Inspiration | Philosophy | Motivation | Marketing | Business

Year: 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Watch Out for your Brian’s!

I’ve come to learn people don’t think like me. Something tells me that puts me in good company on this page. Afterall we are entrepreneurs for a reason. The problem is all of us must learn how others think or feel in order to help ourselves. Does that make sense?

We also need to own EVERYTHING we can own when it comes to how our way of thinking, believing and behaving is perceived by the rest of the world. In my case, that means saying I’m sorry…A LOT!!!

Last night I posted a long overdue blog titled “The Only Way To Quit A Job” If you didn’t read it, its on my personal FB page as well as, like all my blogs, our website (just search blogs) Anyway, as usual when it comes to my communication much was lost in translation (anyone else suffer from this syndrome?!) One of the ways what I wrote was misperceived was the thought process many, including some people on my own team had regarding the validity of even attempting to resolve a seemingly untenable situation with an employer. Why bother trying to resolve something when you’re burned out and wanting to leave? Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to have to turn in a letter of resignation to get the desired changes you feel you would need to stay. In some cases that my thinking may prove to be correct. In some cases, it may not, though. Nothing wagered, nothing earned in my book. Most people don’t feel that way and simply resign. <sigh>

In every company, I have ever dealt with or even know a little about the top reoccurring issue is either people or sales. Agreed? Aquascape is no exception but the thing that makes Aquascape exceptional is not our products, not our marketing but rather our PEOPLE. The same people that is that are the biggest pain in my a**!!!

Case in point being everyone’s favorite red head Brian Helfrich. How many of you would kill to have a Brian on your team? That is of course if you didn’t kill him first!


Brian started working at Aquascape fresh out of high school. Do I need to go any further?! Ok I will because it’s fun (now!) Brian was ARRESTED on his very first day of work (and it was only a half day at that!!!) I survived Brian and he survived me (jail cells not only keep people in they keep pissed off bosses out too) Hah! Brian has grown into an invaluable member of our team but it took years of grooming and mutual maturation to get to the place we are today.

I love Brian. He’s the kid brother I never had. But I haven’t always showed him the extent I loved and respected him. Why? Because I’m an idiot that’s why. In other words I’m just as human as almost everyone else.

Brian, as most people eventually do, got fed up with what he was doing and in particular how he was being made to feel doing it for Aquascape.

So Brian did what virtually everyone who feels like they’ve had more than they want to handle and he quit. He didn’t just quit though he quit, bought a truck, had business cards printed up and incorporated as a business.

Gut punch!

We’ve ALL been there. We ALL will be there again. It’s what happens when you own a business. It’s what happens when you are an idiot, or just another flawed human trying to figure life out.

My favorite poet, the esteemed Rocky Balboa says it best “It’s not how hard you get hit that matters, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward that counts!”

Brian and I did just that going toe to toe hurling punches and full bore roundhouse swings for an entire weekend! I even pulled in the big guns,Carla Gulisano Wittstock and Ed Beaulieu to trade jabs with Brian. In the end, Brian won. He got a big pay raise and the well-earned respect and admiration he deserved. But I won too. That was 4 years ago and today Brian is performing at a stratospheric level for Aquascape.

Quite literally Brian “Is Da Man”

We’ve all had a Brian or ten that never became a Brian because we burned em out far too early in their development stages. Can you, like me, own that? If you can’t you will never get a Brian or an Ed, a Colleen Heitzleror Jeffrey PaytonScott Rhodes Aquascape or or or… to stay on your TEAM.

But if you can own your own crap the skies the limit for your people and your organization by default.

Most organizations fail because most organizations fail their people. Ouch!

Why it took Brian “leaving” to get what he deserved out of me was obvious in retrospect. While Brian was performing miracles by growing construction sales and profits year over year, Aquascape was hemorrhaging cash as our manufacturing and supply business was drying up with the rest of the economy.

Brian’s performance was the least of my concerns right up until he chose to leave. Immediately upon Brian’s “resignation” he became my highest concern!

What’s my point with all of this? It’s of course that I love Brian! But I did a piss poor job, as I so often do, of showing it. I suspect in that regard you and I might be the same.

Can you own that? If not, you might be getting a resignation letter from your “Brian’s. Unless they do the near- impossible…and talk to you first!

With love,

The Pond Idiot


The Only Way to Quit A Job

In my book there is only one way to quit a job. In my experience as an employer going on a quarter century however, I can frustratingly tell you ALMOST NOBODY DOES IT how they should! Either I’m wrong or most of the world is wrong. Please tell me where you personally land on this subject.

The only way to quit a job (assuming it is not over an ethical situation or retirement) is to go to your boss or all the way up to the owner and ask for a meeting. The only thing you should NOT bring to that meeting is a letter of resignation. If you enter that meeting with a letter of resignation, like most people do, you are not handling the situation the way that you should. If you are wondering how in the world I could have the audacity to know how YOU, should or shouldn’t handle a situation that I know nothing about, I’d answer this way.

Simply put by choosing to walk into a meeting with a letter of resignation in hand it means that you are choosing an option you have nothing to gain from and quite possibly everything to lose by doing. Period.

Instead of arbitrarily possibly limiting your options unnecessarily, here is the approach I think that everyone should try first. (I suggest doing it in-person but I am going to articulate what you should say in letter form here)


Dear Mr. Wittstock,

                I have enjoyed working for your company for the last ten years and appreciate the opportunity you have given me to do so. I have been offered a position with an excellent company that has me considering my options with your company. The offer for employment at Company X comes with a substantial pay raise, is closer to my home, has better benefits than I currently am receiving and happens to be in my college major which would allow me to pursue my lifelong passion. Based on these factors, I am considering accepting the position at Company X. However, before I make any significant life decisions regarding my career, I’d like your perspective and feedback regarding not just this opportunity but also whatever opportunities exist for me here. 

Ultimately, my goal is to be successful and happy with my career wherever I work. Any help as my current employer that you can provide me to achieve my goals would be greatly appreciated.



John (outside the box thinking) Doe


As an owner if I received this sort of communication I might hear angels singing from above I’d be so happy! Angels don’t normally sing above my office. If this interaction occurred I would have one of three reactions.

Congratulations! Never has a better thing happened for a more deserving person! Please help me plan your going away party! Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla frosting?
Interesting . In the last year three other people have left here to work for that company. I’m not exactly sure what happened but all three of them are no longer there. Would you like me to put you in touch with them so you can find out what their experiences were there?!

You know, I almost never do this but this is for your own damn good. Would you consider staying here if we gave you a promotion to your bosses’ bosses’ job? It would also entail a doubling of your current salary and a company Mercedes. Of course you would drive it only on the days of the week you choose to come to the office. As a manager you can choose where, when and how you best need to work to get the job done.

You have nothing to lose and everything to potentially gain (a higher level of respect, a new found awareness, a raise and promotion) handling it this way. Almost nobody handles it this way! They instead choose to just turn in a resignation letter, not just at Aquascape, but to almost every business owner I know.

Who’s wrong…me or the world?!

Quitting a job

The Definition of Hell is a Life Without Problems

I feel the need to finish my Football/Business post from last week especially considering the outcome of the game. Not only did the good guys win they did it in resounding fashion. I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat, quite literally to the action.

Last week my team (the good guys) lost for the first time in 24 games! (just think about that?!) The star running back emotionally called out the play calling of the coaching staff and multiple players announced they were leaving early for the draft. This team wasn’t used to losing and it appeared to everyone they were coming apart at the seams the week before their biggest game of every year. Not cool!

I was fascinated to see how the best coach in college football, Urban Meyer, would respond.

First he took ownership, calling the loss on him. Next he deflected the media barrage of criticism heaped at his star running back for violating taboo and “calling out the coaches” He said it was an inappropriately timed comment made by an emotional young man and that he and the team were moving on after the player apologized to not just him but his teammates. He also said he agreed with the comments that were made and would take a more active role in play calling the next week.

Situation defused game on!

And what a game it was! After the game and right before walking into the tunnel Coach Meyer ran to the stands and I was fortunate enough to be the first fan to shake his hand after the big win. I looked him in the eye and said “great way to respond to a gut punch” He stopped, looked up and said “thanks it feels good!”

I don’t care if you’re coaching a football team or leading a team of pond builders or even computer programmers, how any team responds to adversity is what ultimately determines how successful a “team” it becomes.

I’ve been on enough high performing and underperforming teams to know that well. Today our Team is heading down to Colombia South America to tackle a multimillion dollar amazingly challenging build. It will only be pulled off if Ed can pull the group of All Star contractors together to overcome the adversity that’s already (they are starting 3 weeks behind schedule through no fault of their own) being thrown their way. I have little doubt Ed and these talented CAC’s will find a way to get er’ done!

Nobody wants adversity in their lives yet anyone who does anything is only going to accomplish it if they can properly handle the adversity that inevitably comes their way.

You learn what your made of, or not, not when times or going well, but rather when there not!

That and that alone is why “A life without problems, is the definition of hell” is one of my favorite quotes.

In that regard I say…bring it on Alabama!


Definition of hell


Rocky Wisdom

39 years ago Sylvester Stallone conceived, wrote and starred in the original Rocky, winning the Academy Award for Best Movie along the way and launching his massive career. When it debuted I was a school kid living outside Philly and it instantly became my favorite film. It still is.

Last night the 7th installment in “the greatest movie series of all time” (Sorry Star Wars) premiered. You better believe I was there, family in tow, cheering him on in CREED. It was a knockout!

As maligned as Stallone is in the press for not letting his baby die (none of which probably saw number 6, Rocky Balboa, which was outstanding) here’s how I feel.




For me it never gets old rooting for the underdog. Cheering for the person who is all heart and puts in the work regardless of what adversity life manages to throw at them. What a great metaphor for life and one I’ve enjoyed watching again and again with the boys I’m trying my best to raise into men.

In the final fight scene, in the final round, the original score started playing.


I wanted to leap out of my chair and start swinging punches!!!

Thankfully for my kids’ sake I didn’t. Hah! For my sake though I will go back to work Monday, excited as always to “get punched and still keep moving forward!”

Rocky wisdom, as simple as it is, registers with me!

Always and forever

Carpe Diem

What Success Looks Like

As I wander and bumble my way through life, I am constantly reminded how horrendously awesome it is not to have all the answers ahead of time. Agreed? My almost out of body experience of being directed for a year of my life filming a reality show for Nat Geo Wild was an education that refined me beyond measure. For that, I am eternally grateful and appreciative of the wisdom that I gained.

Aquascape Pond Squad is that wisdom manifested. Allowing life’s non-linear course of success to shape us will ultimately determine whether or not we succeed on our journey.

I am proud of the product we are producing today and the team that I get to be a part of in making it. The cherry on top is to be creating it with the friends that I have made along my journey.

This is deep, I know, but also so much more rea,l than traditional reality T.V. allows you to get!

People ask me all of the time where I’m going with all of this. Honestly, how do you begin to even answer that when you are constantly evolving to adapt to an ever shifting playing field? I might not have all of the answers but I sure have plenty of dreams!

Pursuing those dreams, while welcoming others alongside me to play along as well, has brought a deep sense of fulfillment that I feel blessed to be experiencing.

Thank you for being a part of my journey even if it is only as a spectator. Doing something, anything, is a lot more fun when others are included as well.

Without further ado or a more continued deep reflection, here is the 7th Aquascape Pond Squad episode:

Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed creating it!


What success

Was I Born on Mars or was Everyone Else?!

This summer we had an intern working at Aquascape that was exceptional. When it was time for her to go back to school to pursue her degree at a local community college we were sad to see her go. She had become such a valuable asset for our team and so we offered her something we hadn’t been motivated to do before.

We were happy to allow her to continue working here in between her classes. We flexed our work schedule to meet hers. When you do good work, good things happen. Funny how that happens huh?!

If that was all that happened though I wouldn’t be talking about it. Today I saw her in the lunch room and was excited to hear how she was enjoying her now second year of college. However, my enthusiasm to hear how good things were going for her wasn’t met with an equal level of passion by her regarding her experiences.

What?! This is college! It should be the time of your life right?! Surely she knows that?! Maybe she never watched Animal House though and doesn’t realize that?! I needed to get to the bottom of this problem pronto and talk some sense into her!

I asked her “why the lack of enthusiasm kid?” Her reply was telling. This semester I have all required classes. Left unsaid verbally but so apparent otherwise was how unfulfilling she found them. However her eyes light up when she said “next semester I have all classes in my major!”

How sad.

Here we find a diamond in the ruff, a young, talented hard working kid who comes into the game and is instantly contributing. We only get her services part time though as she is pursuing a dream to someday land a job doing what she’s doing now for us.

This is not my typical rant about how ridiculously over valued (and over expensive) todays college degrees so often are but rather this

In today’s day and age why is anyone forced to do anything generic just to “earn” something that is supposed to open doors for them to do something they want, and in this case actually are doing?

My point is this. We all have to do things in life we don’t want to do in order to get something else we do want. Agreed? That’s about as much merit as I can give to the craziness of seeing the light snuffed out in a talented and passionate mover and shaker who is forced to do something for no other reason than that’s what society deems you should be doing.

Pure silliness if you ask me (or have read this far)

I love seeing people become all they can be whatever it is they want to be. This girl is passionate about what she wants to be “when she grows up” and she’s going to college so she can do it.

The madness isn’t that she’s doing it already for me but rather she has to take (and pay for) some arbitrary core classes in order to keep pursuing the classes in her major she wants to take.

Every core class she isn’t passionate about is another hour of her life she won’t get back, and one fewer hour we can’t get the benefits of her talents either.

In two and a half more years she will have her degree and if she chooses to stay here I will pay her more provided she can produce more for me in return.

Something tells me she will be, but it won’t be because of those core classes we both now hate!


What I Wish Someone Would Have Told me when I was Young

Get good grades, get into a good college, get a good job. You don’t want me talking to your kids if this is what you want them to hear.

I have the privilege of getting in front hundreds of high school and college age kids every year. I love doing it too!

My main talk is “What I wish someone would have told me when I was your age”

Two things happen every time I give this interactive presentation. The kids (and their teachers) say they love it, and also they have never heard what it is I’m saying before.

Why is that and how could that be?!

I’m by no means a rocket scientist but I might as well be speaking Greek since they haven’t heard the simple things I’m saying before.

If you’re wondering what it is I’m saying I believe it’s more or less the same things I bet you would say. So then why is it that our children, our future, aren’t hearing what we are all saying?! Obviously the falls on us more than them.

So how would you answer that question?

“What do you know now that you wish someone would have told you when were a young adult?

I’m looking forward to hearing your responses.  I will then share the three main reoccurring themes I speak about every time. And since this is “what YOU wish you would have known then that you know now EVERY answer is the correct one!”



Get good grades

Committed to Getting Better

If I wasn’t so committed to getting better I could easily get bitter in my old age. Next year will be Aquascapes 25th year in business. I’d say I pretty much have seen and heard it all before and I’ve learned history has a way of repeating itself…again and again. Life for sure is filled with reoccurring themes isn’t it? Let’s just say “respect your elders” has a lot more meaning today than it did “back in the day” for me.

I had a conversation the other day with a contractor I’ve had umpteen times before. He was evaluating becoming a CAC but was debating if doing so would be the right decision for his business.

After all, there are so many ways to build ponds and “exclusivity” seems limiting by its very definition. We left it with he would take the next year to “evaluate for himself” what worked best for his business.

“When the student was ready the teacher arrived”

The “younger” Pond Guy would have argued with this guy the merits of our system and water boarded him with questions regarding his business. The older, wiser and more chill (remember everything is relative) Pond Guy pointed out a few things and left it at that (I might have had a blood vessel bulge in the conversation but it was more like a single one now not every blood vessel bulging at once) Hah!

Here’s where the bitter part could easily creep in if I let it.

No former Certified Aquascape Contractor has ever left the program and installed more ponds afterwards. Not one.

Nor has a single Distributor left selling Aquascape and sold more selling a competitive line. Zilch.

They aren’t making more doing it “every other way” either, than doing it one way” But that doesn’t stop guys today leaving to try to any more than it did before.


I picked up an old Aquascaper (who remembers them?) and saw a list of our Top Frogs from 2001. Some are still Top Frogs today. Most aren’t and sadly many have gone away, out of business, never to be heard from again.

And for what? A desperate attempt to make a few more dollars? A perceived slight? The eternal search for a life filled with Unicorns and Rainbows? It’s something different for everyone which is what makes it so difficult to game plan for. In the end, all of them who aren’t here anymore and the few remaining who still but aren’t succeeding are almost all a shell of their former self. External or even internal forces combined resulting in the same devastating effect.

They lost the passion they once had for this industry and doing what we all are doing today.

How sad.

Something or a lot of things happened and they choose to stop getting better and instead got bitter.

I have no clue in 15 years which one of today’s Top Frogs won’t be around anymore. If history is any indicator it will be a lot. If you want to still be around and even Aquascape for that matter, we have to do one thing more than any other.

We need to keep getting better.

Here’s to us getting better together here on out!

Carpe the next 15 years!



The Aquatic Experience

Yesterday I posted a video of our step-by-step pond display at the consumer Aquatic Experience Show. It’s created some great buzz and conversation with not just the show attendees, but other exhibitors as well. It’s hard to comprehend but people really can’t visualize what we, who do it every day, take for granted.

Ed and I also had a meeting yesterday with Paver Pete, the voice and personality behind Techo Bloc, the rapidly expanding paver product manufacturer based out of Montreal. 15,000 Hardscape contractors will attend their 55 Techo Showcases they have been putting on every winter for the last ten years. Pretty impressive.

We have participated in the showcases before and are considering doing some of them again. However there is a couple mitigating factors that weigh heavy against us doing so. One would be the cost. It’s 4,000 bucks a pop to set up a ten foot tabletop booth for a half day seminar. On top of that you need to staff it, which for us means hotel and airfare and the salary of the salesperson for the day. That could easily add 50% soft costs to the investment. But the biggest challenge by far is not the financial investment but rather finding a way to get our message of the business opportunity with water features not just conveyed but understood and than acted on by those who attend.

We would do these shows for one reason and one reason only…to gain new customers!!!

Our problem is not the message, the opportunity with water features is immense and appealing as you all know. It’s getting people to actually hear what we are saying, comprehend it, believe it, and then figure out how to get out of their own way long enough to start doing it!

Simple Huh?!

Part of me wishes people would walk by our sequential display at the Aquatic Experience Show and barely notice it. At least that would show me they don’t care. But they walk the circumference of our display and stop at the finish product taking pictures. And despite a cornucopia of cool fish and displays filling the hall all the kids end up mesmerized by the waterfalls, fish and turtles we are displaying (warm my heart!)

“Everyone wants a pond, they just don’t know it yet!”

Aquatic Experience

I’m having a blast working with my team figuring out the maddening Rubik’s cube of consumer and contractor behavior. We are a thousand times wiser and more knowledgeable and not to mention sophisticated (TV shows) in our marketing efforts than when I slapped a stamp on a catalog I threw together and mailed it millions and millions of times a year. We grew like string algae in a full sun overstocked pond doing that! Ah the “good old days” when I got to go to work and not have a relationship with my Dad but I digress

Should we go back to mailing catalogs in our digital 2016 world? Please!

I love what I do even though I can’t figure out the mystery of how to get ALL of the people who should be doing it to do so!

Those of you on here don’t help me either.
Your passion, success and happiness is only further salt in my wounds.

One thing is for sure with all of this. Nobody else has figured out better than Aquascape the silver bullet and elusive holy grail of attracting new contractors to our market and new consumers to this hobby.

It certainly isn’t going happen either by installing or showcasing under gravel filtration systems. That much I know for sure. Hah!

Carpe Diem




Anything but Traditional

On Halloween I got to dress up as everyones idol…Ed! It was really neat to walk around holding a beer and be loved adored and respected by all for a day; however my phone rang and I was jolted back to reality. Hah!

Yesterday and today we have the retail channel planning meetings. It’s great to have everyone on the team brainstorming ways to get better and planning for our future. Truly, you won’t find a more knowledgeable, passionate group of people committed to helping customers succeed with the water feature category anywhere! One of our new accounts we discussed in our meeting that’s doing extremely well is a long standing traditional Distributor that has never carried our line before. I expressed my pleasure with the account and mentioned that in all my years of business I had never met or even spoken with the owner of this company. The salesperson who closed this account than corrected me. They said “actually this account said they did meet you in Atlanta, 15 years ago at the Industry trade show Pondapaloza” (anyone remember that show?! Boy have times a changed!) What he told me next was classic and inspired today’s blog.

“They said they met you and nothing personal but they don’t like you”


“Nothing personal” Oh to only be Ed!

This year another salesman was trying to turn another Distributor who carried competitive products onto carrying Aquascape only to be met with this gem “we would never buy from you. Any son that would do what your boss did to his father doesn’t deserve our business”

Egads! You can’t make this stuff up! People are complex, emotional machines I’ve given up trying to make happy. Don’t get me wrong, I love happy people. I realized a long time ago though people will view you through the filter they choose to view the world through, often regardless of anything you do.

And to  think I sell water gardening equipment and can still generate these kinds of visceral emotions!

Speaking of emotions have you seen the new Steve Jobs movie? If ever there was a polarizing figure in all of business, it might be Steve Jobs. The movie, of course, took lots of creative freedom in telling the story the producer wanted to portray (Remember even Reality TV is scripted. Hah!) But unlike its predecessor starring Aston Kurtcher, Steve Wozniak, Apples’ co founder said this move “nailed Steve Jobs personality” It wasn’t a flattering portrayal by any means in the traditional sense. But Steve Jobs, by everyone’s account was anything but traditional!!!

Nobody who built the largest of anything goes about doing things in the traditional fashion. They think differently and that makes them different. Most entrepreneurs don’t follow a traditional path either. It’s probably why you guys are building ponds today and most of you still hate sitting at a desk doing office work.

I’m frustrated and disappointed that everyone doesn’t see what you guys see, and that’s who Aquascape truly is and what we could mean to them and their busines. But I’m motivated nonetheless to keep trying.

Koi freaks might want to burn me at the stake for suggesting using rock and gravel in ponds. Please.

Technical geeks might want to claim you need bottom drains, filter grids and external pumps to properly build a pond. Sure you do.

And many others will mispercieve how we sell our products into the market and where the true potential of this category truly is. And potential gets wasted.

I can’t convince a landscaper who has been burned doing ponds done wrong or a retailer who lost their pond champion and is stuck with inventory about the upside potential water features have for their business until they are ready to hear it. Most aren’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to shoot the messenger than listen to what he’s trying to say.

In the world of business, it can’t be Halloween every day.

I think I need a beer! Hah!

Carpe Diem


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