The “Other” Pond Business

4_other_pond_business_lake_fountain_shotObvious Statement #1
In these tough economic times, most businesses are looking for NEW ways to make money.

Obvious Statement #2
The most successful businesses are those that often break out of their comfort zones and look at NEW lines of products that will attract NEW customers and NEW sales.

Obvious Statement #3
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Many of you sat down at the end of the 2009 selling season and took a long, hard look at what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you didn’t do at all in 2009, and charted a course for 2010. I’d like to talk about the latter two (and toughest to recognize, grasp and accept) of these categories…what you can do NEW or DIFFERENT to gain NEW sales in 2010.

As a business manager for the first 20 years of my professional life, I was always looking for new ways to make money, and most important, new ways to have fun and enjoy my job. I’m now well into the second 20 years of my professional life. After 15 years of enjoying selling (and educating businesses on how to be successful selling) ponds, water gardens and water features, I was introduced to a NEW business…one that was so much like what I was accustomed to, but much different in many ways as well. That NEW business was ponds…BIG ponds. Not your common, everyday backyard water garden, mind you, but large bodies of water that needed as much, or more, attention, than a backyard water feature.

The common term used to describe these ponds is farm ponds. Some call them earth-bottomed ponds, others call them natural acreage ponds, while others just refer to them as large natural ponds and lakes. No matter what you call them, there are approximately 8 million of them in the US, and most need extensive care and attention.

To better understand “big ponds,” let’s take a look at how these 8 million ponds are used:
• Recreation (swimming, fishing, boating and just relaxing)
• Decoration
• Rain water retention
• Irrigation
• Livestock and wildlife watering
• Fire suppression

These ponds are owned and managed by a variety of people:
• Rural private pond owners
• Lake and Home Owner Associations and Subdivisions
• Businesses with Retention and Decorative Ponds
• Golf courses
• Lake Front Property Owners
• Cottage/Vacation Home owners
• Farmers

When I first started talking to retailers and contractors about this category, the vast majority said that they’ve gotten several requests over the years for large pond solutions, but were always forced to send them to the local farm or hardware store because they had neither the products nor the expertise to solve their customer’s problem. I’m regularly asked if this is a difficult category to learn. The simple answer is no.

To better understand what a large natural pond is, let’s explore some of the questions I encounter:

How big is a large natural pond?

• The average sized earthen pond is ½ acre to 1 acre and 6´ average depth. To put that size in perspective, a 1-acre pond that is 6´ deep has nearly 2 million gallons of water in it. A large backyard pond that is 25´ x 25´ and is 2.5´ deep has about 11,000 gallons.

What’s so different about managing large ponds vs. average backyard water features”?

The best way to answer this is to explore the similarities and differences between the two types of ponds.

First the similarities:
• Many large recreational ponds have plants and fish, much like backyard ponds.

• All ponds need oxygen (water circulation) to stay clean, clear and healthy.

• Algae is always an issue, and the number one concern of most pond owners

•Both provide loads of enjoyment and function for the owners.

Here are some of the most glaring differences:

• Large, natural, earth-bottom ponds contain more water, requiring larger dosages of higher potency treatments.

• Earth-bottom ponds are more susceptible to excessive, unwanted aquatic plant growth. Many large pond owners are looking for ways to kill aquatic plants, especially those that are considered invasive or non-native.

• Large ponds are usually stocked with higher counts of fish per sq. ft.

• Koi and goldfish are rarely stocked in large ponds. Game fish (bass, trout, catfish, blue gills etc) are most prevalent.

• Large fish losses are relatively common due to improperly managed large ponds

• Many large ponds are designed to handle rain water runoff, increasing overall nutrient levels.

• Large ponds rarely have waterfalls or streams.

• Large ponds very rarely, if ever, have any type of box filtration.

As you can see, despite the similarities, there are significantly more differences between the two types of ponds.

The biggest, and most important, question I get is “Can I make money selling products for, or managing, large ponds and lakes? The answer is yes. Here’s why:

• Large pond owners are accustomed to spending around $600 – $1,000 per acre per year to maintain their ponds. Many spend more, especially if they use the ponds for fishing or hire professionals to manage it. Proportionately, this may be similar to a backyard pond, but your customer’s pond size really does make a difference in your ability to grow your sales.

• Equipment is easy to install and high profits exist for both the retailer and the contractor.

Start with a battery of water quality tests, to establish a baseline, and identify the immediate needs of the pond.

The number one thing large ponds need is aeration. There are companies that specialize in providing aeration systems for large ponds. Get with one of them and they can help you write specifications for projects, including what equipment to recommend, and where and how to install it.

If you’re considered a pond authority in your area and you’re not addressing natural ponds and lakes, you’re losing sales nearly every day. Make 2010 your year to try something new, that’s both fun and profitable.

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