Ponds Business Retailing the UK Way

Published on July 8, 2009

Typical Pond Business in the UK
Typical Pond Business in the UK

United Aquatics (US and UK)


On my travels around US retailers over the last eight years, the question has never been far away, ‘How do you guys do it in Europe;’ followed closely by the cost of Gas! Around $8 bucks a gallon if you are still curious.


In this article, I will take you on a tour of UK Water Garden retailers to show you a variety of product displays, the products stocked and most importantly to meet the owners and managers. They will share their passion of water gardening. The intention is to inspire you and pass on tips and proven successes, to help you promote your pond business in these economically challenging times and to see how they will combat this worldwide downturn UK style.



I have chosen three different types of Water Garden retailers in part one of this two edition article, featuring Pet, Koi and Lawn & Garden outlets, or a mixture, to give an all round ‘inside’ view of ponds retailing here in the UK.


First Stop – Water World


We start our tour on the North West Coast of England on a dry April day. Water World can be found by taking the ferry across the Mersey River from Liverpool; then you come to the Wirral Peninsula, situated on a busy highway four miles from the General Motors automobile plant.


Water World was built in 1965 and is presently owned by the McGlashan family, Len and his two sons Lewis and Scott. They have 14 Full-time and 4 Part-time staff covering the four departments of Indoor Aquatics, Outdoor Water Gardening, Pet and the ever busy Cafe, which is franchised out to more experienced operators. The business is split 20% indoor pet, 30% Outdoor Pet and 50% Outdoor aquatics.


The store attracts customers from a 30-mile radius.


We are of course concentrating on the Outdoor Water gardening section headed by Lewis.


This section sits away from the main building and can be accessed without going through the main shop; this gives it identity and allows for bulky purchases to be moved easily to the parking lot.


Great care is used in attracting impulse sales by placing displays on end caps as everyone has to pass this point and the sales counter faces the smaller items of inventory allowing for better security.


Do you know the average amount spent per customer? If not find it out, the easiest and most reliable indicator to your business success or failure.


coast_qss koi entrance pool

Think of your store like a supermarket, how many times have you come out with something you never went in for. Position and presentation equals impulse and sale.


Note the display of ‘hot’ products near the cash register. In this case a pond book. How many customers do you have that came in solely for a pond book? I guess not many, so any additional sales are directly increasing your bottom line.


The first thing that attracts you is the displays that invite you deeper into the store. Boxes on shelves do not appeal to the imagination of possible newcomers to water gardening. Here Lewis has a 20´ run of working features. Working water features give the sound of running water; customers definitely know they are in the Water Garden section.


Lewis comments, “We have sold more big ticket water features this year than ever before.”


This shows not everyone is suffering. If your competitors are moving out of this sector, then who sells to the homeowner expensive features?


All the pumps are kept behind this service counter to increase security but also to offer the customers a quality service. Ask yourself how you maximize sales from this important sector.


Water World concentrates on the backyard pond market, so I put Lewis under the spotlight on this.


Q. What is your biggest growth area?

A. Self-contained water features.


Q. What areas are declining?

A. Medium to large rigid ponds.


Q. What products are performing well at present?

A. Pre-packed liner.


Q. What is your best tip to pass on to other retailers to increase sales?

A. Displays sell


Q. What annoys you most about the industry?

A. Other retailers back stabbing


coast_qss_retail shelf

We leave Waterworld and head for the M62 motorway that goes from the West Coast to the East coast of England, more commonly known as an Interstate in the US, but not quite as long! It goes over the spine of the UK, the Pennines and is the highest motorway in the UK at 1,221´ above sea level. It was trumpeted as the motorway that would never close (due to bad weather). Funny – I remember sitting on it for six hours one evening. I had just collected 25 boxes of Tropical fish via Manchester Airport and the best chance of getting back was the M62, only to be turned around when they closed it. Borne lucky me!


Second stop- All In One Garden Center


Next stop is a Garden Center in Lancashire, but first we have to fight our way through Manchester, home of the soccer team the ‘Red Devils’ AKA Manchester United.


A mainline large Garden Center employing 40 people.


The Pet & Aquatic Department is headed up by Mark Rowe a 17-year veteran of Pets & Aquatic retail.


The Garden Center generates $5 million plus in turnover per annum with the Pet & Aquatic contributing 10% of this. This percent is common from a well-run department in a busy garden centre in the UK.


The Pet & Aquatic Department attracts customers from a 10-mile radius and has 1 full-time staff along with Mark and 3 part-time staff to cover the busier days, usually the weekends.


Mark has just installed an impressive new tank system for fish sales; this has already had an effect on increasing fish sales. It is a confident center that keeps reinvesting in the quieter times, that sends a positive message out to their clients.


One thing that you always see in the department are well organized displays with clear signage. This is one of the things, no doubt, helping the center win GCA (Garden Centre Association) Pet Department of the Year recently. This is a national association of Garden Centers, so this is a highly sought after prize. (www.gca.org.uk)


The store racking system is kept low so customers can see around the department and be enticed to keep shopping. Well organized end caps add to impulse sales.


After I got the tour from Mark, I put him under the spotlight and got some answers.


Q. What worries you most about the next five years?

A. The box stores taking over more of the market.


Q. What are your best tips to pass to another retailer?

A. Keep it simple. Do not supply too many choices for any one product or item.


Q. What is your biggest growth area?

A. Reptiles



We head outside so I can be shown a plant retail system that has increased margins and sales. A customer friendly system, where the items can go through the main cash registers as they are all Bar coded. (UPC).


Then it’s over the ‘top’ to Yorkshire, England’s biggest county and (I am biased but) the best one, where proper Yorkshire puddings are made! You guessed it – I am from Yorkshire.


Third Stop – QSS Aquarium & Koi Center


We travel down to Bradford on the M62 and the scenery changes to rolling hills and stone buildings dating from the Victorian era. If you have seen Last of the Summer Wine on PBS this is close by.


Fact: The Bronte sisters Anne, Emily & Charlotte were born in Bradford.


Our retailer QSS Aquarium & Koi Center sits on the outskirts of downtown Bradford in a building built as a Police Station in 1890. It was acquired by the Shepherds 35 years ago.


Owner & founder Andrew Shepherd along with the Fishhouse Manager Steve share the Aquatic responsibilities and wife, Sandra, does the business side.


The shop is split into two areas – the Aquarium side, in the main building, and the Koi Center in a separate building adjoined at the rear.


The main reason why we were drawn in at QSS is the cleaniless and how lights can be used in dark areas. Here all the front panels of the Aquariums are perspex and the shelves are backlit to really make the displays appealing – and to add an ‘aquarium’ angle to the tour.


Ever been around your competitors and seen dirty vats or tanks you cannot see into, or worse, dead or diseased fish. That would certainly bring out negative comments? Not the case here; everything is spotless and well maintained. Take a look at your livestock retail systems after reading POND Trade Magazine. Are they how you would NOT like to find them – dirty and neglected or are they like you would like them – spotless and well cared for!


QSS Aquarium & Koi Center has an annual turnover of $500K+ and full-time staff of 2 with 3 part-timers on weekends. 90% of the customers travel from within 10 miles of the store. As Andrew comments you do not survive in the industry for 35 years without quality fish and good service, this is a built up area with many competitors within 10 miles.


I decide to quiz Andrew more deeply here on what is happening at QSS.


Q.What is your biggest Growth Area?

A. Discus


Q. What area’s are declining?

A. General Tropicals and Japanese Koi.


Q. What would be your best tip to pass to another retailer to increase sales.

A. Concentrate on quality of livestock.


Q.What makes you most proud about your business.

A. Quality service 35 years.


Q. How are Online sales effecting your business.

A. Mainly big ticket hardware sales like pond pumps.


Q.What annoys you most about the industry.

A. Lack of knowledge



We go into the Koi centre, and find ourselves transported to Japan by the stunning décor and holding ponds. Straightaway the area has an identity and clients feel like they are exactly in the right place. Ask your customers the same?


Here, like in the rest of the world, KHV is doing the industry no good, resulting in slowing sales and cautious Koi Keepers. Andrew accepts this, but has still invested heavily in a new roof. Do not allow your standards to drop, is the motto here.


That concludes Part One of Coast to Coast. In Part Two we continue on Eastward – next stop a Water Garden Center.


Fact: At 94,000 square miles the UK is approx the same size as Oregon but with a 60 million population.


Fact: Liverpool was the European City of Culture in 2008, a great honor.


Fact: The maximum working week under UK employment law is 48 Hours.

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