Source the Perfect Rock

Published on December 30, 2023

So, you might’ve thought this article was going to be about rocks. You’re wrong — but then again, you’re right! If you are a water feature builder or designer, rock is probably one of the largest material and labor investments of your projects. If this is the case, then we  need to look at options to elevate the impact rock can have on your projects and your bottom line. In this article, we’re going to look at presenting this high-cost project material as a valuable, desirable, natural work of art to your clients.

Rock-et Science

Shapes created by nature can be quite whimsical and, in the right setting, a perfect accent.

A successful rock installation is not judged by the volume or size of the rocks installed; instead, value is derived from elements like focal points — thoughtfully set and positioned specimen, character or feature rocks that draw the human eye into specific portions of the garden or water feature.

Rocks can also make up the critical visual structure that properly anchors your feature into the overall landscape. Always try to maintain visual balance with the distribution and strategic placement of specific rocks to make the feature feel comfortable, as opposed to confused or overburdened.

Ultra Balance

As Shaun Lindley’s emphasized in his informative article “A Stone’s Throw”– The Harvest and Supply of Decorative Stone (September/October 2022 issue), it’s very important to ensure quality rock is harvested, carefully secured onto trucks and delivered to your site. Most water feature or hardscape builders I’ve spoken or worked with don’t really have time to visit several distant stone yards for every project, so they call their “salesperson” and place an order. The reality is that often this salesperson has never installed a rock or boulder into a landscape, nor have they experienced what an excellent rock installation looks like. Your rock salesperson’s next action is likely to hand an order ticket to a forklift driver who then pulls enough rock to fill your order. The bottom line in this scenario is that until the rock is delivered, you don’t really know what you are getting.

Benefits of Professional Rock Harvesting

Thus, the concept of personalized, experienced and professional rock harvesting is widely attractive, as it would eliminate or reduce competition by raising the quality and ultimately the perceived and actual value of your projects. It would allow you to be more effective with your rock ordering, installation time and labor costs, and less typical with your projects so your clients will realize the added value of your artistry and enable you to build more profit into your one-of-a-kind projects.

Stepping back in time to 1989 when I started my original masonry construction company, I would travel to the local stone yards within a four-hour drive from my home in Northern Illinois to view the inventory. This was the only way I could be assured of the quality, character and size of rocks I would have at my disposal.

Source the Perfect Rock Around the World

As the years went by, my projects began to spread throughout North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. These clients tended to request water and rock features that made a substantial personal statement. This required me to start sourcing rock from multiple locations. I found myself spending a considerable amount of time developing sources of rock that were unique in shape, size and character, and building relationships with landowners and companies that could help me harvest rock.

Fast forward 34 years, and I now find myself spending a higher percentage of my time consulting with homeowners, landowners and landscape professionals like yourself about rock options and sources for their projects.

Leave it to the Rock Sourcing Experts

Rock Sourcing
It is quite amazing the shapes, sizes and character of rock that can be discovered in various environments. Dave Duensing, as a rock sourcing professional, can
provide your company and clients with beautiful specimen rocks and can assist with the installation.

If your goal is to design and build one-of-a-kind hardscapes and water features, you are going to have to find a way to differentiate yourself, your materials, and your work from hundreds of other pond and hardscape builders. You might consider hiring an independent, experienced, professional company to source rocks with specific character, type, shape or size for your specific project.

Perhaps you need one or more truly unique rocks — a specimen or two as a focal point in the landscape or water feature — and you don’t know your options or have access to them locally. Or maybe your clients and projects are taking you further away from your home base and you need a dependable local quality rock source. Don’t underestimate the value of minimizing wasted time and effort by working with a professional rock source that provides a higher percentage of quality rock and is more precise with the overall order.

The defining moment that makes this professional service and effort all worthwhile comes when you experience the overwhelming positive comments and emotional reaction of your client, their friends and other professionals. You personally will also be able to enjoy your own moment of accomplishment and gratification — the WOW factor, as I like to refer to it — from the realization that you have pulled together and executed a truly one-of-a kind, remarkable feature.

Ways to Get Started

Dave Duensing, rock sourcing professional
Most of the rock we harvest for resale comes from private land that is about to be developed, ranches, and closed mines and quarries.

For example, in 2005, I was preparing for my largest commercial water feature interview to date. In the PowerPoint presentation I was developing, I included three types of rocks options titled “Good,” “Better” and “Best.” I started off with the “Good” rock first and progressed my way through the “Best” option, openly discussing the rock and trucking costs for each option. As we progressed to the end of the presentation, the client clearly recognized the differences and benefits of the options and committed to an initial order for 1,000 tons of the “Best” rock option. Always offer your client options, and at least one of those options should push the limits of what you think is possible with the design (and perhaps the budget).

The first and most important step to make this opportunity work for you is to not be shy or delinquent about discussing rock options early in meetings. Present the concept of “specimen rocks” and how using a few in the project will enhance the overall project, creating long term visual interest and enjoyment for your client.

In a different scenario, it could be the extreme shape, uniqueness and usefulness of the rock that is driving the design, so you need to emphasize that some rocks are truly works of art, formed and literally sculpted entirely by nature. It could be limestone or sandstone rocks that were formed horizontally, but when the opportunity allows, can be successfully installed vertically in water gardens, landscape gardens and alongside pathways, performing like statues or interesting garden walls that can be planted or have water cascading down its face.

Other rocks may have been shaped or modified by glaciers that slid across their top surfaces. These rocks often have an unusually flat and smooth top surface similar to a kitchen countertop and can be used for tables, walks or patios. Other rocks may have been formed perfectly suitable for a fountain with deep, rounded basins, having originated as part of a shallow sea floor. In these instances, the sea floor was a perfect environment for the roots of palm trees and mangroves to gouge and pierce the soft material, and now only the hardened, dynamically shaped rock remains.

Some of the most remarkable and dynamic larger fountain rocks, once drilled, plumbed and delivered, will sell for $35,000 to $70,000 apiece but are ultimately priced by size and character. Since these various types of fountain and landscape rocks come in all sizes, the price per unit can vary extremely from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, and it is not uncommon to have three to four of these specimen rocks being sold as a collection.

A Rock Nerd’s Offer

We all know people who are intrinsically (and possibly genetically) drawn to and fascinated by that one thing that excites them — be it cars, sports, water, art, wine or food, it sparks passion in their lives, and they naturally collect all the trivia and knowledge they can and file it away.

Tall and dramatic rocks (left) can form a transition from one area of a garden to another. Considerable time, effort (right) and the right equipment are used to carefully extract, load and deliver pristine rocks to customers and projects.

Intrinsically, I am drawn to rocks — a rock nerd, some say, and I know several others who share this passion. I seek out the unique. I research how it was formed and shaped, what its substance is, what causes the striations and colorings… Is it hard, soft, malleable, workable? Will it hold up to water running over it continuously or in freezing climates? Will lichen and mosses grow on it?

Elevate your projects with rock

If you are a creative and passionate water feature contractor and have the skills and experience to execute your vision, your business focus is likely to design and construct substantially built, aesthetically pleasing rock and water features. To be able to advance this passion and grow your company, you want your clients to clearly recognize that you bring a unique, personalized and valuable service to the table by presenting them with a combination of experience, design and materials that they might find intriguing and exuding confidence in your ability to execute. Your goal is to elicit desire and excitement in the client and move them to want — or, better yet — believe they need what you have to offer.

Having the opportunity to professionally seek out and source unique rock nationally and internationally for several decades has opened my eyes to the potential opportunities I can offer to other professionals. This unique service enables you, a professional water feature or hardscape designer and builder, an opportunity to significantly elevate your projects and your profits by adding a few choice, well placed, dynamic rock elements into your features, which may help you transform your projects to the next level of artistry. This added element or specimen rock detail could be one of the most important single factors that will add value and distinction exponentially to your projects and company.

About the Author

In 2006, David Duensing formed Aquatic Construction Services (ACS) which specializes in the construction aspect of natural rock formations and living water features in . In 2019, he created a division within ACS that assists other professional and landowners in sourcing the very best natural rock possible for specific projects and clients.

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