Filtration Essentials
Attention-grabbing displays and a good education on pond filtration are the keys to success in merchandising these systems.

“Filtration systems have vastly improved over recent years,” says James Chub, national sales manager for Atlantic Water Gardens in Matua, Ohio, “mainly in terms of higher-quality filtration boxes, or skimmers, and biological filtration systems.”

The main purpose of these systems, Chub explains, has been to keep leaves and other debris from settling to the bottom of the pond and decaying, resulting in poor water quality. 

Traditionally, a pump would be stuck at the bottom of the pond, sending water up through a mesh box to capture the waste, then flowing out through the fountain for recirculation.

These mechanisms were complicated and difficult to clean, Chub says, but now more advanced technology has the skimmer off to the side, just below the water’s surface, drawing in the debris while, at the same time, a secondary biological filter is placed at the top of the waterfall. 

“These two devices working together, contributing toward water clearance and water quality, provide a more balanced ecosystem,” Chub says.

While most aquatic specialty retailers are quite familiar with these dual systems, the average pond keeper may need some help in understanding how they work.

“Whereas a manufacturer like ourselves might provide a lot of information on the boxes, it’s much more impressive to the customer if the retailer has at least a small working display set up to show how the water flows between the two filters,” says Chub.

Bill Hoffman, president/owner of the Green, Ohio-based Hoffman’s Garden Center (which has a wholesale division called Ponds Supply of Ohio), is one pond product retailer who sees value in utilizing working displays to showcase the effectiveness of today’s filtration systems.

“By far the best way to sell filtration systems is to have display ponds on the premises to show what a well [cared for] pond will look like,” he says. “People will see the clear water, the fish, the clean bottom.  This will sell not only the filtration systems, but also everything related, the pumps and liners, fish and fish food, aquatic plants and all of the accessories and add-ons.”

Scott Stevenson, sales/marketing manager of the Victoria, B.C., Canada-distributor Van Isle Water agrees. “Reading about something on a box and figuring out how you’re going to make it work is hard to wrap your mind around,” he says.  “A lot of consumers won’t have a clue of what they’re looking at.”

The bottom line, says Stevenson, is that these devices need to be sold.

“This technology has come a long way, but the salesperson has to explain the features and benefits, especially how easy they are to clean now,” he explains. “Most people don’t want to spend a huge amount of time mucking around and cleaning these things; but now a lot of them don’t demand a complete dismantling. Turning some valves and pulling a handle a couple of times constitutes most of the chore now.”

Formal Education
Another important aspect of successfully selling pond filtration systems, says Hoffman, is the use of formal educational seminars. 

“There is a lot of demand out there, but not that many people who can show people how to get the best use out of them,” he says. 

Hoffman explains that ponds attract a diverse range of customers, and buyers are generally well educated. “They know enough to understand whether or not you know what you are talking about,” he says. “If you do, they are yours forever.”

Unlike the many products that are threatened by low-price competition on the Internet, pond filtration systems have a degree of value-added pricing. “A certain number of people will go to the Internet to check out pricing, but when they understand that you have the knowledge they need, they’ll buy from you,” says Hoffman.

Dianne Torgerson, owner of the Seattle, Wash.-based Oasis Water Gardens, who has run her own retail aquatic nurserv for the past 23 years and specializes in pond livestock, aquatic plants and hard goods, agrees. “Pond customers are always going to check around,” she says. “Once they understand that the more they spend up front on equipment, the less manual maintenance they are going to have to employ, the more you have them coming to you.”