"It was an honor to be recognized amongst all the other great garden centers in the country," says Steve Kainer, owner.
did it backward.
Backward, at least, compared to the way most retailers get into water gardening.
Kainer is owner of Hill Country Water Gardens, which opened 12 years ago a few miles outside of Austin, Texas, as a small business focused almost solely on water gardening.
knows exactly what his
higher-end market demographic is looking for.
likes to see new fountains in person before he
Hill Country sticks with four primary vendors - Henri Studio
, Unique Stone, Massarellis' and Campania - for most of its SKUs.
Once Kainer and operations manager Christopher Howell have identified what they like at the shows, they do a lot of catalog buying in January, as well as during the season.
also gets much better terms by placing earlier orders.
"We're probably able to reorder a couple of times before payment is due on the first orders," he
Hill Country's primary vendors account for about 70 percent of its purchases.
also likes to try out fountains from other vendors to fill out the rest of his
It's definitely a trial and error process, however.
"We see other fountains we like, but if the plumbing assemblies aren't good, or it's difficult to get parts or they don't go together easily it can be a problem," he
"It's got to be something that's easy for two or three seasonal employees to set up and put together in 10 to 15 minutes."
It's also important to make sure the vendors have good molds for their products, Kainer
"It's not worth spending an hour trying to level a piece to set it up.
When that happens, we let them know we're going to find a new vendor, and we don't buy from them anymore."
Statuary and garden art are great complementary products to the fountains.
goal with the artwork is to find pieces that both accent his
fountains and nursery stock, and also offer Hill Country
the opportunity to differentiate itself by offering unique merchandise.
Like many garden retailers, Kainer
does a lot of buying at the markets in Atlanta.
Dallas and Chicago.
also goes to auctions looking for interesting pieces to sell or use in displays, and works with the thriving artist community in Austin to come up with items you won't find anywhere else.
While Hill Country's
local market tends to be on the higher end - they weren't impacted by the economic downturn quite as much as some areas on the country - Kainer
and Howell have consciously changed the value of their fountain product mix.
I'm going to bring in a few more big pieces this year just for a change of pace, but I think we're going to to stick to that trend for now," Kainer
2 - Displays and Merchandising
Getting the right product on site is just the first step.
What really moves the fountains and statuary, Kainer
says, is creating a setting for the pieces that customers can picture in their own backyards.
For Hill Country
, that means great displays with a premium on cross merchandising product.
You'll find statuary on nursery benches, and beautiful plants used liberally in fountaina dn are displays throughout the grounds.
"Our nursery manager is happy to let up put statuary on the nursery tables with teh plants," Kainer
I've never heard a customer complain about it, thought," Kainer
Nothing stays the same for long on the Hill Country grounds.
Displays change often - once a week or more - to continually entice and inspire customers.
Much of that work is handled not by Kainer
or Howell, but by the rest of the staff.
has built a creative - and fairly unique - team over the years.
Great displays and branded products help set the table for a sale, but Kainer
says the final step is having his
staff well-trained and completely up to date on all the product.
and Howell hold meetings each Saturady morning starting in February to run through new products with the staff.
says one thing that has allowed Hill Country
to be so successful with cast fountains and cast stone planters is having an installation crew.
"It's probably the biggest issue with fountains," Kainer
3 Ways to Sell Fountains - Hill Country Water Gardens owner Steve Kainer offers there quick ideas to help you move more product in the fountain, statuary and garden art categories.
"Sixty thousand hardworking Austin families live in substandard housing," owner Steve Kainer said.
"We found a way to help and our customers can too."
added that Hill Country Water Gardens
would fully provide the landscaping for five new Habitat for Humanity homes slated for consturction beginning in September.
explained how customers participating in the Backyard Makeover Sweepstakes can save money, help with the Austin Habitat for Humanity project and have a lot of fun.
"Starting in late June, customers can bring in their very worst 'before' pictures of an area in their yard," Kainer
"They will then qualify for a 10 percent discount for a project to improve that area.
added that 5 percent of each project purchase would be donated to Austin Habitat for Humanity.
"The competition really gets going August 31," Kainer
"Each competing family will submit 'after' pictures of their project.
A panel of experts will select the five finalists."
said online voting will determine the final winning family project.
"The whole place has certainly developed into a destination," owner Steve Kainer said.
"It's more than just a nursery for sure."
opened Hill Country Water Gardens
10 years ago after growing restless as a coach and teacher.
had spend his
formative years working for water gardens in Houston and College Station, and said he
wanted to get back to those roots.
The store began as a small project with Kainer
and a couple of employees and throughout the years has slowly blossomed into what he
calls a "destination nursery" with nine show ponds and 100 different water features.
"It's grown very slowly, but as we've grown, we feel like we've done it right every step of the way," Kainer
, Hill Country Water Gardens
is the area's only full-line water garden retail store, Kainer
said, giving customers a single place to find everything they need to install, maintain and stock any water feature.
Sandy and Al Smith came to Kainer
for help planning a water feature for their front entryway.
After spending some time talking with Kainer
, the couple said they changed their plans completely.
said the displays are in constant flux because the staff is constantly looking for new things to try.
"We'll get bored, so we'll change something," he
Though the changes sometimes garner complaints, Kainer
said most customers appreciate having something new to see with every visit.
The relaxed feel of the nursery tends to draw families who are looking for a unique way to spend the afternoon.
staff doesn't employ any high-pressure sales and welcomes people who are there just to enjoy the scenery.
In order to make the nursery more inviting, Kainer
staff offer several free events open to the public.
There are seminars every Saturday in the spring teaching the basics of installing and maintaining water features.
also hosts two free annual events for the public: The Lily Blossom Festival and Night at the Ponds.
"It's an opportunity to come and enjoy the place in the evening," Kainer
"It's a really sord of laid back, fun deal."
said that like the nursery, the festivals started out small and simple and have grown from there.
This year, Hill Country Water Gardens
is growing more than any previous year.
recently acquired three acres of property adjoining the current two-acre lot.
With the extra space, he
plans to expand parking, increase his
plant stock and add a new showroom.
Even with the expansion, Kainer
is not trying to compete with the bigger retail stores.
The plants he
offers are generally not available other places, especially the hardy local varieties.
"Paula worked for me," Kainer
"We still miss her
and just wanted to do something for her
hopes to have the additions open ot the public later this year.
No matter how much Hill Country Water Gardens
always wants it to be inviting and fun.
Whether visitors are there to