If you find yourself vying for increasingly rare contracts these days, consider offering your landscape clients something extra. Water features will help you stand out from the crowd.

A recent comment posted by a landscaper on Twitter read, “Man, getting customers is tough. It has to be something I’m not doing. Any ideas?” In this day and age, when customers need more convincing before parting with their hard-earned dollars, it’s easy to see why frustration settles in quickly when securing landscape projects.

Couple that frustration with bidding wars from fellow landscapers and you begin to wonder if you can actually make a decent profit – and a decent living – from an industry that’s treated you so well in the past. You resist the temptation to lower prices, knowing there’s got to be a better way.

And you’re right, there is a better way to remain sustainable despite feeling the odds are against you. Rather than enter that bidding war by dropping your prices, why not choose to add value instead? You need something to differentiate yourself from the competition and stand out in the customer’s mind. Water features provide a tempting option for homeowners thirsting to beautify their landscapes.

A simple, easy-to-install feature like a bubbling urn adds character to a home landscape and dollars to your bottom line.

Good things in small packages

If a client wants to start small, a fountain rock is the way to go. Plus, you can realize a profit margin of 45 percent.

Before you think water feature installation is too complicated to add to your menu of services, keep in mind that they come in a variety of forms, sizes and price tags. Not only that, but they remain a popular landscaping trend. According to a recent ASLA Residential Trends Survey, ornamental water features remain toward the top of the must-have list in outdoor living environments, along with native plants and low-maintenance landscapes.

Consider the homeowner who wants to punch up their curb appeal. Sure, an array of perennials intermingled with ornamental shrubs will fill the bill nicely. But add a fountain rock to the equation and you’ve just provided a unique solution that will make this home different from all the rest on the block.

Small fountains can be installed for about the same price you’d charge to mow 40 lawns, based on the average cost of cutting an average size lawn. Plus, they’ll provide a profit margin just over 45 percent. If the price tag for a natural rock fountain is too steep for your customer, you can offer a fiberglass stone composite look-alike instead, cutting the cost considerably without affecting your margin. And if your customer is enticed by the idea of a fountain but isn’t fond of rock, a variety of options are available, such as a brass decorative piece or a ceramic bubbling urn. There really is no limit to the style and budget of fountain features on the market today.

They’re easy to install; just a few pieces are required for fountain installation. A water pump, an underground reservoir or basin, the fountain feature itself, and some decorative gravel or mulch are all that’s required for this type of project. You simply dig the hole for the basin and level it, install the pump and fill the reservoir with water, place the fountain atop the basin, add decorative gravel to cover the basin, and plug in the pump. Within just a few hours, the yard is transformed with the sight and sound of soothing water.

Resist the temptation to tuck a water feature into a little-used corner of the yard. Bring the water feature right up to a deck or patio where the homeowner can interact with it up-close.

Going pondless

Or perhaps your customer is looking for something a bit bigger but doesn’t want the maintenance of a pond. A pondless waterfall is an attractive option that can be tucked into the front or back yard. Large or small, these waterfalls simply recirculate water stored in an underground reservoir (much like fountains), so water consumption is kept to a minimum – an important feature if you do business in water-restricted zones.

When designing a landscape plan that includes a pondless waterfall (or any water feature, for that matter), be sure to place the feature in an area of the yard that gets a lot of use or traffic. The tendency for novice water feature installers is to tuck a waterfall or pond into an unused portion of the yard. Chances are that little-visited location is unused for a reason. Bring the water feature right up to a deck or patio where the homeowner can interact with it up-close. Imagine the delight of being able to look out the kitchen window while doing dishes or preparing dinner and view a meandering stream. Better yet, your customer can open the window to hear the waterfall sing.

For customers with small children, pondless waterfalls are an ideal choice. The kids can play in the water without mom and dad worrying about the depth of a pond. Water in the landscape will provide the added benefit of attracting various critters, such as frogs, butterflies, birds and more. Children will delight in this new-found nature, and parents will be sold when they realize they won’t have to fight to drag their kids away from their video games.

Like the fountain feature, pondless waterfalls provide a healthy margin. For about the same price as mowing 100 lawns, you can install a pondless waterfall. They’re available in a variety of sizes and come in handy kits, once again providing ease of installation. Pondless waterfalls are typically installed in one day with a two- to three-man crew. Of course, larger, advanced waterfalls will take more time. When you let the customer know they can enjoy a waterfall feature at the end of just one day, this option becomes much more tempting.

For those homeowners looking to take the full plunge into an ecosystem pond, complete with fish, plants, a waterfall or stream (or possibly both), they’ll find a natural oasis in their own back yard. Smaller ponds can be added to any landscape in just a day, with a profit margin hovering around 50 percent. Like the pondless waterfalls, ecosystem ponds are available in kits making them easy to install.

A pondless waterfall is an attractive option that can be tucked into the front or back yard. These waterfalls simply recirculate water stored in an underground reservoir, so water consumption is kept to a minimum-an important feature if you do business in water-restricted zones.

Tell it and sell it

Once you secure an installation project for a water feature, be sure to market what you’re doing. Placing door hangers around the neighborhood the day you’re there to install allows opportunity for those curious neighbors to stop by and whet their appetite for their very own water feature. When one household in the neighborhood gets their feet wet with a fountain, waterfall or pond, chances are others will follow. Make it easy for them to find you by including your contact information on the door hanger. And there’s no reason why you can’t share these door hangers, or even flyers about the water gardening lifestyle, at your next home show.

Water features are becoming easier to sell because they’re unique and fit a variety of budgets. An added bonus is that once you install one, the feature typically leads to installation of other landscape projects and services. Landscaping around the pond is critical to providing a natural transition to the surrounding yard, and your customers will want to beautify their water feature with perennials, annuals and ornamental shrubs. Likewise, many homeowners will install additional hardscaping to complement their pond, such as an expanded patio or deck.

Once you finish the installation, you can offer future water feature maintenance to your customers; cleaning their pond, waterfalls or fountains in the spring so they’ll run efficiently and beautifully through the rest of the season. And in winter, you can perform shut-down services for these features, as well. Not only that, but statistics show that the average water gardener increases the size of their pond or water feature three times over its lifespan, resulting in future business for you.

The water garden lifestyle continues to grow in popularity, from the smallest of fountains to the grandest of ponds. By incorporating water features into your service offerings, you’ll do well to separate yourself from your competition and secure ongoing future business. You won’t regret getting your feet wet with water features.

Jennifer Zuri is marketing communications manager for Aqua-scape, Inc., St. Charles, Ill. (www.aquascapeinc.com). She can be reached at jzuri@aquascapeinc.com.