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January 4, 2016

For those who live in warmer areas of the country, pond keeping is a year-round activity. For others, “pond season” gets underway in earnest sometime in early spring. Being prepared ahead of time positions independent retailers to get a leg up on gardening centers and big box vendors once the shopping season arrives.

“It’s never too early to start, but practically speaking, for a good portion of retailers whose selling season ends in the fall, start the next season by scoping out new product offerings and placing orders at trade shows and taking advantage of early order buys from distributors over the winter months,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager at Spectrum Pet, Home & Garden.

“Getting stock in house as early as possible before spring gives retailers a chance to plan their merchandising, whether it means simply rearranging products for a seasonal promotion, getting creative with an idea for an innovative display, or making floor space for a manufacturer supplied merchandiser,” Plafcan said. “Off-season months are also a good time to plan out your marketing calendar for the year. How can you improve outreach to current and new customers? How can you take advantage of the many social tools available? Make this the year you’re going to do those YouTube videos!”

Getting Started

Most pond owners are primed to get their ponds going once the weather breaks, and they’ll need certain products to start out right.

A wheat-germ based food like TetraPond’s Spring & Fall food is essential for fish transitioning from not feeding to a staple food when the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Plafcan.

Pond-specific test kits help hobbyists get a bearing on water quality before introducing fish to the pond. These kits also let pond owners know when conditions are not up to par for fish that have been overwintered in a pond. It is important to recommend that pond customers perform a 25 percent water exchange in spring and that replacement water be treated with a conditioner such as TetraPond Aqua Safe to remove chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals.

Vacuuming the bottom is easy to do with Python Products’ Ulti-Vac, and owners can remove larger debris with telescoping handled nets. If possible, have an Ulti-Vac available for demonstration. TetraPond Sludge Reducer crystals and blocks are invaluable for breaking down residual organic material and re-introducing important microbes into filters.

Advise owners on the host of important items they should check at the start of their local pond season. Liners should be inspected and any winter damage must be repaired using repair kits or self-adhesive patch material. Hoses and connections should be checked for leaks and any damaged sections must be replaced. Keep common sizes on hand to offer to these customers.

Spring is also time to replace UV sterilizer lamps and seals, and to inspect pump impellers. Keep these items in a secure location, but make sure shoppers know you have them in stock. Pond owners should replace the filter pads, carbon and other chemical media at this time as well. Make sure you have replacement pads and parts for the brands of filters and pumps you sell, but consider stocking for other popular brands and models as well.

The most common problem experienced by pond owners during the summer is nuisance algae—especially green water syndrome and string algae. Barley bales, barley pellets or barley extract are effective low-cost preventatives, and getting them into a pond early in spring and replenishing them monthly will help keep these frustrating conditions from developing. Once these problems have already started, these remedies are not nearly as effective, so make sure your staff recommends their use to every customer in spring.

Sprucing Up

Spring is time for planting. Seasoned pond owners often need to thin out lilies and emergent plants, so have planter baskets, fertilizers and even planting media ready to go.

Spring is also a time when pond owners like to spruce up their creations with statuary, fountains and underwater lighting. If possible, have a working display to get their creative juices flowing.

“If you are fortunate enough to have an outdoor pond display, take the opportunity to highlight new products; people are automatically drawn to live displays,” Plafcan said. “Spring essentials should be at the forefront of the store or checkout counter.”

To help stimulate sales, Plafcan suggests bundling items.

“Bundle and discount price several items together that are timely spring essentials,” he said. “For example, bundle water care and food together; place plant baskets and fertilizer tablets next to live plants for sale. Keeping a database of your customers and emailing new product information, special sales, seasonal events, etc. is a great way to generate sales throughout the year.”

Finally, make sure your staff is knowledgeable. This is your most effective tool for separating your store from gardening and home improvement centers and other mass merchandisers. Novice pond owners don’t always know what they need or what to ask for, so make sure your staff recommends essential products and explains their use.

“Merchandising displays are helpful, but one-on-one conversations and a trusted, knowledgeable staff member will create loyalty and repeat sales,” Plafcan said.

With sound buying strategies, an effective merchandising plan, well trained staff and an early start, you can enjoy a profitable pond season.

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