Sept. 23 2010 12:00 AM

In the past, I’ve written about tapping into your vast knowledge of expertise to enhance your business success and bottom line. This article is going to focus on one particular area—something that I’ve seen many using lately (including myself) to keep busy and maintain profitability while others are dropping like flies. I am referring to the maybe not-so-glamorous job of retrofitting older ponds.

The one inevitable fact of life is change. Adapting to changing economic and business trends and times is a must for survival in the free enterprise system of America. How many “specialty” stores do you see go out of business every year? There is a reason that Walmart and other diverse big-box stores are thriving while “specialty” stores are collapsing in ever increasing numbers in our current economic climate.

‘Retrofitting, refurbishing, resurrecting from the dead’—these are all terms that I have used to lock in a lead to get a bid. And it works. There are an amazing number of existing ponds that are in dire need of work. Ponds done by do-it-yourselfers are a huge target market. We’ve done $16,000 worth of retros on two ponds in the last month. One was a complete re-do, down to bare dirt and back up again with new equipment. The second was a retrofit with 21st century equipment. The end result is that our company has made the customers of both features ecstatic.

The one fantastic plus in these scenarios is that I didn’t have to sell them on the “pond” aspect of the project or lifestyle. They already love their pond. They already wanted to keep their pond lifestyle. All I had to do was show them that, with equipment and design alterations, I could enhance their pleasure and pond experience. Talk about a slam dunk!

Have you looked at some of those old ponds? Old PVC liner cracked into shreds, pumps using enough power to cause a three block brown-out with undersized piping, non-existent or under-sized filters, tree roots grown over the side of a liner that would make an Indian blanket look small. These and many more scenarios don’t have to be a travesty; they’re a prime opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade and a stalled market into a boom for your business.

Energy savings and ease of maintenance are the two biggest sellers.

Let’s face it—some pond equipment, or the lack thereof, has made a lot of ponds a nightmare to maintain, but people still love their ponds. With a wide-open industry to browse from, the discriminating contractor can lay his hands on equipment that can make literally any aspect of repairing, retrofitting, etc., a pond a breeze compared to the equipment (or lack thereof) that was available a decade ago.

Energy savings has to be the number one sales tool that I use in selling a retrofit job. How many of you have given any thought to the amount of power and dollars that old submersible or pool pump is sucking out of your customer’s pocketbook every month? Well, more and more of your potential customers are thinking exactly that. Be their knight in shining armor, learn the math on power consumption and see how easy it is to sell a $1,200-$1,500 pump retrofit in a heartbeat. And the scary thing is . . . they’ll save that amount of electricity in just a year or two. Talk about a no-brainer. They can’t sign the contract fast enough.

A good example of updating the pond and filtration equipment.

The old pump in the pond set-up, very often with the “milk crate” filter firmly wrapped around it like an octopus, is literally impossible to get at to clean or service. It is probably one of the most common set-ups I see with clients who have contacted me for an upgrade. Whoever thought up that combination obviously never tried to clean one. The sigh of relief from customers after this abomination is removed from their pond and replaced with either a skimmer and/or bottom drain set-up has to be heard to be appreciated.

Now don’t get me wrong, many do-it-yourselfers go with the equipment recommended to them by the local “pond” shop. And since they have no baseline of knowledge on the product, their purchases are usually based on a small budget, as well. How many “pond” shop personnel go in the field and actually have experience with the equipment? Next to none. So the same junk continues to get sold to trusting consumers time after time and year after year. If these retailers were ever educated about quality equipment and how to show and justify its worth to the consumer, they would be up-selling literally every customer.

Fortunately for us contractors (from a profit standpoint) it remains up to us, the ‘in-the-field experts,’ to break this cycle and get truly good and user-friendly equipment into the hands of the abused consumers. To those who tend to constantly forget: We are a disposable/discretionary income industry.

If we don’t prove our worth every day on every job, we are disposable as well. Carve that on a stone and plant it on a Himalayan mountain top and don’t forget it.

Six and a half years ago, the International Professional Pond Contractors Association (IPPCA) was formed, with the initial core principle of having a group of prescreened and qualified pond professionals available to consumers in their local market area. IPPCA has grown its membership base while supplying more and more consumers with high-quality contractors to do their pond work.

That is still the Association’s core web presence. Along the way, IPPCA evolved into the pond and waterscape market as the industry’s trade association. Its mission statement, “To Promote, Protect and Advance the Pond and Waterscape Industry” was a natural fit.

I’ve got to say, I am somewhat disturbed about not bringing many new consumers into the pond hobby and experience. That truly is the future of our industry. I do, however, know that if we don’t maintain our current consumers, we are dead as an industry. Our business model initially was to build new ponds and offer service and maintenance services after the sale. That worked great 10 to 12 years ago. The pond industry has been slowly but surely evolving over the last 7 or 8 years. Those who saw it coming evolved with it; those who didn’t have fallen by the wayside.

Knowing your trade and the multitude of equipment available out there leaves you with an untapped revenue stream that remains profitable. With literally all advertising entities out there begging for your money, why not try a different angle and take advantage of the often overlooked retrofit market? It may not be glamorous, but it beats the heck out of saying “Hi, my name is Dave, welcome to Home Depot. How may I help you today?”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Jones is the Executive Director of the International Professional Pond Contractors Association.