Thinking of Starting a Pond Shop

Published on March 2, 2010

1_moore_pond_shopIt’s one thing to open a “pond shop,” but more important is to have an inviting environment to attract your customers to new areas and new ideas. Having seen the growth in this aspect of the nursery industry grow exponentially over the last 20 years, it never amazes me as to what strikes and grabs customers (especially new) as they enter your establishment.

What new shop owners soon realize after opening their business, is there is A LOT OF WORK required to not only keep the fish happy and healthy, but keeping the plants groomed, keeping the grounds in shape, and keeping enough inventory available to restock shelves day after day. Foremost in your arsenal of business sense, is to provide an atmosphere of quiet, relaxing sound, and sight. The more tranquil the environment, the more comfortable your customer will be and the longer they will linger and relax, especially after a long day at work. One thing that has always worked for me is placing the retail shop at a short distance from the parking area, requiring clients to walk past water features, gardens and ponds full of fish. Off to the side, they are soon distracted by other gardens and display ponds and of course eventually they will find their way, or we go rescue them.

Keep in mind a pond is not the main requirement for creating the sound of water, which has a magical spell of its own. Water features at all levels of difficulty can be created by even the most inept. Keeping these features simple yet eye-catching can unleash a strong desire to create one in their own gardens. I’ve always tried to steer away from the very costly features, requiring expert installation and make attempts to encourage them to use their own imagination. Heavens, there are plenty of turnkey water features out there, and must admit some are quite delightful, yet to me, there are some that are quite dreadful. You can’t rely on your own taste in these matters; I have come to realize over the years. Statuary also plays into this theme, as it can be a major focal point or a surprise to discover in the garden.

Pond kits play an important role in the future of pond keepers as the novice soon realizes they are inadequate for their basic needs. The initial installation soon becomes disappointing in a short time, which only leads them to more information and a bigger, better and more efficient pond. Of course one pond only leads to another and so on. Usually by the third pond, they may have finally got it right. Initial education begins with algae education and predator control. They must learn that algae is their friend, and the heron will, of course, take their favorite and most expensive fish.

Water garden supplies, plants, fish, and pond supplies are of course essential for the success of your business. But, there are several other advantages that keep bringing your people back. Foremost is of course a knowledgeable staff. I have heard more frustration over the years when the pond owners cannot get a good answer from employees without having to spend a substantial sum of money for a questionable result. This is of course confusing to retail shop owners themselves as every year venders come out with ‘new and improved’ products. Not sure what the answer to this is but, from experience, when we have found a good product that works, we stick with it over the years. We add new items only after we have tested them ourselves. Most pond owners, we have come to realize, prefer to be told what they need on a yearly basis and what they don’t need. This industry has become quite hi-tech and quite costly and as a result, has deterred many from entering into this new phase of gardening.

The koi hobby itself has all levels of keepers, from the pet store variety to those who don’t bat an eye at spending a fortune on one fish. My feeling is that all new koi keepers begin with what could be described as ‘starter’ koi. Do discourage introducing goldfish as test fish as they are impossible to remove and very prolific by their second season. This phase of the hobby will help build confidence and give customer’s courage to spend just a little more on the next koi.

The koi retail industry has taken a substantial hit over the last several years with the arrival of KHV as well as the difficult economy. It pleases me to see the domestic breeders step-up to the plate and produce exceptional koi that are somewhat less costly yet still quite beautiful. I am also pleased that respected koi dealers are now dealing seriously with quarantine issues before these fish are available to their customers. It is your responsibility to be vigilant for fish that may be compromised (they do have an annoying habit of self-destruction for no apparent reason).

Educating your customers is priority to first time buyers as to how to introduce fish and what to be vigilant for. Providing a guarantee is up to the individual dealer, but reassuring the customer they have already been treated can relive some anxiety. It will drive you crazy because you have no idea what conditions the fish have gone to, what their chemistries are, the size of the pond or even the fish load. I have been known to cut people off when not only purchasing vast quantities of koi from my business, but finding out they hit several other dealers as well. Talk about ‘swapping spit’! These hobbyists concern me as they may soon experience a catastrophic event, lose their entire collection, become discouraged and, of course, blame their koi dealers for this event. At times you will find yourself an educator, teaching as well as scolding, and last but not least, a grief counselor. My favorite line to regular customers based on their demeanor, is “it must have worked!,” or “what did you do now?”

Pond keeping can be a blessing or a curse and as a pond business, you must be ready to deal with both ends as well as the middle. Your days can be quite rewarding or downright frustrating…but you must keep your spirits up and hope things will be better tomorrow. You will soon culture a following of devoted customers that will be able to teach or entice new members to this ‘society.’ Most important, keep having a good time-not only with your staff, but also with all your customers.

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