Many have done it, and many will do it — taking your pond construction company international. You’ll feel great about expanding your business internationally, but taking your show on the road may be a challenge that is out of your comfort zone. Additional risks may pop up for your company as well as your clients. The dream of international expansion could easily become a nightmare.
Going international had appeal for our company, Full Service Aquatics. With close to 30 years’ experience building ponds, waterfalls and water features all over New Jersey, and several successful inter-state pond projects in our wake, an international project seemed like a natural next step. When we received a pond-construction inquiry from Newfoundland, Canada, that opportunity presented itself.
Vetting the International Pond Construction Client
The first step in going international is to debunk the lead. In this particular case, after fully vetting the potential client, we determined the legitimacy of the design request. After finding some of our video content online, the client liked our work and asked us to design and install their dream.
The client envisioned the pond as the centerpiece for their new property — a picturesque location fronting the Humber River, Newfoundland, a world-class fishing spot. Upon entering the property, one is greeted by the encompassing backdrop of steep, rocky, mountainous terrain and blue sky. The clients’ homestead featured a farmhouse, a “chandelier barn,” several horse paddocks, a private trotting track and a private horse arena.
Because Newfoundland is only accessible by air or boat, we prioritized the ability to source materials and equipment before scheduling the on-site consultation. The Aquascape Canada distributor could get everything we needed to the location in the time frame required. Knowing this kept moving things in the right direction.
Try to talk the client out of working with you
With their curiosity piqued, we tried to talk the client out of working with us. We strongly advised them to find a pond professional about 1,000 miles closer — within the same time zone, at least. The increased expense of “importing” pond builders was presented, but to no effect. Our curiosity was now provoked.
During the next step of the project we consulted with the client by phone and email, which included viewing photos, video and property specs. However, the site visit would truly determine the feasibility of the project. Although the criteria seemed positive, the end result might be that the project could not be done. We made sure that the client understood the risk. The desired outcome for both parties would be to liquidate that risk, literally.
Consulting on International Pond Construction
The goals of any on-site consultation include meeting the client and breaking down the technology barrier used to communicate to date. Then, walk the terrain, shoot levels, formulate a general design plan, and take photos and videos of everything. Get a feel for the travel, so that when a group of pond builders makes the trip, it goes smoothly. Locate accommodations, transportation, food sources, and even entertainment. Use this as a baseline for human-resources concerns associated with an on-the-road project.
The originally proposed plan called for a 90-by-60-foot pond that was 3 feet deep, with a waterfall stream coming into and leaving the pond to drain down into the nearby river. The pond would be fed with on-site spring water captured and directed into the pond. The constant feed of fresh, clean mountain water eliminated the need for pumps and plumbing.
Make Local Connections
During this consultation, we were introduced to a local landscape contractor who had been working on the property. This ended up being a key introduction. The contractor, Devin Nisi from Twin Mountain Contracting in Newfoundland, expressed an interest in learning pond construction, and a collaboration was underway. Devin generously shared his resources for the 400 tons of rock and gravel needed for the project. He also agreed to provide all the equipment needed for the project — from hand tools and transits to a shiny new 16-ton excavator and even a port-a-john! This connection boosted the feasibility factor for the project.
Following the consultation, the design came in downsized, with new dimensions of 65 by 45 by 4 feet, with a 30-foot waterfall stream coming into the pond and a 90-foot stream leaving the pond.
The consultation successfully checked off the criteria — a positive client interaction, excellent site conditions and accessibility, water availability, design approval, travel plan, lodging, food, equipment, supplies and materials. With positive momentum, we decided to move forward with scheduling the project.
Landing back in New Jersey, a 90-day window lay ahead to organize, refine and realize the plan to bring our company international. All our projects, whether in West Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, or home in New Jersey have been handled in-house by since 1995, back in the one-man-operation days. We were thrilled with the prospect of taking our hard-working team international.
Mobilizing Your International Pond Construction Team
Announcing the project was exciting, but not one team member could make the trip. So just like that, the thrill left us. The reality of 10 days on the road, strict Canadian vaccine protocols, wives and kids at home, passport issues and other very understandable considerations eroded our team back to a one-man international operation quickly. We reached out to a network of Certified Aquascape Contractors, or the “Tribe,” to get the project back on track. After just one social media post asking for help, two amazing pond professionals joined the team.
The company’s international collaboration team grew to four. I was the lead designer and project leader, proud to work with Devin from Twin Mountain Contracting, the man with the connections. Joe Brenner from Arizona Aquascapes in Gilbert, Arizona, and Tim Dille, a seasoned pond professional from Garden State Koi in Warwick, New York, came on board, too. While on location, additional support came from our friends Tyler Young and Jim Parsons, who helped move things along on the job site.
With the team established, the work of remotely organizing everything from New Jersey began. Scheduling the project for early August promised optimal weather conditions. Routing and confirming flights, hotel accommodations and car rentals had to be done. Tracking the arrival of all equipment and materials to the job site was ongoing. Lots of communication took place so that the team could walk onto a fully stocked, ready-for-work job site on Aug. 1.
The Project Begins
When Day 1 began, I found stacked piles of armor stone, an abundant mountain of gravel, lots of shiny machinery eager to work, and all liner and supplies on hand — it was beautiful. Most of the pond basin had already been dug out, and the concrete vault to capture the spring water was installed.
The team jumped right in, establishing depths and elevations, refining the shape of the pond and bringing materials into place. The excavated base of the pond was too soft for the large boulders, but this was quickly remedied. We installed geotextile material covered by a thick, firm base of bank run delivered by slinger truck. By end of the day, we had made amazing progress. The 80-by-100-foot polyethylene liner was completely installed. We installed several tons of boulders and built a huge fish cave. The team ended Day 1 energized and confident in the project’s momentum.
Over the next five days, we relentlessly set all the boulders and applied the gravel. These 14-hour days with few breaks and full exposure to the sun during an unusual heatwave were grinding! But the dusty job site was alive — moving and shaking, lifting and spinning, strapping and setting, and rinsing and draining. Lots of monolithic rocks were installed. Ample and inviting fish caves were created. We installed stone stairway accesses along with some rocky outcroppings and sitting stones along the shoreline. Each day brought the 65-by-45-by-4-foot body of the pond into focus.
After the rocks were set, we began the waterfall construction phase of the project. The waterfall area was a 30-foot sloped run with overall elevation change of only 40 inches. The lack of elevation would not allow for large, dramatic drops, so the design would have to feature several smaller cascades running over very choppy drops to give a whitewater-type presentation and allow for visibility from a distance. The final drop into the pond would be a sheet or curtain-type of drop to allow for eye-catching sunlight to sparkle and reflect off the clear mountain water.
Over the coming days, Mike and Devon worked on the waterfall construction, edge work and rocking out the surrounding landscape. Tim and Joe began working on the simple gravel stream leaving the pond. Tim took creative license, adding a nice waterfall and artfully wandering stream with intermittent boulders and gravel washouts.
The main waterfall boasted large boulders, framing and punctuating the meandering 30-foot run. A series of small, choppy cascades gave great visibility to the waterfall as it descended through the terraces and gave off an awesome sound quality, too. Large boulder outcroppings flanked the waterfall design to give a weightier visual presentation and allow for future landscaping opportunities. It looked great. As a final touch, a large stone bench was installed on the far side of the pond across from the waterfalls for a peaceful viewing spot.
When week two of the project began, the stress of the project began to take a toll on the team’s psyche. Four contractors were working together for the first time in intense and, at times, brutal site conditions. All of us had strong personalities rubbing against each other 14 hours plus per day, with a strict project timeline ticking down. No one wanted to leave this job incomplete. The client certainly wanted a finished project. The project must be completed.
Day 8 ends early and abruptly, a breaking point met, with cooler minds gone. The project is not quite finished, with our flights home only 18 hours away. Day 9 was supposed to include a relaxed departure with downtime by the new pond to take in our accomplishment. However, the Day 9 reality began at 4 a.m. with a trip to the airport to drop off Joe, who had an early flight back to Arizona. We picked up Tim at 6 a.m. to help us put in the final hours to get everything just right before heading back .
Those hours were well invested. Heads were cooler on that rainy morning. Our focus was back, and the final touches of the pond were completed with just minutes to spare before we caught our flights back home. Four guys, 400 tons, eight days — we were exhausted!
Achieving Our International Pond Construction Goals
We finished the project with a very satisfied client. That goal was achieved and surpassed.
We also achieved our goal of taking Full Service Aquatics international. In consideration of all the things that could have gone wrong — change orders, staffing issues, weather delays, travel delays, delivery delays, payment issues, difficult site conditions, materials unavailable, machinery failure, on-site injuries, difficult clients, difficult neighbors, difficult officials — this project would qualify as wildly successful.
Top Considerations for International Growth
If a company is considering taking on the international (or even interstate) status, there are many things to take into account. It may just be another pond job, but your entire professional reputation may be on the line as well. Make sure you are very comfortable with your client. We were very fortunate to have such skillful and dedicated professionals on the job — a somewhat rare find. Take extra time to be sure you’re happy about who you will be working with, and utilize professional networks for additional help. Be sure to stay within your comfort zone regarding project complexity. Make plenty of lists and check them thrice. Research the location you will be traveling to. Stay on top of travel requirements and restrictions for your intended location. Communicate and document everything.
And, of course, be sure to try to talk them out of hiring you before you commit!