As the owner of a pond design and installation company, I am always on the lookout for ways to market our “aquatic art.” Over the years, we have done billboards, mailers, magazines, newspapers, social media, flyers, home shows and more — all with decent success. But nothing compares to the results we’ve seen with outdoor displays and self-guided pond tours.
Get a person to touch, smell, feel and hear a feature, and they’re hooked!
Each winter during our downtime, we try to find a high-traffic public location and install a water feature with a sign and literature holder. Sometimes the property owners pay for the materials, and we donate the labor. Sometimes we donate both the materials and the labor. Either way, the core agreement is that as long as we are allowed to display a sign with our literature, we commit to maintaining the water feature free of charge. This type of advertising has paid us great dividends.
A New Approach
But last winter we did something different. I was out looking for a display location when I noticed a small house for sale. The house was a little run down, but it was located on a very busy intersection, with roads on three sides of it. The owners were having a difficult time finding a buyer due to the very public, fishbowl-like location of the house. “Perhaps bad for privacy, but perfect for displays,” I thought. We bought the house on the cheap and spent an additional 20 percent of the purchase price on some basic renovations. We found a renter to cover the mortgage and taxes, and then we went to work.
The property was already zoned for commercial use, so we could have opened a store on this site. However, we had something different in mind. The local township was surprisingly supportive of our unique endeavor, and before they knew it, we had installed some signs along the road inviting the public to come by for a “self-guided pond tour,” with eight different displays connected by a walking path.
We wanted to start with something eye-catching by the parking lot, so we installed a fountain composed of some very high-end stone-stacked urns, spillway bowls and weathered moss rock at the beginning of the tour. From there, we installed a pondless waterfall, ecosystem pond, patio, pergola, plantings and more along a dedicated path, each labeled with a small, numbered sign that corresponded to a handout.
When we were done, there was almost no lawn left. People driving by wondered if the new homeowners had lost their minds — the landscaping was worth more than the house! It took a little time before passers-by realized that the homeowners actually hadn’t gone crazy.
A Tour de Force
We did some minimal advertising on our Facebook page and website, and the self-guided pond tour took a little time to catch on. But since finishing the display in late March, there has been a steady stream of people every day who park, get out of their cars, pick up a guide sheet and browse the displays. Some even sit mesmerized by the ecosystem pond for hours.
And while our eye-catching bubbling urns and fountain bowls at the beginning of the tour haven’t sold just yet, they’re definitely pulling their weight and luring in customers. Sales of the subsequent feature — the pondless waterfall with mushroom fountains — have gone through the roof. While the pondless on display is rather entry-level, it has been ordered off the shelf by a wide variety of customers, including two of the town’s very supportive police officers. I’m also pleased that we’ve sold quite a few of the ecosystem ponds, thanks in large part to the $40,000 display pond we built toward the end of the tour.
The ease with which we have rolled out this marketing experiment is also astonishing. Not only are we saving overhead costs that we would otherwise incur at a manned storefront, but we are also spending only about an hour or two per week maintaining the site. This really only involves some minor tidying up and weeding the flower beds. All the water features are equipped with automatic dosing systems, requiring just a periodic glance and a refill every now and then.
The neighbors don’t seem to mind the extra foot traffic, and the renter (and his dog) seem pleased by all the daily activity.
Approximately 100 LED lights make the displays come alive at night, so this summer, we organized a Moonlight Pond Tour. Besides our usual mention on Facebook and our website, we sent a mailer to all our existing customers and created a huge sign for the front of the property, inviting the public to enjoy the charm and beauty of a pond at night. It may be no surprise that the property was packed full — so much so that we had to borrow some parking spaces at adjacent businesses, which thankfully were happy to help. We’re already looking forward to next summer’s event.
While the tour has only been open for about six months to date, we’re already seeing its effects. This year generally has been a bit slower for many contractors in our area, but we have seen our schedule max out. In fact, we are booked full with water feature installations for the rest of the year. More than 50 percent of this year’s projects have come in through this low-hassle, unmanned display property.
I’ve actually had to consider hiring another employee to help manage the workload. I would encourage anyone with the capability to make a relatively small capital investment who may be on the lookout for a way to increase water feature sales to consider this way of marketing.