“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a waterfall and pond in our yard” the homeowner exclaims with a mixture of desire and anxiety. Unavoidable reality and apprehension follow when faced with two major concerns: cost to install and maintenance issues. This leads to the common “it would be great, but . . .” and the idea becomes a fantasy reserved for the wistful, “when we win the lottery” improbability. These concerns can now be put to rest when a knowledgeable and experienced design/build firm creates the project. Today, there are many options available in water feature construction that can make that fantasy a reality.
When a prospective client calls and requests a bid for installing a water feature, he usually has not determined any specifics of such, only that he is thinking of adding something special to his yard. You cannot design a project over the phone, so you set up an appointment to look at the yard. Prior to doing so, it is advisable to pre-qualify the client with some pertinent questions. This will allow you some insight when you approach the project and, hopefully, identify you as an expert in this field. Also, you might want to charge a consultation fee for the visit. The consultation fee ensures he is a genuine prospect and is probably a “get what you pay for” type of person. You can also quote a range of costs for such a project over the phone that can further determine the client’s viability.
At the initial meeting, show the client the consideration and respect that you would expect if the roles were reversed. Be on time, neat in appearance and prepared to present any information necessary to educate and impress the client. As you would in any other sales situation, try to establish a personal rapport with the person. Some clients just wish to cut to the chase and it’s your job to recognize that type of personality.
Once you begin discussing the water feature, exhibit your knowledge of such to further reinforce your competency. Be excited for him — he is about to make a dream come true and you are the one who is going to help him.
Present photos of other projects you have installed and describe each in detail and how it turned out even better than you envisioned. Show him the different options within each framework and listen for his response. It is important to view the area where the feature installed will be from inside the house if possible. He will get greater satisfaction if he can see the water feature from a room in which much time is spent.
Finally, you go to the yard and begin to survey the area. He is hoping to install a pond, with a waterfall and perhaps a small stream bed. Try to convince the client to install the feature as close to the house as possible. By doing so, he will spend more time there due to convenience and accessibility, and it will be more visually and audibly prominent. Many owners walk to a remote corner of the yard and think that would be the ideal spot. You don’t have to disagree with his concepts — just add your professional input and he will most likely agree.
Take a section of hose and lay out the configuration of a pond so he can see the size and shape of the proposed water feature. This visual concept will bring the dream closer to reality. Let him imagine the boulders, a waterfall spilling into the pond, beautiful flowering water plants, fish and crystal clear water.
There are several methods of pond construction and now is the time to determine which would be most suitable for your client. Sometimes it is to your advantage to
briefly describe each type and go into greater detail on one style only. Remember, he is relying on you to be the expert, to know what will work best, so key in on the major advantages of the type of
installation you recommend, and why.
Let’s take a look at the elements that are available today for constructing ponds, waterfalls and stream beds. Cement ponds were once the most commonly installed type of pond. They are very durable and require knowledge and experience working with such types of products.
Liner ponds are becoming very popular due to the ease of installation, durability and affordability. You can choose from EDPM (45 mil thick) or Butyl Rubber (30 mil thick). Both exhibit superior flexibility, are safe for aquatic life, withstand temperature extremes and are readily available.
Polyethylene pre-fabricated ponds are popular for their ease of handling and installation. These ponds are common for small installations and are often attempted by the homeowner. Many home and garden centers offer pre-fabs for installation and the cost is usually quite reasonable.
With the options that are available, one can see why it is advisable to explain the mechanics of the different types of ponds. Sometimes the client really doesn’t care how
the feature works; he only wants the yard to look beautiful. However, it is better to offer to educate and then let him decide. This also, once again, helps to separate you from the competition by virtue of knowledge and expertise.
When a client desires a fountain or manufactured (cast) waterfall/pond it is advisable to let him browse retail centers and choose the item he likes. You can arrange to install the piece; most suppliers provide delivery of purchases for a small fee.
The use of water features in the United States is still quite limited, making the opportunity for visionary designers and installers exceptional. It is estimated that 20 – 30% of European homes contain some type of water feature compared with 2 – 3% here in the states. This could be an additional profit center to your existing business.
Editor’s Note: Ken Green is a landscape contractor based in Northridge, CA.