Most pondkeepers across the country are experiencing winter, their ponds are ‘closed up’ and their fish are hibernating. That is no reason for you to lie dormant too! As a retailer, you must look back at your busy season for tips on preparing for the upcoming pond season. It is important to take this opportunity to prepare your pond department and customers for the spring.
***Follow these four steps this winter to ensure a successful spring:***
##Step 1: Pondkeeper Planning##
The best predictor of the future is to look at the past. To plan for next year, you must first look at what you did well in 2009. As you look back at your pond season, what were your pondkeepers’ biggest challenges? Were predators a big problem in your region of the country? Maybe a lot of your customers experienced excessive algae problems. Were there a lot of water quality or fish health issues? Whatever the situation, how did you, as their pond expert, respond? Did you feel educated enough to give helpful information?
This is a good time to read up on pondkeeping, if you are not as experienced as you’d like. Take some time to learn about pond planning and pond fish care. Be ready to give helpful winter advice to your customers. You may have new pondkeepers who are experiencing their first winter with their pond. Take some time to learn about winter feeding, winter pond care, and any problems they may be experiencing so that you can advise them well and ease their worry.
##Step 2: The Pond Department##
Winter is the best time to reorganize your retail space. Regardless of the size of your pond department, it is important to look at how your space is used. If you have one aisle or several aisles, your pond department should be well stocked, clean and easy to navigate through.
First, how are your products displayed? Consider moving products to make it easy for your customers to find what they are looking for. Place consumables at eye level and in an order that makes sense to the feeding cycle.
Next, look at what products you sold a lot of and what wasn’t as popular. Be sure to also consider the reason for this. If a product didn’t sell as well, ask yourself why. Perhaps you need to learn more about the product and how it is used. Talk to your manufacturer about this. They can provide instructional sales sheets, brochures and charts to help train you and your staff, and support your sales effort. It’s important to be prepared with all the answers so you can walk the customer through an educational process and ultimately to a purchase.
Lastly, consider building an in-store pond display. If your space is limited, this can be accomplished in a container or barrel. The most important aspect is to create the desire in your customers to build a pond or add on to their current pond. The sights and sounds of a pond in your store does just that!
##Step 3: Pond Products##
As you look back to plan ahead, what products did you wish you had on hand that your customers would have benefited from? Did you have requests for a food or treatments that you didn’t stock? Consider looking into ordering products that are paving the way in innovation in all areas – food, décor, equipment and water care. Additionally, be sure to recall what your customers may be in need of this upcoming spring. For instance, do you remember customers who mentioned they want to add a waterfall, ornamental spitter, lighting or a fountain this spring? If so, stock new fountains, pumps and accessories to support this effort.
##Step 4: Pond Expert##
Pondkeeping can be a profit center for your business and a means to gain loyal customers who’ll visit regularly for pond food, water treatments, disease remedies and cures, and accessories – a steady stream of revenue.
Today’s consumers need immediate results and immediate answers. They are savvy in getting the information they need. If they don’t get it from you, they’ll get it somewhere else, from your competition, friends or online. This is why it is very important to provide a positive customer experience right from the start and in doing so develop a relationship with your customer that will last for a long time. Whether they are looking for help removing algae from their pond or can’t remember what to feed their koi in the summer, or simply how to get started, you must bridge the gap between information source and retailer.
**Consider hosting an in-store holiday or winter pond party.** Invite your customers by posting flyers, sending emails and postcards and stuffing flyers in shopping bags. Have light refreshments and plan short seminars and workshops on topics such as:
• feeding fish
• spring pond prep
• pond equipment maintenance
• planning and expansion
• fish care
• water quality
Perhaps a more experienced pondkeeper customer can help you plan these sessions.
**By bringing the customers in during these months, you are likely to get their attention. Since this is also their down-time – they are not in the middle of a crisis or working on their ponds – you can really talk to them about their pond concerns and share in their successes.**
Keep customers happy before, during and after their shopping experience by offering practical water gardening information and inspiration. Consider ways to work with your manufacturers to develop informative signage, take-aways and online tools that provide educational resources for customers.
When creating and planning a pond, your customers want to know what products to use, how to use them and the benefits of a product and the pond. Their time is limited, which forces your product display and placement to act as a silent sales tool. Show your customers how to create a pond paradise by incorporating in-store workshops and how-to sessions throughout the winter months.
As you are enjoying some downtime in your store, remember most of your pondkeepers are dreaming of bigger and better ponds this spring. Take the time now to position yourself and your sales team to be the pondkeeping experts in your area.