Back when our company first started and we were trying to rent warehouse space, the leasing company didn’t want to work with us. They were worried that because we sold a product that was such an optional, discretionary item, if a recession hit, our business would spiral downward along with the economy. We protested hard, overcame their skepticism, and rented the space. Much to their relief, the economy boomed during that time, and we made all our payments.

Now, in 2008, we’re in a building considerably larger. Instead of the leasing company worrying if we’ll pay our bills, it’s the bank. And with the downturn in the residential housing market, people are biting their fingernails once again.

It’s not just the bank that’s worried about the economic downturn. Everyone from vendors to employees, even my own mother, has questioned me about how recession-proof water features are. Maybe it’s because ponds, waterfalls and decorative fountain-scapes are viewed as an unnecessary extravagance that will easily be slashed from the consumer budget as Americans are forced to tighten their belt buckles more than ever since the Great Depression.

Regardless of their reasons for asking, everyone seems to question how water features will fare in this economic downturn. If you’ve been asked this question before, or if you’re just curious yourself about the future of water features during this trying time when oil prices are sporadic, banks are hanging on for dear life, and the housing market is teetering on its shaky foundation, here’s how I answer the question.

First and foremost, I say yes, a recession will certainly impact pond installers everywhere and the water features market in general. It’s no great stretch to recognize that a slower economy will mean fewer sales for all of us (along with everyone else), when compared to what our business does in a red-hot economy. With that complex piece of logic out of the way, I say that we’re still expecting growth over the next five years. If this seems like a contradiction, one has to look no further than the non-economic indicators to validate this logic. Not being one to cry, “The sky is falling!” without first assessing the situation, here’s some positive trends that are very encouraging for growth in the water gardening market.

15.jpgNobody would deny that water gardens have increased in popularity every year over the last several years. With that said, is there room for growth over the next several years? Think about all the people you know. How many of them have a water feature? Not many, I’d bet. In fact, not many have even considered putting a pond in their yard.

Why? Because, although they’re popular in the garden market, water features are just beginning to break into the mainstream.

But times are changing, and as more people become aware of sustainability and creating ecosystem living spaces, the water features market is certain to grow. Boring green grass, which is more often turning brown because of drought conditions and water restrictions, has been the old mainstay relied upon to carpet America’s yards. Watch for a turn in this trend over the next several years as organizations and green companies strengthen their attempts to promote ecological landscapes in urban areas.

Going green

Who out there believes the environment will become less important as an issue over the next five to seven years? Americans are more environmentally conscious now than at any other time in our history. Unless old growth forests start pushing back urban sprawl, Americans will have to address the environmental concerns that are continuously building up in our society.

What role do water features play in an increasing environmental consciousness? As fewer wild places exist for native animals to inhabit and for suburbanites to visit, more and more people will create their own backyard habitats for the benefit of wildlife, as well as themselves. Living in harmony with Mother Nature will become more widely accepted. Native plantings, which have adapted to various weather extremes, will become more commonplace. Ecosystem ponds fit perfectly into this “back to nature” scenario, and are being embraced by an ever-increasing percentage of the American population.

The environmental movement isn’t just for tree huggers anymore. A growing number of consumers are willing to spend more money for eco-friendly products and since water is the earth’s most prized resource, simple logic tells us that rainwater harvesting is only going to grow in popularity. From simple rain barrels to full-fledged storm-water management systems, consumers across the nation are implementing water conservation practices into their landscapes. Landscape contractors who grow their business to include rainwater harvesting will surely reap the benefits of today’s environmental consciousness.

The phenomenon of cocooning has been well documented, and has increased each year over the last 10 years. The nesting syndrome that occurred after 9/11 is still going strong. The first to notice this trend were travel agents who booked fewer trips than in the past. Why? Increasingly, travel itself has become more stressful, more costly, and time for leisure activities outside the home is decreasing. The result? People are just plain worn out at the end of the day. Downtime at home is now considered a luxury, coveted by many. 14.jpg

As outside stresses continue to increase, more people are choosing to stay in. Increasingly, their homes and yards are becoming the places they go to unwind. With this trend, more people will be investing in environmental improvements in and around their home, and the water features market will naturally benefit from this increased interest in peaceful, close-to-home living patterns.

No one would argue that water features are a discretionary income item. And, if you left it at that, a recession would undoubtedly have a major negative impact for pond installers. However, when viewed from a broader perspective, the picture is very revealing.

With oil prices on a roller coaster trajectory and the bottom falling out of the housing market, homeowners aren’t traveling as much, and rather than upgrading to a bigger, better house, they’re looking for ways to improve their current homes. By improving their home’s value today, they’re hoping for an easier sale when the housing market improves and they can upgrade to larger living quarters.

In August 2007, The Wall Street Journal featured an article on home landscape improvement. “Real estate agents say a nicely landscaped property can have a pronounced effect on the asking price of a home. . . . Nearly 20% of buyers say they consider landscaping to be a ‘very important’ factor in their decision to buy a new house, according to a new study by the National Association of Realtors.”

So although water features can be viewed as an unnecessary expense, they should actually be considered as property investment. Coupled with the fact that homeowners are helping the environment by creating an ecological outdoor living space, water features will continue to be a stable market.