Mark Russo admits he’s addicted to water. The obsession began about 11 years ago after installing a pond in his backyard, which eventually led to three and the launch of his full-service water feature business, Rocky Mountain Waterscape in Erie, Colo.
“(Water features) provide openly more interaction with the landscape than any other single item,” says Russo, the president and owner. “They can provide an element of tranquility to any landscape … and that background sound is really music in the garden 24 hours a day.”
Waterfalls, ponds or even fountains can transform any outdoor setting into an alluring paradise because they add life – literally, in many cases – movement and sound to an otherwise stagnant landscape design.
But as consumers look to trim spending, water features for commercial or residential jobs have been drying up. So landscapers in the arid West are trying new tactics – along with some tried and true methods – to market their services and capitalize on this segment in 2012.
Don’t be fooled by the pure beauty and soothing vibrations of water features. They require consistent maintenance – much more than, say, shrubbery.
Mark Russo of Rocky Mountain Waterscape says contractors should be honest when selling water features and be careful not to oversell their simplicity. He’s heard too many horror stories of potential customers coming to him with green ponds or dead fish.
“Much like your lawn needs to be mowed every week, your water feature requires a few minutes of attention, as well,” says Russo, who recommends maintenance on an average water feature at least every couple of weeks. “On the plus side, you can turn that into an additional revenue stream. It’s enough to be a profitable part of our business.”
Russo names the top three maintenance issues contractors should keep in mind:
1. Keep out organic debris. Anything organic that blows into a water feature, such as leaves, grass clippings, branches, etc., has the potential to break down and become algae food.
2. Keep water healthy. Make sure your water feature has excellent filtration, especially if you’re going to introduce fish. It’s better to over filter than under filter, Russo says.
3. Add water treatments on a regular basis. To avoid green ponds, make sure you add water treatments at least every couple of weeks.
Photos above: Rocky Mountain Waterscape, Pondscapes
“One of the things we’re doing differently is we’ve joined almost a networking partnership with a local housekeeper,” says Ralph Biezad, owner of Phoenix-based Pondscapes and who also sets up displays at local nurseries to build business. “We’re referring each other out, so we’re getting the word out to even more potential customers that we wouldn’t have had in the past.”
It’s an exclusive referral system. Biezad refers the housekeeper’s services to his customers and vice versa. Because the majority of Biezad’s customers are snowbirds, there is strong demand for the maintenance of his customers’ homes and landscapes, while they are away during the summer months.
And it’s really paying dividends. Since the partnership began at the beginning of this year, Biezad has already gained 17 – and counting – additional accounts, five of which are for water feature maintenance and two are for the installation. In fact, he’s experienced a 100 percent success rate through this partnership, thus far.
“This year, we’re forecasting to be close to $400,000 (in revenue),” says Biezad, who nearly doubled his revenue in 2011. Currently, installation and maintenance of water features only comprise about a third of his business, but he hopes to increase that to about 50 percent by the end of this year due to this partnership.
Russo is making a big push with garden home shows this year to not only gain new customers, but also strengthen his relationships with landscape contractors to complement his water feature services. To date, he has three shows booked, including the Denver Home Show in March, and plans to add additional garden shows in outlying areas.
“In general, home shows give you an air of credibility,” he says. “People see you year after year; you get that brand awareness out there. For me, it’s a way to kick-start my season, as well.”
Russo typically receives $200,000-$300,000 worth of sales from a garden show. Throughout the show, he’s booking consultations and out in the field giving estimates to potential customers so by the end of it, he has worked lined up for months.
Russo says 2012 should be a strong year, judging by the size of water features he’s building. In 2007 and earlier, typically the water features he built were in the $10,000-$50,000 range. In 2008 and 2009, although they built almost as many, they were much smaller, in the $6,000-$15,000 range. But in 2010 and 2011, he saw that average size start to climb back up the scale.
“I interpret that as people willing to let go of a little more money,” says Russo, who projects revenues between $800,000 and $900,000 this year, just barely under his all-time high of just more than $1 million in 2007. “I think there’s pent-up demand. We’re Americans, and we like to spend money.”
|Ralph Biezad of Pondscapes (left) and Mark Russo of Rocky Mountain Waterscape (right) are trying new techniques to boost water feature sales.|
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.
Rules of Proper Plumbing
Apart from the aesthetic features of waterfalls, ponds and fountains, such as the pavers, plants and wildlife, the thing has to work. Pumps come in a confusing array of models and sizes, and choosing the correct pump is paramount to keeping the life of a water feature strong for years to come.
“If you have too much water flow, you’re not filtering the water properly,” says Ralph Biezad of Pondscapes in Phoenix. “If you have too little water flow, you’re running the risk of not oxygenating the water efficiently.”
Biezad shares the top three questions he asks himself when choosing the correct size and model pump for each job:
1. What is the volume of my pond? Biezad follows this equation: length x width x depth x 7.5 x .75. As a general rule, a pump must circulate the entire volume of a water feature through the filter at least once per hour.
2. How high will the pump have to lift the water? Pumps are rated in gallons per hour based on a certain threshold of elevation. To determine the rise, factor in the distance from the pump to the waterfall, the vertical elevation from the water level to the waterfall, and lastly, the width and length of the pond.
3. How wide is my waterfall? As a general rule, most ponds use a minimum of 100 gph for every inch of the waterfall’s width.