Television program hopes to attract new clients to consider water features in their landscape.
The captivating sounds, beauty and grandeur of ponds, water gardens and stand-alone water features in the landscape have intrigued us through the ages—all the way back to Ancient Greece. Today, it’s a steadily-growing niche within the green industry.
If you were to go back a few hundred years, especially in Europe, it was only the wealthy who could afford these landscape enhancements.
Things are a bit different today. The middle class has grown, and the demand for water features has grown as well. By the late 1980s, ponds and statuaries were gaining in popularity in the residential market, which has continued into this millennium. They’ve been thoroughly embraced by environmentalists and aquatic fans. “You have people who love nature or who really love ponds,” said Greg Wittstock, founder and CEO of St. Charles, Illinois-based Aquascape. “We have a passionate, loyal customer base.”
Wittstock has been fascinated with ponds since he was a child, and began building them when he was 11 years old. As a teenager, he discovered that he could use plastic liners instead of concrete to build ponds that wouldn’t leak. He’s been involved with ponds and water features ever since. He developed techniques to shorten the time it took to construct a pond. Aqua-scape was established when he parlayed that knowledge, working in the summer, to pay for his college tuition.
Wittstock was among the first in the industry to package all the components needed to build a pond and sell it as a kit. This market niche was growing at about 20 to 25 percent annually. Manufacturers of pond equipment took notice and jumped into the market. Aquascape became a sustainable business for Wittstock, taking in approximately $60 million a year by 2005.
Then the housing market imploded and a recession followed. The landscape industry, including ponds and water features, took a major hit, along with many other industries. Sales dropped by 40 to 50 percent, and in some companies, even more. In order to survive, many companies began to downsize.
At the same time, homeowners became far more concerned about their job security. People began saving at a faster pace than before. Many were reluctant to make large purchases or take vacations. The term “staycation” was popularized in the American lexicon. However, as homeowners spent more of their time at home, instead of taking expensive vacations, they began to think of doing some renovating and retrofitting in their backyards, to make those area more pleasing.
Lavish ponds and water gardens were out of the question, financially speaking. However, smaller water features that could stand alone and didn’t require much in the way of cost or maintenance were an entirely different matter. “My business was primarily ponds and pondless waterfalls,” Wittstock said. “When the economy tanked, we expanded into fountainscapes.”
All the manufacturers and suppliers of pond and water-feature equip- ment concentrated on marketing these small water features. They take the shape of fountains, statuaries, pondless waterfalls, walls of water flowing down, and small urns and pots with water flowing from them. have gained in popularity. They are relatively easy to install and cost, relative to higher-end ponds, made them accessible to a much wider clientele.
Contractors, distributors and manufacturers of ponds and water features found these smaller items a path to their survival. With the diminished demand for ponds, many contractors were able to get through the 2007 to 2011 period by offering maintenance on ponds, retrofitting older ponds, and by installing these smaller water features.
Now, with the improving economy, and housing starts increasing, it won’t be long before ponds will come back into favor. However, this time around, there will be three avenues in which to build a revenue stream. The first one is building ponds and waterfalls; the second is the installation of small water features and pondless waterfalls, and of course, the third leg is the maintenance of all of them.
Despite this resurgence, Wittstock feels that there’s a gross lack of public awareness concerning water features. He attributes this as the reason why it doesn’t garner as many customers as traditional landscape services. “Contractors don’t sell more ponds… because people don’t ask for them,” he said.
According to Wittstock, Aquascape’s motto is, “Everyone wants a water feature. They just don’t know it yet.” Wittstock has become evangelical about pushing his corner of the industry. “You have to explain water features, because people have no perspective on what a water feature is,” he said. “Ponds aren’t bought, they’re sold.”
Recently, a Los Angeles-based producer watched some instructional videos on YouTube and approached Wittstock about the prospect of starting a reality show on the subject of his work.
“Pond Stars,” showcasing the exploits of Wittstock and his work crews, is set to begin airing on Nat Geo Wild this month. “It’s a reality show about our world as pond builders,” said Wittstock. “It’s about what we do in the world of water features.”
The format of the hour-long show consists of cameras following every aspect of the work—from the initial request and conceptualization of the landscapes to the final installation of the ponds and addition of plants and wildlife.
While focusing on the personalities of the crews, episodes go into detail about how water features operate and affect the local ecosystems, as well as what the crew goes through to accomplish their installations. The types of jobs performed range from backyard remodeling to installing small water features.
“We believe this hour-long show will help expand our market,” said Denne Goldstein, publisher of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine.
“Water features add beauty and a feeling of tranquility to a landscape. Once people see and listen to them, they are drawn in. This market niche stands ready to help.” We believe this will be the catalyst to grow the market.
The show represents a new awakening. It should stimulate homeowners to begin thinking of installing ponds again. Wittstock said, “Water features, in general, are going to get a big lift from all this.”
With the economy on the upswing, and new housing starts increasing, the timing of the show couldn’t be better. Says Wittstock, “This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Aquascape and our industry.”