Underneath a wide-brimmed hat, you can barely make out the face Dave Anness. With great enthusiasm and a smile that spans across his face, you know he’s living his dream. Anness, a former chef, made the decision to jump into the deep end of the world of water gardening seven years ago and has never looked back. He owns Dancing Waters, a fiercely independent retailer that specializes in pond plants and water features, a rare find in the mountains of Western North Carolina. His more than three-acre business isn’t huge, but it’s full of something very important, something that anybody wanting to get into selling pond plants can learn from.
Selling pond plants could be as simple as setting up a prefab display that your water plant grower provides you with, but that’s not going to get you far. The beauty of water gardening is that the supplies aren’t readily found at any old store, which makes carrying pond plants and accessories even more important to you as a retailer.
If you already provide the public with water plants, you might want to take a look at what you’re selling and how you’re selling it. Water plants, when not blooming, can be rather unsightly. The old motto of “what’s in bloom sells” doesn’t necessarily apply to water plants, so you must take extra steps to make the plants speak for themselves – without having to put on an incredible flower show. Of course, there are some exceptions such as lilies and lotuses, but even when blooms escape their pots, you must do little things to make them appealing.
People are driven to places like Dancing Waters because it’s a destination, not just a location. Anness has gone over and above the call of duty creating a personality for his store, and more specifically his pond plants. From the street, you can see a pond-filled wonderland complete with a waterwheel and several ponds, all tempting people to want one of their own.
Using a simple acronym (a clever one at that), you can dip your toes into the deep end of the profit pond without worrying about getting in over your head. Here's POND.
P is for “Plants”
It seems simple, but it’s much more complex than just putting green goods on the table. To be successful, you must know your material and stand behind it every chance you get. “We are the Gurus here. That’s why people come back,” Anness says in regards to his water plants. You, too, can be a guru, if you teach yourself about what you’re selling.
Think of pond plants kind of like the old childhood song and dance, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” Pond plants will fit very simply into these categories, and if you use proper signage to inform the customer of this, your job of selling them will get drastically easier.
Head plants include all plants on the surface of the water, including floating island rings, water hyacinths and water lettuce. Check first to see if you’re able to sell certain plants in your state though. Many floating plants are illegal. Mazus, Creeping Jenny, Parrots Feather, Water Mint and Water Celery are excellent plants for floating rings.
Shoulder plants would include any complimentary shrubs and plant material that wouldn’t be directly planted into the pond. All of these should be tidy and keep debris out of the pond, such as evergreens.
Knee plants include all of the “marginal” pond plants that get planted directly into the water. Commonly these are placed on edges and are used to soften the edges of the pond. Good plants include all water grasses like Acorus and Rushes, Pickerel Rushes, Louisiana Irises, miniature and regulation-sized cattails, Umbrellas Palm, and Swamp Hibiscus (there could be more or less depending on your zone)
Toe plants are those that are placed directly at the bottom of the pond such as water lilies and lotuses.
O is for “Orientation”
Pond plants aren’t impulse items, so make sure it doesn’t take up room for plants that can sell themselves on beauty alone. Signage is crucial. Run your product up a mast and hoist a sail over your pond plant department. Use a flagpole or an existing utility pole to hoist a bright sign that advertises where your pond plants are located. Dancing Waters has an old sail-boat they use, and inside of the boat they have pond plants for sale. What better place to sell pond plants?
Make sure to keep all plants at belly-button height when setting up tables. Having incredibly high tables will cause more of a mess moving plants from water into the awaiting cart. On the other hand, hand-dug ditches used at plant reservoirs are no good either. The general public doesn’t want to bend over and show off their backside while picking out pond plants. Make all of your plants easy to access and keep them separated. Some pond plants have a tendency to grow into each other. Remember, eye level is buy level!
N is for “Nuance”
Make your pond and water garden area explode with an irresistible draw.
“Our store is famous. We’ve had people get in fender-benders out front just looking at how great this place is,” Anness says. Accessorize the area with items of interest that might not be found in other places in the store like a fantastic fountain or even something as extreme as a pond or pondless waterfall.
If your space allows, even if just for a small pond, you can market around it and use it as almost a backdrop to the entire department. What better way to get crossover sales from other departments than a perfectly placed bench or an eye-popping stand of brightly colored annuals?
Use the brightest colors to compensate for the overall drab tones of the pond plants, even if the colors chosen for your pond plant area aren’t mirrored anyplace else in your store. You can even do something as simple as stenciling a simple water lily, frog or cattail on the side of each of your pond plant troughs.
D is for “Dream”
Without a dream, Dancing Waters wouldn’t exist. Without dreaming a little bit, you might as well just stay stagnant. Inspire your customers to dream, too. They’ll leave with more than just a trunk of plants — they’ll leave with aspirations of creating a backyard oasis full of water and excitement. If you don’t offer water garden installation, make sure you find somebody reputable in the area that you can refer people to. If you feed them business, chances are they’ll send people right back to you.
And don’t forget about the great silent advertiser, the internet. Inspire the public to dream on your website and social media pages. Tempt your friends with pictures of glorious water lilies in bloom and serene pictures of waterfalls. Make absolutely sure that you have keywords associated to the pond plants that you carry on your website.
“We have people driving here all the way from Charlotte [almost 75 miles away] saying that if there was a place there, they’d didn’t know about it, “ Anness says in reference to where his customers come from. If you’re the only game in town, you’ve got a gold mine. Conquer the town, or like in Annesss’ case, conquer all of Western North Carolina.
Beyond the pond plants, you can easily capitalize on your investment in space with add-on sales. Because you’re devoting a set amount of sales space, why not get the most of it, right? High ticket items such as $100 lotuses and pond kits are great, but these also need upkeep. Upkeep requires buying stuff.
- Water treatments for algae, water conditioning and microbial agents
- Fertilizer spikes and tablets
- Growing media for pond plants
- Koi, goldfish and the food to go with
- Pond spitters and pumps
- Pond kits
- Books and magazines
For Anness and Dancing Waters, pond plants aren’t just revenue, they’re a way of life. So irrigate your profits with pond water! Jump right in, the pond water is fine.
Nikki Weed is a horticulturist and professional adventurer who uses her experiences and knowledge to manage a successful garden center in Greenville, S.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy Dancing Waters