Diving Into Ponds
The pond department can be a profit center for pet stores that understand the unique challenges and opportunities presented by this category.
While the aquarium business has been getting a lot of attention for the sales decline and subsequent rebound that it experienced over the past several years, the pond category has steadily kept swimming along. As a result, pet stores that have waded into the pond business are seeing a solid performance from this department year after year.
“The pond category has been pretty steady,” observes Lance Reyniers, president of Python Products, which manufactures a variety of aquatic maintenance products, including those for ponds. “It’s not screaming out the way aquatics is, but it’s climbing.”
“Many professional home designers and landscapers are starting to incorporate ponds into their designs. With people staying home more [for economic reasons], it is something that they are looking to add to their backyards. In addition, more people are taking care of their own ponds now, which presents its own opportunities for retailers.”
Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec, president of water-treatment manufacturer DrTim’s Aquatics, LLC, also sees growth in the pond business and says that it is, unsurprisingly, tied to positive housing trends. “For us, the pond category is up and the reason is more than likely due to the fact that home ownership is back up from the recent recession,” he says.
Aaron Kline, general manager of Acurel Products, which makes water treatments and filter media, is also bullish on the pond category and expects that continued good news on the economic front should drive pond sales even higher. “Products to help create, maintain and improve a healthy pond environment continue to perform well in pet stores and are a growing part of their business,” says Kline. “With the economy continuing to strengthen, people are willing to spend more money again, and establish or expand upon their ponds or outdoor aquatic environments.”
While it is technically an extension of the overall aquatics category, the pond department presents pet retailers with its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Of course, there are parallels between aquarium keeping and water gardening, as both deal with aquatic fauna and flora that share many of the same care needs, irrespective of whether they are kept indoors or outdoors. However, because they are exposed to natural elements that often cannot be controlled by a hobbyist, maintaining a healthy outdoor aquatic ecosystem requires a specific set of products and care practices that, while similar to those associated with aquariums, are different enough to warrant special attention from pet stores.
Consumers who are shopping the pond category should also be treated as a distinct customer base that must be directly catered to if a retailer wants to earn their loyalty. This means offering a cohesive pond department with a comprehensive selection of products. “If independent pet retail stores want to compete in the pond category, they must dedicate a sufficient amount of space for pond supplies to make the product assortment and personalized attention worth coming into their store,” says Kline. “Customers will continue to seek out the education, personalized attention and knowledge base they can’t necessarily get if ordering online or through a non-personalized environment of a mass retail store.”
Reyniers puts it succinctly: “If you’re going to get into the pond category, you have to really get into it,” he says. “You can’t just carry bits and pieces. You can’t just pick one brand or one line. You have to give customers choices.”
Another unique aspect of the pond business is the nature of the competition that pet retailers face when selling this category. According to the experts in this segment of the aquatics trade, lawn and garden centers present the biggest challenge for pet stores, in terms of competing for the attention of pond keepers.
“Mass/chains of lawn and garden retail stores are the main competition to independent pet retailers in the pond care category,” says Kline. “These larger competitors can carry high inventories and a larger product selection for creating and maintaining a pond or outdoor water environment because they have more space.”
In order to outdo these much larger competitors, Hovanec says that pet stores must do their best to make a visual splash in the pond department. “To compete, a store needs some space to set up a pond and show off how great they can look and be ready to answer questions and suggest products,” he says. “It doesn’t work to just have boxes on the shelf. A seasonal display with some plants and color is a good way to go. And, of course, you need to have products to sell, so you can close the deal on the spot.”
This strategy, notes Hovanec, is one that not enough pet stores put into practice because of space constraints—but that is no excuse. “They don’t convey how great a pond can look,” he says. “This can be tough in a store with limited space, so go small but at least some moving water with a small waterfall to draw people’s attention to the area. You really need to show-off a pond and its potential.”
For pet retailers that make the pond department a priority this way, Kline says, the future of the business is bright. “I envision this category will continue to grow in the future if retailers continue to educate themselves on solutions for personalized product recommendations that make the customer successful at maintaining their pond environments and continue to provide product space for this category,” he says. “Entry-level customers all the way up to dedicated pond enthusiasts can now team up with independent retailers to explore easy-to-use, safe, affordable and effective product solutions like Acurel to help maintain their ponds, but with more success, customers will expand their ponds into bigger, better and easier-to-maintain water environments.”