cool article----on Pond Guy
Big Fish, Small Ponds
Monday, January 22, 2007
Aquascape Founder and CEO, Greg Wittstock
2005 Revenue:$60 million
No. of Employees:175
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Greg Wittstock, who likes to be called the Pond Guy, built his first pond at the age of 12. Today, more than 20 years later, Wittstock runs a thriving empire that not only builds backyard ponds, but supplies and teaches thousands of contractors every year on the latest and greatest Aquascape techniques.
"I moved from my lakefront home in New Jersey to Illinois when I was 12. My parents promised me that I could bring 11 of my pet turtles with me. On the second day after the move, I started digging my own backyard pond. I had checked out every book I could find from the library on backyard water gardening. Most of the books came from England and most of their techniques didn't work here in the United States.
"I built the first pond out of concrete and it cracked during its first winter. The filter systems clogged and turned fish to sushi, the pond turned green, and my turtles started escaping. That was the beginning of my odyssey. I MacGyvered up my own classroom to experiment with new techniques until I got them right.
"After I got things working, people got interested. In 1991, after my sophomore year at Ohio State University, I launched Aquascape Designs to build ponds for customers. I printed up some business cards and took out a few classified ads. I sold five jobs that summer and got $21,000 for three months of work. My gross profit was $11,000, which was a heck of a lot more than I made as a lifeguard the summer before. It was a fun way to make money.
"In the summer of 1992, the Chicago Tribune ran a feature story about me. I learned the power of public relations. My phone started ringing off the hook. In just four weeks, I sold 81 jobs. All of a sudden, my fun side-business became a career. I hired my dad, who was an engineer, a secretary, and a full-time foreman to help run the work crews with me. Aquascape became a year-round business in April 1993 -- and has been ever since.
"That's also when I realized that I could only make so much money with my two hands. With the help of a friend, I patented my filtration system and decided to start selling franchises. That was a huge mistake. I didn't sell a single one because my customers were landscape contractors and they didn't want to be tied down to a single kind of work. It was a low point of my life. I thought I wasted six months trying to do this. That's when I decided that instead of keeping my secrets to myself, I would give them away through a mail-order catalog.
"I mailed out our first catalog in 1995. I grew that to the point where we were mailing 3 million catalogs a year to sell my filtration systems and all the other items related to building ponds, like pumps and plumbing. As I started reaching new people, my business exploded.
"Today, my business model has completely changed. We've scrapped the mail order and now sell only through our 300 distributors. We decided to pick a horse, since our mail-order business was in competition with our distributors. We also train more than 5,000 contractors a year through our monthly training sessions, where we teach them to build both ponds and their businesses. We work with them to teach budgeting, sales, and construction techniques. That's part of why we dropped the 'Designs' from our name. In the end, the biggest value we can sell is our ability to help our customers grow their businesses.