Natural Pond 
and Lake Management: Stop turning this business away!

lake_mgmt_Wisc_Pond Here’s a good question to ask yourself?: Am I capturing all I can in natural pond and lake management sales … and profits? Based on what I’ve seen over the past five years, the answer is likely a resounding “No!”

When I ask this question of contractors and retailers, most say that they feel they have a strong grasp on water gardening and water feature sales and construction, having done it for many years — and that they enjoy the status of being “experts” in their markets. So, what’s stopping them from becoming experts in natural pond and lake management as well? I’ve come to realize that for some, it’s the fear of the unknown; others say they are just too busy to learn or lack available shelf space or available inventory dollars; many others say they just didn’t think there was much business to be had “selling pond dye.” Well, I can tell you this; it’s a lot more than just selling pond dye.

Fear of the Unknown

About five years ago, after spending about 15 years selling water garden products, I changed my focus to natural ponds and lakes. Prepared to tackle learning something new but hoping I could tap into my 15-year water garden education, I was amazed at how different the learning curve was for this new arena I was entering. There’s a lot less to learn and remember about providing pond and lake solutions. I found you can become knowledgeable quite quickly.

“So why are so many business owners unwilling to explore or tackle this pretty cool pond category?” I asked myself. “What’s to learn or fear?”

First, there’s the mechanics of managing water: understanding subsurface, or bottom, aeration and how it can benefit any body of water. This isn’t complicated machinery; typically it’s easy to install and operate and highly effective at improving and maintaining water quality. Sure, there are technical aspects that can be learned over time, but with a manufacturer’s support and training, it’s really not that difficult to understand and learn.

Second, there’s the treatment side of water management, typically a combination of chemicals and/or natural treatments. While all states require licensing to professionally apply chemicals in natural ponds, most states allow consumers to treat their own ponds with approved chemicals. Manufacturer-provided POP assistance has helped retailers and their customers find the right solutions to their aquatic weed issues without having to learn too much. With the increased emphasis on “green” solutions, natural treatments have become extremely popular with contractors and consumers alike. They’re easy to use and provide outstanding results in fixing fouled-up water.

With the right tools, time and time again our customers’ fears have quickly turned into confidence and resulted in terrific sales on a category that, in the past, was feared and ignored. That’s it. It’s so simple.
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Not Much Business to be Had?

When questioned about the potential of this category, I usually start with the statement that there are over 8 million natural ponds in the U.S. alone, and the goal of each of those ponds is to eventually become a grassland or prairie.

Or so it would seem. Most plants and algae growing in these bodies of water are considered invasive species and need consistent treatment so as to not take over the entire body of water.

I often hear, “Yeah, but how many ponds are in our market?” That’s when I hop on to Google Earth or Google Maps and use satellite imagery to pull up images of ponds, usually locating dozens of ponds in a matter of minutes. Granted, there are parts of the U.S. that have more ponds than other parts, but there’s water everywhere. There are recreational rural ponds, decorative ponds, retention ponds, fire suppression ponds, golf course ponds, fish ponds … and all of them need to be managed. Once you find ample water in your market and decide to carry the category, the challenge is getting the word out that you now have solutions for ponds and lakes. If you’re a retailer, it helps to have at least one manufacturer-supported consumer seminar. These can typically bring 10 to 30 people to your store looking for solutions to their messed-up water! These people are usually hungry for answers and solutions after years of dealing with the fruits of mismanaged ponds.

Profitability

Let’s talk profitability. This is definitely where the fun begins. Contractors begin salivating when I tell them that they can install a double diffuser system in a pond using about four or five man- hours and achieve gross profit margins of approximately 40 percent, or about $1,200 … and that’s on the first installation, with no prior experience. You can only get better, and more profitable, from there.

It’s important for contractors or installers to find systems that are designed for easy installation, which are usually units that are mostly pre-assembled and require little, if any, digging to install. Also, the focus should be on installing complete systems, not individual components. System, not individual component, installations usually result in higher margins, better performance and much higher customer satisfaction, which can lead to the word-of-mouth advertising we all covet.

Retailers, on the other hand, have an opportunity to expand their product offerings with high-ticket and high-margin consumable products, as well as even higher-ticket aeration systems. The best part of selling aeration systems is that they can usually be sold as a special order, meaning retailers don’t have to stock these high-ticket items in their stores. It’s also best to look for items that are protected by a well-managed MAP (manufacturer’s advertised price) program, insulating you against Internet price erosion.

Snapshot of Opportunity

There’s so much to cover and so little space to do it in, but I hope that this brief snapshot of opportunity will help stimulate or inspire you to look further into this avenue of revenue.

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