Sept. 16 2013 08:44 AM

EACH YEAR, I ask myself the question: what percentage of our business is made up of renovations, service calls and consultations, and what percentage is new construction? Let’s talk a little about renovations, an area that continues to grow in my business every year.

You’ve got to love your incompetent competitors.

They get the customer hooked on the pond experience; they get the job, then they leave them swinging in the wind with a system that either doesn’t work or was improperly installed, with no follow-up service to be found. That’s the story I’m hearing from more and more of my new and growing customer base.

Being a pond enthusiast myself, I can build an instant case of sympathy with the poor couple who dropped several thousand dollars just last year or last month to get their pond built, or more likely, renovated . . . only to still have the problems they started with.

The pond is green and looks bad, and they haven’t seen the fish in years. The frustration level is usually very high in these cases, and unfortunately, in most cases there is no cheap fix.

This is a challenge for you. You have to build a high level of confidence with the customer. They’ve got to know that you know what you’re doing, to the point that they will have enough faith in you to spend even more money to get it right, this time.

That’s the frustrating part for both of us, the do-over. Although a good portion of the success of my business lies in renovations, contractors who don’t have the skills or knowledge, give us a black eye. The property owner is in fear that the job will not be done properly. This does not contribute to a strong and thriving pond industry.

Education and peer resources to bounce ideas off of other pros are very valuable and vital tools in any industry. The pond industry is no different. I have spent decades building my own resources, which have paid me

many, many dividends. Belonging to the International Professional Pond Companies Association (IPPCA) is one of my biggest resource tools.

Getting back to renovations….

Many companies insist on doing new installs only. From my experience, I believe that you’re leaving more than 90 percent of the money on the table for companies that do renovations of existing ponds. It also allows the contractor doing the renovation to become expert at it.

This knowledge then makes doing a new install a snap, because you know what works and what doesn’t. But more importantly, you’re getting far more work than the average “new install only” company, which again is why I feel that there is a diminishing number of pond professionals still in business today.

If you want to maximize your company’s profitability when it comes to ponds, forget the false ego inflation of new megathousand-dollar pond installs, because there usually aren’t that many of them every year in this economy. However, there are many current pond owners who love their pond, but would like to update it.

Oh, and yes, these jobs can actually be mega-thousand-dollar jobs in their own right. My company is currently doing approximately 41 renovations per one new installation, and that’s not chump change.

Besides, the guy who got that new install, because he was cheaper and less experienced than you, just built you a renovation project down the road. I now have several large landscape firms here in the southeastern U.S. who refer their customers to me when there is a pond issue. They are learning that it’s best to let the person with experience do the job.

There is another cool aspect to renovations: the customers have already been looking at someone else’s work for awhile. When we come in and rework a waterfall and stream, they are blown away by what a true professional can do with the same pile of rocks that the last guys used.

Am I smarter than those guys?

Probably not; it boils down to training and experience, and some creative talent. Training and experience differentiate the lay person from the professional in everything from our military to athletes to farmers to construction workers to pond professionals. Networking, workshops and trade shows are great opportunities to learn, and are a prerequisite for becoming a serious professional. For a serious professional, learning will never stop.

Someone has a quip about that: “Stop learning and stop earning.” Not a bad way to look at it.

Adding renovations to your company’s repertoire is not only a great way to increase your profitability, it also adds diversity. Even more important than profitability, expanding your knowledge and experience in some challenging work environments will definitely help move you up in the ranks of pond professionals in your own market.

The bottom line is this: in every industry, knowledge and experience is the key to success. The pond industry is no different, and in my humble opinion, is even more important than other industries, because it is my industry.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Jones is the owner of The Pond Professional.