Making a splash

Features - Design/Build

Don't be afraid of waterscapes - the right designs and sales strategies get the job done.

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October 21, 2010
Phil Sarros

Big or small, with waterfalls or fountains, pond-ed or pondless, water features make people feel better – and using that angle makes them easier to sell. In the wake of our housing market crash, I’ve seen a renewed commitment among many homeowners to stay in their property for the foreseeable future. This leads to a decision to invest in their homes by creating outdoor living spaces that are pleasing to look at, fun for the family and offer a retreat from the routines of everyday life.

This is the opportunity for you to offer a unique outdoor space using waterscape features to create a natural, serene environment while adding incredible value and profit to your company.


Selling a Feeling
Ponds, waterfalls and decorative water features have been around since nearly the beginning of civilization. People gravitate to these features because they link the beauty of stone, plants and the sound of running water to pleasure, stillness and tranquility.

There are people who spend years in therapy trying to capture these same feelings. I would suggest a return to nature can be a simple, more immediate way to restore a positive, happier demeanor. No, I’m not a psychologist. I’m a landscape contractor. But when I sell a project on how it will make a homeowner feel versus anything else, my close ratio goes up. That is something I can track and measure.


Importance of Design
The term “water feature” refers to anything from a bird bath to a large, multi-tier waterfall. The most common water features include containers, raised or sunken ponds, pondless, bog, fountain, wall fountain and waterfall. Most designs will build off these basic concepts and grow to incorporate a nearly limitless selection of vegetation, aquatic life, lighting and more. A waterscape takes into account the entire project, including adjacent seating, lawn or entertainment areas.

Your design is a sales tool and an opportunity to demonstrate your unique talent of blending the beauty, sounds and nature with the best selection of landscape materials. The goal is to help clients visualize themselves enjoying this new retreat and create the emotional connection needed to earn their business and eliminate the competition.

A small natural stone patio or nearby brick pathway would offer an inviting place for a bench or seating area where they can read a book or sip a glass of wine. Maybe a nearby hammock with a bamboo backdrop would give the family a place to retreat on a warm afternoon.

For the couple that entertains, an outdoor dining patio and kitchen would allow guests to gather near the comfort of a waterfall or fountain wall.


Do Your Homework
Like several of the services we offer at Sarros Landscaping, waterscapes grew from the demand of our client base. When several clients asked me if I could provide this service, I was not going to ignore the knock of opportunity. 

 I sifted through the expanse of knowledge available through online forums, local and online suppliers and national organizations. I found incredible value in seeking out pond supply stores, equipment manufacturers and other companies. Nearly every local pond supply store offers pond construction classes to help you learn.

The construction process proved to be much easier than I imagined. I’m not implying that a contractor should just jump into a large project after attending one pond building class. But starting with a small pond or water feature will give you the necessary confidence to build up to larger and more complex designs.

Education is the first step in adding waterscapes to your line of services. Experience is the logical second step; you simply have to build one. Perhaps practice on your home, or better yet, your mother-in-law’s home. Regardless of where you start, putting the wheels in motion and taking that first step to become educated will open doors to new opportunity, adding great value and income to your bottom line.

There is a common misconception that waterscapes are expensive to build and difficult to maintain. Many contractors struggle to construct water features in a timely and efficient manner. Building a water feature is easy. Constructing a water feature that is beautiful, appears very natural and is free of leaks, problems or headaches, though, is an art.

The most common construction pitfalls include leaks, improper equipment and pump sizing and overall aesthetic appearance. Poorly built water features are often plagued with leaks and endless callbacks, leading a contractor to lose money and confidence.


Plan Carefully 
I’ll emphasize again the importance of starting small and working your way up to larger projects. The best time to reach out to a supplier, contractor or manufacturer is while you’re still in the planning and design phases of the project. It’s quite painful to you and your client when you are in the middle of a project or completely done that you realize your design is not turning out as you had expected. Remember, this is a value-added service designed to leave you feeling more confident while adding profit to your bottom line, not the other way around. 

To add value to your service, commit the necessary time and resources to develop a design that not only fits within your client’s budget, but also captures the feelings your client is looking for. Don’t rush.

Beautiful water features, whether small or large, do not just happen by accident. Nor are they the product of someone simply buying a kit and some rocks. The best built water features are purely a function of effort in the design and planning phases. This begins by gathering detailed site information to be sure pumps, filters, skimmers, piping and other features are sized appropriately.

Knowing the volume of water along with the height that the water will fall are two very crucial measurements. You’ll need to think about how the feature will be maintained. People are becoming increasingly aware of the value of “green” technology. The correct use of biofilters, plants and aquatic life can ensure your design will not introduce unnecessary toxins and chemicals into their system.

Seek out a designer with experience in water features to communicate the finished product to a potential client. Charge reasonable fees for the design to not only ensure compensation for your time and talent, but to further identify serious homeowners from those who are just kicking the tires.

Nearly every pond supply company is willing to take your field data, design and measurements and help you select the appropriate equipment. Don’t be afraid to let them know that you don’t have all the answers. These learning opportunities are what will ultimately make you an expert, which will further elevate your offerings above those of your competition.

You may stumble upon larger opportunities that are either a greater challenge you feel confident you are prepared for, or simply beyond your skill level. Contracting with a more experienced company will allow you to serve your client while minimizing the risk of getting involved with a project that could cost you time and profit. By embracing the learning process and continually asking questions in the quest for more knowledge, you will undoubtedly open doors to new, larger and more complex opportunities, allowing you to build an impressive portfolio of waterscape projects.


The author is president of Sarros Landscaping, Cumming, Ga.