Retro-fitting of Old Ponds: Not Glamorous, But Profitable

Published on November 1, 2010


Let’s focus on one particular area that I have seen many using lately (including myself) to maintain profitability and keeping busy while others are dropping like flies: the maybe not so glamorous job of retro-fitting older ponds.

The one inevitable fact of life is change. Adapting to changing economic and business trends is a must for survival in the free enterprise system of America. How many “specialty” stores do you see go out of business every year? There is a reason the Wal-Marts and other diverse big box stores are thriving while “specialty” stores are collapsing in ever increasing numbers in our current economic climate.

“Retro-fitting, refurbishing, resurrecting from the dead,” these are all terms that I have used to lock in a lead to get a bid in. And it works. There are an amazing number of existing ponds that are in dire need of work. Ponds done by DIY’rs are a huge target market. We’ve done $16,000 worth of retro’s on two ponds in the last month. One was a complete re-do, down to bare dirt and back up again with new equipment. The second was a retro fit with 21st century equipment. The end result is that our company has made the customers of both features ecstatic.

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The one fantastic plus in these scenarios: I didn’t have to sell them on the “pond” aspect of the project or lifestyle. They already love their pond. They already wanted to keep their pond lifestyle. All I had to do was show them how; with equipment and design alterations I can enhance their pleasure and pond experience. Talk about a slam-dunk! And another huge plus? Most of the time there is an existing landscape theme to work around. Granted, you need to take some extra precautions during construction, but when done, the project has a “been there forever look” that a lot of new installations don’t have.

Have you looked at some of those old ponds? Old PVC liners cracked into shreds, pumps using enough power to cause a three block brown-out with undersized piping, non-existent or under-sized filters, tree roots grown over the side of a liner that would make an Indian blanket look small. These and many more scenarios don’t need to be a travesty; they’re a prime opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade and a stalled market into a boom for your business.

Energy savings and ease of maintenance are the two biggest sellers. Let’s face it, some pond equipment, or the lack thereof, has made a lot of ponds a nightmare to maintain, and people STILL love their ponds. With a wide open industry to browse from, the discriminating contractor can lay his hands on equipment that can literally make any aspect of the pond hobby a breeze compared to the equipment, or lack thereof, that was available a decade ago.

Energy savings has to be the number one, most frequently used sales tool that I use in selling a retro-fit job. How many of you have given any thought to the amount of power and dollars that old submersible or pool pump is sucking out of your customer’s pocketbook every month? Well, more and more of your potential customers are thinking exactly that. Be their knight in shining armor and learn the math on power consumption and see how easy it is to sell a $12-$1500 pump retro-fit in a heartbeat. And the scary thing is…They’ll save that amount of electricity in just a year or two. Talk about a no-brainer. They can’t sign the contract fast enough.

By the way, why aren’t you all doing the same thing with NEW installs? I am. Be “Resource Smart” and land more jobs. You want an un-beatable edge? Show the customer how YOUR system will save them several hundred dollars per year on their power bill over your competitions’. Another Slam Dunk!!!

The old pump in the pond setup, many times with the “milk crate” filter firmly wrapped around it like an octopus that is literally impossible to get at to clean or service, is probably one of the most common setups I see with clients that have contacted me for an upgrade. Whoever thought that combo up obviously never tried to clean one. The sigh of relief from customers after this abomination is removed from their pond and replaced with either a skimmer and/or bottom drain setup has to be heard to be appreciated.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many DIY’rs go with the equipment recommended to them by the local “Pond” shop. And since they have no baseline of knowledge on the product, their purchases are usually based on a small budget as well. How many “Pond” shop personnel actually go in the field and actually have experience with the equipment? Try… next to none. So the same junk continues to get sold to the trusting consumers time after time and year after year. If these retailers ever got educated about truly good equipment and how to show and justify to the consumer its worth, they would be up-selling literally every customer.

Fortunately for us contractors, from a profit stand point, it would appear that it remains up to us, the in-the-field experts, to break this cycle and get truly good and user friendly equipment into the hands of the abused consumers. Those who tend to constantly forget: We are a disposable/discretionary income industry. If we don’t prove our worth every day on every job, WE are disposable as well. Carve that on a stone and plant it on a Himalayan mountain top and DON’T forget it.

I’ve got to say, I am somewhat disturbed by not bringing many new consumers into the pond hobby and experience. That truly is the future of our industry. I do, however, know that if we don’t keep the consumers the industry currently does have, we are dead as an industry. Our business model initially was to build NEW ponds and offer service and maintenance services after the sale. That worked great 10 to12 years ago. The pond industry has been slowly but surely evolving over the last 7 to 8 years. Those that saw it coming evolved with it; those that didn’t have fallen by the wayside.

In closing, the truly great thing about knowing your trade and the multitude of equipment available out there, leaves you a revenue stream to tap into that remains profitable and is literally untapped. With literally all advertising entities out there begging for your money, why not try a different angle and take advantage of the often overlooked retro-fit market? It may not be glamorous, but it beats the heck out of saying “Hi, my name is Dave, welcome to Home Depot, how may I help you today.”

Side Bar ———–

A well-designed water feature not only has to look good, it has to function smoothly and efficiently. Keeping maintenance to a bare minimum is a prerequisite of top-notch design and equipment and is a plus to customers that can only be truly appreciated if you’ve had experience with other jury-rigged designs and systems.

Side Bar 2
As a brief related side note:

The International Professional Pond Contractors Association (IPPCA) was formed 6 1⁄2 years ago with the initial core principle of having a group of pre-screened and qualified Pond professionals available to consumers to find in their local market area off the easy to use website data base. See This is still the Association’s core web presence. The fact that the initial entity has by default evolved into the Pond and Waterscape Industry’s Trade Association with a Mission Statement of: “To Promote, Protect and Advance the Pond and Waterscape Industry” was a natural fit.

That evolution has not prevented the IPPCA from maintaining and growing its membership base while supplying more and more consumers with high quality contractors to do their pond work. Contractor members have the additional advantage of getting solid leads and many mainstream professional grade products at discounted prices. Active Corporate members have seen a boost in contractor loyalty. The IPPCA also hosts a once a year educational event to Pond Industry Professionals, called INFO TANZA™, see where four days of industry wide information and hands on training is available to those who attend.

Kloubec Koi Farm

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