money for about a half a day if you have a two-man crew!
Completed projects sell even more completed projects…and a water feature is just not a completed project without landscaping.
Are you a pond builder who is afraid to do landscaping because you have never studied it, have no experience, et cetera? Your best source is your local wholesale nursery. Stay away from the big box stores or retail nurseries. Your local wholesalers will spend some time with you. Bring them your design (or pictures of past projects where you did no landscaping) and let them give you their suggestions. They would love to see you succeed and will give you advice and support, just for the opportunity to provide you with plants.
Invest some time in the library, befriend a landscaper who does not compete in your immediate area or contract with a new graduate with a degree in landscape architecture and pay him by the job for design. My more profitable jobs have become building smaller water features with more extensive landscaping. Not everyone thinks they want a pond, but most everyone wants landscaping! Then, once in the backyard, you can show them the benefits of a waterfall, a stream or a pond. Get your feet wet “ uh, I mean, “your hands dirty.”
I started out buying $50 worth of plants and installing them at no charge on pond-free waterfalls. What a total difference that made! I would tell my customers that it was my “gift” to them. They were excited. I got experience. Take it easy and start out putting in some bicolor iris, some lily turf and some groundcover. Next thing you know, you will be working on masterpieces that you never dreamed you would be able to do.