The Business of Building Commercial Water Features

Published on June 24, 2022

public fountain pond
The community lawn at the Central Park Condominium Complex dazzles the residents.

By Mark Giordano and Amber Swain, Pond Elegance

After multiple owners, 36 years and hundreds of pond builds, Pond Elegance has earned its place as a leader in our industry. Since 1986, our company has been providing residential pond and water feature owners with koi, goldfish, plants and other supplies, along with design, pond construction and maintenance services.

We took over the business in April 2019, and we were aware that we had a legacy to uphold. We came into ownership with the idea that we would offer our customers a higher standard of care, which had recently dwindled. 

Our goal was simple. In addition to serving our loyal residential customers with reliable and consistent maintenance and service packages, we would also offer a consistent presence and operating hours. It was important for us to be there for our clients when they visited our 1 ½-acre property and its 12 water features, or when they called on us for our extensive knowledge. We immediately created a presence on social media and ultimately caught the right attention of residential clients along with a new client base.

When we had met this initial goal, we sat down with our team to brainstorm new opportunities. 

Our technical manager reminded us of a project that was built by Pond Elegance years before our leadership change. Cornerstone Gardens and Arboretum is home to a privately owned koi pond, lotus pond and other fountain features. Our relationship with them has been fortified with regular and consistent maintenance. That commercial build is like a planted tree that bears fruit for us to continue to collect. 

From there, we set our goal to do more commercial work with the potential to establish ongoing relationships similar to this arrangement.

While our residential design and installation business is our bread and butter, it can be inconsistent, with inclement weather and supply issues. Maintenance and service income, whether residential or commercial, is a more consistent residual income.

Ultimately, residential and commercial clients both want to experience the tranquil sound of water flowing. The types of projects targeted for public spaces by neighborhood developers and businesses offer us new builds with a strong possibility for long-term residual income.

Building Bigger

learning center koi water feature
An outdoor learning center flows at Robert E. Lee Elementary in nearby Satsuma.

Development home builders are using water features in ways that just aren’t possible for residential customers. Their projects tend to be much larger in scale. A much smaller percentage of commercial clients use koi and goldfish. They want more showpieces and fewer habitats. The work they commission has to include a wow factor with fountains, waterfalls and higher quality materials.

These commercial clients add water features to their community entrance signs to create visual focal points. Developers are also using large-scale fountains in community centers, adding an air of luxury to public spaces. Ponds and waterfalls of significantly larger proportions to residential ponds are serving as neighborhood gathering and social spaces. These builds produce a steady revenue stream throughout the project. 

Housing Developers

Like with Cornerstone Gardens and Arboretum, development projects tend to become maintenance clients that are easy to work with. Our commercial clients are some of our best customers. Unexpectedly, they are a great referral source to us as well.

floating globe water feature
A floating globe spins in the quad at the University of Mobile.

Specifically, D.R. Horton, a prominent home construction company on the Gulf Coast, reached out to us looking for a company to build a community water feature sign. Since that initial project, we have completed four other projects for D.R. Horton in the past 18 months. We have three additional projects on schedule for them starting summer 2022.

We are grateful for this client because they recognize the good work that we do and continue to include us in their building process. As soon as an address is assigned, before the first spec home is built, this consistent commercial client involves our team.

Similarly, homeowner’s associations (HOAs) in our operation area are now privy to what water features can do for a community. Quite frequently, HOAs will call us to inquire about possible projects. We aren’t shy about sending emails with our portfolio of work, either.

Our technicians have come across dated community water features while servicing residential ponds and water features. When that has happened, we have taken the opportunity to seek the appropriate contact and offer our services. This approach has granted us 10 maintenance clients in our three years of management of Pond Elegance.

Not all commercial projects are large-scale. For example, one HOA only needed us to install a floating fountain on an existing pond. Although a small project, we are now in a position to clean, maintain and repair that floating fountain.

HOA retention ponds and spring-fed reservoirs are typically serviced monthly. We have the chance to maintain cleanliness and biodiversity. Most of our commercial maintenance typically includes cleaning fountain basins and filters. Our maintenance technicians also replenish chlorinators and remove leaves and other debris.

We offer both residential and commercial clients monthly, biweekly and sometimes weekly maintenance if the feature is surrounded by large trees. Being the designer and installer of these features gives us an intimate understanding of the upkeep needs. In the long run, this is quick and easy work for our maintenance team.

Competitive Advantage

Notably, our only competition for this type of work is pool companies. We have found that the full-service nature of our business, as well as the materials we use, is what sets us apart. Being a full-service business means that we design, install and maintain water features. Our brick-and-mortar store also serves as a differentiator in the market. Our wide and well-maintained grounds showcase the quality of our builds and the thoroughness of our maintenance.

business park fountain
The Spring Hill Business Park in Downtown Mobile, Alabama.

We have established ourselves as not only a pond and koi business but also as a water feature company. Pool and landscape companies don’t have the same knowledge that is gained from more than 20 years of water-feature design experience. Our business is uniquely suited for commercial water feature projects of all proportions.

In about 18 months, our position in the water feature market has changed for the better. Our social media presence, online footprint and word-of-mouth referrals have provided many opportunities that helped us achieve our goal. We remain consistent so our current and potential clients know where to find us.

Higher Learning

Courtyard Fountain Conde-Charlotte Museum
The Courtyard at Condé-Charlotte Museum is the gateway to Mobile’s history.

Because of a teacher who was a residential customer, we now have school clients from preschool to high school. Teachers use our features as learning tools and hands-on experience for students. Our pond installations serve as outdoor classrooms where students learn about chemistry. They study the pH balance and learn how to adjust it. They also use the plants and the wildlife that the water features attract to better understand biology.

The Mobile Public School System is a recurring customer for pond builds. Equipment ages, and they trust us to update their water-feature needs. Knowing that some of our projects serve such a significant role in local education brings a special kind of pride to our work. We also work with two universities and one college.

Spring Hill College Business Park is home to an above-ground, oval-shaped, fountain pool outside its entrance. This feature adds to their aesthetic of professionalism. The University of South Alabama has a shooting fountain in the center of a large pond. The feature adds a sense of wonder to the entrance of the Research Park. Finally, at the University of Mobile, a large black globe set on a granite pedestal gives students a sense of calm as water cascades down the sculpture.

Another commercial project that serves as a marketing tool is a water feature with the Condé-Charlotte Museum. They are a nonprofit organization educating visitors on local and regional history. Because of the nature of their business, we maintain their water feature at supply costs. Their feature includes a fountain with a small terra-cotta pot as well as a lion’s head wall fountain that empties into two bowls. One of our residential customers who is a member of the museum recommended us for the work. We continue to reap the benefits of word-of-mouth advertisement from this commercial arrangement.

More Referral Revenue

Our commercial projects are always one of a kind and attract a lot of attention. We once had the pleasure of completing an indoor-to-outdoor water feature for a hotel. We built the pond inside the lobby and drilled holes through the wall to the outside of the building for the equipment. It is about 800 gallons with a waterfall at one end. It stands about 18 inches above grade. Hotel guests use the ledge as a place to sit and drink coffee as they watch the koi we stocked in the pond.

Historic brownstone water feature
Water feature at a historical brownstone in Mobile, Alabama.

Our biggest asset in securing commercial projects has been the work we’ve completed in the past. We maintain a small pond in an office complex where a dentist’s office was once located. When the practice moved into another building they had built, the dentist sought us to build a pond of his own. He wanted a special experience for his patients when they visited, so he designed the pond to be visible to patients as they sat in the exam chair. We were able to execute his vision and now provide monthly maintenance to that pond.

When a mini-golf and entertainment complex needed their existing water feature repaired, they found us through our online presence. The tall waterfall and long pond needed complete rehabilitation. We were able to rebuild the feature from the liner to the coping edge and plumbing. That client is proud of our work, and we are, too. Next to the water feature is a sign that reads, “Built by Pond Elegance.”

We have learned to ask our customers to refer us and share their experiences working with us. Maintaining our Google Business page, social media and website has garnered us the opportunities we needed to sustain as a business. D.R. Horton has referred us to other local builders. Our portfolio of work keeps growing. Our maintenance and repair schedule continues to grow as well.

New Growth Goals

The addition of commercial clients has raised our business’ value. In the beginning, moving our position in the market was a lot of brainstorming, trial and error and some struggle. In the end, we found that the needs of our commercial clients aligned with those of our residential customers, just on a larger scale. The growth we have seen from working with commercial clients is now ushering us toward a new lane. Our next avenue is natural pond and lake management.

We were not afraid to pick up a phone. We were consistent and showy with our online presence. Although everyone we contacted did not need our services, many did. Our persistence and emphasis on customer service are still paying off. Ultimately, it is the continued referrals from our commercial clients that make all the difference in the growth of our operation.

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