Pondemonium 2014, an event that is going to change EVERYTHING!
By: Jaak Harju - Atlantis Water Gardens - August 26, 2014
I'm sitting on my flight bound to Newark, NJ out of Chicago, and I find myself feeling almost electric after spending the better part of a week at the headquarters of Aquascape Inc for the largest Pond Industry Training Event in North America, Pondemonium 2014. I am coming back to New Jersey with a palpable excitement about what will surely become the single most important time in the Water Feature Industry - The Premier of Pond Stars on NAT GEO WILD.
My mind is racing about the amazing opportunities that lie ahead for the entire industry, especially our Certified Aquascape Contractor (CAC) family and the impact it will have on the people that are going to be introduced to the Water Garden Lifestyle that we create each day. As Greg Wittstock, Owner of Aquascape, is often heard saying: "Everyone Wants A Pond, They Just Don't Know It Yet".
EVERYTHING IS CHANGING on September 9, 2014!
That's probably the best way to describe Pondemonium! If there is one thing that Aquascape is known for, it's the incredible amount of time and resources they spend on educating their contractors and giving them real-world experience to be the best water feature builders in the world. The format for Pondemonium 2014 was flipped on it's lid this year with the introduction of 2 separate tracks - 1 for the Business Owners and 1 for their Foreman.
Pond Tour with a purpose.
Wednesday brought a Chicagoland Pond Tour and another chance for the Foreman/Rookies to learn. Aquascape trainers challenged them to analyze the water features they were visiting and breakdown sale price, cost of construction and profit. This is an extremely useful skill for someone that is responsible for keeping budgets and time-frames in mind on a job-site. Overall, the Foreman/Rookie training was a smashing success!
Pondemonium usually starts for me on the golf course with my "East Coast" buds, and this year was no different! I'd say the single biggest benefit I get out of attending Pondemonium each year is the networking. Being able to talk about struggles, successes, innovations and the future with a bunch of "Pond Guys/Gals" that are going through the same things is something I truly value. These people have become some of my very best friends and we are most definitely a tightly knit family. Something you will absolutely NOT find in any other industry!
The remainder of Wednesday is spent re-connecting with old friends and meeting some new ones as well. Most of us are getting some feedback from our Foreman that we sent out for the training earlier in the week, then sending them back home to start implementing their new-found skillsets. A little lounging around and telling stories fills the rest of the day as we prepare for our big day on Thursday....
The "CAC ONLY" Advanced Build
6 a.m. rolls around real fast Thursday morning as I wake to the sound of torrential rain and thunder. Today is the day that the "Big Dogs" in the pond world love the most, the annual "CAC ONLY" Advanced Build. It's usually comprised of an incredible amount of big boulders, heavy equipment, an unrealistic goal and lots of chest-thumping & one-upmanship......in other words, a Pond Builder's dream!
Oh yeah, did I mention it was raining?
The site for this year's Advanced Build was Farm Friends, NFP, a not-for-profit facility that assists individuals with special challenges and their families. They provide suitable workshops, enjoyable recreational activities, and therapeutic programs for people with unique needs in a peaceful, rural farm setting.
We are taking a stagnant earth bottom pond and retrofitting it with a wet-well intake for debris/invasive floating weed removal, a constructed wetland filter for better water quality and a large scale boulder waterfall that will flow approx. 20,000 gallons per hour. This is no problem for an experienced group like this, because we've got a week to finish it and lots of sunshine.
Scratch that... it's raining and we've only got 1 day!
Perseverance and Tenacity are 2 words that I would use to describe this talented group of individuals. Over 100 business owners banded together and overcame adversity through the rain and mud to bring a centerpiece to this farm that will be enjoyed by many special needs people for years to come. This build was a true testament to the resolve and teamwork of these dedicated professionals, and I am always in awe when we overcome what seems like insurmountable odds to complete an extraordinary task. I am very proud to be a part of the CAC family and these pictures should give you a good idea why!
In The Classroom.
Friday was spent honing our business acumen with everything from internet and retail sales training to operations and hiring/engaging your employees. Workshops were led by Veteran Aquascape employees as well as some of our peers offering their years of experience in respective categories.
Saturday was kicked off with a fantastic keynote speaker named Jim O'Connor. He is an ex-Navy Seal and delivers a very powerful message about how to be a leader and succeed with the team around you.
Jim set the tone for the rest of the day's workshops, which included sales, marketing, maintenance and fish with Doc Johnson. All the seminars were well put together and extremely informative.
The last day of Pondemonium is always capped with awards and recognition for some of Aquascape's Top Frogs (customers). 40 of our peers in the Pond Industry were recognized for their accomplishments and this year Atlantis Water Gardens came away with #15 in sales in the U.S.
There are also 3 individual Top Awards that are recieved as well:
2014 Conservationist of the Year
2014 Businessman of the Year
2014 Water Feature Artist of the Year
To view more pictures of award winning water features from Atlantis Water Gardens and read about Jaak's experience winning Water Feature Artist of the Year click the pictures below:
Written by Jaak Harju
Neptune's News is written by Jaak Harju of Atlantis Water Gardens located in Denville, NJ. Jaak is an award winning water feature artist and in 2014 he was awarded "Water Feature Artist of the Year for the entire U.S. With an avid passion for crafting water features that utilize raw materials to mimic nature, Jaak is a perpetual student of aquatic art and has been a professional since 1998. Jaak is the creator of The Atlantis TV video series seen on Youtube and has made several television appearances on Networks such as HGTV and the DIY Network. He has been on several humanitarian ventures around the world with the Aquascape Foundation as well as worked on several key water feature projects across the U.S. and Internationally.
Jaak Harju has been designing, building and maintaining ponds and water features in Morris County, NJ, as well as across the Country
(even a few international gigs!) for almost 2 decades.
In 2010, his company, Atlantis Water Gardens in Denville, NJ, was awarded Certified Aquascape Contractor (CAC) Of The Year by Aquascape Inc. and in 2014 he received the distinction of Water Feature Artist of the Year and Master CAC.