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Our Reality Show Pond Stars on Nat Geo Wild lasted one season. That’s the case for 83% of Reality Shows. Only 17% of shows that debut on network TV make it to a second season. I have no idea what % of shows stay on TV for 15 Seasons but you could bet it’s closer to the low single digits!

So why the hate for TANKED?!

Building a Pond for Acrylic Tanks of Tanked TV Show

In a nutshell the same reason most HATE exist in our world…their success!

NEWSFLASH: Someone else’s success doesn’t detract for your opportunity for success nor does it shine a spotlight on your own perceived shortcomings unless YOU choose to make it so!!!

I befriended the cast at TANKED while filming our show. They were gracious with their time and advice. As their shows success and influence grew so did their detractors. Understanding now how cold and ruthless Hollywood is (a story for another day) I realized how much of the criticism directed their way was completely out of their control. It’s simply the nature of the beast and a byproduct of the scripting of the Executive Producer, Show Runner, Production Company and a mysterious Network Executive who stays hidden behind a current in OZ! I learned this lesson the hard way being handed a script everyday with lines to read on “our reality” show.

I’m sad that TANKED won’t be around for a 16th season but far more amazed they made it for 15! What an incredible run!!!

…but than again I also never associated their success with my lack there of!

I guess you could call me “a pond is half full (not empty) kind of guy!” 

I’m sure there’s situations and in particular people in my life I’ve subtracted from more than I added too. If you’re one of those people I’m sorry and for my own sake at least, I hope it was a long time ago! However, as a natural giver I always try to at least contribute more than I take in every equation.

As you might suspect I get taken advantage of…A LOT!!!

If only the world could operate on a more equitable give and take relationship I think it would spin a lot smoother on its axis!

I’m even fine going above and beyond at 60/40 and truly doing it with a genuine attitude.

…after all “it’s better to give than receive!”

BUT…when a natural giver meets a natural taker it’s always, in the end, ends up as a lose lose scenario! Sure, one guy will “make off” with more in the short term but in the end the mentality of a taker will sink them every time (despite what appearances may currently seem)!

I’ve had people steal money from me and seemingly, for now anyway, walk away “Scott free” Over the long haul though that mentality will cost them WAY more in life than they ever profit. Have you seen that too?!

I’m determined not to allow anyone or anything ever to stop me from being a giver! I’m also been taken advantage of enough times over the years to know I should extrapolate myself from abusive relationships faster than I usually do 😒

As with anything it’s a balancing act. I wish others wouldn’t be so darn short sighted but people, if not out right devious are often broken. With people like this it’s the givers that are usually left holding the empty bag.

I’m blessed to have an amazingly insightful wife and a mega talented TEAM of people surrounding me, who often see through people’s veils much more quickly and clearly than I do!

As for now I’m left praying for 50/50 relationships, happily willing to give 60/40, and I need to learn to walk away faster from 90/10’s while running from the 0/100’s!!!

Give and Take

A few weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to fly, for a few minutes anyway, a 1934 DC-3 in Colombia South America. It was one of six still operating down there. Yesterday, to my utter horror, one of those planes along with the co-pilot of our flight and 13 other souls perished in a crash!

Greg Flying

When I read the article someone had tagged me in it literally took my breath away! That very easily could have been me and the five companions I was traveling with!!!

My heart goes out to all the families who will forever be impacted by this tragedy. We never know when our time is up. I dogged a bullet yesterday!

I’m not afraid to die. I know where I’m going when I do. I very much want to live mind you but that choice is not up to any of us every time we get on board an airplane, go to the store to grab a gallon of milk, or even simply turn on the tv.

When you’re called home, you’re called home.

I love my wife, kids and family more than anything! My friends and business follow that. I have sooooo much to live for and so much more left to accomplish! Yet I feel it’s so commonplace for all of us to focus on life’s small irritations, hurts, fears and drama, that it’s easy to lose the perspective that everyday above grade is a gift!

Remembering that simple perspective and giving one another more grace daily will honor the passing of these 14 souls in Colombia or the 157 killed hours later in a crash in Ethiopia.

Life’s precious, don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s ALL small stuff!) 

Are you a pessimist or optimist? Obviously, we are both depending on the situation but, in general, we tend to gravitate one way or the other. I’m definitely an optimist by nature. Pessimists drain my energy in the same way, I’m sure, I drain theirs! Therefore, most of my friends and ALL my favorite customers are optimists!

Now, if you’re a pessimist I don’t want to discourage you (why would an optimist want to do that? 😜), but here’s what I will say…

You become who you hang out with and I prefer to soar with the eagles than scratch the ground with the chickens!

I watch in constant bewilderment seeing posts on social media from “friends” who find it cathartic to post, on a regular basis, about the dark cloud that’s perennially over their head! Humm … I wonder why that is. 🤔

An optimist chooses to control the only thing they can, which is their attitude! We optimists believe your attitude determines your altitude. And when you find yourself in a bad place, we comprehend that there is more to be learned in the valley that will inevitably get you to the next mountain top! 💪

Here’s to optimists everywhere that help pessimists see the silver lining in their despair!

I flew for hours over nothing but jungle before landing on a runway where the entire village came to greet us. We were the second group of white people to visit there in the last year. On a map we were at the intersection of Columbia, Venezuela and Brazil. The heart of the Amazon and the middle of nowhere!

In other words, exactly where you’d expect to see the most exotic of exotic animals! The rarest of rare birds and the coolest of cool reptiles! Yet, in this remotest of remotest places, over a five day span I could count on two hands the native wildlife that was left to see.

IT HAD ALL BEEN EATEN!!!

Moments after I posed with this guy, the only turtle any of us witnessed on the Rio Negro, the largest black river in the world, its head was chopped off and into the pot it went!

Last Turtle in the Amazon?

I couldn’t bare to watch.

Nothing was more shocking to any of us than the lack of wildlife. A pet parrot and monkey, two pairs of snow white majestic cockatoos that flew together overhead and this lone turtle that is no more.

We did witness wildlife mind you. Monkeys, birds, lizards…but all of them living in the city where the local population could feast at the McDonalds. Before you think that Big Macs are the the answer to our disappearing wildlife, consider where they graze … the former rainforest that has been cleared at increasing rates with slash and burn agricultural!

This is the true state of the Amazon. It’s what the money hungry “governments” of third world countries don’t want us to find out! They are exploiting our limited natural resources purely for its economic value and to feed our ever increasing population.

I wish this story had a happy ending. Our guide, at 74 and on his 959th expedition, has literally watched the world transformed by us before his tear-filled eyes! We discovered up to ten new-to-science freshwater fish species during our expedition but who knows how long they can survive? We found out with fewer and fewer fish in the river the native Indians have resorted to netting them while they are spawning. As unsustainable as that may be it’s that or they don’t eat.

This is the sad truth nobody wants you to know about our world.

I thought about entitling this soliloquy about Big Rich … “Big Hair, Big Heart” But alas his lifelong locks are only the tip of the iceberg for my new friend, Big Rich! Just like an onion, with every strand of hair you peel back, another colorful story comes to light!

I only met Big Rich in December. Thankfully he didn’t judge me by my crew cut and we hit it off talking fish!

Any dude that goes through the work, and trust me it is work, to start a 501c3 non for profit around his love for his finned friends is alright in my book!

I love meeting “interesting” people through my hobby and profession! Here’s the story that 4.4 million people have now viewed of Ohio Fish Rescue! Trust me when I say it though … it’s only a SMALL sampling of my new friend BIG Rich!

Big Rich - Ohio Fish Rescue

Will Smith is brilliant but Steven Spielberg is even more so (at least when it comes to making movies!)

When it comes to understanding people’s motives and intentions I’ve learned to use my wife’s, not mine! The plethora of dead bodies alone that she pointed out in my rear view mirror was reason enough to adopt her perspective on people vs my own! You know, all the former associates who told me one thing but ultimately were proven to have impure hearts and dubious intentions. By simply adopting my wife’s superior spider sense with human beings, I’ve saved myself countless financial loss and even greater emotional distress!

Just like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” I’ve made a decent life for myself by following the advice of people with bigger noggins than my own! That is, subject matter experts like my wife when it comes to people or my CFO when it comes to financials (Newsflash: I’ve never balanced a checkbook 😳)

Fortunately Will used Spielberg’s brain and not his own and Men In Black was born!

Soooo the next time you fail to heed your “better half’s” wisdom or the advice from a man who’s “been there and done that” consider the possibility of a better outcome if instead you use their proven brain for such matters vs your own!

Still can’t wrap your mind around this concept?!

Consider what happened for perennial loser George Kostanza when he heeded good buddy Jerry Seinfeld’s, advice…

“Jerry I ALWAYS make the wrong choices!” Kostanza bellyached. Seinfeld replied “That’s simple, just figure out what you’d normally do and do the opposite!” 😉

The next day George told off NY Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner impressing him enough to earn the GM job! 😜

I rest my case, and brain, allowing me to rely on far brighter ones than my own to get ahead in life .

Seeing a man a few months shy of having walked this earth for three quarters of a century, yet still filled with the unbridled joy of a toddler, despite doing something he’s done thousands upon thousands of times before, is quite literally, AWE INSPIRING!!!

I can only pray to be as filled with as much life as my dear friend Heiko Bleher when, God willing, I make it to the 3/4 of a century mark!

I’m surviving my second expedition with Heiko to the remotest of the remote Amazon. An area straddling three countries Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. For me it was the second “trip of a lifetime” with Heiko, my first being in the fall of 2016 to West Papua Indonesia. For Heiko, a scientist who keeps impeccable records it was precisely his 959th expedition in pursuit of his life’s work…the documentation of our planets freshwater fishes and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Heiko is literally a living legend! A scientist and explorer who had the good fortune to come of age during the dawn of aviation. That occurrence, coupled with Heiko’s lifelong passion, have coincided to make him quite possibly histories most traveled man (just let that sink in for a moment!) Heiko’s case for that impossible to claim Guinness Book of World Records is that he’s been to more countries than exist (smaller countries come and go) while documenting a whopping 27,000 of the planets freshwater fishes during those expeditions!

When you think Heiko, think the “Indiana Jones of Fishes!”

Heiko Bleher and Greg Wittstock

The driver of Heiko’s pursuit is as simple as it is sad. The documentation of our planets disappearing natural places. Where once impenetrable Rainforests have given way to slash and burn agriculture. And with it all the plants and animals that nature painstakingly created over millennia in perfect symmetry! Documenting every environmental aspect of each Ecosystem so that it can be replicated for those same plants and animals in man made environments that he has dubbed Bleher Biotopes. It’s this quest that is the driving force that fuels his unquestioned zest for living!

It is nature lovers like me that “tag along” on his journeys funding the adventures that will hopefully produce new species of fish that can be brought back and bred successfully for the Aquarium hobby. Success means cataloging every detail of every ecosystem with copious notes and the accompanying supportive photographs. The goal is to have all the scientific parameters to replicate the fishes natural habitats in captivity to assure success with breeding. There is little doubt if history is any indicator, that all these fragile ecosystems will be gone maybe not in Heiko’s lifetime, but sadly in mine. If anything, the destruction of these unique habitats is increasing not decreasing, proportionate to our planets exploding human population. This makes the success of Heiko’s work even that much more critical in preserving the records of these unique places and species.

His next ambitious venture? An app showing every location he’s ever explored from the pictures and notes, to the regions plants, animals and of course fish. Many now gone but because of his often singular efforts, documented for generations to see, study and maybe one day even work to reestablish with their captive bred brethren.

A real life Indiana Jones who’s efforts although celebrated today in scientific circles, tomorrow will be enjoyed by generations to come! My friend, the one and only Heiko Bleher.

Heiko Bleher and Greg Wittstock

I’m an optimist at heart but I’ve come to the sad conclusion the world just is getting angrier and angrier by the day! Folks, I ask you, that is everyone of us who’s doing life together…” Is it really worth it to be sooo angry all the time?!”

I’m FAR from footloose and fancy free. I’m a type A entrepreneur after all! Yet, I learned A LONG time ago there’s three sides to every story! I also discovered people have agendas that aren’t always apparent. And, newsflash, the media LOVES whipping up controversy even when there may be none there (say it ain’t so).

… like at the Lincoln Memorial this week with a bunch of high school kids and a Native American fella.

Friends, I ask you again…” Is it really worth it to be sooo angry all the time?!”

I’m sorry if you find this post insensitive to what currently ails you. After all I’m a privileged white male. What could I possibly know about your predicament? But than again what could YOU possibly know about mine? Speaking of Native American Indians, there’s a pretty relevant quote attributed to them…

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Maybe we should all consider that before tarring and feathering a bunch of school kids from Kentucky or your brother-in-law who happened to vote for a different candidate than you did during the last election.

THE GALL!

In conclusion may I suggest we heed the advice of generations that have gone before us (you know the ones that DIDN’T grow up with social media).

According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP) the No 1# piece of advice past generations would give to future ones is as follows…

BE HAPPY NOW!

…not when you win the lottery, or when your kids finally start behaving or your church meets ALL your needs…flawlessly!

Be Happy NOOOWWW!!!

Smile, life’s short and everyday above grade is a gift. Chill, just chill.

Chill Pills

I’m not very talented at very many things. However, there’s two areas of my life I’m fairly decent at.

One, I DON’T hold onto negative thoughts and two, I ALWAYS listen to my wiser better half.

Unfortunately on both fronts I see far to many people who would benefit from letting the past be the past and of course heeding their spouses perspective (as irritating as it may seem at the time).

If indeed you’re unhappy with your lot in life, may I suggest you let your past slip through your fingers just as easily as a perfectly thrown Tom Brady pass did yesterday to “sure handed” Julian Edelman!

Edelman’s ill fated gaff lead to an interception and the go ahead score for the surging Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.

However, every TEAM takes on the personality of its Coach and Julian has the good fortune to play for one of the orneriest, but also winningest, Coaches of all time!

Bill Belichick is infamous for not posing with his first Championship trophy, declaring it to be in his past! Is it any surprise than that he coaches his players to allow their past to be just that…their past?!

Edelman proved soon after, that he’s a product of that mentality! History now shows he became just the latest key piece in Tom Brady’s (the G.O.A.T.) surgical overtime drive that dismantled the favored Chiefs!

I might be using a football analogy here but make no mistake this is very much a life lesson for us all! Simply put, winners don’t allow the failures of their past to occupy space, rent free, in their brains!

“You can’t stop birds from flying overhead but you damn well can stop them from building nests in your hair!!!”

With that established here’s a question for anyone who’s unhappy…

“How much are you allowing your past (good or bad) to get in the way of your future?!

Reliving your glory years or dwelling in your previous shortcomings has kept many a man, TEAM, business, school, family, you name it, in a vicious cycle of futility and failure!!!

Winners focus on where they want to go not where they’ve been! Your attitude determines your altitude. If you’re unhappy with where you’re at, change the the stories you’re telling yourself, and get ready to hoist the trophy on high!

Go Rams!

Football Game

Do You Believe There’s Three Sides to Every Story (Yours, Theirs and the Unbiased Truth?!)

When I was young and dumb(er) I’d listen to a customer gripe about my guys and take what they said at face value. Fuming, I’d go find them, wherever they were, and lacerate all their livers!!!

Needless to say I burned through A LOT of dudes doing that!

Than one day after yet again another tongue lashing of my guys based on what I had heard, I heard a faint murmur reply that could have easily been confused from that of a mouse. Straining to hear the meek voice over my escalated blood pressure, it turned out that one of my guys was sharing their alternative perspective on the situation.

Low and behold their meager squeak seamed to have some merit!

It was on that day, way back when my friends, that I first realized there were three sides to every story!

Whether you watch CNN or FOX it doesn’t matter…YOU NEVER GET ALL THE SIDES OF THE STORY LISTENING TO ONE SOURCE!!!

I do not think that declaration is very earth shattering. Yet somehow, everyday, we are exposed to one-sided stories that shape our perspective. Worse, those one sided stories escalate many of our blood pressures which all too often erupts on our social media accounts compounding the situation we’ve only gotten one side of!

Folks, as Forrest Gump brilliantly declared “I’m not a smart man!” But I did go to kindergarten and, through trial and ERROR came to realize there’s ALWAYS THREE SIDES TO EVERY STORY!!!

Maybe TRY remembering that kindergarten wisdom today, tomorrow and the next day when you are ready to erupt.

Seeking Truth

I’m in beautiful New Zealand fittingly the first place on to welcome in the New Year (technically it’s 15 minutes behind American Samoa but it’s close enough)/ I’m happy and that’s only partially because I’m in such a beautiful place! 

When an Aussie at the pool casually asked me today if I was missing anything about home, I’m assuming he was expecting me to say something about missing the food or getting frustrated driving on the wrong side of the road! Instead, my reply threw him for a loop “I miss my business,” I replied. 

Poor chap opened a can of worms with that one!

2019 marks the 28th year of turning my hobby into my profession with Aquascape. That’s a solid career for most people yet I still feel I’m just getting warmed up!!! 

I’m in New Zealand primarily because of work. Besides the credit card points I used to purchase our tickets, I’m jumping over to Australia when my family leaves to “work.” 

It will be ten, 10-hour days in a row that won’t feel like work because I will be visiting my customers’ customers’ amazing water features while recording it all for my vlog

When you’re always reinventing yourself it never gets old doing what you do! 

I don’t have the patience or acumen to do the same thing day after day. That trait proved to be a detriment in school and a great benefit in business! Today I love vlogging and I didn’t even know what vlogs were two years ago!!! 

The one piece of advice I give everyone who asks (or reads my posts on Facebook) is the same piece of advice older generations give to younger ones more than any other …

BE HAPPY NOW!

Taupo New Zealand

He’s at peace and so am I! I’m so grateful our entire family was with him when he peacefully exhaled his last breath. With tears filling all our eyes I stared him right in his eyes telling him over and over and over again he was a good boy and he was loved!

He’s at peace so so am I

He was our dog and we were his people. There will never be another Buckeye! He will be the only dog my boys had the blessing to grow up with. He was loved by so so so many having made the daily trip to Aqualand where he literally knew the fastest route between cubicles to the kind of treats he’d never get at home 😜

He was spoiled rotten and he earned every bit of spoilage with his sweet demeanor and loving, snuggling nature!

I can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t understand why dogs, with their unconditional love, something we all crave, only get to live a fraction of our lives! Still, today I’m feeling blessed for every moment and the endless memories made throughout his too short life. He was, most certainly, an integral part of the Wittstock clan!

I never believed I could love another dog as much as I loved Pippi (2001) Then along came Buck! No doubt, in due time I will love again. However, forever I will have FB Memories from the hundreds of posts I’ve made of my boy through the years!

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers knowing what Buckeye was battling. I’m certain, just like he did every time I walked in the door, he’ll be the first to enthusiastically greet me on the other side.

Buckeye the Dog

After seven years of schooling he became a Dr in Cuba. He and his wife (also a doctor) were granted a Visa from the Cuban “government” to go work in Venezuela. Last year they miraculously scored a Visa and along with their three year old daughter immigrated legally to America – “The Land of Opportunity!”

Their hard work and smarts won them the lottery!!!

So what did he do once he “made it” and got here…the only thing he knew how to do of course! That is the common denominator of what gets anyone ahead in life…he works his a** off!!!

Uber Driver

Besides working 50 hrs a week in Construction he drives an Uber after hours. He’s almost saved the 10,000 dollar bogey from his second job that he set as his goal before taking his foot ever so slightly off the gas pedal to enroll in night classes to learn English.

He’s AMAZING!!!

If every immigrant had Carlos’s attitude and work ethic we wouldn’t be debating about building walls. Instead, we’d be scrambling to build bridges!!!

…and more Uber drivers would be EARNING bigger tips than their fares

What can a 48 year old CEO learn from an 18-year old kid?!

Technically speaking he’s only 17 (his 18th birthday comes just before Christmas). Whether it’s 30 or gulp, 31 years between us, we’re by all accounts a world apart! That’s exactly why I think it works!

Everything in our world, or at least mine, is changing. Do you see it too?! Last night after another long day of travel together and yet another way-too-late dinner for my own good, a still 17-year old Paul Cuffaro and I were driving down the Las Vegas strip. It was Paul’s first time to Nevada, first time to Vegas, and certainly his first time “seeing” the strip.

His head stayed buried in his phone. This is not a critique on the behaviors, as odd as they may be, of someone who grew up as a millennial (or in Paul’s case a Gen Z), but rather an alarm bell for any of us trying to survive in a rapidly changing world.

They don’t watch the news or really anything on TV, read newspapers or magazines, listen to the radio or in other words consume content in any of the traditional ways we did growing up. Is it any surprise then, that they see (or don’t “see”) the world as we do?!

That’s exactly why I enjoy learning all I can whenever I can from a kid like Paul. He’s our future and if I want to have a future I’ve gotta understand the way his eyes see the world.

As I start my second vlogging channel, TEAM Aquascape, I’ve got to think like Paulie does – that is, in THUMBNAILS! You know, the almighty thumbnail, that little picture that must say a million things but do it all in one small “thumbnail” sized image that has to catch someone’s eyeball the brief moment you have to get them to hopefully click on it!

I swear to you right now, and this is no joke, this kid I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with this year, “sees” the world in thumbnails!!! And he’s far from alone! And because of that he earns far more than any other 17-year old I’ve ever known!

If I want to keep earning, I’ve gotta keep learning! After all, as Paul likes to tell me, “your thumbnails aren’t nearly as lit as mine!”

Our latest Vegas adventure with my friends at TANKED …

Who are these parents because I see their kids EVERYWHERE?!?!

Folks, this stuff isn’t rocket science but yet it’s almost the exception to the rule to see well adjusted, happy, healthy and non anxiety filled youth these days!

It starts (and stops) at home mom and dad! When your kids come to work for me or anyone else for that matter, they are expected to focus on their work, WORK, and overcome obstacles UNLESS you plan to come to work with them (unpaid of course)

I started cutting my own lawn in third grade and I waved to every passing car feeling “so cool” that I was doing it!!! By 4th grade I was going door to door selling blueberries I had hand picked (I grew up in Jersey) for 25 cents cheaper than the supermarket. By 6th grade I was babysitting (crazy!) and even changing diapers! I had a paying job every summer from the age of 15 and I always had a side hustle mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and raking leaves. I played sports too year round. Oh ya, I drove myself everywhere I needed to be on my bike. EVERYWHERE!!!

…I was far from alone

Sure times are different (travel sports, video games and ADHD medicine that surely every teacher I ever had would have preferred me to be on 😜) but come on people WE have created an entire generation that’s been handed stuff we all worked our asses off to get!!! And who could argue they aren’t better off for it today?!

Who remembers as well being bored as hell for endless hours riding in the backseat of the family station wagon, staring out the window and coming up with “car games” (punch bug anyone?!) playing Kick the Can with the neighborhood kids till bedtime and building forts, climbing trees and doing all of it on our own without any adult direction?!

Somehow we not only survived but learned along the way how to do stuff, take care of our own problems and through it all figured out that life isn’t a “bed of roses” and satisfaction isn’t immediate and everlasting!!!

I’m glad I grew up when I did. I’m assuming you do as well. So please let’s all not forget that when WE are parenting our future…the next generation!

As for our family we still prioritize sitting down to dinner and talking about our day every chance we get!

Observations about Parenthood

One year ago today I launched my YouTube Channel. It was a rash decision in response to an opportunity I knew intuitively I needed to capitalize on.

When 22 year old YouTube sensation Logan Paul mentioned he wanted a koi pond on his channel my phone literally blew up! I sort of knew of him but little did I know how much this wonder kid would change my life!

Within 48 hours of Logan’s Vlog about wanting a pond I was designing one in his backyard! How I made that connection and so many others since is a story in itself. On Dec 6-7 I was back, along with 40 of my friends from near and far, creating an incredible pond for a charismatic young man in his 6,000,000 dollar mansion outside of LA!

Folks, there’s a whole other world out there that I’ve only just begun exploring and let me tell you … IT’S MIND BLOWING!!!

Greg Wittstock on YouTube

One year into the journey that began this day there’s no end in sight! Vlogging and passionately bringing awareness to decorative water features is my job now as the CEO of Aquascape.

“I ❤️ MY JOB!”

Logan’s pond that launched this journey

With the much “discussed” election behind us the results assure one thing … more fighting ahead!!!

I’m sure, like me, you’re looking forward to the rants of “friends” on social media, the biased news coverage (on both sides) and Thanksgiving dinner at your Mother-in-laws with your know it all sister-in-law who knows exactly how to fix EVERYTHING in Washington!

As a business owner and even more so a proud American this leaves me shaking my head. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 48 years of navigating relationships, leading a business and a family, and watching Chicago sports teams succeed and fail it’s this…

“A House Divided Cannot Stand” ~Lincoln

Already Democrats are trumpeting their “Victory” in the House by saying they are going to FIGHT everything their OPPONENTS throw their way.

… lovely

Whether it’s business, sports or family it doesn’t matter if everyone isn’t rowing TOGETHER in the same direction it’s going to be a lot harder to get to your destination. And guess what happens when one half of the boat is pushing, and the other half of the boat is pulling??? You spin in circles!!!

To my fellow Americans remember this at Thanksgiving dinner and beyond…we are all on the same TEAM!

“A HOUSE DIVIDED CANNOT STAND”

I Voted Sticker

I see an all too common pattern from people who choose to live their life stuck in neutral or even worse, heading backwards!

They blame and complain rather than do the one thing that could reverse their trajectory and propel them forward. That is, taking a hard look in the mirror and changing the only thing you can change in every single scenario…YOU!!!

It took me a full ten years to start listening to the advice of THE person who actually always had my best interest in mind…my wife! So trust me, I get how hard it is to have a hard conversation with yourself. But when the evidence is there in spades, it’s harder to keep denying that the knife permanently embedded in your back, isn’t covered in your own fingerprints!

I’ve seen far too many ex-employees, customers and sadly even family and friends, who would rather take the self destructive path of burning bridges rather than simply taking that aforementioned hard look in the mirror.

Ultimately nobody who keeps moving forward is able to deny their own image in the mirror.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

I hate “the sky is falling” type of posts! However, sometimes the only way to get through something is to first remove your rose colored glasses and address the problem head on!

My team, the Ohio State Buckeyes are in disarray. If you’re not a sports fan you probably won’t understand how unsettling this is to those of us who are die hard fans. I literally watch every play of every game and read everything I can about my team in between. I love my Buckeyes which is why this post is so disheartening to write.

Ohio State Football Stadium

Urban Meyer, our head coach has a saying straight out of his book on Leadership (which of course I read cover to cover) that he preaches to all his players. Event plus Reaction equals Outcome. Basically it’s another way of saying “Life’s 10% about what happens to you and 90% what you do about it!”

Urban had a position coach, the grandson of his mentor, who was accused of Domestic Violence. That’s the Event. Urban’s Reaction was to basically turn a blind eye to it (sorry Buckeye brothers) The Outcome was a public tar and feathering and a three game suspension for both him AND his boss to begin this season.

Today my beloved Buckeyes are in a state of internal turmoil.

Adversity can pull friends, family, a company and yes a TEAM together or apart! The adversity currently going on with my TEAM appears to be pulling them apart.

“A House Dividend Cannot Stand!”

There’s one fix to this adversity and it starts and stops with LEADERSHIP.

As a fan and even as a Leader myself of an organization, I will eagerly be watching and learning from how my TEAM handles or doesn’t handle this latest adversity.

Read More about this story.

“Holding Onto Bitterness is like Drinking Poison and Hoping the Other Person Dies!”

I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone who’d outright deny the reality of that brilliant quote. Yet…EVERYDAY, thanks in large part to social media, we get to see people who feel justified in posting their bitterness for the whole world to see!

I’d like to TAG specific people in this post, who sadly choose to continue to consume poison. But alas I know that the very act of doing so would probably only end up feeding them more poison to consume

ARGH!!!

I’m certainly prone to periodic bouts of stinking thinking” and feeling sorry for myself. In those instances though I consciously choose to pull myself out of my funk by consuming my own good medicine…we become that which we dwell on.

In the end, for me at least “Everyday above ground is a blessing!”

JUST SAY NO…to drinking your own poison!

 

Poison

After spending the last five days in a row and even traveling out of the country and back, chasing my a** around with a camera, Flavio Ramirez can finally relax … until Monday that is.

This is what doing a job you love looks like!

It wasn’t always this hard and enjoyable for Flavio Ramirez at Aquascape. For most of his 12 years on our TEAM he punched a clock, got through his day, and went home to his family only to “rinse and repeat” the next day. Then he eloped with his longtime girlfriend, videoed their journey to Key West, and shared it on Facebook for his friends, family, and even yours truly to see.

I made a mental note at the time that this kid sure knew how to tell a story.

When I had the opportunity to build a pond for one of the top vloggers in the world, Logan Paul, I knew I needed to leverage that incredible opportunity to launch my own vlog. I remembered the video Flavio had made the year before of his wedding and I approached him with an opportunity. “Would you like to work directly with me vlogging my exploits as the CEO of Aquascape?”

Nine months later he’s never worked harder or been happier doing a job in his life!

Flavio was in the wrong seat on the bus when he punched a clock in customer service. He was even in the wrong seat on the bus after going back to school and completing his degree in graphic design and moving over to product packaging.

He still wasn’t completely happy and it showed in his effectiveness doing his job.

Then he got married, made a video his boss’ boss’ boss happened to see and Logan Paul wanted a koi pond!

The rest is history as they say. Today, Flavio is working his a** off and creating four new vlogs each week that showcase what “Living the Aquascape Lifestyle” is all about to a world that needs to know about it now more than ever!

And he’s gone from punching a clock to loving his job!

I’m beyond happy to say Flavio Ramirez is finally on the right seat on the bus!

*LUCK: When opportunity meets preparation!

People will be your greatest source of aggravation but also inspiration. Accepting that fact means there’s no need to sling mud when friends sometimes become foes.

Nobody and I mean nobody is perfect. Everyone and I mean everyone is worth forgiveness. If not for them than at least for yourself! There are no (as in zilch, zero, none) enduring relationships without forgiveness!!!

Forgive and forget, move forward not backwards, be slow to judge and fast to resolve life’s inevitable conflicts.

…and don’t ever throw dirt even when every ounce of your moral fiber is screaming for you to do so!

After all, when you throw dirt you just end up sinking lower in the end.

As a die hard Buckeye fan it’s killing me to acknowledge this but…a rogue reporter who was laid off from ESPN independently just broke the what could be the biggest story in the history of Ohio State Football!


This is certainly bigger than “Tattoo Gate” that got our last football coach, Jim Tressel fired. And if this goes as far as it appears it could it would even eclipse the infamous “punch heard around the world” that landed OSU legend Woody Hayes on the curb the very next day!

Why I cry did it have to come to this? Why does it ever half to come to this (Sandusky and Penn State and Nader and Michigan State top that list)

What I, even as a Buckeye fan refuse to do, is shoot the messenger, Brett McMurphy for simply doing his job (brilliantly at that I might add) And you’d have to be sick to blame Courtney Smith who’s the biggest victim of all here.

Who is to blame though is the abuser Zack Smith and by default the coach of my beloved team Urban Meyer who ultimately choose to back a now indicted scumbag. It goes without saying that if Urban lied about knowing about the abuse (you’re still innocent until proven guilty let’s not forget) he doesn’t deserve to keep his job and more so he should immediately turn in his “man card”

That’s a bitter, bitter pill to swallow regarding a Coach who amazingly has won 9 out of every 10 games he lead his team (and my team for the last 30 years) into!!!

The truth will come out, it always does, and one things for certain when that happens…the decisions or lack there of, of a few…will affect the many! That’s not fair to all those impacted from the players to the coaches not involved and yes even disenfranchised fans like me!

I like to believe something good always comes out of something bad. If this is a step in changing the culture for the better it would be worth it. I just wish it was someone else’s team changing the culture and not mine!

He’s 22, a multi millionaire and good looking. That alone is enough to endeavor HATE! Add to the mix his “shock jock” content and one big self acknowledged blunder and you have an ideal recipe for a barrage of backlash!

Here’s the thing though…I’ve worked with Logan Paul and found him to be the polar opposite of his public persona! He’s unbelievably charismatic, genuine, self effacing and quite intelligent (he got a full academic scholarship and was studying Engineering before achieving fame and fortune creating Vine videos).

Logan Paul with the Pond Guy, Greg WittstockHere’s the point of my point. Even if Logan (or anyone for that matter) was as big of a douche as some in society deem them WHY throw gasoline on a 🔥 by pointing it out?!

As Logan points out in the end Cyber-Bullying accomplishes nothing positive for anyone!

Hurt people hurt others. Is Logan perfect? He, as me, would be the first to declare they most certainly aren’t! Instead of hate let’s offer grace to others who we may feel may not be as flawless as ourselves.

Click here to watch Logan Paul’s “Mean Tweets” video.

 

“When you argue with fools bystanders might become confused with who’s whom!”~Twain

I was recently removed from an on-line forum I was a Member of. Yep, I got kicked out! My posts would get Likes, people would ask legitimate questions that I’d answer, but a vocal minority of members would repeatedly comment with insults and even use profanity to express their extreme opposition to what I posted. Guess how I “replied” to all of those?…

SILENCE

I wouldn’t have always handled silly experiences like this so well. In return for turning the other cheek though I was removed from the forum. Of course everyone knows life isn’t fair and that “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”~Lincoln

And the world somehow keeps spinning!

If Twain ain’t your thing Proverbs 13:20 sheds some light on situations like this “Walk with wise and become wise, for a companion of fools becomes one.”

OUCH!

I have a very simple strategy for posting on social media and certainly replying to posts of others…If I don’t have something nice to say or uplifting to post I simply don’t say or post it!

I’m not perfect but I am passionate about being “part of the solution instead of the problem” in today’s crazy social media realm.

If you agree with me give this post a thumbs up. Better yet join me with taking the high road, always, on-line. If not that’s cool but know throwing gas on the fire ALWAYS causes the same affect…everyone just gets burned!

Facebook Screen Shot

My 18 year old son learned a valuable lesson this week volunteering at an Indian Reservation in Canada. “Dad nobody works on the reservation.” Those were literally the first words out of his mouth when I asked him about his experience.

The group he was part of though of course did work! They built improvements to the community’s structures and additionally Ryan took on the job of cooking lunch each day for the volunteers. I asked him why he did that and nonchalantly he replied, “Nobody else wanted to do it.”

The conversation that ensued regarding his observations of the depressed culture of an entire community living on government assistance was nothing short of pure gold!

“The purpose of life is to have a purpose!”

My kids will not be getting disempowering trust funds when I die. Why would I want to, why would anyone want to, rob their kids of the incentive and satisfaction of finding their purpose by eliminating the pressure of having to support themselves?!

I don’t understand a lot of what society believes including the false narrative that “money buys happiness.” Self worth comes from creating your own destiny and overcoming the myriad of challenges that comes with that along the way!

In my opinion that’s a parent’s job to instill in their children. It appears too many politicians grew up as orphans.

Chicago Could Soon Test Universal Basic Income Program

 

 

I learned A LONG TIME AGO to get my guys’ side of the story BEFORE ripping them a new one! Nine times out of 10 (literally) I side with my guys after hearing their version of whatever perceived slight the customer “bent my ear over” after we finished doing work for them.

Why is it when it comes to just about EVERYTHING nowadays (think politics) people choose to only hear one side of a story before passing swift and complete judgement on a situation?!

Has the world somehow never learned what I have, often the hard way, that there’s three sides to EVERY story (theirs, yours and the truth!)?

I’ve lost countless customers in my business, numerous friendships over the years, and most damaging of all – even family members who choose to listen to only ONE SIDE OF THE STORY and take it as the end-all-be-all that it often isn’t!!!

People, even yours truly at times, let emotions dictate their lives. But I’d like to think with age comes wisdom. Far too many of us “cut off our noses to spite our face” because we fail to HEAR the other side of the story to the detriment of everyone.

There’s always three sides to every story.

Remember that next time you tar and feather your brothers and sistas out there!

Three Sides to a Story Chalkboard

When she said “a man could never do my job” I instantly knew what she meant…and after getting to know her I wholeheartedly agree!!!

Meet my newest friend from my Vlogging adventures the Incredible Martine Colette!

Martine Colette and Greg Wittstock

She founded the first exotic animal rescue in North America driven by her passion to provide suitable homes for Hollywood’s exploited exotic animals. From movie sets to her Waystion and even the research labs to her sanctuary, she has provided a better home for over 76,000 large and the small, the unwanted and neglected, the cute and even dangerous of Gods creatures. The only thing she hasn’t done in the 53 years she’s been doing what she does is discriminate!

Her longevity though is just the icing on top of the winning formula that’s allowed her to succeed where few if any alpha males could! She’s had to swallow her pride and suppress her ego to work with both increasing bureaucratic restrictions and red tape. And she’s been humbling herself for all those years in order to raise the quarter of a million dollars each month needed to provide for the 450 animals that currently call the Waystion home!

I’m not dissing men when I say few if any I know would have the combination of skills necessary to survive the world she’s chosen to live in!

I’ve got nothing but mad respect for Martine and the TEAM she’s assembled and leads at the one of a kind Wildlife Waystion. Our donation of an Aquascape Wetlands filtration system for their overpopulated waterfowl pond is just the beginning of how we plan to support her and her mission! Thanks to all the Certified Aquascape Contractors who came from near and far, volunteering both their time and skills to make it all happen!

We Shall Return!

I live in Chicagoland and am old enough to remember one of the most dominant TEAMS ever regardless of sport … the ’85 Chicago Bears football squad! The infamous Mike Ditka “Da Coach” lead his one of a kind TEAM of characters that included Punky QB Jim McMahon, Samurai Mike Singletary, The Fridge William Perry and of course the greatest football player ever, Walter Payton simply known as “Sweetness”

Yet despite all the talent in the world and the swagger to boot, that compilation of players won exactly one Super Bowl together.

INSANE!!!

NFL Football

 

That’s the first thing I thought of reading this story on the Seattle Seahawks collapse after they lost to the damn Patriots in 2015. As any Seahawk fan can tell you though it wasn’t that they just lost it was the way in which they lost that tore the TEAM apart eventually leading to the TEAM being torn apart.

I’m not going to get into the details here, it’s chronicled in the article and for the purpose of this piece it’s not important anyway. What is important though for anyone interested in SUCCESS is understanding the most basic principle of success with a TEAM, a Company or even a Family…

“A House Divided Cannot Stand”

Mike Ditka “Da Coach” had a major power struggle with Buddy Ryan the Defensive Coordinator and it tore the TEAM apart negating their players TALENT. It’s not the most talented TEAM that wins, but the one that plays together as a TEAM!

Same thing with Corporations. The number one indicator a company’s sales will decrease is not an economic indicator but one of the employees attitude! Declining morale, according to an extensive study by FORBES Magazine, is the only universal indicator of decreasing sales amongst Fortune 500 Companies studied over a three decade period!

It’s no different at my little business Aquascape.

My first job as the CEO of Aquascape is to guide and guard the company culture. Morale is a tricky thing, a very tricky thing! It ebbs and flows throughout the year dependent on a number of factors both in and out of my control.

I could write a book on this topic but nobody reads books anymore and this post is becoming one now so let me get to the point 😜

YOUR ATTITUDE DETERMINES YOUR ALTITUDE IN LIFE!

The ONLY person able to control your attitude is YOU! Nobody else can make you feel the way you do! How you choose to feel is always up to you! Get pissed off at your coach, boss or spouse and YOU lose! If enough people get shi**y attitudes at work or at home their TEAM will become divided and they and everyone else will LOSE!

It happened to the 85 Bears, the 2015 Seahawks, and the defending State Champion Wheaton North Falcons my Sr Year in High School! (Don’t get me started.)

I learned more about winning and success from watching and playing sports than any classroom I ever sat in! Something tells me I’m far from alone in that regard.

Only three more months till kickoff!

Thomas Magnelson is the world’s foremost nature photographer. I hate shopping but I always visit his studios whenever I’m in a town that has one. His eye for capturing “the shot” is second to none and the images his lens captures have given millions a glimpse into animals and environments they’d never get to experience otherwise. There’s not too many people I’d choose to switch places with on this planet but Magnelson might be at the top of my list!

Jane Goodall needs no introduction. The fact that these two are friends isn’t surprising considering she is probably the most respected champion for the environnement of our time. This week they were together on 60 Minutes.

When Goodall summarized up her friends success she talked about his passion (a word that gets thrown around a lot in describing people who are hyper dedicated to their pursuit) It’s what she said next that really struck a chord with me…

“We can never win an argument appealing to people’s heads it’s got to be to their hearts.”

TRIBE that’s a beautiful summary of why I’m so committed to Vlogging! I want to appeal to people’s hearts!!!

Yesterday’s vlog of Matt Griffin’s customer included the interview of her sharing, quite unexpectedly I might add, her surviving multiple Cancer diagnoses. Her pond and koi provided her healing! “It’s the greatest investment I ever made” she declared on camera

Stop right there. That’s the power of what WE DO!!! And with Vlogging we can tell these stories we all have that appeal not only to our hearts but those people that have no idea what “Living the Aquascape Lifestyle” means!

Do you see that?!

If you didn’t Share Matt’s Vlog with your customers and potential customers yesterday here’s the link so you can do it now

Why wouldn’t you want to be sharing two or three of your fellow CAC Vlogs to your audience each week and ideally making one of your own too??? You have people who’s lives were changed with what you did for them. You’ve done the hard work all you need to do is let them tell their stories and you’ll reach people’s hearts in the process with their words not yours! Stop trying so dam hard to appeal to their heads and start appealing to their hearts and you’ll never have to worry about selling anything ever again!

I’m so excited to finally have a tool in my hand (vlogging) to tell the stories of not just the people Living the Aquascape Lifestyle but the stories of my friends in this TRIBE that are totally dedicated to “Ponds Done Right, Customers Served Right”

Vlogging is accomplishing that in a way I’ve never been able to do before and subsequently I’m seeing the light lights going off in a way I’ve never seen before in 27 years running Aquascape!

Join me and top vloggers who appeal to people’s hearts at the Wildlife Waystation in LA June 19th and 20th. That will be the perfect place to start your vlogging journey learning how to reach people’s hearts.

Passion + Commitment + Stories = My Purpose

HELP ME, JOIN ME, and together we will…

“Change the Way the World Builds Ponds.”

Register Here for the Wildlife Waystation Build!

Last fall we hired four people to work on our Construction TEAM. We hired them way before we needed them with the goal of investing the winter in training them so they could hit the ground running this spring. As of today none of them are left.

Aquascape Pond Construction in Progress

 

Guy 1: Failed drug test
Guy 2: Couldn’t fog a mirror
Guy 3: Decided to start a side hustle
(during work hours )
Guy 4: Couldn’t get to work on time (daily)

The scary reality is these guys were the best of what we could find! They interviewed for the position and were all hired over other candidates based on the merits of their interviews/resumes.

We hired four anticipating the attrition of two. Today we have zero!

We’ve been advertising non stop to replace them. 50% of the time we have a scheduled interview the candidate is a no show. HALF THE TIME!

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but our reality at Aquascape is par for the course when I talk to other business owners. Finding competent let alone good engaged workers is becoming an epidemic of biblical proportions!

Parents, Teachers, Coaches, Citizens all of us I ask…HOW DID WE GET HERE AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO CONFRONT THE GROWING EPIDEMIC OF PEOPLE WILLING, ABLE, AND WANTING TO WORK AN HONEST DAYS LABOR FOR AN HONEST DAY’S PAY?!

Additionally if you know anyone interested in working for a great company with good benefits with growth opportunities please let me know. PLEASE! Sorry though they will have to pass a drug test, work hard when they are here, not have a side hustle (while they are at work) AND come to work on time.

Hemangiosarcoma and it’s in his kidneys. He’s got three months maybe six if you’re lucky. With that devastating news we left the Vet yesterday and began our season of lasts with our families loyal companion for the last 12 years.

This will be Bucks last spring, last summer and if we’re lucky last fall. Every visit to the park, every car ride and even overnight stay at Grandma and Grandpas could be his last. If he thought he was a pampered pooch before he has no idea what’s in store for him now! He’s always been a snuggler but even he might roll his eyes with all the smooches he’s going to be getting.

My Dog Buckeye

 

All animal lovers will get this and all animal lovers will go through their own season of lasts with their best buds. And as morbid as it sounds we will all have our own “season of lasts” We shouldn’t wait to know it’s our season of lasts to fully enjoy and express our love for a pet or even better our love for life!

Every day is a blessing to be celebrated because everyday could be our last. Our pup has a diagnosis of three to six months but tomorrow is guaranteed to no one, ourselves included.

I’m recommitting to “take time to smell the roses” each day with my boy. That might mean starting work a little later or leaving a few minutes earlier while cherishing each walk in the park just a little bit more!

Why do we need to wait for a terminal prognosis to savor everyday and “live like we were dying?!”

I’m firmly in the camp that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I’m feeling blessed now more than ever for the 12 years Buck was in our lives.

Hug your dog or cat and of course kids or parents a little longer today and maybe even tomorrow too.

Chip and Joanne Gaines seemingly had it all, four kids, a successful business and their own hit TV Show. Loved and adored by millions they chose to walk away from the fortune and fame for one reason…they had lost control of their time and living out their priorities.

When they announced they were leaving their “successful” gig speculation ran wild with many questioning if their marriage was in trouble! Why are people so prone to assume the worst more often than not?! They had the cajones to quit their hit show and instead put their family first! Maybe just maybe if more of Hollywood took their lead, divorce wouldn’t be so prevalent in the entertainment field.

Too many people resign themselves to a life spent feeling “suppressed by the man” or equally disempowering living life “going through the motions.” Not Chip and Joanna Gaines, and not anyone else for that matter that realizes life is about the choices we make daily and the ways we choose to respond to the inevitable valleys that come after the mountain tops!

Whether you stay in a rut or scale the next peak is ultimately up to you!

Read the tweet that caused Chip and Joanna to end their hit reality TV show, Fixer Upper.

 

Embed from Getty Images

If you want a job go online, apply, show up for the interview, breathe, pass the drug test and you’ll probably get hired as most employers are desperate for workers. As long as you come to work on time and can at least fog a mirror while you are there, you’ll probably and unfortunately even keep it too. You might not make a lot of money or enjoy what you’re doing, but most people have jobs they don’t love. The world still has a few places for workers willing to go through the motions day after day, month after month, year after year…that is at least for now anyway.

However, if you’re looking for a fulfilling career instead of a job, you might want to try the “Howie Roseman Foolproof Approach to Success”

Howie is not only the youngest General Manager in the history of the National Football League, he’s also the head architect of the reining Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Yet just a few short years ago Howie was all but done in Philly and maybe even the NFL having been pushed aside by an overreaching new Coach in Chip Kelly. He was technically still employed by the Eagles but Kelly called all the shots. Indeed it’s true, no success story comes without it’s valleys. Howie Roseman though looked at his 2015 valley with “Rose Colored” glasses. In typical Howie Roseman style he used that year as a “Gap Year” He traveled the globe and met with everyone from retired NFL GM’s to current GM’s in Baseball and Soccer. He even made friends with some of the top CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies all in his never ending quest of self improvement.

Low and behold by 2016 Kelly was out and Roseman was in control again. He used his new expanded perspective his gap year provided to put together the team that took the Tom Brady lead New England Patriots Dynasty out at the knees two years later to win the whole enchilada!

I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Howie
Roseman but if I did I’d congratulate him first and foremost on his perseverance and work ethic. When most of his high school peers were playing video games he was mailing letters to every NFL Team! Did he quit when he didn’t get any replies? Nope, he just kept mailing them “like clockwork” till he finally landed an unpaid position at age 24 with the Eagles AFTER having earned a Law Degree!

WOW! WOW!! WOW!!!

Success is easy…when you set a goal and work your ass off to achieve it and even more so to keep it!

If you aren’t achieving success in whatever you’re doing today try the Howie Roseman approach. I’ll guarantee you two things if you do…

1) You’ll be a lot closer to living whatever success dream you have by “simply” going through the efforts.

2) Your life will be anything but boring!

Do you see this too?! I can’t be alone in noticing exactly what Tucker Carlson is reporting on in the video linked below. My question to you is what will you do, like me, if you indeed see “Real Men” disappearing from society?

For me and my house that’s where it starts. My boys need to see a hard working father who prioritizes them and their mother over work.

My boys need to know that showing them love means preparing them to live in the world without us. Make your own appointments, keep your own calendar, and face the music of both your good and bad choices without looking for us to bail your a** out when your choices paint you into a corner.

The habits we instill today in the young men growing up beneath our roof have lifelong consequences. Please and thank you, firm handshake and eye contact, how to talk to an adult, how to show up and work, resolve conflict with a friend, how to treat a woman like a lady, exercise your body, think of food as fuel not comfort, a spiritual foundation to be a foundation … ALL of this is established at home.

These are duties not to be taken lightly.

I can’t be the only dad that feels the weight of these responsibilities, BUT from the statistics this old-school commonsense wisdom is showing up less and less.

Leadership starts at home and moves on from there. We need more leaders at home and maybe then we will find more men willing to reverse the trends.

Today I have a new Executive Assistant starting. Go ahead and get your jokes in about how hard it must be to work for me and how much of a masochist she must be.  I took her to lunch and we talked about my favorite topic (outside of the ridiculousness of college today).

CULTURE!

I believe the first job of any CEO is to guide and guard the company culture. The Aquascape culture is a direct reflection of me and let’s just say my style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. By no means am I saying that everyone that works here is like me (that would be really, really scary). What I am saying is you either fit in at Aquascape or you don’t. Not just anyone can work here and that’s a good thing in my book.

Here are few values I/we look for in an Aquascape TEAMMATE (none of which require a college degree, by the way!):

“Good Work Ethic” This isn’t a “union job.” No job is too large or too small and no one, yourself included, is above doing whatever it takes to get the job done!

“Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude” Competency is important, but we hire for attitude and train for aptitude. (Do you know how hard it is to find people with great attitudes today?!)

“Brown Nosers Need Not Apply” Impressing your manager or even me is easy. Becoming a valuable member of our TEAM means winning over the hearts and minds of your coworkers!

“You’re Either Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution” All business is, is fixing problems. If you’re not a problem solver you won’t have a place on our TEAM.

“Have Fun” We build ponds and sell water feature components. If you can’t have fun doing that, then what can you have fun doing?! No stick in the mud Teammates … PLEASE!

As simple as these values might seem to you or me … trust me when I say finding someone that fits the bill for living them day in and day out is like finding a needle in a haystack! But when we do find someone we have a “lifer!”

Nothing is more important to me than my TEAM, which means nothing is more important than “guiding and guarding our company culture” in my role as CEO.

Greg's Assistant

Good luck, Trish!  😉

 

Have you ever had one of those weeks that feels like a month?!

Super Bowl Sunday I flew to LA missing what I’ve heard was a great game. Last Monday started out with a visit to YouTube celebrity and social media lightning rod Logan Paul’s pad. Chad Morrill has been doing a great job taking care of the pond and property and donated some of his personal fish to the incredible water feature we built for Logan in December

Tuesday was a very special day as we traveled with Ginger Withers Schevers visiting the water features of her husband Jamie who passed in December after a long hard fight with cancer. I got choked up multiple times meeting his customers and listening to the stories of the people’s lives this wonderful man had touched through the years with his work.

Wednesday, what did I do Weds again?…oh of course I spent it with former male model turned true water feature artist Steve Sandalis. The homes he took us to in and around Beverly Hills were breathtaking. Stay tuned!

Thursday I was ready to crash but David Misterly was on deck. What can I say about my guy David?!…how about he got me the BEST FISH TACO I’ve ever eaten 🤗 Great guy, happy customers, cool day.

Friday I was worried. Cliff Raitz was on deck and he’s a talker! I worked to pump up my volume and matched him word for word. His lovely wife hosted us and a dozen others for an Italian feast that night but only after our last stop of the day visiting the world famous Prehistoric Pets. I had the pleasure of getting wrapped in not one but two 20’ long giant pythons! We left with a plan to return in two weeks and build them an Aquascape Ecosystem pond for a hundred turtles.

Saturday we had an “off” day meeting with Bill Gaut and his grandson Bubba. Bubba wants to master Vlogging and I want to help him (while I learn myself) Breakfast, lunch and a visit to Best Buy later we made plans for Bubba to visit us at Aqualand next week for the Aquascape Hands on Academy. His Granddaddy is excited (and scared) to put his boy on a plane for the very first time alone. #wegotthispappa

Sunday was our last full day in California. How’s that saying go…”we saved the worst for last” and spent it with 2014 Aquascape Businessman of the Year Carl Petite. Nine water features later and plenty of smack talk all around we were sent off in style with a full blown picnic dinner from one of his many adoring clients.

Monday. My 8th 5 a.m. diner visit in a row! Over 1200 miles driven, seven Certified Aquascape Contractors visited and close to 100 water features (I stopped trying to count) photographed I’M BAKED! I’ve still got an energetic 17 year old Vlogging sensation Paul Cuffaro I’ve gotta make sure gets on his plane to FL and a much more tired 20 yr old videographer and drone expert Luke Toby Newman who most certainly by now is questioning his statement to me that “he loves to travel”

As for me “I’M MORE THAN HAPPY TO BE GOING HOME TO MY SUPPORTIVE FAMILY IN FREEZING A** ILLINOIS!

But first I’ve gotta get in one last run on the beach!

#day51of365

Greg Wittstock

My vlog today is from Logan Paul’s house. Why? Because Logan Paul is OWNING the internet (and he’s got an awesome pond)!!!

As a person and the owner of a company that receives its fair share of criticism, I know there’s three sides to every story. With that said, I think YouTube is swimming in uncharted waters and is in over its head. Logan Paul is the platform’s second biggest money earner. YouTube suspending his earnings will quiet some of their critics … for now.

YouTube looks and is acting like ‘Big Government’ TRYING to arbitrarily shape the world through policy. 🙄

Censored for tasering a dead 🐀

YouTube becoming the P.C. police equals an IMPOSSIBLE AND FUTILE TASK…but it makes for good P.R.

Like him or hate him, Logan is who Logan is. If he was any other way (you know, the way we all think he should be), HE WOULDN’T BE LOGAN PAUL!!! At the end of the day, he’s a 22yr old content creator who creates content exactly like a 22yr old thinks and acts…DUH!

I like Logan. I like his work ethic, his energy, his charisma, his gratitude for what we gave him that EVERYONE who actually was there and met him felt and yes even his animals, including his turtle pancake. As for giving CPR to a fish, well, um, it’s a fish and good content (sorry PETA).

Today’s vlog with Logan is a smart marketing move for Aquascape. It’s also a smart marketing move for Chad Morrill, which is why he produced one too! Logan’s vlogs this week, which feature Chad, me, and his ponds, have been viewed over 17 million times.

17,000,000!

The YouTube 👮‍♀️ are smacking Logan and his 1.2 million dollar revenue stream down (for now). Because of that, Logan’s brand will get even more main stream media exposure, including this article TALKING about his fish.

Here’s to Chad’s beautiful Butterfly Koi (from his personal collection) not needing CPR anytime soon!

…and to Logan Paul for showcasing our awesome Aquascape ecosystem pond to a larger and larger audience

He truly loves his fish and his pond and I dig his ENERGY and work ethic! #respect

He’s still very much 22 but he’s a marketing machine whose enterprise is pulling in 200k a day! That’s “Lit” indeed!

I’m working my a** off trying to learn YouTube and Vlogging and so enjoying the journey it’s taking me on! “Everyone Wants a Water Feature…They Just Don’t Know It Yet.”

Logan Paul is exposing a whole new generation to what “Living the Aquascape Lifestyle” looks and feels like!

Hopefully you all know who Brian Barczyk is by now in this TRIBE. If not, he’s the main culprit behind my Daily Vlog initiative in 2018. Yes you can blame him

Brian Barczyk

This is really hard to watch for me. I used to feel exactly like Brian about haters. No, I never contemplated suicide and my “hurt” manifested more in wanting to knock peoples heads off but it was still frustrating and painful to read what others wrote about me and my baby (Aquascape).

Not anymore!

Today when people go off on-line on me or Aquascape I just feel sorry for their brokenness. At one point, my low point, I’d enjoy the demise of my detractors.

Not anymore.

Someone else’s failures born out of their misguided efforts to take Aquascape or others associated with this TRIBE down does not give me pleasure. Sadness has replaced bitterness seeing the same scenarios play out with different individuals again and again and again.

NEWSFLASH: Dwell in negativity and in attacking others directly or indirectly and it ALWAYS comes back to bite you in your ass. It NEVER propels you (or anyone or anything forward)

If you agree with that logic heres my Pond Guy Challenge I’d like to hear if you will take up …

DON’T TALK SH*T ONLINE.

*Don’t take the bait of Trolls…ever!

*Don’t post stuff that’s passive aggressive.

*Don’t talk politics if it’s negative (is it ever not on-line?!) Same with religion too (again if it’s negative)

Bottom line if it is meant to hurt others or spew venom don’t post it ever! (the blowback will get you eventually anyway!)

Please let me know TRIBE if you agree with me that accepting this Pond Guy Challenge will make this TRIBE part of the solution versus part of the the problem in the water feature industry and even beyond it for that matter!

Finally, I challenge all of you to feel sorry rather than angry for those posting their poison for the world to see. I promise if you do it won’t fuel their destruction and it will eliminate any sting others words my cause you!

Watch Brian’s Video:

With over 50,000,000 Followers across his platforms, most of them teenagers, Logan Paul quite possibly could be the most influential person to address the Suicide epidemic.

Logan-Paul

You learn way more from the valleys in life than the mountain tops. I knew Logan’s valley would lead to a mountain top. This journey he is currently on will save many many lives…

DIVINE!

Watch the Video:

I loved everything about college – except the classes! I made it through my six years only consuming one beer. That validates you can’t make a blanket statement about everyone, but from my own eyes it’s hard to argue with Matt Walsh’s four main points that he gets to at the 31-minute mark of his message.

This fall my son will be attending Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. If you’re wondering how a staunch college critic is handling that, I’m in therapy learning coping methods. Seriously, I’m happy for him, knowing he’s college material (unlike I was and MOST other 18-year olds who have no clue what they want to do with their lives). He wants to be a high school teacher and to pursue that profession, for now, you still are forced to have a college degree.

That doesn’t mean that the college system isn’t broken though. Ask ANY employer if the kids coming out of school are qualified to perform the duties the job requires and the answer will be a universal NO!

THEY ALL NEED ON-THE-JOB TRAINING!!!

As Matt eloquently states, “You can’t put a price tag on learning, but colleges do and that price is astronomical and unsustainable.”

As the cost of a degree has progressively risen, the quality of education continues to erode and with that, so does its worth to employers like me.

It’s hard for me to listen to the arguments like Mr Walsh’s that are only getting louder and louder and wonder why so many parents still believe in not only the value of a college education, but also that of the aforementioned “College Experience.”

Those of you who think I’m crazy need to meet my friends!

I’m on day 13 of a 365-day vlogging journey chronicling beautiful water features, the cool contractors who create them, and life at Aqualand. The simple reason I set out on this “crazy” challenge is because of what I have learned and applied my entire life about success …

“THE EASIEST WAY TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE IS TO FIND SOMEONE DOING WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND DO WHAT THEY DID!”

Logan Paul and Greg Wittstock

Simple, huh?! Sadly though most people, for a variety of reasons from ignorance to pride, don’t and won’t learn from others who’ve succeeded at doing what they want to do! That’s not just sad but it’s incredibly silly!

Today or tomorrow, my crazy friend and chief mentor on my vlogging journey, Brian Barczyk, will surpass 1,000,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel. ONE MILLION!!!

I want to accomplish what Brian has achieved – namely his positive influence and impact on a hobby and industry he loves and adores! Brian is the leading voice for hobbyists who keep s. If his ONE MILLION subscribers isn’t enough to prove that fact, the videos he’s shared have been viewed, as of today, 104,964,302 times. 

I’m 11,020 subscribers, 88,200 views, and 19 vlogs in. I’ve got a LONG way to go to catch Brian! But if I want to catch him (and you know I do!) I know the easiest way to do that is simple … follow his lead! Today Brian uploaded his 497th consecutive vlog in a row! For a year and a half straight this madman has posted a unique, educational, and inspirational vlog for his growing fan base EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

There’s no telling how many fans I will earn with my daily educational and inspirational posts on ponds. Brian is a talented and charismatic dude and following his lead by no means guarantees my own success. But …

Brian has a proven model that other vloggers I’ve been fortunate to meet have successfully modeled as well. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue with the success of Logan Paul. These guys have shown me the blueprint for success and I’m not too ignorant or too prideful to follow it!

In conclusion, the easiest way to be successful in life is to find someone succeeding at doing what you want to do and do what they did. That also means you better prepare yourself for hard work! The common denominator all successful people have is working hard. I’ve discovered the only sustainable way to have the energy to work hard, day in and day out, is to love what you’re doing!

 Ponds! I love helping people succeed! And in 2018, I’m going to follow a proven road map to success and share my love for doing what I do EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I hope this post inspires you to find someone you can follow to succeed in doing whatever it is you want to do. Whether it’s snakes or ponds, it doesn’t matter. Congratulations Brian Barczyk on reaching the ONE MILLION mark. Wish me luck on my year-long quest to follow your lead!

Subscribe to My Vlog Here >> https://www.youtube.com/thepondguyaquascape

That is the deep thought of the day posed by Christian DelGrosso as it relates to Logan Paul and for that matter all of today’s Social Media Influencers. I’d like to explore Mr DelGrosso’s perspective especially because he’s “so deeply pissed off and sick and tired of all of the fools showing disrespect for society” headlined by Logan Paul but certainly others as well. From what I’ve seen, his opinion, and certainly his method for sharing it, is far from alone.

There’s many people who think I’m a Grade A ass. Some of those who think that have even met me! This post is not a defense of Logan Paul’s behavior that much of the world is eagerly dissecting. Instead, I’d like to ask a question to all of those who question Logan Paul’s sophomoric methods and in particular his character…

Have you met Logan Paul?

Filming with Logan Paul

Christian Delgrosso is one of the few people weighing in on social media who has actually met Logan Paul. That’s one of the reasons I was mildly interested in his take on the current debacle surrounding him. Although I cannot comment on the ending of his personal friendship with Logan, I can and will weigh in on his other “opinions” regarding the degradation of society at the hands of social media influencers.

I agree with almost everything Christian has to say! I disagree greatly though with how he went about saying it! Please allow me to express my opinions…

It seems everyone today is “Mad as Hell” about something (Politics and Religion come to mind) With the complete and utter integration of social media into our lives everyone is now able to SHARE their outrage with everyone else in the world just like Christian DelGrosso just did to his 2,000,000 Subscribers.

My question to Christian and everyone out there who’s “Mad as Hell” about something who then chooses to SHARE their frustration with the world do any of you ever feel less mad after you’ve posted your complete and utter ire on whatever it is you’re “sick and tired about?!”

I can’t answer that question for you but I can for myself. I choose to keep my “outrage” about whatever’s happening that’s getting under my skin off social media. I do that as much for my “Friends” sanity as well as my own.

I’m not outraged at Mr DelGrosso’s opinions. As I’ve stated I agree with much of what he said. I am disappointed in his approach though. Since he stated WE NEED MORE LEADERS let me try and be one regarding this particular matter and the broader theme it represents

If you don’t have something nice to SHARE please don’t SHARE it! There’s enough sh*t in this world and adding to it or piling on it isn’t going to help any of us INCLUDING those of us who are SHARING it!

I could be wrong but whatever cathartic feeling you get posting your 💩 for the world to see probably isn’t worth the time you spent composing it.

If you disagree with my philosophy regarding keeping posts positive or at least professional and constructive that’s your prerogative. However, If you disagree with my thoughts and continue to post your ire to the world about whatever hot button topic or crisis du jour of the day is occurring (see Logan Paul) may I suggest asking yourself this question after every post…

Did what I share help or hinder others and our world by sharing it?

As for me and my house I’m committing today, tomorrow and everyday for that matter not to SHARE anything that isn’t intended to help, inspire or make others smile after seeing it.

If you agree with what I just shared please SHARE it and try and do the same thing everyday with your posts!

Carpe Diem, Seize the Day!

I determined I was going to finally bite the bullet and overcome my fears and master the art of Vlogging in 2018. I did exactly what I recommend to anyone wanting to do anything in life and that is “find someone who’s succeeding at doing what you want to do and do what they did!”

In July I met snake expert and YouTube Vlogger Brian Barczyk (900,000 Subscribers) at a Reptile Show. We hit it off and he invited me to visit him in Michigan. The very next week I was there, pen and paper in hand, learning cap on! In September I visited him again this time building my new friend a pond (go figure) for his 3 legged alligator RJ, another one for his home and I even brought him a giant alligator snapping turtle he named Bowser.

Logan Paul and Greg Wittstock

In October Vlogger extraordinaire Logan Paul (14,000,000 Subscribers) mentioned on his Vlog that he’d love a koi pond at his new LA Mansion. Within days I was on a plane visiting him to design him one! I reached out to Green Industry Vloggers like Stanley Genadek (100,000 Subscribers) Keith Kalfas (45,000 Subscribers) and Blake Albertson (18,000 Subscribers) inviting them to join me at Logan’s while picking their brains the whole time on how exactly they did what they did!

Today I surpassed the 10,000 Subscriber milestone

I’ve reached this milestone by shifting a talented but stuck in a rut Teammate Flavio Ramirez from Product Marketing to my full time Vlog editor. I’ve hired a new passionate Videographer Luke Toby Newman to tell the story of life at Aquascape every week. I’ve listened and learned from the much wiser Marketing duo of Aveline Valvano Hauser and Jennifer Zuri who have patiently listened to my vision and are building the back end metrics to properly optimize our content to make sure the world actually sees what we produce.

Finally, I let long time Aquascape Videographer Tony Alcala and his assistant Lisa McGinnis pick out my Vlogging camera and even a Drone (that still scares me!) to record beautiful ponds, cool customers and the neat places I plan on visiting as I attack a 365 Day Vlogging strategy in 2018!

“The easiest way to succeed in life is to find someone succeeding doing what you want to do and do and do what they did! I’M DOING THAT! And I’m doing what I’ve always done as well by surrounding myself with an incredible and talented team who supports me on this journey!

I truly love what I do and the people I get a chance everyday to do it with! Please join me on this journey to share my passion for ponds, turtles and even life with as many people as possible in 2018!

Carpe Diem, Seize the Day!

https://www.youtube.com/user/ThePondGuyAquascape

Logan Paul with the Pond Guy, Greg Wittstock

48 insane hours, one “dope” koi pond and 10,000,000 YouTube views and counting later, I finally have time to reflect on my out of body experience in the orbit of 22 yr old wonder kid Logan Paul!

If you don’t know who Logan Paul is ask your kids or grandkids and they most certainly will (and most certainly will have an opinion of him as well)

Love him or hate him there’s no denying his success even if his “style” might not be your cup of tea.

Logan Paul is living the dream of just about every 22 yr old warm blooded heterosexual male (hence the haters) Here’s my take on my time in his stratosphere. Logan is a good kid. He’s undeniably a hard worker. He is constantly grinding. Constantly! He’s genuine. The Logan you see in front of the camera is the Logan you get off it. Everyday he genuinely has a complete and total blast doing what he does! He’s talented and funny, rich and famous, handsome and ripped and just dripping with charisma.

In other words…he’s extremely hatable for many!

I guess you could say I’ve turned into a fan. I understand if you’re not.

The one thing I’d ask you if you’re not impressed by his silly antics, locker room humor and occasional potty mouth is this…what were you like at 22? Even more to the point what would you have been like if by being the way he is you earned millions to be that way?

I won’t claim to know how each of you would answer that question but I know how my 22 yr old self would…I’d basically be doing pretty much exactly what Logan is doing!!!

I guess that’s why I’m ok with it. I GET IT! But than again at 47 I still feel like I’m not fully grown up myself (thank God!) The better question is not whether you would have been doing the off the wall stuff he’s currently engaged doing but what will this “kid” be doing when he’s 32, 42 and 52! From the little I’ve observed my money is on Logan continuing to reinvent himself as the world changes and he matures along with it. Time will tell but from what I can tell when you’re as driven and talented as he is he won’t be letting the world beat him into submitting to the will of conformity like it does for so many many others!

That’s my take on 22yr old Logan Paul. I’m happy for the kid.

If there’s a polar opposite of me in this world … a yin to my yang …  it just might be Flavio Ramirez. He’s loud, aggressive, and never sits still! 😉 As often happens, opposites complement each other and Flavio’s patience (thank God for spell check), steadiness, and artistic and technical abilities make him the perfect match for my zaniness when it comes to working together to document life at Aquascape.

Flavio Ramirez, videographer at Aquascape, Inc.

Yesterday we launched to the world wide web the first official vlog that we produced together! Although it’s my face in front of the camera, it’s Flavio’s behind everything else. He’s immensely talented at the things I’m not. Without him doing HIS thing behind the scenes, nobody would see me doing MY thing out front.

The thing that gives me the most pride is seeing a man who’s persevered at Aquascape for 10 years, steadily moving from the Customer Care center to the product team and then on to the marketing department where he quietly worked on packaging all day long. Now he’s jumping on airplanes with 24 hours’ notice and chasing me around with a camera. Together we are stoked on showing the world what this wonderful and wacky world of water features is all about!

I couldn’t think of a better partner in crime to do it with than my opposite, my man Flavio!

My new vlog …

 

 

 

The most important thing in running a business is building a TEAM. It’s long been my belief that the first job of any CEO is to “guide and guard the company culture.”

On Friday, a young kid on the crew unexpectedly gave his notice. On Tuesday, I saw our Marketing TEAM already making signs to promote that we are hiring for his position. I didn’t tell them to do it. I don’t have to tell people to do most of the things they do around here. If I’m doing my job to guide and guard the company culture then the TEAM will do their job, which is to keep the company humming regardless of what happens.

I’m never not thinking about our culture, which means I’m always thinking about the people who make up our TEAM. You’re only as good as the people you have on your TEAM. Even Michael Jordan had four other teammates on the floor with him at all times.

And if you want to be part of the Aquascape TEAM … WE’RE HIRING!

Aquascape Teammate

Most people don’t know Brian Helfrich once dabbled in the fine art of ceramics, but it’s true. Brian is the Vice President of Construction at Aquascape and what most people DO know is that Brian possesses highly superior pond-building skills. Part of his artistic ability comes from observing the work of his peers, whether it be Mother Nature herself or the likes of B.J. Linger of BJL Aquascapes in Oceanport, NJ.

For those who’ve witnessed the aesthetic precision of the slate work that lines the inside of the Aquascape grotto, you’ve seen the handiwork of B.J. Linger and others. A love of ceramics and an admiration for the work of fellow contractor Linger, Helfrich was moved to create the stunning intricacy of the slate urn that graces the entrance of the AquaGardens located at the west end of Aqualand.

Stacked Slate Urn Fountain by Aquascape

 

Brian first saw Linger’s slate work in a waterfall he constructed. Brian racked his brain thinking of different applications where this type of artistry could be used, and his propensity for ceramics led him to create the piecemeal slate urn for the AquaGardens. Brian visualized water bubbling from the top of the urn and cascading over each individual piece of stone. In Brian’s mind’s eye, the urn would be small yet captivating. However, one thing led to another and an overly ambitious Helfrich soon found his urn getting taller and taller.

Brian painstakingly worked little by little on the urn, building his way two-thirds up from the bottom, at which point he grew quite tired of the project. One day his inspiration, B.J. Linger, showed up and was inspired to finish the urn for Brian. Linger finished the top quarter of the urn late into the evening and found himself eyeball to eyeball with John Law at about 1:00 a.m. The police officer thought a vandal was on-site. After some delicate explanation, Linger was not handcuffed and went his merry way.

Not only is the AquaGardens urn beautiful, but it’s practical as well. Brian and his crew like to use New York Blue Stone in their waterfall projects, but the stone has to be “chunked off” and the remnants of stone are sometimes discarded. Brian now recycles the smaller chunks of stone and uses them for urn projects.

Helfrich has since finished a couple more of the slate urns. One is on display at Wasco Nursery in St. Charles after making its first appearance at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show. The slate urn was a hit at the show and appeared on the cover of the Tempo section in the Chicago Tribune. The urn was then lovingly transferred to its permanent home in Wasco, where it continues to draw attention and admiration from shoppers.

A recent urn project using recycled stone took place at a private residence in nearby Batavia. It’s a squat urn – larger in circumference than the AquaGardens urn, but shorter in stature. The slate urn has a gray body with a brown top. The bubbling urn took 2 ½ days to complete with a crew of four and the final price tag was $8,700.

Since a lot of people might find it challenging to afford such a luxury, Aquascape produced a low-cost, fiberglass replica of the feature. Aquascape now offers a small, medium,  and large fiberglass stacked slate urn for a fraction of the cost of the real slate urn!

As for Brian, he’s back on his pond-building beat doing what he does best. We’re sure more inspirational ideas will flow out of that red-haired head of his.

Stacked Slate Urn Fountain by Aquascape

This amazes me! A single U.S. company burned through 137 American workers in one season! While it’s one example, this article brings attention to the harsh reality facing many American business owners, like myself, in today’s employee-poor climate.

The immigration situation is an impossible dilemma for all parties involved; our government, employers who rely on immigrant workers, and the immigrants themselves. Simply put, any decision that’s made to appease one group is going to have an adverse effect on another.

However, our current economy is dependent on immigrant labor – period! Everything from restaurants to hotels to the landscape trade that I’m a proud part of. All of us, and many more industries, rely on labor from immigrants who are dedicated, hardworking, and appreciative of their job. If you take these types of workers out of the equation, with the belief that Americans can and will fill their void, then we’re all going to pay the consequences.

Please read this article, watch this video, and tell me what you’re feeling. I feel sad for the many families trapped in a changing political environment. I feel empathy for all the employers at the mercy of said political environment who want to follow our country’s laws, but can’t find dedicated, hardworking, and appreciative Americans willing to fill them. And I feel appreciative that I live in a great but flawed country (can you say politics), and that I don’t have to leave my country to provide for my family. That is, of course, unless I can’t find laborers to do a portion of the work that provides a living not only for my family, but for the 100+ other families that rely on the existence of our company to make a living.

Click here to read the article, weigh in, and pass along.

When I saw him after work loading up a bunch of boxed toys into his trunk in the Aquascape parking lot I knew I didn’t have to ask but I still did “Whatcha up to now Roberto” I inquired? “Just getting inventory for a garage sale” he replied without even looking up. Turns out Toys R Us was clearing out inventory and he picked up a ton of stuff he was planning on flipping for a profit.

That’s my friend Roberto the consummate hustler!

I am honest enough with myself as a business owner to know I am the world’s worst negotiator! That’s okay though because I’ve got Roberto! In the 16 years he’s managed our warehouse and facilities, he’s bought every single vehicle I’ve owned (and a ton of other people’s who work here, too!) Roberto … every car salesman’s worst nightmare.

A few years back when his oldest was going off to college, Roberto got a second job working weekends as a bouncer. The last time he was a bouncer he had a giant Afro and Mr. T. was his sidekick! He needed the extra cash though to put his kid through school so he worked all day M-F then worked all night Friday and Saturday, too! He took a 6 month “vacation” when his son finished school but went right back to bouncing when his second child started college. With two more still in high school, he’s going to be burning the candle at both ends for awhile.

Roberto has been the primary provider for his wife and four kids and even extended family members who’ve turned to him for help over the years. In between it all, he also made time to coach all four of his kids in sports. He’s always moving, always looking for opportunities to be of service, and of course always hustling to provide for his family. Our world needs a lot less entitlement and a lot more Roberto, that is, people who figure out what needs to be done and than even more impressively go out and get it done!

Roberto is the kind of teammate every company needs. He’s the type of husband and father every family needs. And finally, he’s the personification of a work ethic that few possess but all would benefit from. Simply put, Roberto is the kind of man our world needs more of!

Roberto Cosme

It’s not often you get to have an experience like the one I just did. Myself, along with 40 other men, just spent the last 36 hours together in the woods being trained by a former Navy Seal turned Pastor (yes you read that correctly). Jim O’Connor is the founder of Guard (Gather Understand Attack Retreat Decompress) 1 Warrior Training.

To say it was a blast would be an understatement!

Yes we learned the proper technique to fire guns from a former Seal. Even more importantly though was Jim’s unique perspective on what it meant to be a man who would give his life to protect his family.

Leadership doesn’t start with our government or even with our schools. Leadership starts at home. All our societal ills can be traced back to a failure of men leading their families in their own homes.

Being a man starts with being the leader of your home. I’m going to be a better leader of my family because of what I just experienced at Guard 1 Warrior Training. Something tells me that 40 other MEN will be too!

Guard One Warrior Training

In our house, the mere mention of his name evokes an immediate smile just before the flowery stories of yesteryear begin to flow! It’s been four years now since Jesse Crognale, “Mr. C,” taught our oldest in 8th Grade History. Everyone should be so lucky to have a teacher, coach, or neighbor like Mr C was to our son. That is … a person who positively influences you above and beyond the normal call of duty in their role as a teacher, coach, or neighbor.

I was blessed to have a “Mr. C” in my life, too; my high school football coach James Rexilius. “Coach Rex” to all who knew and loved him. He had a profoundly positive impact on my life over 30 years ago that is still bearing fruit to this day! His influence on me was far from the exception. At his wake, thousands lined up to express their condolences; each with their own stories of how Coach Rex had similarly impacted them!

I bet a man like Mr. C has impacted more than just my boy, as well. Fortunately, I got to know Coach Rex as a peer many years after I last suited up for him. I was able to give him the gift of telling him how great his influence on me was, how much I respect him, and how much love I had for him. This week, my high school senior went back to his middle school and did the same for Mr. C. My son is looking at colleges now and of course he wanted Mr. C’s advice, because he’s planning on studying education and becoming a teacher himself!

I can think of no greater reward than being a Coach Rex or a Mr. C to someone. If you had a Mr. C growing up and he or she is still around, give yourself, and them, the gift of letting them know the impact they had on you. Do it now and pay it forward by becoming your own version of Mr. C for someone else.

Mr C and Son

Since you asked, here’s my personal social media strategy in one easy-to-understand sentence …

If it’s not positive, I don’t post it!

I get it. I really do. There are too many polarizing issues going on in the world that evoke strong emotions, it’s hard not to share, comment, or respond to the madness. The problem, at least as I see it, is that as equally passionate as you are, regarding whatever it is that is going on in the world, there’s someone (or a lot of someones) that are just as vocal on the other side of the fence. True?

The rational, logical, sane post in your eyes (and often mine too) is met with strong emotions that only evoke MORE emotions! Unfortunately, I’ve found that this kind of emotion often leads to a negative energy vortex that I want to avoid getting sucked into at all cost!

Simply put “ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Do as you please, BUT please evaluate how what you do is working, or not, for you. Archie Bunker would certainly have a heart attack everyday with the craziness of today’s society! Don’t give yourself or others a heart attack by becoming an Archie Bunker.

Way back when, in another world, I was in college. I still have vivid memories from my freshman year of getting buried in a coffin during a ritualistic right of passage. Specifically, I recall the crunch the shovels made digging in the dirt, outside the pitch black tomb that was engulfing me, before it came crashing down reverberating on the metal casket lid only inches from my face! Another time I managed to get “kidnapped” while walking to class right on campus. A stun gun was used to immobilize me unexpectedly sending 30,000 volts through my body, burning a hole in my shirt and searing the skin by my ribs. Dazed and confused, I was then forcibly hogged tied with duct tape before being hauled off in front of a group of laughing pedestrians that had gathered around me. The perpetrator, of all people, was my roommate!

Believe it or not, I didn’t think twice about either event back then (although I was pissed at my roommate for ruining my favorite t-shirt). Boy have times changed! What was “quasi-acceptable” in the other universe I grew up in, would downright land you in jail today!

In case you didn’t know, this week is “Anti-Hazing” week. Subsequently, the media has been showcasing hazing stories including one from a high-profile local college involving a few football players. The incident occurred 16 months ago but only now is appearing in the news.

Before I go any further let me state, unequivocally, that there is no place in this world for hazing. We have learned people can and do die in “good-natured” hazing incidents (like burying people in coffins) Simply put, hazing of any kind can’t be condoned or allowed on any level. Hence anti-hazing week. What I also want to point out though, despite the risk of being proverbially tarred and feathered for doing so, is that we still live in a land where, as Americans, we are afforded due process.

Unless of course, that is you have access to Facebook!

I’ve read media posts (because we know if the media reports it, it’s true) shared by friends regarding this aforementioned story of the football players, the victim, and the way the school handled the situation. It’s amazing, but from what’s being reported and certainly the comments people are making I must be the only person on the planet who wasn’t a first-hand eyewitness to the attack, as well as the only one who missed the front row seat for all the closed door meetings the administration had afterward!

Sadly and even more so scarily “innocent until proven guilty” is a thing of the past with today’s agenda-filled media and a society fully engaged 24/7 in social media.

Maybe these kids are guilty. Maybe they deserve every ounce of tar and every single feather being heaped upon them by a quick, and only getting quicker, to judge society. But … maybe, just maybe, these current football players have a lot in common with some former Duke lacrosse players a decade before them? Since memories are short and you may have forgotten the Duke Blue Devils’ plight, they and their National Champion coach were run out of town BEFORE their accuser admitted she had lied under oath about the whole thing! The disgraced prosecutor was not only fired but disbarred after being found to have withheld critical information on his highly public witch hunt of these “guilty until proven innocent” kids. But, by the time the facts came out, it was far too late to reverse the damage done! Lives were ruined, careers were destroyed and all because of a very avoidable societal rush to judgment. Oh, how short our memories are!

I was a kid once and had stupid stuff done to me and maybe even did things myself that my older and wiser self wouldn’t have done. Thank God though I grew up in a time when social media didn’t exist and we were all blessed to live in an idealistic nation where, constitutionally, we were innocent until proven guilty!

 

 

I heard a speaker share this parenting story and I loved the principle! A teenage boy was a “car guy,” but his father drove a Chevy. However, THIS father wanted to give his son the dream of riding in a Ferrari so he hatched a scheme that was as simple as it was brilliant. He sent an email explaining his son’s passion to a local car club who, in turn, forwarded his email to all its members.

Guess what happened next?

EVERY MEMBER RESPONDED BY OFFERING THIS KID A RIDE IN THEIR PRIDE AND JOY!

Here’s the moral of the story. For every parent that can’t figure out how to connect with their child … there’s always a way. Even when your kid might be “a car guy” and you drive a Chevy!

Kids need to know their parents. Dads – I’m speaking to you! Care about them and their interests!

There’s always a way when you care enough to find one.

Invest the TIME to show your kids you care about them by doing something with them that they enjoy. While you’re at it you might even want to throw in a ❤️ felt “love you” too!

 

Energy gets sh*t done in this world and my new friend Brian Barczyk “The Snake Guy” has energy in spades! He’s a YouTube Celebrity that can’t ever sit still (we hit it off immediately) He’s wildly successful with 1,200,000 followers across his various social media platforms.

Simply put Brian’s a workhorse!

Here’s my observation of all successful people who all somehow possess and ultimately sustain wild amounts of energy doing what they do…THEY LOVE WHAT THEY DO!!! By loving what they’re doing they aren’t drained by the hard work all success requires.

I asked Brian if he was a morning or a night person and he replied “BOTH”  He has to be both in order to produce a 15 minute Vlog EVERYDAY!

There’s a lot of avenues to be successful in life but the only prerequisite in achieving and maintaining success in anything you do is HARD WORK!

Brian and I talked about how seemingly more and more intelligent and even talented people don’t get the basic concept of effort/return and instead just want the instant success they feel their minimal efforts should produce 

If there’s one thing I’ve observed watching Brian in action, daily, it’s he’s got a motor that just won’t stop that’s fueled by the energy that only can come from truly loving what one does!

Want to have 1.2 million followers or simply be successful in life?! Have Wild Energy for working hard and keep yourself fueled for the effort by being passionate doing what you do! Brian Barczyk 

              

Meet Matt Griffin of Houston TX. You may have seen where he lives mentioned in the news lately. What you probably haven’t seen, until now, is the story of Matt Griffin and the family he leads.

Businessman of the Year

 

Eighteen years ago Matt founded Prime Lawn primarily doing residential maintenance. He expanded his business into a full service landscape design build firm which included installing water features which is how I had the pleasure of getting to know him. He was a good customer who grew into a very good one through the years. But one year ago while visiting us in Chicago for our annual pond convention called Pondemonium, Matt’s entire world was turned upside down.

He discovered improprieties that had his business, for all intents and purposes, insolvent. Virtually every outside advisor he consulted with suggested he file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. For Matt and his wife Heather that option simply wasn’t an option! The Griffin’s primary motivation was the people that called Prime Lawn their home. Their very first meeting was with their team where they explained the cold hard reality of their situation. They literally told everyone they employed they didn’t have the means to pay any of them. But they also told each of them they’d figure out a way to do it in the “next week or two” Matt feared nobody would stay, instead nobody left! He then contacted every customer, explained that the company didn’t have the money they had already given him for their deposits but IF they paid him 10% of the total per week, he’d start and finish every single project. Every customer paid and every single employee got paid in return. Amazing!

The most amazing thing of all though was over the next 12 months Prime Lawn blew away all their projections and had the single greatest year in the history of their business!!!

For their fortitude and exceptional results Aquascape recognized Matt Griffin of Prime Lawn as the 2017 Aquascape Businessman of the Year!

The entire family, sans their two and a half year old daughter, made the triumphant return back to Pondemonium and were recognized with a standing ovation in front of all their peers.

Aquascape Front Pond

Their flight to Houston was scheduled to return on Sunday Aug 27th. The first flight they were able to catch departed Saturday September 2nd! This last week, stranded in Chicagoland, their family stayed with the Aquascape family at Aqualand. It was our joy and pleasure to be able to host them!

Aquascape Front Pond

Home now they are facing an entirely different but equally daunting challenge than they faced last year at this time. 90% of their scheduled landscaped projects were underwater! Someday people will certainly rebuild their yards…but only after they have rebuilt their devastated homes!

Once again the 2017 Aquascape Businessman of the Year has his back against the wall…for another whole year!

If there’s one thing though that I truly believe, it’s that we get nothing in life that we can’t handle. Handling what we get in life though, is ultimately what separates the exceptional people from all the rest.

The Griffin’s are exceptional people! God bless you guys for your exceptionally resilient spirit! You’ll need every ounce of your exceptional fortitude on the next journey ahead of you. You’ve done it before, you’ll do it again. After all, that’s just what EXCEPTIONAL people do!

The greatest challenge for every business owner is always people! People will be your greatest source of aggravation but also inspiration. Today, Labor Day, is as good a day as any to challenge yourself on whether what you’re doing is a labor of love or a labor of dread.

I’m inspired to help people reach their fullest potential in whatever it is they CHOOSE to do personally and certainly as a boss professionally. I was fortunate enough to discover something (ponds) I was passionate about doing and was successful at turning my hobby into my profession. Over 26 years of doing “what I love” I’ve endured countless sleepless nights, betrayal by friends and family, faced financial ruin on multiple occasions and to this day feel the sting of constant judgment by those who don’t posses the facts. I say this not to garner sympathy but rather as context for anyone who believes your boss has it all figured out. I don’t and that’s ok!

It’s also ok for you to wake up everyday and go to work to face the problems of the day head on. After all “All Business Is, Is Fixing Problems” If however you dread going to work everyday to face those problems may I be so bold as to suggest that maybe it is you that is the problem?!

Everyday and in every way you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. Your attitude is the most important factor in determining what part of that equation you’re part of.

I love what I do despite what people do. You should too despite what your boss does or doesn’t do. After all … OUR Attitudes Determine Our Altitudes!

Greg Wittstock

When designing and installing a pond of any size, it’s important to consider how you’ll tie the water feature into the surrounding landscape. When you see a pond sitting in the middle of a grassy expanse, it just doesn’t look quite right without creating some type of transition between the water and the landscape. It’s important to incorporate creative pond edging treatments.

A variety of options exist for making the edges of a pond look as pleasing as possible. Here are just a few to get you started toward installing an ecosystem pond with creative edge treatments.

The Back End

On the back edge of the pond, you can keep the shelf shallow for marginal plants, allowing more stone to show above the waterline. For aesthetic purposes and for construction efficiency, one huge boulder is most desirable. It’s not only faster, but smart stone utilization.

Creative Pond Edging Ideas

The Gravel Edge
Probably the most basic type of edge is the gravel edge. Simply excavate the pond as usual, and then cut an angle into the top 3 inches of the perimeter. Place the boulders several inches higher than the bottom of the cut angle, and fill the void with gravel. You’ll want to fold several inches of extra liner into the angle just in case you need to make an adjustment. Complete the edge by bringing mulch up to the gravel.

 

Granite Block Edgings
If you’re looking to break from the monotony of boulder edging that is typically seen in most pond designs, creative pond edging treatments using granite can provide a nice crisp look that is both interactive and easy on the eyes. Granite edgings are quick and easy to build, acting as a continuous medium that can bring someone right up to the water’s edge.

To install the granite edgings you first need to excavate a shelf for the blocks to sit on. Ideally you want the water level to rest about 1-2 inches or so below the top of the block. Next, make sure that you run enough liner along the top shelf so that you can fold the liner around the back and to the top of the block; tucking it just beneath ground level. The notch in the granite is meant for any piping or as a conduit to run electrical lines that may need to run alongside the pond. Then, you just need to backfill behind the edging with some well-compacted soil or gravel as an appropriate base for the finishing touches.

 

Outcroppings

When a builder incorporates an outcropping into their design, they truly are providing maximum interaction between the customer and their pond, all with a natural-looking appeal. So, how do you incorporate an outcropping into your design? First, we’ll assume that your stone is 6 inches thick.

In this instance, we’ll say that we want the water level 2 inches below the top of the stone. Using your site level, dig the top shelf to 4 inches below the water level. After that, you can place the liner down and tuck it up and behind the back edge, and then place your support boulders. For added protection to the liner, place a rock pad or two on top of the liner.

Keep in mind that it’s important to use appropriately sized boulders as support to maintain a level surface for the outcropping placement. Once you’ve checked all your levels you can place your outcropping and support its sides with some gravel or soil if you want to allow planting at the outcropping’s back edge.

Gravel Edge for Pond
Granite Edging in Pond
Rock Outcropings

Exploring Your Edging Options
The above are just a few ideas for adding creative pond edging treatments to your pond installations. Pick up a copy of the Pond Builder’s Bible to learn even more ways to tie water features into the landscape. Be sure to consult with your customer on how they’ll enjoy their pond so you can design unique and creative edges just for them.

I’d hire this kid, would you?! “If you’re not totally in love with what you’re learning, it’s not a sustainable path” Wise words of wisdom from a 21-year-old who just completed his first internship for my buddies incredible company, Flavors Of North America (FONA)

Matthew Duda, my going places nephew, lived with our family this whole summer. He landed a coveted internship for FONA’s Sensory Department conducting taste tests for his company’s many flavored food products. He loved it!

I wish more kids and heck even adults had his perspective on “being in love with what you’re learning” That attitude is how I know this kid is going places!

It’s been a pleasure watching my nephew grow into a fine young man. I’m excited to see how he now forges his future.

#yourattitudedeterminesyouraltitude!

If I didn’t find my calling as The Pond Guy it most certainly would have been working in some capacity with kids. I love kids! Blake 15 and Jack 16 both remind me of myself when I was their ages. They’ve built their own personal ponds and found their way to Aquascape respectively.

Together we just built a pond for another 16 years old introducing a new kid to the same passion we all have!

When I’m long gone hopefully many years from now either they or others like them will be carrying on what I’m doing today. If you think about it every younger generation will be carrying on what we’re all doing today. It might not look the same, the future has a way of changing how things get done, but the point remains, it’s up to future generations to do what each of us is responsible for today.

When you look at things that way we all have no choice but to be coaches to those generations behind us. Kids deserve our attention now, and the better we do at coaching them when they’re young, ultimately the better we will have it when we’re old.

If being a coach isn’t really a choice than we might as well choose to be good ones. Look for teachable moments, have the patience to be patient (always my biggest struggle) and look for opportunities to share your unique knowledge often with those who can benefit from your passion.

None of us want to get old but we all inevitably will. Working with kids though might just have the additional reward of keeping us younger longer!

Koi keeping often develops into an obsession for the pond and fish owner.  Most people name their fish and consider them honorary members of the family. To create a healthy, stable environment for finned friends, a clear perspective of koi and their proper care is vital.

History of Koi

The earliest written records of koi, dating back 2,5000 years, were found in Eastern Asia and China. Color mutations in koi, or “fancy carp” as they’re known by some, only appeared a few hundred years ago. And the hobby of koi-keeping didn’t emerge until the 20th century.

With rampant development and industrialization, news of the koi’s beauty began to spread into the UK and North America. Although Japan is the “koi-producing capital of the world,” some of the nicest koi are found in backyard water gardens of North American homeowners.

Feeding Koi

Overfeeding is the most common mistake that fish owners make when keeping koi.  Like some humans, koi will accept more food than they can comfortably eat, which is harmful to both the fish and the ecosystem in which they live. Overfeeding leads to an increase in waste volume excreted by the koi, which in turn creates water that’s high in ammonia and nitrites – perfect for algae growth!

Feeding koi should be avoided altogether when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In the presence of these relatively low temperatures, the koi’s metabolism slows to a minimum, reducing the fish’s ability to sufficiently digest or process what they consume.

Feeding your koi less food is a wiser option. Only feed your koi what they can eat in a matter of minutes, once or twice a day at most. Overfeeding fish can lead to algae buildup since the excess food contributes to the nutritional load, and therefore algae growth, which in turn leads to more fish waste. Soon you have an unbalanced pond. Koi owners can actually abandon feeding altogether and still have very healthy fish.

 Koi Myths

Some of your customers may be fearful of keeping koi in their pond, due to a few myths that are floating around. Here are some of the most common objections we hear, and the truth about these common fears.

Myth: Fish create more pond maintenance.
Truth: Fish are a crucial part of the pond ecosystem. Koi reduce algae by feeding on it, and they fertilize plants with their waste. In actuality, fish help to lessen pond maintenance.

Myth: Koi cannot live in a pond with rocks and gravel.
Truth: Koi, or carp, are river fish where rocks and gravel cover almost everything. Aquascape ponds, which house perfectly happy and healthy koi, are always lined with rock and gravel.

Myth: I’ll lose all my fish to predators.
Truth: If constructed properly, the risk of predators can be eliminated. Installing fish caves in ponds provide areas of safety for fish. Pond plants also create cover and places of refuge for your koi.

Myth: Koi need at least three feet of water to survive.
Truth: Aquascape recommends installing ponds that are two feet deep in the center. This depth allows the fish to survive through the winter months.

Myth: I don’t want the trouble of bringing fish inside for the winter.
Truth: Koi are extremely hardy fish, whose ancestors over-wintered in freezing conditions, and still do. Keep the water circulating and maintain a hole in the ice and they should be fine.

Myth: I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on koi.
Truth: Pet quality koi start as low as $5 each, with show quality koi going for hundreds of dollars or more. Since fish food is relatively inexpensive, how much you want to spend on koi is up to your customer.

It was the 4th of July, he was on vacation with his family, out kayaking with his wife when he yelled he couldn’t breathe before slumping over. His wife thought he was just goofing around with her. It was the last words he ever spoke.

Marc Abbatacola was 53

Today I attended his funeral. He was an acquaintance of mine but from the size of his service, he was a friend to many. I left wishing I had taken the time to get to know him better after hearing those who did so eloquently describe who he was.

Their words and the sheer size of his funeral and wake (5-hour long line) have put me in a reflective mood.

First, according to his own younger brother Marc was “not always a great guy” Yet, when he suddenly passed thousands showed up to pay their respects. Almost all of them, fortunately, got the chance to know the imperfect Marc who got molded into the “great guy” he became!

One of the eulogists said the news of Marc’s passing impacted his world “like a nuclear bomb going off” He spent the last year working with Marc and said he felt “a year with Marc was better than a lifetime with most people”

The three words used to summarize up Marc Abbatacola’s time on earth were Zeal, Strength, and Love. I would be honored to be associated with those adjectives with my own life.

His zeal, strength, and love no doubt played into his gift of encouragement. His passion was people and the size of his funeral was a testament to the fruits of his time here.

Marc Abbatacola’s was one of the two largest celebrations of life funerals I’ve ever attended. The other was my high school football coach. Both MEN lived a life of conviction and took an unabashed stand for their faith. They invested their hearts and souls into loving others, and never minced words regarding their intentions for doing so.

None of us get to choose when we leave this earth, all of us get to choose how we live while we are here though. Seeing the mass of humanity at their funerals I have no doubt that Marc Abbatacola and Coach Rex before him, figured out the secret to making your life count.

Live in the service of others, walk in a faith that shapes you for the better, and stand for your convictions regardless of whether society agrees with them or not.

Do that and your time here on earth will count for a lot more than selfishly living for yourself.

Until we get to know each other better R.I.P Marc

Matthew 25:23

When I was younger and less wise I kept a safety deposit box for the projects I did for cash. The “safety” deposit box kept the money hidden from “Uncle Sam” but not from my self-entitled General Manager. He decided on a whim that he deserved a Porsche.

Lesson learned!

A: Best friends steal (I played football with the dude in high school)

B: When you cheat others see it and have no problem justifying doing the same to you!

I don’t know if you give “cash discounts” and cheat on your taxes. Frankly, how you choose to run your business is up to you. I choose to pay my damn taxes to the most corrupt politicians ever in the “state” of Illinois because…

I don’t want to do anything ever in my company that others could perceive as being unethical, underhanded, vengeful or two faced.

I’ve learned with either wisdom of a life of hard knocks or simple maturity that employees read the company currents like the seasoned sailors they are! (BTW that statement is PURE GOLD!) If they see you doing one thing, it’s not a stretch at all for them to take their own liberties too. Next thing you know they are driving a Porsche your behavior bought you!

Nothing and I mean nothing will impact your success or failure more than how YOU choose to lead your organization. I’ve got 26 years and counting of dead bodies behind me with my fingerprints all over the knife!

THAT IS EXACTLY WHY I’M SO PUMPED TO BE PRESENTING AT THE LEADERSHIP BOOT CAMP WEDNESDAY AUGUST 23rd.

I’m working on my presentation now and I’ve got so much I want to share I just had to post a teaser now!!!

Are you signed up for it yet?! Don’t miss it, it just might save you the cost of a Porsche!

Maybe it’s because I too turned my hobby into a career that I’m so excited to see the journey this young man is on! I’ve literally known Austin his whole life and been nothing short of amazed and impressed with his singular passion for fishing. Reminds me of someone I know really well with his love for turtles. In fact, Austin’s first word was, you guessed it…FISH!

Like me, and much to society’s chagrin, Austin preferred being outside in nature playing around water versus sitting idly behind a desk. I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what he would do with his passion upon graduating and not so silently encouraging him to pursue following his passion for fishing. It took him a year to fully commit but I’m proud to see he broke away from the ingrained expectations of society about going right to college upon graduation and is instead now traveling the “stream” less traveled.

As for his parents, they couldn’t be prouder of their son than if he was a Doctor or Lawyer! They know as I do as well, that happiness in life with whatever one pursues is the greatest pursuit possible!

Here’s to you Austin Beaulieu in finding happiness with a career right out of the gate. Too many people wait for retirement to “go fishing every day” Here’s also to your story being an inspiration to young (or old) adults alike!

Carpe Diem Kid

The combustion engine that revolutionized transportation and transformed our society is officially giving way to the electric motor. Elon Musk of TESLA went out on a limb, put his money where his mouth was, and out innovated, out hustled, and out thought the world’s largest corporations…and WON!

Once again, it’s an entrepreneur who was at the wheel innovating a disruptive technology that will replace the status quo of an entire entrenched industry.

Every innovator does it differently because every innovator is different by their very nature! The very same nature that society too often deems less than acceptable. “Paint inside the lines,” teachers tell them in school. “Follow the status quo,” managers directly or indirectly instruct them on the job. Even well intended but frustrated parents, unable to control them, often turn to Ritalin in a desperate attempt to get them to conform.

Steve Jobs listened to no one and did it his way always, much to the chagrin of a world that wanted him to do it “their way.” Can you imagine how different our world would be today if Jobs had ears to listen to all his critics?!

Here’s the moral of this piece… “Society” can’t demand greatness to fit into a box of what greatness looks or, in particular, acts like. The way Steve Jobs acted with his employees, by anyone’s count, was not acceptable in the traditional sense. News Flash; nobody ever called Steve Jobs traditional! Or Elon Musk conventional! Or Henry Ford orthodox! Simply put, you can’t benefit from the “madness” and then criticize the methods that delivered the results you benefit from!

The sooner we understand that our heroes, by nature, are more flawed than us, then the sooner we can stop trying to get them to fit into society’s artificial box of what success should look, sound, and act like.

Pray for them, sure. But tell them to act like everyone else and we’ll all be burning fossil fuels till the day it’s all gone.

#innovatorsrockandrocktheboat

Learn more at https://www.wsj.com/articles/volvo-to-phase-out-conventional-car-engine-1499227202

So, I’m getting my hair cut and the topic of the stylist’s minimum-wage employed daughters comes up. They are both in their 20s and working in the fast-food industry. My stylist is lamenting about how they’ve sent out “thousands” of resumes but can’t find a job. “They need to get their bachelor’s degree to even have a shot at finding careers,” she states definitively.

She’s bought hook, line, and SINKER what society is selling even though the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming!

It’s beyond sad to me that the main pathway in most people’s minds is the traditional one. Study hard, get into a good college, get good grades, score an interview, and land a job in the field of your studies. Hah! Maybe 20 years ago that approach worked to some extent, but today stories like that are the exception to the rule. Statistically, only 15% of people end up working in the field of their studies.

I tried to say all that, but she was buying none of it. She was convinced that it was only the lack of a bachelor’s degree that was holding them back.

Here’s what I definitively know as an employer and someone who has seen many people succeed in finding good careers…

It’s who you know more than what you know. If you want to earn an interview with a company don’t only attempt to open the door with a resume, open a window through networking.

Passion sells. If you want to sell yourself to a potential employer, sell yourself by being passionate about what it is the company does. If you can’t get passionate about their products or process, keep looking until you find something you can be passionate doing.

Be a student. Getting good grades in college is fine, but to get ahead at work you better be a student of the “game” you’re playing – namely the company that employees you. Learn all you can about how that company makes money and help it to make even more!

…Or you can just take the traditional path, pay for a degree, send out resumes, and hope for the best.

The latest in a long and never-ending line of hatred was on display when a shooter took out his uncontrolled rage at a bunch of high profile strangers playing softball. Five were injured and the shooter is dead.

What a waste

Broken people try to break others in a twisted belief that bringing others down to their level won’t make them feel so low. That thinking has never worked for anyone now, in the past, or even in the future. Though that fact won’t stop many from the futile cycle of trying to pull others down to feel better about their own broken selves.

We are all broken on some level, which makes this approach a never ending cycle.

We might not be as broken as the lost souls that steal the headlines by taking out their rage with deadly consequences. But as I read the venom spread so “effectively” over social media in political commentaries regarding this latest shooting I just shake my head in continued disbelief.

When exactly did we stop being united as the Americans we all are instead of being divided by political, religious or racial identities.

The answer for such a vexing question is simple in my mind. When YOU and I stop tearing others down with our actions, words or even our minds, WE all will be one step closer to resolving the greatest lack of unity in our nation’s and maybe even world’s history!

If we all realize it starts with US and goes from there we’d fix this thing.

Or we can keep regressing… resolving to using guns…or our keyboards, to “fix” things 🤔

I spent yesterday with friends. We came together to rally around a mutual friend fighting stage 4 cancer. He prayed he would have “a good day” and be able to hang with all of us…

He did

Here’s the thing that gives me chills (again) as I write this. He was soooo happy that we were so happy to be with him! He told us it meant the “world to him” that we came to visit and show our support of what he’s up against. I speak for all of us when I say that there’s not a place on the planet that any of us would have wanted to be other than right where we all were!

At the end of our lives, which could come today or 40 years from now for any of us, there is no debate from ANYONE facing the kind of challenge my friend Jamie is facing on what’s THE most important thing in life is…family and friends!

Today is a good day to reflect on that perspective. So is tomorrow.

Yesterday our group of mismatched pond contractors was only the latest in a long line of family and friends visiting and praying for Jamie. Jamie is simply reaping the benefits of a life spent showing love. We should all be so blessed.

It’s family and friends that matter most now and in the end whenever that end may come for each of us. Reflect on that perspective today and tomorrow and you too will feel the peace and love from the people who matter most to us…family and friends!

I thought of titling this “Old Guys Rule,” but realized doing so would probably get me in trouble again with H.R. 😂 For the vast majority of jobs, the reality is age is nothing but a number when it comes to performance.

For 30 years, Gary Gronwick went to his job with UPS every day right up until his full pension kicked in and he retired. He played a lot of golf the over the next three months and, as he likes to say, he loved every minute of it…for the first 6 weeks! That’s when he made the fateful decision to walk into Aqualand not looking for a career, but open to the possibility of having a fun part time job. 7 years later he’s managing our entire retail store and playing a lot less golf

This spring, Gary spent 6 weeks on what sports teams call the “injured reserve” list recovering from torn rotator cuff surgery. Missing the start of a seasonal business put us in a big jam, but we cobbled through and made it. Last week, Gary returned to full-time action with a vengeance!

It was like a tornado was unleashed in our retail store! Everyone was spun into motion and the growing punch list of tasks was immediately cut in half with action plans and personnel assigned to complete the rest.

Here’s the thing – and this is taking nothing away from what Gary does – nothing he did required extraordinary effort, yet everything he accomplished was a result of an exceedingly hard to find mindset … OWNERSHIP!

There’s no such thing as pointing fingers or sitting on your a** for Gary and many others of his generation. He just comes to work, rolls up his sleeves, and gets to WORK! Imagine that!

As an owner it’s a breath of fresh air to see results instead of hearing excuses! His boss, who spent most of this spring fending off alligators up to his eyeballs, had a relieved look on his face every time I saw him last week. All it took for this to happen was a young at heart old school guy with a gimpy arm and a mentality that work is a task to be tackled!

Listen up, young and “old,” to the following wisdom that you can take to the bank now and in the future…

YOU ARE ALWAYS, IN EVERY SITUATION, EITHER PART OF THE SOLUTION OR PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Take responsibility by taking ownership in every situation and in every task. As a highly valued employee and TEAM mate you, too, might find yourself with less time to play golf when you “retire.” In exchange, you will have earned the admiration of your bosses and your peers – a priceless reward that you would be hard pressed to find chasing a white ball around the links. #golfisoverrated #ownership

Sadly, as we see far too often, not every man who has children is worthy of being called a father. For those of us who do strive to be good Dads, we’ve learned every kid is different and not a single one comes with an operating manual! I learn more and more everyday about how to parent my two boys whether I want to or not. And just when I think I’ve got it figured out I am reminded by my wiser, better half that what works with one, more often than not doesn’t work with the other!

For everyone who’s like me, striving for answers to vexing parenting questions, there is one manual that I believe contains all the answers we seek. I’ve found though that the answers to those questions usually start with questions about myself that aren’t always comfortable to acknowledge.

However, when you’re with other like minded MEN who all accept that their best efforts fall short, it’s a lot easier to get better faster, which is something I strive to do.

In this manual it states in Proverbs 27:17 “As Iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.” That’s why I took myself and my oldest son this last weekend to be amongst 1400 MEN strong enough to admit they don’t have all the answers. Though all of us agree on where we can find them.

It was three glorious days in the woods; camping, competing, and confiding in one another about where we fall short. For some this might feel uncomfortable, for many others (including me), I feel stronger when I admit where I’m weak.

My anger will only continue to control me if I choose not to seek help in controlling it. I did, I will, and I know, that being the parent I desire to be starts with being the MAN I need to be.

THE hardest job is always ourselves! I find the help I need in my faith and with other MEN who acknowledge what I do. That is…

If you want to be a good father it starts for us at least, with reading the operating manual written for you!

Proverbs 3:5

“When you hang out with winners, you become a winner, when you hang out with melons, you become a grapefruit” -Rocky

My son had a friend who got Expelled from his private high school this week. Apparently, there were some inappropriate texts between his buddy and a girl and both she and her parents were quite offended. My son tried arguing with us that the school was dumb for kicking this kid out after all the texts he sent were just a joke.

Let’s just say we didn’t exactly line up behind our 16-year-old son’s perspective.

As any caring parent would do though, we seized the opportunity to have a teachable moment with our impressionable teenager “You become who you hang out with son” was our basic feedback to him. “As “funny” as this kid may seem to you now, is he really the kind of person that’s going help make you a better person by his influence?” we asked/stated

If only our kids would take our word for things and do as we say not as we did.

After 26 years of running a business, I see the same sad scenarios with customers and teammates playing out again and again. “Won’t these people ever learn” I frustratingly wonder?! As every parent of a teenager or any seasoned Business Owner has learned the hard way, the answer is…

some will, some won’t, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to help people you see headed down the wrong path to turn around if they aren’t willing to hear, for whatever reason, what it is you’re saying!!!

I wish I could tell you it gets easier the older I get to let people self-destruct. In reality, I actually believe it gets worse! I think it gets more frustrating because I’ve seen it so many times before it becomes even more aggravating wondering why anyone would choose a self-destructive path?!

…Or cut off their nose to spite their face

I guess you can boil it down to Rocky logic, some people are just melons or…is grapefruits? I don’t know but what I do know is I want my kids, my teammates, our customers and myself personally to be surrounded by people who are going to pull us up to a higher plain, not down to their level.

Our son told us today that the school agreed to let the boy return to school. They choose to only suspend him provided he agreed to get regular professional counseling to help him better cope with his issues. We were relieved and happy to hear that. As we all know the road for a kid who gets expelled from high school, is far harder than the path for one who graduates.

Here’s to hoping our son gains a life lesson, and everyone watching realizes that winners pull each other up, while melons just produce more grapefruit.

STOOGES

At the age of 74, most people are happy just kicking back in front of the boob tube. The last thing they’d choose to be doing is taking the overnight shift guarding a bunch of inventory. Though that’s exactly what my friend Jim does every year for us at Aquascape when he works his “retirement” job as a security officer.

Jim and I have become friends over the years. But not just because he works the overnight shift and is there to greet me when I get to work. It’s how he greets me that won me over… with a huge smile and a warm embrace!

That’s why I was a little sad when he told me this would probably be his last gig with Aquascape. His wife has just retired and they finally plan on doing some much deserved traveling together. Before working as a security officer, Jim spent 30 years as a garbage man. If there’s one thing that could be said about Jim (other than his infectious attitude and joyful spirit) it’s that he’s spent entire life working hard. Hard work is something that used to be far more common than it is today.

What our world desperately needs is more men like Jim! That is … It needs guys that put on their pants, lace up their boots, and get after it every day. Bellyaching ain’t in his vocabulary, but coffee and lots of it to stay awake at work is!

Jim told me, “Don’t worry, Mr. Greg. I will still come by to see you folks for every sale. You guys have always treated me like one of the team.”

Any team would be fortunate to have a guy like Jim on their side. I will look forward to seeing him walking into our Fall Festival sale knowing exactly what I’m going to get…

A huge smile and a warm embrace!

SECURITY

One year ago today this smiling lady collapsed at work. A fast thinking and concerned co-worker thankfully ignored her pleas and called 911. An MRI revealed the cause of four years of escalating headaches, short-term memory loss, and fading vision. Donna had a gigantic tumor spanning a quarter of her brain!

After a 12-hour emergency surgery, a round of radiation and a long recovery at home, Donna Coleman is back at work, tumor free and best of all the happiest she’s been in the 17 years she’s worked at Aquascape!

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) surveyed its members on what one piece of advice they’d give to future generations. The number one response from those who’ve walked before us was…”BE HAPPY NOW!” Not when you win the lottery or get that promotion you deserve but rather just be happy now as in today baby!

Donna Coleman is a living, breathing, smiling testament to that perspective. As she puts it she was not a very happy person before her life changed forever for the better with her diagnosis. The problems of life had tainted her view. In her own words she “smoked and drank and cursed like a sailor” Today she’s kicked her nicotine habit, rarely drinks and wakes up every day with a smile of appreciation for the little things that were always there but stayed blurred behind whatever current frustration she was facing.

Not anymore!

Her diagnosis and recovery were the impetus for the family she always took care of to begin taking care of her. She saw the fruits of her efforts as a mom in seeing how her three daughters and husband rallied behind her. She still cry’s today recalling it.

Don’t wait till your ship comes in to be happy. Happiness is a choice that usually comes with a new perspective. Donna has the scars on her head and the smile on her face to prove it!

DONNA

Steal This Idea!

These two young men stood out to me amongst a sea of gray hairs and baldness from my vantage point on the stage. I met them yesterday moments before I presented at a business conference and instantly was inspired to make them part of my speech!

Besides the fact that they had the foresight at a young age to attend a conference with over 200 potential employers they BOTH handed me business cards with the goal of landing gainful employment in their area of studies.

BRILLIANT!!!

Somehow they’ve figured out at a young age it’s more who you know than what you know that will open up their door of opportunity. Their outside the box thinking is already paying off. After I waxed poetically from the stage about two industrious millennials amongst us not only making the decision to attend the conference but having business cards ready to hand out with their goal (employment) contact info and even their impressive GPA’s printed, I had them stand too much applause from the crowd.

At the end of the day, a business owner came up to me and enthusiastically shook my hand for pointing them out. “Our firm is looking for this sort of skill set right now and we are going to interview one of these young men next week!”

Luck is what usually happens when preparation meets opportunity

Parents with young adults, Grandparents with young (or old) grandkids, and in particular anyone wishing to create their own good “luck” landing a career STEAL THIS IDEA!!!

Carpe Diem

INTERNS INTERNS CARD

Last night the NFL held their annual draft with millions of fans watching and listening to see what future talent their team invests in. Championships come out of the hit or miss speculations of organizations and careers hang in the balance for the executives who make those decisions regarding the future potential of 20-year-olds.

Not surprisingly, they get it wrong as often as they get it right.

Up until Pondemonium last year it looked like we got it wrong with Nick Stryker. He had the right pedigree on paper (a degree in horticulture), a background of summer jobs working in the field, and he even passed the eye test looking like bad-ass UFC champ Connor McGregor’s twin brother (sans tattoos)

The problem was that Nick wasn’t happy working at Aquascape and it showed. For lack of a better descriptor, he appeared burned out doing the work the job demanded. That’s when Pondemonium happened. To say that Nick was a new man after attending Pondemonium would be an understatement! In his own words what he saw as an attendee was an entire industry of professionals who had built careers in this demanding field. He met people from all over who were passionate, successful and, yes, HAPPY with their careers as foremen. They were just like him in so many ways!

On Monday after Pondemonium, Nick had a noticeable improvement in his demeanor. He stepped faster and smiled more. That’s when something unprecedented occurred.

Seeing Nick’s improved attitude, we decided he was worth our investment and we set out to determine ways we could support him in staying upbeat. As it turns out, more than half the battle for maintaining Nick’s positive attitude was working around a lifestyle decision he had made …

As often happens when it comes to love, it screws up almost everything else in your life (not that I have any personal experience with that). Nick’s college sweetheart lived and worked over 2 hours away from Aqualand. Five and sometimes six days a week, Nick was spending over 4 hours each day commuting back and forth to work! Add in the normally long hours this career requires, it wasn’t a matter of IF but rather WHEN burnout would occur for Nick once again.

Here’s what we decided to do for Nick to avoid burnout, that we had never even considered doing before…

We scheduled Nick to work 4 days a week with Friday’s off. That’s right, Nick gets Friday’s off while working for a seasonal business that could keep him, and the two or three more guys we desperately need, working 8 days a week!!!

I talked to Nick today after once again getting raving reviews on his attitude and performance. It’s Friday and he was driving to work. It turns out that at 8:30 pm last night when he was pulling back into the office after a long, cold, drizzly day of cleanouts, Ed called him looking for an experienced extra set of hands at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Nick, being the team player he wants to be while still having a lifestyle he’s chosen, agreed to come in on his off day to help.

Our challenge managing Nick is to respect the boundary we agreed to with his Friday’s off as much as possible.

Creating success with people is the hardest job for all of us and certainly, the Chicago Bears who’s pundits and fans have given a solid F to for their selection of an unproven QB in last night’s draft. (Desperation tends to do that…again and again for desperate organizations) Nick looked like a rookie gone bust last year, but in year two he is blossoming now that we have found how to utilize his skills and unique circumstances in our offense.

You might be like an Archie Bunker-ish Mike Ditka with your old school coaching of your team. If you believe that guys should just suck it up and do the work required by the job you might not be wrong, but that doesn’t make you right either. To you, I say that as great as “Da Coach” was there is a reason he’s not coaching in the NFL anymore. Simply put his old school mentality couldn’t adapt HIS game to today’s players!

Nick is a shining example of what happens when you do! Here’s to finding your own Nicks…and adapting your traditional coaching style if necessary to do it!

nick

 

 

When the ‘free sample’ guy offers you a choice between smoked turkey or honey ham, engaging in a deep conversation about future life plans is probably the last thing on his mind.

Though, with 10 people in front of me at the deli counter on a Sunday afternoon, 19 year old part-time college student and free sample dude, Sam, suddenly found himself answering questions about just that.

Our conversation started out innocently enough, discussing weightlifting and his recovery from an injury, but it quickly evolved into what his life plans are. “Are you going pursue a Bachelors degree after earning your associates?” I conversationally inquired. “I intend to earn two degrees,” he announced. Not one to hold back (go figure) I quickly retorted, “Why the hell would you need two degrees!?!” He wasn’t expecting that heated comeback, but much to his credit he engaged me in a conversation around one of my hot button topics…college.

Turns out his aunt received two degrees, first earning a bachelor’s degree in business and then returning to school to study nursing before landing a great paying job. She was and is his inspiration in his pursuit to earn multiple degrees.

Long after I got my cold cuts, we were still talking. It was obvious the questions I was asking him regarding his desire to get not just one degree but two, and the perspective I was offering when he answered me, were things he’d never thought of. In other words, this impromptu conversation was par for the course of the typical one I have more often than not with a young adult.

I’m motivated to change the false narrative these kids are being fed hook, line, and SINKER!

I ask you … What are we doing wrong as parents, as teachers, as a society, to be churning out kids that believe attending college is THE answer to finding “success” in life?!

The stuff I talk about is really “kindergarten” to me, and probably you, yet it’s scarily and strangely alien to most young adults!

As I’ve learned you succeed in life by working your ass off! If you aren’t able to get passionate about whatever it is you’re doing, you won’t be able to maintain the necessary effort week-in and week-out to work as hard as you’ll have to to get ahead. If you’re looking to earn a degree just to open up a door for you why don’t you just try knocking first?! If no one answers don’t stop knocking until someone does! Rocket science? Apparently, it is since so few knock before diving head first into pursuing a degree even though they lack the comprehension of what they’re even hoping to do with said degree.

And so it goes…on and on, again and again, young adult after young adult. I employ 115 people and am always looking to find more people who’s, “Attitudes Determine Their Altitudes!”

As I went to walk away from the deli counter, Sam ripped off his plastic serving glove, shook my hand vigorously, and thanked me for my “kindergarten” advice. He asked if my company was hiring. “Companies are always hiring,” I replied, “provided you can find a way to add value.” College is a direct avenue for some in learning the knowledge (or at least the perception of knowledge) to land them an opportunity with an employer. For most (yes most) it’s not. Statistically only 15% of graduates earning a diploma end up in careers related to their studies. Fifteen percent!!! As much as many utilize going away to college to mature and gain much-needed life skills the expense to do so should make any sane parent or student at least question that traditional choice. Maddeningly, a huge percentage of young adults end up straddled with college debt while still finding themselves unprepared to add enough value with the degree they earned to earn meaningful employment.

Why then, I ask, is having a conversation to discuss alternative choices taboo in the households of parents who, like me, earned a degree back when earning that degree wasn’t so cost prohibitive?!

If you want to be successful in life you need to find a way to be part of the solution and not just complain about the problem – that’s kindergarten wisdom you can truly take to the bank! Following that logic and my many frustrating observations and interactions with teenage kids as an employer, I’m motivated to solve the “life after high school” dilemma that’s affecting so many young adults. I truly believe that sharing my life’s passion and my own story about being a contractor turned business entrepreneur with today’s youth will open at least some minds to the vast and increasing opportunities that don’t necessarily require a College degree. If you agree with what I’m trying to do follow me on this journey and help me by sharing my posts with others who may benefit from my alternative perspective as well.

 

college kids

 

Who Needs a Watch These Days Anyway?!

If you want to know how valuable Chris Wilson is to me without my “brother from another mother” I’m not sure I’d still be married today

20 years of doing anything together is a celebration worthy wouldn’t you agree? The marketers tell us we are supposed to purchase platinum jewelry for our spouses after being together that long. Historically businesses recognize this milestone by giving employees watches. Fortunately, I’m not married to any of my teammates so I don’t have to worry about platinum but the reality is watches are just way too vanilla for my style.

My philosophy on living a good life is that it’s best enjoyed by creating special experiences with your family and the other people you love.

That’s how I found myself yesterday chasing wild boars behind baying hounds in backwater Georgia! Chris Wilson aka “Mini-Me” is an outdoorsman extraordinaire who’s starting his 21st year at Aquascape. My newly established goal as a business owner is to do something unique and ideally adventurous with every teammate who survives the 20-year mark working with me. I traveled with my longest teammate, Ed Beaulieu, to West Papua Indonesia last fall for a successful Scientific Expedition with Heiko Bleher that fulfilled a lifetime bucket list of his by discovering seven new species of fish!

Like everyone who’s been at Aquascape as long as Chris we literally grew up together. These guys all feel like the brothers I never had. Chris has a special place in my heart as he took over my baby, the Aquascape Winter Seminar tour, that consumed my life traveling to over 60 cities every year. Not only did this earn Chris the moniker “Mini Me” since he literally memorized verbatim, my entire training seminar, but by doing so he kept my wife happy by allowing me the luxury to stay home with our newborn son.

You spend more time with the people you work with than anyone sometimes even family. I’m a blessed man to not only love what I do but love the people I get to do it with as well. Here’s to 21 years together and counting Chris Wilson. Thanks for your loyalty and friendship


HOG HUNTING 2

I convinced this graduating senior to give up his plans to attend college at Iowa State University to study environmental science. Instead, he is now taking a job working at Aquascape. If Cole was your son would you be disappointed? Before you answer, and maybe tar and feather me in the process, let me give you some background information to consider…

Two summers ago, Cole began working at Aquascape pulling weeds and cleaning fish tanks. He loved every minute of it! Last year he was promoted to Retail Associate and began helping customers answer their pond related questions by leveraging the knowledge he had gained as a kid building and maintaining his own water garden. Again, he loved it! As a reward for his good work with Aquascape (and knowing he’d totally dig it), last month I offered to take him to Orlando to the Chelonian Research Institute to help build a turtle pond for world famous turtle expert Dr. Peter Pritchard. I called his Dad first though to make sure he was cool with his son missing two days of school. His pop didn’t hesitate in giving me his enthusiastic permission to take his son with me!  It was on that fateful trip that Cole mentioned to me his dream career would be working at Aquascape.

That statement set in motion a back and forth dialog between him, his parents and myself that ultimately resulted in him choosing to forgo college in order to leap right into a still forming career opportunity with Aquascape!

My question for you is this … If Cole was your son would you disagree or be disappointed in his decision to choose a career path at Aquascape vs. pursuing a higher level degree from a University?

I believe the majority of parents would be at least a little let down having had, like me, the perceived value of a higher education ingrained into them.

But I also believe happiness is THE MOST important pursuit any parent could wish for their children. Agreed? Cole and his parents weighed the opportunity at Aquascape against the one with college and evaluated various factors, which unfortunately includes the staggering cost of a four-year degree, and they ultimately chose Aquascape.

My pitch to Cole and his parents was simple … GIVE IT A YEAR!

If after one year either or both of us feel it isn’t working out as hoped, for whatever reason, attending college or pursuing something else could then be explored with Cole now that much wiser.

The moral of this story is simple. Very few young adults truly know for certain what they want to do with their lives. Attending college hoping to figure it out along the way may have been a viable option before but times they are a changing. The doors that a four-year degree historically opened for graduates aren’t as readily available as they once were. The monetary value of the incremental earning potential a degree “affords” should be weighed against the ever escalating costs and increasingly diminishing returns earning a College now represents for more and more debt-ridden graduates.

The scary reality is that three-quarters of surveyed graduating seniors from our universities today respond that they feel unprepared to enter the job market. It’s possible though that’s just a maturation process until you add in that half of human resource managers believe today’s college grads lack the critical thinking skills that will allow them to successfully contribute to their companies. These trends are reflected in seismic shifts occurring in the long-standing hiring practices of major corporations. Both Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, two of the world’s largest accounting and consulting firms, have recently removed a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for applicants to apply with their companies. Google has followed suit. By no means does this mean earning a four-year degree is dead, but it does signal a major shift reflective of a changing society that every student and parent of a potential College student would be wise to comprehend.

College today, is most certainly not the college we grew up believing in and attending. That’s a fact that has lifelong implications for all of us.

Cole is a fine young man who, like almost every young adult, is still figuring things out. I felt a responsibility to help him do that considering I sold him and his parents on the opportunities of pursuing a career at Aquascape vs. jumping right into pursuing a college degree. Cole is far from alone. I’m glad he’s chosen to pursue an alternative option that I’m personally highly motivated to make available to more kids just like him.

Wish him luck. In fact, wish us both luck!

Carpe Diem
cole1
cole2

Nature vs Nurture

I’ve come to the conclusion neither of my boys will be following in my footsteps with their career paths. Yesterday my youngest spent 5.5 hours working on spring clean up in the yard. As proud as I was to see him doing physical labor outside, something I grew up doing, my enthusiasm was tainted knowing his only motivation for doing so was our refusal to get him a 400 dollar Virtual Reality headset!

“If you want it so bad figure out how to make your own money and go buy it!” we replied in response to his constant nagging.

They say necessity is the mother of invention which was quite apparent seeing him toiling away doing physical labor, something he normally avoids like the plague!

Neither of my boys are wired like me and, as frustrating as that might be for me at times, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They are both excellent students, rule followers and most of all happy! Things could be a lot worse my wife, in her infinite wisdom, reminds me when I find myself griping about how different kids are today than when I grew up!

I haven’t given up all hope yet though for Aquascape’s future. My 11-year-old nephew never isn’t outside, fish net in hand chasing turtles, fish, and frogs. Ask him today though what he wants to be and he will tell you he’s firmly committed to someday leading the Green Bay Packers under center

My kids are prime examples of Nature vs Nurture. Thank God everyone isn’t wired like me. It’s a big pond out there and we need all types! #findyourpurposeandliveit

Don’t Swallow the Bait

My organization and I were recently tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion on social media. Sadly, it was just the latest in a long line of incidents dating back to the late 90’s when I first read falsities in trade publications and websites.

The phrase, “The pioneers get the arrows!” comes to mind, but this is not a blog about me or even the water garden industry. Rather it’s about what I’ve learned, mostly the hard way, when it comes to handling misinformation, criticism and the always present internet and social media trolls.

In a day and age when everyone has an opinion and, unfortunately, the means to share it with the world through social media, it’s hard to avoid the noise of opinions that greatly differ from your own. True?

Don’t take the bait!

Take it from me, a man who’s swallowed his fair share of hooks, when you bite on the bait they’ve got you on the line! With their hook set they have the upper hand having successfully landed you using your own emotions.

DON’T EVER LET SOMEONE ELSE CONTROL YOU THROUGH YOUR OWN EMOTIONS!

Spit out the hook! Or better yet – don’t bother biting in the first place!

Don’t allow someone else the satisfaction of creating your own self-worth.

I know this is easier said than done. But I’ve learned through trial and error that when you allow someone else to control your emotions you swallow the very pill of bitterness they poisoned their own spirit with.

Don’t do it. Don’t bite no matter how great the slight!

Drop it and move on and keep swimming out in front of the pack.

Some food for thought.

Carpe Diem

goldfish

A Champion Cabo Couple

As beautiful as this picture is, it doesn’t come close to capturing the internal beauty of our precious friends the Noriega’s. There’s a whole other side of Cabo San Lucas MX that most never see. It’s there though, in the alley behind the bar, in the desert in a dilapidated mobile home or even on the beach when the sun goes down. It’s the underbelly of a tourist hot spot that would never pop up in your news feeds from your friends who visit this paradise at the tip of the Baja peninsula.

But, if you’re a kid growing up there in an orphanage you thank God for a man like Ramone. After all, without him who would have taken you fishing for your first time ever on an actual boat in the ocean?

When you are a man struggling with addiction issues and all the demons that accompany them, you have Ramone’s cell number to call. Unlike everyone else in your family who you’ve burned a hundred times over that refuse to answer your call, Ramone always picks up. Always!

That beautiful lady next to him isn’t arm candy or even his daughter. She’s his better half walking with him stride for stride and often leading right into a struggling couples home to counsel and pray with them…week after week, month upon month.

Cabo San Lucas isn’t a vacation destination for a week a year to party party party for the Noriega’s. It’s a 365-day mind numbing, soul searching God-glorifying work place where there seems to never be enough hours in the day to do what they desperately know needs to be done!

As the founding Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Cabo San Lucas that celebrated it’s one year anniversary on Sunday their life’s work is really just beginning. After all, they are surrounded by a sea of depravity hidden just out of view of the flocks of tourists and visiting cruise ships.

We cherish people like our friends the Noriega’s not for what they do for us but rather what they do for us all. They change lives and not just any lives. They fill a role that left unfilled would mean people would stay lost in their ways and lose the battle for their friends, families and sometimes quite literally their lives. That’s why their efforts have generational impact and possibly even eternal.

It’s a privilege and an honor to support their work. They need all the support they can get to transform one of the most beautiful places on earth on the the outside, to become an even more beautiful place on the inside!

Godspeed to you Noriega’s. Cabo needs you!

cabo

 

Star Teachers Build Star Pupils!

Last week I “taught” three high school classes. When I posted where I was at our Construction Accountant commented that “Mr. Pahl was one of her all time favorite teachers!”

On Presidents Day Mr. Pahl made a surprise visit to Aqualand. It’s the first time in eight years he’s seen his former pupil!

Kelsey went on from Mr. Pahl’s class, working her way through college, earning an Accounting degree and scoring a career with Aquascape.

As a small business owner, I want to give a BIG thank you to every teacher, coach, pastor and anyone else for that matter who’s life work is pouring into impressionable kids to prepare them for their life’s work! #weneedmoremrpahls

mr pahl

“When the Student Was Ready, The Teacher Arrived”

“It’s easy to get kids to read a book and take a test. It’s more challenging to get kids engaged in the world!”

Larry Pahl
High School Civics teacher

I’m a man of passions and appreciate others who have a passion for what they do. That’s why I sought out a rapping high school Civics teacher I know who’s passionate about engaging younger generations to get off the sideline and into the game of life!

Today I “taught” three of his class periods and had an absolute blast!

I let them know things nobody ever told me about when I was their age (and I’m still figuring out fully today)

*I told them smiling was at least equally as important as “getting good grades” when it comes to success in life

*I showed them a Ted Talk that supported my belief that having “GRIT” was THE most important trait for success in whatever they wanted to do in life.

And finally, I let them know that society teaches them to focus on “improving their weaknesses” but that ultimately life rewards you for “developing your strengths”

Nobody told me these things when I was their age. Life has taught them to me and probably you too though again and again.

Thank God for Teachers like my friend Larry who’s more interested in helping his students engage with life than just shuffling them through a Common Core Curriculum.

You’re a good man Mr. Pahl!

MR PAHL

The Greatest Coach Ever?!

I know very little about woman’s basketball but a lot more about it’s unarguably Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.) Coach.

Geno Auriemma the Head Coach of the UConn Huskies will be trying to coach his team tonight to its one hundredth consecutive win. 100th!

With 11 National Championships and 7 Coach of the Year honors Geno might not only be just the best female basketball Coach ever, but also just the plain best Coach ever (sorry “Zen Master” Phil Jackson, UCLA legend John Wooden, Lady Vols great Pat Summit or even Super Bowl Champ Bill Belichick)

Who else would you include in this G.O.A.T. discussion?!

Whomever you might add to my debatable list I bet they have the same few winning traits in common that all highly successful coaches do…

* Hardest Coach every player has ever had at pleasing in their careers (yet they’d all still all take a bullet for him or her)

*Perfectionists who break everything down to the smallest details (leaving no stone left unturned to trip over)

*They never allow their teams to look past any opponent or situation regardless of the other teams record (It’s David vs Goliath every night and they always find some psychological ploy to get their teams feeling they’re always “David”)

*And possibly the most important trait pulling up every player on their squad to a level unimaginable to each one individually! (thus building a total and complete TEAM)

Tonight I will be watching a College woman’s basketball game with one overarching goal…to see a man at the top of his profession do his thing!

Not everyone will be watching the game with my eyes tonight. All of us though can learn a thing or two about winning regardless of the arena in life we compete in.

Whether it’s sports or business, Boy Scouts or even your family, these common winning traits are applicable to every individual leading any high performing TEAM.

Go Huskies! Go YOU!

GOAT COACH

What Kick A** Looks Like!

When you’re up at 3am in order to get to work by 4 and are full of energy and good cheer pouring me a cup of coffee at 6 you’re kick ass in my book!

I’ve been coming to the same conference in York PA for 5 years and I look forward to seeing her every year! There’s not too many places where I even remember the faces of those who serve me on my travels.

If she can have this kind of positive mojo doing her tough job what’s anyone’s excuse for having a bad attitude doing theirs?!

Not only is work (and life for that matter) more fun living this way, but good things happen more often as well when you approach every day like she does.

I give 20% tips for good service. For the rare energy like hers though it earns 200% and a blog from me.

Carpe Diem

WAITRESS

Change Your World by Changing Your Thermostat!

I just saw the movie “The Founder” chronicling the story of McDonalds and its “founder” Ray Kroc. It was a fascinating portrayal of a man who’s own internal thermostat ran so hot it created an empire that spans the globe today.

Along the way the movie painfully portrays Ray Kroc stepping on a lot of peoples toes, including the lovable McDonald brothers who pioneered the fast food concept.

A lot of successful people, inadvertently or not, “step on toes” while sprinting full steam ahead towards whatever pursuit it is that fuels their drive. Most of the toes are occupied by people firmly standing in the same place who’s internal thermostats are set at a comfortable 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. By definition most people achieve “average” success by setting, on purpose or by default, their internal drive at 98.6.

If you are unhappy for whatever reason with the results you’re achieving, the lot in life your living, or the goals you’re never quite fulfilling, there’s a simple solution to all your problems

TURN UP THE HEAT IN THE KITCHEN!

There’s nothing you can’t achieve, regardless of the race God gave you, the economic class you were born into, or the lack of opportunities that an unfair life has dealt you. NOTHING! That doesn’t stop most people who fall short of their own desires though of blaming those, and every other circumstance under the sun other than themselves as the reasons for their lack of success.

There’s female Marines, prisoners like Nelson Mandela who’ve rose to Presidents of Nations and the last person to hold “the world’s most powerful person” title was born a minority and raised in a single parent household.

History is filled with examples of people from every race, religion and economic background who’s internal thermostats burned so hot they overcame all the odds and reached the pinnacle of success in whatever they had set their minds to!

If you’re looking with envy or jealousy at those who’ve achieved whatever fleeting greatness they’ve been able to muster for the brief blip of time we are alive your focus is on the wrong person entirely.

Dial your own internal thermostat high enough to overcome whatever is separating you from achieving what you want in this life if indeed you truly want what it is you’re not achieving!

Do that and I promise you, you will either achieve your dreams or, at the very least, be a heck of a lot closer to them.

We might not like his methods or agree with his personal values (or lack thereof) but there is no denying it was only because of Ray Krocs liquid hot thermostat that today, every day, McDonald’s feeds 1% of the WORLDS population. Upon her death Ray’s third wife Joan donated the majority of the estate his thermostat generated during his brief life. That 1.5 Billion Dollar gift to the Salvation Army is the largest gift ever given to any individual charity!

Dial up your thermostat and you will dial up your results while possibly changing the world for the better in the process!

Mcdonalds

My Hero!
What do Sylvester Stallone, Will Smith, and William Shatner aka “Captain Kirk” have in common with Dr. Peter Pritchard?! All of them have an Aquascape Pond of course! Well…Dr. Pritchard will actually be joining this elite group of dignitaries March 9th and 10th when Aquascape hosts an Advanced Build A Pond Day at his world famous Chelonian Research Center outside Orlando Florida!

 

When the Museum you created that houses more turtle specimens than any other place in the world and you are personally regarded as “The Indian Jones” of turtles because of your global exploits to the world’s most remote regions all motivated by your love of turtles is it any wonder you’d capture the heart of a middle-aged kid who started an industry out of his love of turtles?!
That’s why I’m going to be feeling like it’s the “night before Christmas” for the next 35 nights until, along with a few dozen Certified Aquascape Contractors, we Aquascape Dr. Peter Pritchard’s pad!
I love what I do and doing what I do for cool, unique people who are making a difference on this planet of ours!
Check out this Video of the man, the myth, my hero and let me know if you want to join our team in creating a one of a kind Aquascape Ecosystem habitat for massive snapping turtles March 9th and 10th. Only 35 days and counting!!!
https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154110729823581&id=54598478580

prichard

 

Be An Author Not An Editor

Life in general and certainly social media is filled with a lot of editors. That is, people who can pick apart what someone else has done, thinks or believes and make “suggestions” on what they could of, or more even more pointedly should of, done or said differently.

It’s a lot easier to go through life editing what others create, then authoring your own unique bodies of work.

The world has more Lawyers than Engineers and certainly more editors than authors.

When you author anything you’re exposing yourself to a world filled with editors.

Author it anyway!

Besides, seeing the rants and raves your actions create might just give you the motivation to author your next work.

At least that’s what’s always worked for me 

Carpe Diem

Different is Different

Tomorrow my 16-year-old comes home from Africa. AFRICA! I tell both my boys all the time how blessed they are to experience the things they get exposed too. No matter how many times I say it though, I know they don’t get it (yet)

We took many memorable family vacations growing up but none of them included leaving our own continent!

Thanks to improving Wifi and the beauty of FB Messenger to make calls, I’ve been able to talk about every other day to my wife who’s leading her now 4th expedition to the dark continent.

Of course, a reoccurring question in our chats is how our oldest is doing. “You know Ryan” she replies every time! I know exactly what she means and I’m already ready for his answer to my first question when I see him tomorrow about how he enjoyed his trip. He will almost certainly respond like he responds to most everything “It was Cool”…followed by crickets. Ryan is a man of few words unless it’s about science or politics (the latter comes from his mother

God made a kid who’s polar opposite in almost every regard than me then gave him to me to parent. Obviously, the big guy upstairs has a “funny” sense of humor.

As the father of two typical teenage boys I need all the prayers I can get! That is, prayers for me to heed my own advice when it comes to working with others. Focus on their strengths and forgive them for their weaknesses.

Carla Wittstock has mastered this living with me for 18 years and she doesn’t fail to point it out to me when I don’t afford my kids the same grace others have afforded me.

Our oldest is incredibly bright. School didn’t come naturally for either his mom or me. He’s wise beyond his years (something nobody would have accused me of at 16) He is calm calm calm to the point of being comatose regardless of the situation. That can be a frustrating trait but then again when the power to the elevator goes out (like happened in Africa) and your in it, Ryan has the ability to keep everyone calm (including his mom who probably thought she would die of starvation before the power was restored

So, for all you parents raising kids who aren’t quite like you be grateful. Grateful that the world works better being filled with different thinkers, different types of doers and different values that all make us unique. The reality is for as much as we all (admit it) wish everyone in the world thought exactly like us, shared our same values, and believed our same beliefs it would (admit it) be a hell of a lot more boring too!

That’s what I will remind myself of tomorrow after I see my boy for the first time in almost two weeks and enthusiastically ask him how his trip was

“Cool”

ryan1ryan2ryan3

A “Different” Perspective

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame is one of the view outspoken proponents professing the virtues of manual labor. He believes it should be mandated every College bound 18 year old should spend a year working in “the real world” before entering College. I concur!

College is perfect for some and not perfect for others. Yet still in today’s rapidly changing environment with more options then ever to learn in multiple ways earning a College degree still is, by far, the most societally accepted path to financial success.

The cost of higher education has never been greater, the return (good paying jobs) has never been lower. And employers (me along with EVERY business owner I know) has never been more desperate to find qualified people! Why then I ask is Mike Rowe’s suggestion that 18 year olds taking a “Gap” year between high school and College not being flaunted near and far?

I loved going to College! I majored in the three “F’s” Football, Fraternity and Females! College was a right of passage for many in my generation and even my parents for that matter. And when we graduated jobs were plentiful and student loans were minimal.

Not anymore!

As an employer of over 100 people who sees first hand College graduates entering the work force unprepared and in debt and frustrated having dutifully followed the path society scripted for them I don’t believe voices like Mike Rowe’s should be the minority.

Do you?

I ask all my fellow parents to consider what College has become (or specifically what it now costs) and ask yourself at what point do we as a society begin to acknowledge that College might not be the best most sure fire way of setting our kids up for financial freedom and ultimately happiness?!

Your perspective and insights are appreciated!

Choose Grace and Love

My wife warned me. She told me to be careful. She let me know it would be like a war zone out there. Of course what I’m talking about is the morning school drop off zone! 

I failed to fully heed her advice (a reoccurring pattern unfortunately) and I paid the ultimate price.

I was honked at for not following proper drop off protocol 

What happened next is why I’m violating my own “keep it positive or keep your trap shut” FB rule.

When the horn blew the reality of my gaff instantly came to light in my reptilian mammal brain (I like turtles for a reason!) My first error was pulling into the lane with far fewer cars than the one I was in. I’m a guy, I’m constantly on the look out for the shorter line and winning the never ending race to be ahead! It was only after I had bested 6 or 7 cars in my former lane that I realized there was a merge ahead 

Instantly, I slammed on my brakes. It’s amazing how fast a car can stop when you’re traveling at 7 miles per hour! The problem was the suckers in the right (pun intended) lane were inching along at only three and a half! That’s when I saw her. The devil disguising himself as a middle aged mom driving a car with a Christian symbol no less on the back! It was their horn that had just alerted me to my grievous crime.

Now, at a dead stop, my bumper unforgivably inches in front of hers, our eyes met. It was immediately apparent to me this woman believed I had somehow been able to eat her precious baby in the few moments since she had dropped her or him off!

I was in the wrong. I earned an “F” in school drop off zone etiquette that day. Accepting my fate my eyes pleaded with her scorn with an expression the likes of which would have made Sally Field talking about abused animals on a late night infomercial for the humane society seem cold.

I’m not a lip reader but I had ZERO problem deciphering what her lips emphatically mouthed behind her closed window.

Now, despite being known universally for my laid back nature, the first thought that crossed my mind was, let’s just say, not very Christian. Suddenly the only appropriate response to a man driving a Jeep with lifted tires who had just been cursed at popped into my mind…

That 8″ curb is the only thing preventing me from launching my vehicle over the median, onto the sidewalk and past her and all the other cars for that matter still trapped behind the stop sign!

With a lighting quick reptilian response my brain reverts to only in fight and flight matters of life and death my truck had jumped the curb, speed to the front of the line, and won the race to the stop sign!

Just before I could receive my gold medal from the Gods of all that is right and true in this world having triumphantly bested my new found adversary, I awoke from my dream and eased my car behind hers in line.

I’m still shaking my head as I type these words. In a world where Mariah Carey gets persecuted relentlessly (ok it was kinda funny) for an equipment malfunction is it any doubt that a father pinch hitting for his wife who’s away on a mission trip would be vilified for accidentally cutting in line?

The moral of the story is this. If you’re living in America the greatest nation on earth and driving a Champaign colored Mercedes while dropping your kid off at a private school you got NO PROBLEMS!

Why make problems you don’t need?!

All of us, myself included, are sometimes guilty of passing judgment without knowing all the facts.

…Or laughing at a multi millionaire divas technical malfunction.

… Or letting our personal, religious and certainly political views impede our ability to give grace and love to all who need it.

I needed grace this morning not scorn. I’m far from alone in that regard.

“Can’t wait” to see what happens in the line of life tomorrow.

Grace and Love FB!

 

peace

How’s Living on a Deserted Tropical Island Sound?

I got to observe his almost nomadic lifestyle up close and personal for almost ten days. That’s how long we were on “his island” located in the middle of nowhere West Papua Indonesia.

No running water, electricity from a generator…that is when you can scrounge up the money for fuel AND there’s a boat to supply it! You sleep in a hammock and poop in an outhouse. You eat plenty of protein but it mostly comes from the sea with an occasional free range chicken thrown in for variety. And rice of course…lots and lots of rice!

He was our guide but more so he was just a happy man

Papa New Guinea

I know as much because I lived his life ever so briefly. Our camp was pitched next to his home.

To say it’s a simple life for him, his wife and his small child would be putting it mildly. No tv not even a phone. If he had a phone who would he call and if he did call someone what would they talk about?! The weather?…it’s either sunny or rainy!

It’s this simple existence that’s still mesmerizing to me now approaching a month after we last parted ways.

The grass isn’t always greener but I’m not so sure that indeed the ocean isn’t bluer in his part of the planet!

I miss him. Mostly though I miss the example of the life he leads. He was up before me and I’m sure in bed well after I was. Yet every morning he was not only smiling but doing it knowing he’d be carrying the heaviest loads all day as well. We may have been paying him but the most important thing for him was to be earning our respect each day.

Mission accomplished 

I want to tell his story and the stories of the rest of the cast and crew from my “Adventure of a Lifetime” for two reasons…

First, I don’t want to forget the experiences I had and what I learned from the things I did and the incredible people I met along the way. Second, I want every one of my friends who wants to, to be able to go on this adventure with me in the pictures, images and the stories I share.

I haven’t shared many at all so far because, frankly, I have so many it’s hard to know where to start! I’m starting with a photo and the story of our guide. I’m finishing this February with a video documenting my experience and observations.

Hopefully, you will enjoy my thoughts without having to live like a nomad to experience them. Then again you might just find your own deep thoughts through doing so!

Carpe Diem

 

Life’s 10% What Happens To You, 90% What You Do About It!

He told me he drank his first beer at 13, smoked his first joint at 14 and snorted his first line of coke at 15.

His dad did each one with him.

To say my new friend had the chips stacked against him would be an understatement. Yet somehow he’s not only survived 51 years he’s figured out how to thrive!

Married, two kids, and sober since the night of June 19th, 1986. That’s the night Len Bias a rookie for the Boston Celtics died of a cocaine-induced cardiac arrest. For whatever reason, that event shocked him into the reality of where he was headed and he chose to change the trajectory of his life.

He simply says it was all just part of God’s divine plan.

At 26 he combined the knowledge he learned working on engines at his Dads mechanic shop along with the Engineering degree he somehow earned while partying his way through school to start a Diesel engine design software business.

Through perseverance and smarts, he spent the next 25 years making it a success.

Last June he sold it for a cool 250 million!

Lucky bastard? Most definitely! How often though does someone site their upbringing as the excuse for their on going problems and failing to reach their potential? What destroys one man fuels (pun intended) another!

My new friend cited the relationship with his father, you know the one who introduced his son to the partying lifestyle, as one of his drivers to succeed.

He spent most of the years after college channeling his energy into building his business. He was estranged from his father for 9 of those years, which sadly is something I could relate with him on.

Today him and his Dad are “ok” My new friend reached out to his father out of the blue after coming to peace in his heart with help from our church. He’s still working on the relationship with his Dad by working more so on himself.

For most intents and purposes this man is wildly successful. As he says though he’s nowhere close to reaching his lofty goals all of which now aren’t encumbered with the burden of money.

What a blessing!

Something tells me the last half of my new friend’s journey is going to be equally, if not more fulfilling than his first.

All of us should be so fortunate.

Never stop working on yourself regardless of what life throws at you and good things will happen.

That’s advice you can take to the bank 

Carpe Diem

Today’s My Anniversary, Can You Hear What “She’s” Saying?

Today is my fifteenth Anniversary. If you don’t mind, I’m going to honor my wife in this week’s blog and still relate it to business (romantic huh?) I’d like to start with a confession. I’m a sucker when it comes to people! If you say black, I assume you believe it’s black, not gray, and certainly not white. But, I’ve learned the hard way, that not everyone is an Honest Abe. People often don’t tell you the truth for a myriad of reasons; from wanting to look good in front of the boss, to avoiding conflict (what’s that?), to simply they are just plain liars who lie for their own perceived gain. I know, I know, most people figure this out by high school, or certainly college, but it took me till I was almost 40 to figure it out. Truthfully, I still haven’t figured it out and I still bite on the pump fake more often than not. It took me being married a dozen years, and with many, many bodies along the path, for me to finally wake up to the simple truth that my wife has Spidey sense when it comes to people!

Before I learned just how much more wise my wife was than me on people, here’s how it often went down with us. Me, “Boy, so-and-so was a real cool guy, can you believe he’s accomplished all of that?! Her, “No, I can’t, I don’t trust him, something’s off.” Me, “Come on honey, he’s funny and he’s even got his MBA from Harvard.” Her, “I don’t like him. In fact, he makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.” Me, “Ahh come on, he’s a nice guy.” That conversation, or one like it, has happened many a time over the course of my marriage. And the repeated truth was, her counsel proved wise when it came to her initial perceptions of people. And I still bear the burn marks of not hearing her advice. Not anymore! When it comes to people, I don’t trust my way-too-trusting-gut, I trust my wife’s intuition.

It’s ok to have blind spots or areas you’re weak in. It’s not ok to stay blind, or not surround yourself with people that are strong where you are weak. And often times, the people who know you the best, like your spouse, or when you’re an owner – your managers, are the very ones you should be listening to, but you can’t hear what they are trying to say. I’m guilty of that too; that is not listening to my own management team. They would argue I’d bring in “MBA’s” that would tell me the same things they would, but I couldn’t hear it when they said it. Again, with age, or listening to your spouse, or managers, comes wisdom.

So here’s the question for you: How good of a listener are you to the people who know you best? Can you hear what your spouse has been telling you for years…yet? Does what your trusted right-hand guy you work with daily carry as much weight, or more, than your twice-a-year meeting with your accountant? Do the employees you employ even have a forum to have their voices heard or do you pay them not to think just to do? More often than not the sad truth is the people around us are the only ones who really can see what’s going on. And we have become numb to what they say to our own peril.

I can honestly say I have more love, and respect, for my wife today than I ever have. My biggest regret is not seeing what I now see, or knowing what I now know, a lot sooner in our relationship. Everyone who knew me well would always say “She’s perfect for you!” I was smart enough to hear them and now I see it too. Happy 15th Anniversary Carla, don’t ever stop making me better. I will do my best to keep hearing what you’re saying.

I would have been better off to start listening from the moment we got married!

HONEYMOON

A Cup of Perspective

I’m an early riser and I’m on the road a lot. I often find myself at local diners across the country sometimes as the only patron. Since I’m a talker (and writer) I often strike up a conversation with the waitress. Everyone is fascinating on some level.

She’s 45 a year younger than me and already a grandma. “Wow I exclaimed you must have started young!” 15 she says. I look at her with compassion and she tells me her story.

Her story isn’t that much different from many, many others I’ve heard through the years and even tears. I’m always glad to hear them for the perspective they bring.

“I grew up in a strict home and I rebelled against my parents in every way I could” she added.

Last night I got home late. The Cubs were in the World Series for the first time in 71 years. I didn’t turn the TV on though instead, I went straight up to my son’s room.

He’s 16…and has a girlfriend.

I told him “her” story and we talked for a long time in his bed both of us staring at the ceiling. Nothing was left to be implied.

It wasn’t just me that got a cup of perspective with my morning Joe yesterday.

Here’s to getting your own cup of perspective wherever and whomever you’re with today.

Carpe Diem

coffe

A Dose of “Reality”

Three years ago today I started one of the most challenging journeys of my life. In a million years I would never have guessed it to be so going in!

Pond Stars was a Reality Series that premiered on National Geographic in the fall of 2014. Filming started 11 months before that. Aquascape was responsible for two things…finding the projects that they deemed they could script a story around and of course building it. Everything else in between from filming and editing to scripting and directing was handled by an outside Production company and the Exec’s from the network. I along with my team was totally out of the loop and kept in the dark until each day we began filming.

Apparently, this is how “Reality” TV works. I learned that the hard way.

For a man who turned his hobby into a profession and eats, breathes and sleeps what he does being “directed” by people who have no clue or even care about what we do was a bitter pill to swallow, to say the least.

Every morning began the same way for me excited to be going to a job site with my co-workers or in this case co “stars” and some of my best friends in the world only to leave 12 hours later mind numb realizing I spent my day on someone else’s “set”

This isn’t so much an indictment of anyone but rather a by-product of how an entire industry functions. I’ve spent my life as a consumer of media not being a producer of it. Being on the other side of the cameras lacking the ability to not only control what was being produced but even denied the ability to contribute ideas to the storyline, left me feeling neutered from my passion.

I died a thousand deaths a day on set.

I’m not a negative person but my personality changed over the 6 months of filming. As a 43-year-old man I even attempted drowning my frustrations by foolishly taking up drinking for the first time in my life. I ordered my first drink ever from a bar at an airport flying home from another grueling two-week stint of filming. This period didn’t last long as drinking was even more less like me than reading a script someone else wrote.

To this day my wife shutters when anniversaries like this pop-up. “It was like I was married to a different man during that time” she laments.

In the end, I learned a great deal not just about the “Reality” TV business but more so about myself. I’m not very good at being an “actor” and I’m much worse still at being a yes man.

I am who I am and as a lifelong entrepreneur, I’m just not wired to do something I don’t necessarily agree with.

In a world where unfortunately to many others are forced to “put on a separate face” in order to do something they don’t love just to earn a pay check I am a blessed man to wake up each day with the ability to script my own reality.

I never truly realized about how lucky that makes me until I went to work for someone else and experienced, for the first time, what it felt like not to be allowed to do what you believed was best.

For that learning I’m thankful and for anniversaries like this, I’m grateful for reminding me so.

Carpe Diem

REALITY

My Dad had a heart attack and survived. He beat the odds. His Doctors told him he only had a 20% chance of surviving. His main artery where they installed an emergency stint was 100% blocked. They told him if he wasn’t so old he probably wouldn’t have made it. At 71 his heart had time to adapt to the clogged artery and compensated for it by increasing blood flow through his other ones.

71 is still way too young to die of a heart attack!

My dad was lucky. Your Dad, your brother or even you or me might not be so fortunate. That’s why you can’t ever take the Russian roulette chances my Dad did with his life. Ever!

My Dad is extremely active for his age. He starts each day stretching for 15 minutes followed by a series of push ups and sits ups. He golfs multiple times a week and walks his dogs regularly. His height and weight are in line where all the charts tell him it should be. He looks good and for the most part feels great! Except, that is, for the annoying periodic chest pain that he described as “being stabbed by a butter knife” that cropped up a few times in the months proceeding his heart attack.

He ignored the warning signs writing them off as a “bad muscle strain or something.”

Until that is, he had his heart attack. As fate would almost have it he was snorkeling 100 yards offshore free diving and taking pictures of Florida’s beautiful fish and coral 20′ below the surface. The exertion and atmospheric pressure triggered his heart attack.

That could have been it for my pop’s. He could have dove down one last time only to have never surfaced again. All because he was too stubborn, ignorant or proud to have taken seriously the unexplained pain that periodically cropped up in his chest and was gone a few uncomfortable minutes later.

He was able to make it back to shore and across the street to a convenience store to get some aspirin “to help with the pain and thin his blood just in case it was a heat attack.” He didn’t even have enough strength to get the safety packaging open. The clerk had to help him. I wish the clerk hadn’t and instead called 911!  The story doesn’t end there though. That’s because my Dad didn’t want to go to a hospital “three hours from home.”

ARGH!!!

A three-hour drive later after being curled up in pain in his backseat, his grandson at the wheel, he was wheeled into emergency surgery at his local hospital.

He beat the odds in getting there. The surgery saved his life. He returned home three days later, immediately packed his RV and drove 2 hours east to a friend’s house to escape another potential tragedy, Hurricane Matthew.
My Dad was beyond lucky. I don’t want anyone I know to be forced to dodge the bullet our family just did. There’s nothing worth risking your life for. Not “feeling silly” like my Dad said he would have if he went to the hospital only to find out it was a pulled muscle. Not going right to the hospital when you’re not “close to home” and because you don’t want to be “inconvenienced.”

Being 6′ under will end any inconvenience forever!

…for you that is.

His wife will gladly take the inconvenience of nursing him back to health over standing over his casket. My Dad has escaped the grave and subsequently has some valuable lessons to share with all of us.

First, don’t be a knucklehead. Your health is nothing to gamble with. Ever! Nothing should take precedent over heeding any signs of potential trouble and checking them out immediately!

Second, what you look like on the outside may have nothing to do with what’s going on on the inside. My Dad’s exercise routine and seemingly good shape couldn’t overcome a hereditary disposition to plaque in his arteries.
Third, good muscle tone and low body fat doesn’t equal cardiovascular health. Stretching, push ups, sit ups and even walking don’t elevate the heart rate the way strenuous cardiovascular exercise does. My Dad didn’t run because his knees couldn’t take it and his heart atrophied accordingly.

Today my Dad is planning his comeback. I have no doubt his disciplined routine will now include daily cardiovascular exercise. Always with a heart rate monitor though as his main muscle is now permanently damaged.

Everyone should be as lucky as my father. Nobody should have to go through what he did to find out how lucky they are. And no family should have to experience what ours almost did if not for him being so lucky and beating the odds.

They say you never really grow up until you lose a parent. I’m going to gladly enjoy being a kid for hopefully many more years to come!

For everyone who loves their Dad, their brother or themselves please pass this along. Someone might get another shot at life because you do!

Carpe Diem

What I Wish He Would Have Said

I wish these were the first (and last) words out Trumps mouth last night. And yes…I’ve always been a dreamer!

“Lester…I know you want me to talk about what I said about the Iraq War, why I pursued, ad nausea, finding out if Obama indeed had a birth certificate, if and when I will ever release my personal tax returns and finally a class action lawsuit from 1973. 1973!

I get it.

EVERYTHING I’ve ever done or even been accused of doing has been up for debate since the day I choose the treacherous path to lead the most powerful nation the world has ever seen.

That’s fair.

But regardless of what others choose to focus on, despite what they believe or don’t believe about my past, or even whether they think they might like me or not if they actually had the chance to truly know my heart, I’m running for the President of the United States for ONE, SIMPLE, REASON

I LOVE OUR COUNTRY!

I love OUR country and I want to see it whole and healthy again the way it was, and the way I’m convinced it can be again, with proper MANAGEMENT.

Am I the right man for the job? That’s not for me to decide now is it? What I will say is this…I’m NOT a politician (long pause for applause as Lester admonishes the audience) I’m not a talker I’m a doer. I’m not good at spending other people’s money. I don’t break the law I simply follow the law politicians put in place and are now trying to spin it to look like I cheated you by “finding their loopholes”

I’m not opposed to ending any loophole as long as it results in the only damn thing that matters here…A vibrant and flourishing country just like the one I had the awesome privilege of growing up in!

But Lester, since you and so many others want to know about all this other meaningless stuff let me DIRECTLY answer your question (nice tie by the way)

On Iraq, I did support sending troops in. I also didn’t support sending troops in. I’m on record for saying both. In that regard I guess you can say I’m waffling which, sadly, makes me no better than every other politician who’s ever lived. Truth be known I’m an American but also a life long New Yorker. When those bastard terrorists attacked us in the heart of my hometown nonetheless, I would have picked up a gun that the second amendment still allows me to have by the way and marched right alongside our troops over there if that’s where I thought they were hiding! But, unlike the politicians of the day I didn’t have access to all the information they did. Like every other American I learned the facts as they came out and coupled with my raw emotion, I waffled on what was the best strategy to take. If I had all the facts I’d like to believe I would have made a different choice than the politicians who were in charge at the time.

As for pursuing Obama ad nausea over his birth certificate I wasn’t alone in my questioning of whether he was a legal citizen. When I think someone is trying to hide something I’m like a dog with a bone sniffing it out. That trait has saved me a lot of money in business. Sometimes I can take it a bit far but frankly, I’d rather apologize for being wrong than be taken to the cleaners by an illegitimate person. I maybe pushed a little to far but he’s a big boy after all. With that said Mr Obama please accept my apology. The next round at Trump National is on me (You’re on your own for drinks though, I still have to keep the lights on in the joint!)

As for my releasing of my personal taxes I’m going to do that immediately following this debate. I’m kicking myself for not just swallowing the damn frog (get my little pond reference hee hee  ) and doing it last April. Honestly, I didn’t because I knew no matter what story they told my detractors would find a way to spin it for their agenda. I’m a businessman NOT a politician. I don’t understand these games and frankly voters should be glad of that. Once I assume office this kind of nit picking baloney that keeps politicians focused on stuff that doesn’t matter is going to end! In business you are paid to focus on deriving results. They can keep their baloney and add my tax returns to them! While they are focusing on me, my taxes, and everything else that doesn’t make us one damn bit better I can focus on what I love to do and that’s turning this ship around!

And finally, as for that class action lawsuit from 1973 that’s attempting to paint me as a racist here’s what I have to say. I’m a lot of things to a lot of people but anyone who knows my heart knows I’m not a racist! For the record I’m not a bigot, or a chauvinist either. Why? Because I’m not an idiot (or a politician)

IM A BUSINESSMAN!

I don’t discriminate on principle. If you’re white, black yellow, straight, gay, bi, male, female or gender-neutral if you can produce and be part of a high performing team I want you on my TEAM!

I want to make money!

I want to succeed!

Therefore I want anyone and everyone who wants to further their lot in life and is willing to work their tail off to make it happen. On the flip side if you’re on the government dole and sitting on your bums get ready to go to work to receive those BENEFITS going forward. There’s way to much garbage around needing to be picked up and maybe putting you to work picking it up will teach you how to pick yourself up in the process!

Speaking of work if you elect me as your President I will work harder, longer and more fiercely than any President before or after me! In fact, to assure I do just that I’ve hired Tim Tebow as my trainer the hardest working man I know! Tebow doesn’t quit and his wholesome values are just the kind any President would benefit from emulating.

“BELIEVE ME!”

✌️️That’s what I wish would have come out of his mouth.

It didn’t and sadly probably won’t ever 

I love our country. I hate this racism that divides us, the values that are escaping us and the lack of winning that used to beget us.

With all that said my two minutes is up. Back to turtles ponds and puppies for me.

Carpe Diem my FB Friends

trump

He Was 77, I Was 27

The first time I visited England was 1997. It changed me. I came home a different man.

I’ve had mentors my whole life. I owe much of my success to others who took the time to pour into me. I was wise enough to just listen to what they were saying, while refining my ideas.

Bill Miller was one of my early mentors. A wise old sage and serial entrepreneur who was my travel companion for my first big adventure “Across the Pond”

Driving around England on the “wrong” side of the road in a little compact car and touring the largest water garden shops I had ever seen, I discovered something that would change my life and impact the lives of many others in the process.

The English had nothing on me!

The unique way Aquascape was building water features was so advanced, so much more modern and logical, nothing stood in my way of “Changing The Way The World Builds Ponds!”

YES!!!…that’s so AMERICAN of me I know, but it’s the exact inspiration that struck me leaving this island to return to MY continent of North America!

Like many others I’m a big dreamer. Fortunately for me I’ve had others willing to support me in my dreams.

Bill Miller and I might have made the odd travel pair but he was the perfect sounding board for a big dreamer. He encouraged my thoughts, was a fantastic refiner, and gave me something that’s too valuable to put a dollar figure on…CONFIDENCE!

This is the last picture I took of Bill. I took it knowing it probably would be. We had just gone to lunch in the faculty lounge of his alma mater, Northwestern University. The last thing he told me was how proud he was of me. I had to bite my lip as I hugged him.

Bill

Bill passed six months later at 93.

Everyone should be so blessed to have a Bill Miller in their lives.

As I leave this beautiful island again this time at age 46, I feel similar to how I felt at 27. Confident.

I’m motivated to continue dreaming big and working to pursue turning those dreams into reality.

Without the Bill Miller’s who’ve come into my life through the years, I have no idea where I’d be today. Here’s to all the “Bill Millers” out there!

Carpe Diem

Last night I was honored to be able to speak to the Naperville North Football Fellowship of Christian Athletes. FCA and Football were the two most powerful experiences that shaped me as a person during high school and in many ways to this day.

Neither would have been as powerful or maybe even possible if not for Coach Rex.

The first time we locked eyes was the summer of 1984 when I was an incoming freshmen who was thinking about playing football. It felt like he never took his eyes off me for the next four years of my life!

“Men, stick with me and stick together and you will be champions”

I bought what he was selling hook line and sinker!

32 years later the Coach Rex legacy lives on in me and thousands upon thousands of others.

Tonight I will be in the stands at Rexilius field watching the young impressionable men I spoke with last night battle my alma matter. All of them are starving for the kind of role model Coach Rex was on and especially off the field.

Something tells me Rex will be watching. Something also tells me he won’t give a hoot about the final score of the game.

It’s what these men do off the field and where they spend eternity that always mattered most to him.

Everyone should be as blessed as me to have had a Rex in their lives.

Go Falcons, Go Huskies, Go God!

 greg football

The Pond Mom and the Leadership Boot Camp

I might as well start my daily Pondemonium reflection pic with how we officially started Pondemonium last Weds. By all accounts, even historically pessimistic Steven Shinholser‘s The Leadership Boot Camp was an eye-opening success. I knew it would be but getting to that point was anything but easy!

PONDMOM

My mom might be a High I (people person) but when it comes to preparation for something she’s in charge of she’s a High “C” (detail oriented) I am most certainly not gifted with any C! The friction between us “preparing” for this event happened almost immediately. When Tony Alcala and I previewed her videos that came with the presentation we both thought the same thing…boring!

I immediately said to Tony “lets film our own version of these” to which Tony replied “Cool”

Case closed for me with my “D” (dominant) style while the panic door just opened for my mom And her “C” wiring

She was losing control of an event she was tasked with pulling off. “Chill mom it’s going to be great” (sensitivity for others is not a “D’s” strong suit)

Of course it was great and the videos we filmed were way more relatable for our audience. But the process to get us there was anything but easy for my mom and for me (especially when she stole Tony and filmed the guys on a job without me knowing)

Classic “D” “C” clash

However, our shared values and mutual love and respect for one another prevailed and we worked through it as always. To say I was proud of her at the end of the day is an understatement!

If you missed the cut-off date to register for this day or want to send other people from your team we will be offering this exact class next year for sure! In the meantime anyone can always just take the online assessment and review it on their own with their teams.

Just private message my mom.

I think it’s fair to say that LEADERSHIP training of one sort or another will be a regular occurrence at Aquascape events in the future. After all, WE are Leading the Change for an entire industry.

Carpe Diem

 

Don’t Ever Let A Teacher Tell You, You Can’t Make A Living Balancing Rocks!

Last week I met Tim Anderson when I hired him to work my corporate training event to balance rocks.
Yes, you read that correctly, I hired someone to balance rocks!
Tim is a free spirit (go figure) and professional rock balancer. He might be the only “professional” rock balancer in the world too!
Now, for all you mom and dads out there worried if your son or daughter might read this and be inspired not to be a sheep and attend college and pursue a rock balancing career instead, let me set your minds at ease.
TIM IS HAPPY!
It all started 5 years ago when he started stacking rocks in the streams of his native Pennsylvania. As happens with many creative activities, Tim found himself lost in his own thoughts for hours on end knee deep in streams balancing rocks for fun. After one multi hour long episode he placed the final stone on yet another impossible stack. As he removed his hands a roaring applause broke out behind him. Tim looked up as hundreds (yes hundreds) of on lookers gathering on a bridge saluted his effort!
That day, over two years ago now, an idea was born that is playing itself out at wwwkeystonebalance.com Tim, who always photographed his “work” began selling it as the original artwork it truly was.
His photos have provided him a living and the bragging rights of saying he just might have the worlds most peaceful job!
Tim made a splash at Aquascapeinc.com’s annual Pondemonium event not from having his rocks come crashing down but rather demonstrating to other fast paced business leaders how taking the time and slowing down while “balancing the rocks” might just be exactly what the doctor ordered.
The longest Tim has ever worked on a single stack is to straight days. The most expensive photo he ever took was 25,000 bucks.
WOW!

Here’s to everyone having the “rocks” to pursue their unique passions in this world!

TIM1 TIM2TIM3

 

Who Do You Think Stormed the Beaches?

I learned way way more about life and even business playing sports than I ever did in the classroom.

Teamwork, hard work, goal setting, culture, competition, winning and particularly losing.

My football coach was a master motivator and loved (yes loved) every player who played for him. Our efforts usually reflected his feelings for us.

Last night I got to host a Wheaton Academy across Country Team Lock In at Aqualand. Dodgeball, Wallyball, Soccer, Basketball, Capture the Flag and of course Swimming! And boy can they eat!!! It was exhausting but also a blast! I also seized the opportunity to share my perspectives as a middle aged businessman about how important the skills you gain outside the classroom are for your life.

“Who do you think our Country sent in to storm the beaches at Normandy…the scholars or the former Varsity Athletes?!” I asked them all

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on getting good grades. The work ethic required to be a scholar will serve you well in life. After all, you should give your all in everything you do! But focusing on your GPA to the exclusion of extracurricular activities and all that comes with them under the illusion that’s how to succeed in life is a fallacy I want every young person to hear especially because very very few have ever heard it

PARENTS I ASK YOU WHY THAT IS?!

These kids will all remember last night, the fun they had, the memories they made, the bonding that occurred. Their efforts on the field will surely be better off for it.

Here’s to a great season and the development of the applicable life skills that come from the activities they do while they are receiving their formal education.

KIDS

 

Who Are They Calling Crazy?!

You never know what you’re going to get when the media covers you. I don’t know if I’d agree with the saying, “all publicity is good publicity” but what I have learned is all publicity leads to more publicity.

Pond Stars led to an article in FORBES which led to MSNBC doing this story which will lead to ???

I’m happy with what they did with this piece and in particular proud they focused on all our TEAM has worked to overcome. I wish they would have added “Wittstock contributes his survival to owning a pond to de-stress by!”  🙂

“Everybody wants a water feature, they just don’t know it yet.”

Oprah give me a call. Tom Cruz jumping on a couch enthusiastically would have nothing on me! ‪#‎ilovewhatido‬

Winning Begets Winning

I want to win. Who doesn’t? But because everyone wants to win, by default, winning is hard.

“When you hang out with winners you become a winner, when you hang out with melons you become a melon” -Rocky Balboa

 

Brad Barton is a winner. Here’s the video clip of him SMASHING the American Masters 1500 meter record on Sunday at the Olympic Trials. He’s racing with guys 10 years his junior and still bested 8 of them while besting the American record for his age group.

 

WOW!

 

In two weeks he’s racing to try and become the fastest man in history in the world over 50 to race a mile.

 

Brad has been a winner his whole life and “surprise” he’s still winning!

 

I want to hang with winners. I want to pick up all I can by osmosis on how they think, what they do, and who they are. I want you to do the same. Thats why even though Brad is not an official speaker I’ve invited him once again to hang with us at Pondemonium. How often do you get to hang anywhere with anyone who’s the best in the world at their craft?!

 

That’s what Pondemonium is all about right there. Aquascape is the best in the world in the water feature game supporting customers who are the best in the world at their choosen craft.

 

Everyone who comes will be better off for it. That’s why I want everyone to come!

 

Hope you’re as excited as I am about participating in the biggest event in the world for water feature professionals. And hanging with Brad, Jim O’Connor, Brian, Ed and other top professionals in the world.

 

6 weeks and counting!!! #pondemonium

Act Like Men Palooza

How do you even begin to describe “The Greatest Event in Human History?!” Mud wrestling would be a good way to start! With over 800 men spending three days camping and competing in the woods of central Michigan together though, maybe describing what didn’t happen would be easier (like no one was mediflighted outta here!  )

As important as the competitions were for bonding they weren’t the reason we were here.

This was about going deeper into our shared faith. As Men who lead our houses, spouses, families and selves, investing three days of time to strengthen the platform we operate off of was a needed respite for us all.

What made this time for me extra special was the opportunity I had to share it with my soon to be 16 year old son and his cousin, my 20 year old nephew. When I was my sons age, a man, my high school football coach, poured into me and instilled in me the foundation of faith I rely on today. I don’t know where my life would be without that. I’m wanting to help those I love also have a solid platform to build their own lives off of too. In that regard this weekend was a success. Guiding our team to a solid second place showing in the games didn’t hurt either!

I’m a blessed man in many many ways. Knowing that is a blessing in itself. Here’s to these two young men knowing how lucky and loved they are and building their own lives off an unsinkable foundation as well!

 

“Would You Share Your Heart At Work?”

The reason I’m posting a pic of an empty table with my feet kicked up with and a half eaten salad in front of me is, for no other reason, than I didn’t think about grabbing a pic when it was filled with nervously smiling faces.

Once or twice a year I will bring in lunch and invite all the new hires to break bread together. I get to sit in too which, I’m sure, can make it a bit uncomfortable for some of the newbies. Although I can have a bark and maybe even an occasional bite, most of the stigma comes simply with title of being “the boss”

I really want people to succeed here (and everywhere for that matter) which is why I enjoy these lunches and am summarizing up maybe the most important reoccurring theme I discuss during them.

Share your heart first and foremost, always and forever anywhere you’re at, regardless of the potential outcome.

Don’t ever go home from your job and take out your pent up frustration by kicking the proverbial dog because you didn’t speak your mind at work.

Sadly, from my experience here and in general, most people don’t speak their mind and instead do just that. The consequences however of that decision inevitably leads to failure at work. Either they end up frustrated and leave or employers end up frustrated with them and they get fired. The worst fate of all though comes if the person stays at a job they hate, and the company allows themselves to suffer along with them. Obviously, I don’t want that to happen anywhere for everyone’s sake, which is why I make this topic a priority to talk about every time.

Everyone loses when people don’t speak the truth.

I guess many people are fearful of what they could lose (like their job) from speaking their mind. My question to anyone who’s trapped in that kind of situation or even just thinking it is this…

What are you failing to achieve at your job and in particular your life, by not speaking your mind?

If you speak from your heart when you speak your mind you should be comfortable letting the chips fall where they may.

If fear is preventing you from speaking your mind at work, you should already have the answer on whether or not that’s the right place or you.

Just some food for thought from my lunch today

Carpe Diem

My son is not a professional athlete. After all he’s only 15. But he is a good, not great, but good high school runner. He was good enough though last year to win a local 5k race where most of the participants were more focused on throwing colored chalk on each other than breaking the tape at the finish line.

One of the other runners that day was a friend of ours 3rd grade son. Whatever this kid might lack in size he more than makes up for in heart. He is a born competitor and also ran the race all out. On hearing the news that a guy he knew crossed the finish line first, well, let’s just say Ryan earned his first young fan!

This last weekend we visited our friends lake house. Sunday was Ryan’s only scheduled day off. His off season program has him turning in 40 to 60 mile weeks in preparation for his Jr. year of Cross Country this fall. That morning however Ryan’s youngest fan had other plans mainly a training run with his idol. That’s why at 6:30 am as I sat alone on the porch coffee in hand the first person I saw was little Charlie. Not only was he up but he was dressed and ready to run!

About the cutest thing I ever saw was this eager beaver pipsqueak stretching and warming up in front of me continuously inquiring on when exactly Ryan would be waking up! Kid (I thought to myself) he’s a teenager, you’d be lucky to see his face before the afternoon!

I mercifully gave Ryan an extra hour of shut eye before rousing him from his sleeping bag.

Without complaint (the kid never complains about anything EVER!) Ryan rose, slipped on his shoes and was out the door his little buddy in tow.

My son may or may not win another race his high school career and I could care less. He’s a role model and a worthy one at that in a world that’s starving for the right kind of role models.

Charlie will be playing football this fall. Something tells me Charlie is going to have a high school running fan of his own there cheering him on.

 

Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with my crew in the field on an absolutely gorgeous day. We probably set 25 to 30 tons of rock while rebuilding a problem retaining wall for my church.It was a blast!

Aquascape Pond Construction Crew

I came home after a long 10 hours of physical labor, exhausted and dirty, but with a grin from ear to ear on my face! I don’t get in the field often but when I do, I get a tangible sense of accomplishment that’s hard to come by “pushing paper” around in the office. We came, we destroyed (woohoo!), we rebuilt, and we left! At one point a car pulled over and the driver shouted “God I’d love to have your job!” I thought that was cool until I started to think about it.

Would he be cool with his son or daughter having my job?!

Two of the guys I worked with yesterday were college kids where this job will probably only be a stop along their journey to a career in an office. “Probably” being the key word.

One of the kids who worked for us last summer professed how desperate he was to get back in the field using his hands again. “I absolutely hate sitting at a desk,” he lamented. Yet he’s in school pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

My best friend from College, Michael Kurylo, earned a degree in Industrial Design. He spent the next 12 years sitting in front of a computer, all day long every day, year after year working as a CAD Engineer. As he tells it the only time his work got recognized was when he made a mistake!

That was before he pursued a career path outside working in the world of ponds. Today he gets recognized almost every day for what he just created, and more often than not, that recognition comes with the offer of a beer.
Working outside though, comes with a whole other set of problems those of us who work in an office don’t have to contend with. I called Mike on a cold, wet and otherwise miserable spring day right after he started on his new career path to check in on him and give him a little ribbing about having to work in such inclement weather. He famously replied … “The worst day in the field is better than the best day in the office!”

Not every kid is college material. I certainly wasn’t. I earned my degree only because that was the path society had outlined for one to follow to achieve success. I was too programmed to question it back then. Now though, life has empowered me to shout at the top of my lungs that success in life has little or nothing to do with whether you do or don’t go to college!

Of course most people already know success in life doesn’t come from simply getting a degree. However, sadly, nobody talks about what they’ve observed themselves in the real world out of fear they may dissuade our youth from achieving a higher education. The importance of a college degree has never been more unimportant, at least in regards to succeeding in life.

So why is it still taboo to discuss legitimate opportunities that exist that don’t entail earning an expensive degree?! By not even having the discussion about alternative options to a high-cost degree we are costing our kids, us, and ultimately our society a ton!

Schools are filled with kids going through the motions of getting a degree because “that’s what their parents and society think they should do.” And many of those young and impressionable adults who are only going through the prescribed motions of earning a degree end up making lattes for a living. There’s nothing wrong with being a barista. A barista with 100k in college debt though is a whole other story and shockingly not uncommon!

I hate negative posts and being negative in general. But it does make me sick to my stomach that kids have been led to believe a college education is the only way to achieve success.

If being happy constitutes the baseline of success I can assure you of one thing. I wasn’t the only one leaving that job site grinning ear to ear yesterday.Just some food for thought, mom and dad.

Carpe Diem

Getting Better Together

I walked in on this scene yesterday of once again Tony Alcala and Dave Kelly collaborating on a video shoot, this time a technical video on the new Signature 1000 skimmer.

One overwhelming thought filled me as I watched them collaborate their efforts to produce the best instructional video possible. Not only are these long time (36 years combined!) Aquascape Teammates highly competent doing their jobs, but even more so they are totally sold out for creating the perfect training tools for the world to use. They have one thing money alone can’t buy…

THEY CARE!

Nobody does it better than Aquascape because nobody CARES more about the people and industry they are doing it for than the Aquascape and it shows!

You are only as good as the people you have on your team. Tony and Dave are tops in their field. They are truly living, breathing examples of getting better together.

And in doing so they get rewarded by helping others get better together too!

Carpe Diem

One year ago this week, after catching much flack for the previous two years that my in-laws suffered without owning a pond at their retirement home in Fairhope Alabama, we installed this beauty for them.

We did it as part of a surprise backyard makeover
for our YouTube series Aquascape Pond Squad.

We had a blast as Certified Aquascape Contractors came from near and far to play in the dirt with us!

My mother-in-law was in on the surprise. My father-in-law’s reaction is priceless! Needless to say they and their friends have enjoyed it very much this last year!

Enjoy!


 

One year ago this week a group of Certified Aquascape Contractors installed this water feature for a surprise backyard makeover for a YouTube episode of Aquascape Pond Squad in Fairhope Alabama.

The owners went away for two days and came back to this!

Hope this episode gets you excited as another pond season is now upon us!

http://youtu.be/YPWK0a3XKks


One year ago this week, after catching much flack for the previous two years that my in-laws suffered without owning a pond at their retirement home in Fairhope Alabama, we installed this beauty for them.

We did it as part of a surprise backyard makeover
for our YouTube series Aquascape Pond Squad.

We had a blast as Certified Aquascape Contractors came from near and far to play in the dirt with us!

My mother-in-law was in on the surprise. My father-in-law’s reaction is priceless! Needless to say they and their friends have enjoyed it very much this last year!

Enjoy!

One year ago this week a group of Certified Aquascape Contractors installed this water feature for a surprise backyard makeover for a YouTube episode of Aquascape Pond Squad in Fairhope Alabama.

The owners went away for two days and came back to this!

Hope this episode gets you excited as another pond season is now upon us!

http://youtu.be/YPWK0a3XKks


Diamonds in the Rough

The current discussions on here regarding the challenge of finding good or even just competent labor prompted me to post this.

First, the challenge of finding the right people for your team is not a new one. Agreed? Since the dawn of time businesses have struggled to fill the seats on their bus with the right, competent and motivated individuals. The challenge of finding good people is certainly nothing new, but it’s just as certainly a growing one too.

It’s harder today, especially in the trades, than ever to fill the seats on your bus with the right people for the job. Agreed?!

But here’s where I’d like to stop venting and start challenging all of the loyal, smart, hardworking and passionate entrepreneurs on this page.

You don’t need to find a 100 people to succeed, most of you would be happy with just one or two!

Folks, diamonds in the rough are out there if you look hard enough!

Last week about 40 of us on this page had the pleasure of listening to one Westin Zimmerman, at Tusseymonium. A young (24 year-old) passionate, dedicated, hardworking and extremely talented foremen for Steve Martin, Aquascapes Top Frog installer. If everyone who had the pleasure to attend didn’t have the utmost respect for Steve, Westin would have had 40 job offers before he walked out of that pull barn!

Here’s the kicker though. Westin wasn’t always the performer he is today for Tussey Landscapes. Steve, hired good stock, groomed him, and got out of Westin’s way!

I’d say it’s safe to say on here that Ed Beaulieu came from good stock. As did Brian. But they were both groomed in the beginning. And then I most definitely proceeded to get out of their way!

I’d also say that today, they have blossomed into the best duo in this industry but that wouldn’t be entirely true. But they most definitely are part of the best trio this industry has ever seen if you add “the new guy” Chris Hanson into the bunch!

All three of them were diamonds in the rough, each with good stock that got groomed and then we got out of their way. We offered Chris more money than any foremen we had ever hired three years ago after we diagnosed, then extensively sought out and interviewed for the skill sets he possessed.

So far he’s turning out to be one of the best investments this company has ever made!

 I could have guessed I’d get the excellent return on our investment from the day he started though. You see, I never interviewed Chris before he was hired. Evaluating talent is not my strong suit. I think everyone who comes to the table is hard working, industrious, and passionate! But Chris, the diamond in the rough that he was, sent me, the owner, and a very personable letter introducing himself. Reading it gave me the chills!

He thanked me for giving him this opportunity.

He complimented the professionalism of the people and the process he had just gone through to get the job.

And he closed letting me know he planned on giving me his 110% commitment every day of his employment in return for my leap of faith in giving him this opportunity.

WOW!

Wouldn’t getting a letter like that from a new teammate give you the chills too?!

The right people or person is out there just waiting for you to uncover them and give them a little water and sunshine. Diamonds in the rough aren’t easy to find but neither is running a successful business.

As small business owners, we don’t run away from adversity we run toward it every day and with open arms! It’s why we are in business for ourselves and not simply working in a tollbooth.

Carpe Diem and Happy Hunting!

 FIND YOUR WESTIN!

 

Diamonds in the Rough

The current discussions on here regarding the challenge of finding good or even just competent labor prompted me to post this.

First, the challenge of finding the right people for your team is not a new one. Agreed? Since the dawn of time businesses have struggled to fill the seats on their bus with the right, competent and motivated individuals. The challenge of finding good people is certainly nothing new, but it’s just as certainly a growing one too.

It’s harder today, especially in the trades, than ever to fill the seats on your bus with the right people for the job. Agreed?!

But here’s where I’d like to stop venting and start challenging all of the loyal, smart, hardworking and passionate entrepreneurs on this page.

You don’t need to find a 100 people to succeed, most of you would be happy with just one or two!

Folks, diamonds in the rough are out there if you look hard enough!

Last week about 40 of us on this page had the pleasure of listening to one Westin Zimmerman, at Tusseymonium. A young (24 year-old) passionate, dedicated, hardworking and extremely talented foremen for Steve Martin, Aquascapes Top Frog installer. If everyone who had the pleasure to attend didn’t have the utmost respect for Steve, Westin would have had 40 job offers before he walked out of that pull barn!

Here’s the kicker though. Westin wasn’t always the performer he is today for Tussey Landscapes. Steve, hired good stock, groomed him, and got out of Westin’s way!

I’d say it’s safe to say on here that Ed Beaulieu came from good stock. As did Brian. But they were both groomed in the beginning. And then I most definitely proceeded to get out of their way!

I’d also say that today, they have blossomed into the best duo in this industry but that wouldn’t be entirely true. But they most definitely are part of the best trio this industry has ever seen if you add “the new guy” Chris Hanson into the bunch!

All three of them were diamonds in the rough, each with good stock that got groomed and then we got out of their way. We offered Chris more money than any foremen we had ever hired three years ago after we diagnosed, then extensively sought out and interviewed for the skill sets he possessed.

So far he’s turning out to be one of the best investments this company has ever made!

 I could have guessed I’d get the excellent return on our investment from the day he started though. You see, I never interviewed Chris before he was hired. Evaluating talent is not my strong suit. I think everyone who comes to the table is hard working, industrious, and passionate! But Chris, the diamond in the rough that he was, sent me, the owner, and a very personable letter introducing himself. Reading it gave me the chills!

He thanked me for giving him this opportunity.

He complimented the professionalism of the people and the process he had just gone through to get the job.

And he closed letting me know he planned on giving me his 110% commitment every day of his employment in return for my leap of faith in giving him this opportunity.

WOW!

Wouldn’t getting a letter like that from a new teammate give you the chills too?!

The right people or person is out there just waiting for you to uncover them and give them a little water and sunshine. Diamonds in the rough aren’t easy to find but neither is running a successful business.

As small business owners, we don’t run away from adversity we run toward it every day and with open arms! It’s why we are in business for ourselves and not simply working in a tollbooth.

Carpe Diem and Happy Hunting!

Greg Wittstock

CEO, Aquascape, Inc.

901 Aqualand Way

St. Charles, IL 60174

www.aquascapeinc.com

Aquascape Lifestyles Flipboard Magazine

www.facebook.com/AquascapeInc

www.twitter.com/AquascapeInc

www.youtube.com/aquascape4

www.pinterest.com/AquascapeInc

www.facebook.com/ThePondStars

“The Chair”

Say hello to Irene Johnson. She’s one of the newest Aquascape teammates and my friend. History is not on her side.

I have a dismal track record hiring friends and family to work in my business. In that regard I’m not alone from the typical entrepreneur. More often than not friends and family are the first people to jump on board as an entrepreneur’s enthusiasm for their venture sucks those they are closest to into their vortex. That is until the energy expelled from their turbo charged passion for their enterprises burns up anyone not fully aligned with their vision or work ethic.

My best friend from high school embezzled from me and my own father became my first competitor.
It sucks, but the requirements necessary to succeed in business are, by nature, at a different level than those required to function as family and friends.

“Business is Business”

Still, that doesn’t make it any easier if things go south.

Twenty-one years ago I installed a water garden for Irene and she’s been a friend and vocal cheerleader for Aquascape and me ever since.

Is it any wonder why I love her?! She deserves the shot she’s getting despite my track record hiring friends.

After 30 plus years dealing with Nuclear Engineers (yes she started working in high school) she now will experience what a new life handling pond contractors is like.

Pray for her!

Prayers for our relationship wouldn’t hurt either.

Yesterday she sat in “The Chair” in my office. We had our first ever blast furnace conversation. My passion for what I do isn’t any less intense today than it was a quarter century ago. However, I swear (loudly) I’m much more muted in how I handle my interactions with teammates now. Hah!

Irene is a smart, dedicated and passionate woman.

Wish us both luck on our new journey together!

 

 

“The Chair”

Say hello to Irene Johnson. She’s one of the newest Aquascape teammates and my friend. History is not on her side.

I have a dismal track record hiring friends and family to work in my business. In that regard I’m not alone from the typical entrepreneur. More often than not friends and family are the first people to jump on board as an entrepreneur’s enthusiasm for their venture sucks those they are closest to into their vortex. That is until the energy expelled from their turbo charged passion for their enterprises burns up anyone not fully aligned with their vision or work ethic.

My best friend from high school embezzled from me and my own father became my first competitor.
It sucks, but the requirements necessary to succeed in business are, by nature, at a different level than those required to function as family and friends.

“Business is Business”

Still, that doesn’t make it any easier if things go south.

Twenty one years ago I installed a water garden for Irene and she’s been a friend and vocal cheerleader for Aquascape and me ever since.

Is it any wonder why I love her?! She deserves the shot she’s getting despite my track record hiring friends.

After 30 plus years dealing with Nuclear Engineers (yes she started working in high school) she now will experience what a new life handling pond contractors is like.

Pray for her!

Prayers for our relationship wouldn’t hurt either.

Yesterday she sat in “The Chair” in my office. We had our first ever blast furnace conversation. My passion for what I do isn’t any less intense today than it was a quarter century ago. However, I swear (loudly) I’m much more muted in how I handle my interactions with teammates now. Hah!

Irene is a smart, dedicated and passionate woman.

Wish us both luck on our new journey together!

We just got back from a glorious week skiing the many slopes of Park City Utah. As a family there is no activity we enjoy doing together more than skiing. AND WE LIVE IN THE MIDWEST!!!

Anyway, Utah also happens to be the home state of world champion runner Brad. Brad has set three Masters world records in the mile and steeplechase. Nobody, anywhere, ever, had run faster at his disciplines than he did!

Brad, quite literally, is one in a billion(s)!!!

He’s also my friend.

This is why for two of the days we were skiing in his home state Brad hung out with us. He didn’t join us on the slopes as much as he’d have liked too though. He has put skiing, with its inherent risk of injury on hold for now. Brad is currently training to tackle a whole new set of world records now that he’s moved up an age bracket.

Today Brad turns the big five-O!

He didn’t ski with us but he made sure to run with one of us while we were together. Our 15 year old son Ryan is a high school runner and very much looks up to Brad. Who wouldn’t?! Brad has invested a lot these last two years in inspiring Ryan to push himself farther than he knew he was capable of. That makes Brad a Super mentor…that is someone who inspires someone else to do something they didn’t believe themselves was possible.

When I speak, Ryan looks at me funny. When Brad whispers, Ryan runs! Hah!

To see my boy excited about un-strapping his ski boots, thighs still burning from the slopes, only to lace up his shoes to go on a 6 mile training run with his mentor, meant the world to me as a father.

I know one thing. My son may not have the genes of Brad’s son Garrett Barton, who set two all-time school and county running records this week. But what my son is learning as he tries his best is the work ethic required to be a World Champion.

Folks, regardless of how fast my boy ever runs, seeing the example of what it takes to be the best in something is a life skill any parent would wish for their child.

I can’t think of a better friend, than one who’s going to be a super mentor to your kids and a living example to the winner you want them to become.

Happy 50th Birthday to someone who has become a super friend to me! My wish for you Brad is to now go get some new world records.Ryan Wittstock, after all, isn’t the only one you’re inspiring!

 

If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me over the years they would like a job at Aquascape, I might finally now have enough for a semester at the local community college. That’s not for a lack of nickels, mind you, but more so the skyrocketing cost of higher education! Simply put, the current approach of dumping the high cost of a higher education today into the lap of students (and their parents!) is an unsustainable model, especially given that College itself is not necessarily providing you with the “skills” to land a desirable job in the end.

 

We just hired Michael, a summer intern who is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan. As hard as it might be for a grad from Ohio State—Michigan’s chief intercollegiate rival—to admit, Michigan is truly one of the finest higher learning institutions in America, if not the world today. For the right to earn that degree now though, it will cost this young man and his family over $200,000, when it’s all said and done.

 

Wow!

 

Here’s the real kicker, though. Michael didn’t land his internship with me because of what he was studying in school or even the prestigious university he was attending. Instead, he landed a summer job with my company because he picked up the phone, set up an appointment to see me, and then proceeded to blow us away in the interview!

 

Wow! 

 

Do you know how rare it is in today’s college-age generation to see someone have a clear vision of what they want, start taking action toward its achievement and then having the ability to back it up all the way to its fulfillment?!

 

Rocket science? Apparently!

 

In full disclosure, and a nod to how it works in the real world, this young man and I had a connection. I was friends with his mother back in both high school and college (scary!). I had met him once before, six years previously, when his mom brought him by Aqualand for a visit. He was wide-eyed and enthusiastic when I gave him a tour of the place. I liked him. When he left, I even gave him one of my pet turtles to take home. Hah! 

 

I guess that visit made an impression on him; too, because he told his mom he’d like to work for me someday. Six years later, he took the initiative to pick up the phone and place the crucial call. 

 

When he came to my office for the interview, Michael made an immediate and positive impression. He looked me in the eye, smiled, and shook my hand firmly.

 

Wow!

 

Mind you, the last time I saw Michael, he was a 14-year-old boy. The man standing in front of me was now a peer, albeit much my junior. Over lunch, he effortlessly conversed with me about a variety of topics, asking me almost as many questions as I was asking him.

 

Wow! (Are you starting to see a pattern here?!) 

 

After lunch, knowing he had played high school soccer, I asked him if he wanted to play soccer with me and the guys in the warehouse. Not only did he jump at the chance to do so, he proceeded to hold his own and even score two goals, as well! 

 

It was becoming increasingly apparent to me that, unlike most 20-something’s (and sadly, many 30-, 40-, or 50-somethings), Michael was very comfortable in his own skin. 

 

Before he left, I introduced Michael to the HR Manager, thanked him for his interest in our business, wished him luck and said goodbye. Nobody gets offered a job at Aquascape just by impressing me (like anyone, and maybe even more so, I can sometimes be fooled), and certainly not because I knew that person’s mother. 

 

But you do land an opportunity at Aquascape by being proactive, personable and comfortable in your own skin. 

 

I wonder how many of those traits Michael learned at school versus outside the classroom?! 

 

I learned more about the importance and value of being proactive, personable and comfortable in my own skin by being a member of a fraternity and living, playing and serving with my fraternity’s 80 other guys, than I did in any college class I ever took. Through playing sports, I also got to practice developing these traits while experiencing firsthand what leadership looked like and what creating a winning culture felt like. 

 

Back then it only cost my parents $50k to send me away to school to grow up. (And that was for the six glorious years it took me to earn my undergrad degree. Hah!) 

 

Someday, Michael told me, he has a dream of being an entrepreneur. Certainly what he learned earning his degree from the University of Michigan won’t hurt his chances to succeed on his own. But something tells me the traits that will be far more valuable for Michael’s success in business—and certainly in life—won’t have necessarily come from what he’s learning in the classroom.

 

Continuing to be proactive, personable and comfortable in his own skin, though, is bound to take him places. It already has! 


 

 

Proactive, Personable and Comfortable in Your Own Skin.  

 

If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me over the years they would like a job at Aquascape, I might finally now have enough for a semester at the local community college. That’s not for a lack of nickels, mind you, but more so the skyrocketing cost of higher education! Simply put, the current approach of dumping the high cost of a higher education today into the lap of students (and their parents!) is an unsustainable model, especially given that College itself is not necessarily providing you with the “skills” to land a desirable job in the end.

 

We just hired Michael, a summer intern who is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan. As hard as it might be for a grad from Ohio State—Michigan’s chief intercollegiate rival—to admit, Michigan is truly one of the finest higher learning institutions in America, if not the world today. For the right to earn that degree now though, it will cost this young man and his family over $200,000, when it’s all said and done.

 

Wow!

 

Here’s the real kicker, though. Michael didn’t land his internship with me because of what he was studying in school or even the prestigious university he was attending. Instead, he landed a summer job with my company because he picked up the phone, set up an appointment to see me, and then proceeded to blow us away in the interview!

 

Wow! 

 

Do you know how rare it is in today’s college-age generation to see someone have a clear vision of what they want, start taking action toward its achievement and then having the ability to back it up all the way to its fulfillment?!

 

Rocket science? Apparently!

 

In full disclosure, and a nod to how it works in the real world, this young man and I had a connection. I was friends with his mother back in both high school and college (scary!). I had met him once before, six years previously, when his mom brought him by Aqualand for a visit. He was wide-eyed and enthusiastic when I gave him a tour of the place. I liked him. When he left, I even gave him one of my pet turtles to take home. Hah! 

 

I guess that visit made an impression on him; too, because he told his mom he’d like to work for me someday. Six years later, he took the initiative to pick up the phone and place the crucial call. 

 

When he came to my office for the interview, Michael made an immediate and positive impression. He looked me in the eye, smiled, and shook my hand firmly.

 

Wow!

 

Mind you, the last time I saw Michael, he was a 14-year-old boy. The man standing in front of me was now a peer, albeit much my junior. Over lunch, he effortlessly conversed with me about a variety of topics, asking me almost as many questions as I was asking him.

 

Wow! (Are you starting to see a pattern here?!) 

 

After lunch, knowing he had played high school soccer, I asked him if he wanted to play soccer with me and the guys in the warehouse. Not only did he jump at the chance to do so, he proceeded to hold his own and even score two goals, as well! 

 

It was becoming increasingly apparent to me that, unlike most 20-something’s (and sadly, many 30-, 40-, or 50-somethings), Michael was very comfortable in his own skin. 

 

Before he left, I introduced Michael to the HR Manager, thanked him for his interest in our business, wished him luck and said goodbye. Nobody gets offered a job at Aquascape just by impressing me (like anyone, and maybe even more so, I can sometimes be fooled), and certainly not because I knew that person’s mother. 

 

I had lunch with a newer friend this week. When I asked where she lived her response bothered me. “Still stuck in a condo” she replied. It wasn’t that she was in a condo that I had the issue with but rather how she described where she lived as being “one of the biggest mistakes we’ve ever made.”

She bought her place at the height of the market in 2005.

Who could have known?!

If I went off of viewing all my decisions in the light cast off from hindsight I’d have made a lot of “mistakes” too!

Who wouldn’t?!

“I can live with bad decisions made for good reasons!”

Can you?!

Feeding negative thoughts in my head is simply not something I’m willing to make time for. I’ve got too many mountains ahead of me that need climbing to focus on the mole hills behind me that have tripped me up!

Instead of focusing on the mole hill “mistakes” of your past, I say focus your complete attention on the mountain range of aspirations directly in front of you!

Success is a journey not a destination. If you’re not tripping, you’re probably not moving either!

Carpe Diem

How many times have you heard about someone working their whole life, retiring, and soon after dying?

I can guarantee that won’t happen to me.

I’M NEVER RETIRING!!!

“When you find something you love to do you’ll never have to work another day in your life”

“The purpose of life, is to have a purpose”

“The definition of hell is a life without problems”

“All business is, is fixing problems”

Those are just a few of the bits of wisdom “I wish I knew when I was 20” Every time I speak at the American Leadership Academy I know one things for certain. Most of the 100 plus kids who attend each week on their spring breaks, many from the top American Universities paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to “earn a degree” have never heard what I’m sharing!

Why?!

“The greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential.”

That’s a bold statement. Anyone want to debate me on it?!

“In every situation you are either part of the problem…or the solution”

I choose the solution!

I’ve been coming to the American Leadership Academy sharing these tid bits since 2004.

It’s because I believe wholeheartedly “You make a living by what you get and a life by what you give”

Rocket science? Apparently it is!

“I like turtles”

My GPA was 2.01 (and it took me 6 years to graduate at that)

I found my strengths, my niche and I have a purpose.

I’m a blessed man!

I also surround myself with people who are smarter than me. I’m than smart enough to get out of their way so they too can find their purpose doing what they do.

Parents your kids GPA will have little to no bearing with their success in life…and certainly not their happiness.

How hard they are willing to work at anything they do most certainly will!

THEY HAVEN’T EVER HEARD THESE THINGS!!!

Rocket science.

Almost never does anyone of these young men correctly answer this question the American Association of Retired People (AARP) asked their members.

“If you could only give one piece of advice to future generations what would it be?”

Hmmm….

Would you yourself be able to get the correct answer?

As you could imagine they had thousands of different replies, all of them the solid wisdom that comes from generations of living.

But one piece of advice was suggested by more members of the AARP than any other.

Could you guess it?

“Be happy now!” “Now” being the key word.

Not when you land your dream job.

Certainly not when you win the lottery (good luck waiting for that)

“BE HAPPY NOW!”

Words to live by today, tomorrow and God willing, 50 years from now when I’m still smiling doing what I’m doing.

Hope these men got that today from my speech.

Hope now you did too.

Thanks for caring!

Carpe Diem

 

 

How many times have you heard about someone working their whole life, retiring, and soon after dying?

I can guarantee that won’t happen to me.

I’M NEVER RETIRING!!!

“When you find something you love to do you’ll never have to work another day in your life”

“The purpose of life, is to have a purpose”

“The definition of hell is a life without problems”

“All business is, is fixing problems”

Those are just a few of the bits of wisdom “I wish I knew when I was 20” Every time I speak at the American Leadership Academy I know one things for certain. Most of the 100 plus kids who attend each week on their spring breaks, many from the top American Universities paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to “earn a degree” have never heard what I’m sharing!

Why?!

“The greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential.”

That’s a bold statement. Anyone want to debate me on it?!

“In every situation you are either part of the problem…or the solution”

I choose the solution!

I’ve been coming to the American Leadership Academy sharing these tid bits since 2004.

It’s because I believe wholeheartedly “You make a living by what you get and a life by what you give”

Rocket science? Apparently it is!

“I like turtles”

My GPA was 2.01 (and it took me 6 years to graduate at that)

I found my strengths, my niche and I have a purpose.

I’m a blessed man!

I also surround myself with people who are smarter than me. I’m than smart enough to get out of their way so they too can find their purpose doing what they do.

Parents your kids GPA will have little to no bearing with their success in life…and certainly not their happiness.

How hard they are willing to work at anything they do most certainly will!

THEY HAVEN’T EVER HEARD THESE THINGS!!!

Rocket science.

Almost never does anyone of these young men correctly answer this question the American Association of Retired People (AARP) asked their members.

“If you could only give one piece of advice to future generations what would it be?”</spa

You won’t find me publicly endorsing one candidate over the other on FB. There is more than enough of that going around on social media these days. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

Here’s the only fact that allows me to maintain my sanity through it all…

“Life isn’t fair”

This is our ten year old elevator passing inspection at Aqualand. After paying OTIS elevator for this required certification service, we were informed the elevator was good to go, but the ladder wasn’t.

The ladder?!

“You mean the ladder that only gets used once a year by YOU during the inspection?”

“Yep” (insert expressionless elevator man face here)

Apparently our ladder is now 1.5 inches to high from the floor and “surprise” 1.5 inches to close to the elevator box.

Say what?!

Turns out Illinois changed their elevator inspection standards within the last year and now I will be out 4500 bucks to rectify a 1.5 inch “problem”

Illinois is a bankrupt state. Believe it or not someone has to pay for that problem. This is yet another classic government cash grab that as a business owner I’m expected to pay.

“Life isn’t fair”

As for my political views here goes.

LESS GOVERNMENT NOT MORE!

As a business owner when I don’t have enough to pay my bills I’m forced to work my ass off to increase sales or make gut wrenching decisions to cut expenses.

Our government only needs to change codes…by an inch and a half!

“Life isn’t fair”

I was blessed to be born in the greatest country in the world. I truly believe that! I was able to turn my love of turtles and nature into a lifelong career, thanks, in no small part, to where I live and the era I grew up in. But I’ve still got a long way to go with plenty of fights between here and the end of my career.

I’d prefer not to be adding any fights with my government as I make my way through the treacherous world of entrepreneurship. In fact, I’d very much prefer the government just stay out of my way while cheering my efforts from the sidelines. After all, any success I’m able to attain, they get a big piece of.

Sadly though, and here’s the crux of the problem, I think they would rather just watch my performance high up from their luxury skybox.

If so, I have a spare ladder now I’d be more than willing to let them use to climb up there!

Something tells me they will just stick to taking the elevator though, while sticking it to the rest of us.

“My Political View”

You won’t find me publicly endorsing one candidate over the other on FB. There is more than enough of that going around on social media these days. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

Here’s the only fact that allows me to maintain my sanity through it all…

“Life isn’t fair”

This is our ten year old elevator passing inspection at Aqualand. After paying OTIS elevator for this required certification service, we were informed the elevator was good to go, but the ladder wasn’t.

The ladder?!

“You mean the ladder that only gets used once a year by YOU during the inspection?”

“Yep” (insert expressionless elevator man face here)

Apparently our ladder is now 1.5 inches to high from the floor and “surprise” 1.5 inches to close to the elevator box.

Say what?!

Turns out Illinois changed their elevator inspection standards within the last year and now I will be out 4500 bucks to rectify a 1.5 inch “problem”

Illinois is a bankrupt state. Believe it or not someone has to pay for that problem. This is yet another classic government cash grab that as a business owner I’m expected to pay.

“Life isn’t fair”

As for my political views here goes.

LESS GOVERNMENT NOT MORE!

As a business owner when I don’t have enough to pay my bills I’m forced to work my ass off to increase sales or make gut wrenching decisions to cut expenses.

Our government only needs to change codes…by an inch and a half!

“Life isn’t fair”

I was blessed to be born in the greatest country in the world. I truly believe that! I was able to turn my love of turtles and nature into a lifelong career, thanks, in no small part, to where I live and the era I grew up in. But I’ve still got a long way to go with plenty of fights between here and the end of my career.

I’d prefer not to be adding any fights with my government as I make my way through the treacherous world of entrepreneurship. In fact, I’d very much prefer the government just stay out of my way while cheering my efforts from the sidelines. After all, any success I’m able to attain, they get a big piece of.

Sadly though, and here’s the crux of the problem, I think they would rather just watch my performance high up from their luxury skybox.

If so, I have a spare ladder now I’d be more than willing to let them use to climb up there!

Something tells me they will just stick to taking the elevator though, while sticking it to the rest of us.

If you haven’t watched this YouTube clip put together by a Jr High Science teacher in England it’s a positively terrifying glimpse into the future. It’s basically how robots are going replace human jobs and we will be as helpless to prevent it from happening as the offensive line of the Carolina Panthers was at preventing the Denver Broncos blitzing D in super bowl 50!  If you want to be the offensive coordinator of your own life, you might want to start preparing for a future that’s going to look a whole lot different than the world we all grew up in.

 Today, both Picasso and Einstein are walking amongst us at least statistically speaking. The current world population equals the total amount of people who have EVER lived! Just reflect on that for a moment than consider the ramifications of having an Einstein being able to communicate with a Sir Isaac Newton in today’s connected society. Folks, electric cars aren’t only our future, but driverless electric cars are at that! If you’re a cab driver who is out of a job because an Uber driver ate your lunch, rest assured there is a robot that’s going take that Uber fellow out at the knees!

But rest only at your own peril. Nobody is safe in today’s rapidly changing world!  Not you, not Nordstrom’s and certainly not UPS or FedEx now Amazon is being reported to be assembling a worldwide delivery system.

Most people look at me like I have two heads when I talk about what I’m seeing and the potential ramifications it has to our society. Virtually every parent is aghast at the thought their kids might not grow up to earn a traditional four year college degree. Even our politicians preach the merits of a “free” University education for all.

But bring up robots making the majority of those degrees obsolete and you’ll hear the music screech to a halt at any party your (or at least I’m) at!

Elon Musk the founder of Tesla, the pioneering electric car producer (and a Stanford drop out) might just be the modern day equivalent of Thomas Edison considering his accomplishments; the privatization of space, the creation of the corporation Solar City, and his current hyper loop initiative, all before he even turned 40!  Oh ya he’s also recently raised a billion dollars to create an organization dedicated to fully developing A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) If you think this thing with robots taking over the world (aka Terminator) is Hollywood stuff only, consider that Musk is on record saying Artificial Intelligence is potentially more damaging for our planet than nuclear weapons!

Maybe that’s why he’s trying to colonize Mars. All I’m trying to do is get you to watch this video and at least consider a world where your kids don’t have to go to college, like, well…robots!  Hah!

Let me know whatcha think?!

Watch This Video! I Double Robot Dare You!!

If you haven’t watched this YouTube clip put together by a Jr High Science teacher in England it’s a positively terrifying glimpse into the future. It’s basically how robots are going replace human jobs and we will be as helpless to prevent it from happening as the offensive line of the Carolina Panthers was at preventing the Denver Broncos blitzing D in super bowl 50!  If you want to be the offensive coordinator of your own life, you might want to start preparing for a future that’s going to look a whole lot different than the world we all grew up in.

Today, both Picasso and Einstein are walking amongst us at least statistically speaking. The current world population equals the total amount of people who have EVER lived! Just reflect on that for a moment than consider the ramifications of having an Einstein being able to communicate with a Sir Isaac Newton in today’s connected society. Folks, electric cars aren’t only our future, but driverless electric cars are at that! If you’re a cab driver who is out of a job because an Uber driver ate your lunch, rest assured there is a robot that’s going take that Uber fellow out at the knees!

But rest only at your own peril. Nobody is safe in today’s rapidly changing world!  Not you, not Nordstrom’s and certainly not UPS or FedEx now Amazon is being reported to be assembling a worldwide delivery system.

Most people look at me like I have two heads when I talk about what I’m seeing and the potential ramifications it has to our society. Virtually every parent is aghast at the thought their kids might not grow up to earn a traditional four year college degree. Even our politicians preach the merits of a “free” University education for all.

But bring up robots making the majority of those degrees obsolete and you’ll hear the music screech to a halt at any party your (or at least I’m) at!

Elon Musk the founder of Tesla, the pioneering electric car producer (and a Stanford drop out) might just be the modern day equivalent of Thomas Edison considering his accomplishments; the privatization of space, the creation of the corporation Solar City, and his current hyper loop initiative, all before he even turned 40!  Oh ya he’s also recently raised a billion dollars to create an organization dedicated to fully developing A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) If you think this thing with robots taking over the world (aka Terminator) is Hollywood stuff only, consider that Musk is on record saying Artificial Intelligence is potentially more damaging for our planet than nuclear weapons!

Maybe that’s why he’s trying to colonize Mars. All I’m trying to do is get you to watch this video and at least consider a world where your kids don’t have to go to college, like, well…robots!  Hah!

Let me know whatcha think?!

In 1995, we began mass producing the pond industries first ever skimmers and Biofalls. The originals were improvised out of garbage cans and cattle troughs. As a kid I was simply searching for the best way to keep my backyard pond clean. I never, in my wildest dreams, could have imagined the life long journey my tinkering would take me on! I remember how naive I was (and didn’t know it yet!) visiting a four-year-old plastics company just up North in Wisconsin while searching for the best way to produce our newly patented designs.

21 years later we are still searching for the best way to produce our newest designs with that same company!

Most people assume the majority of the products Aquascape produces are made in China. It is true they are the manufacturing capital of the world. A lot of what we create and produce comes from factories over there. But, America still has plenty of manufacturers who have creatively figured out how to stay one step ahead of the competition.

Today, 25 years after they (and us) opened their doors, I visited our Wisconsin partners brand new state of the art 200,000 square foot factory.

WOW!

The traits that won our business back in 1995 are still winning it in 2016 while keeping them ahead of their Asian competitors. As a businessman I have no choice but to choose the best partners to work with. It’s the same thing our customers must do when deciding whether or not to work with us. It truly is a world economy and a dog eat dog world we all live and compete in today.

As a proud American though, I love when our country wins the battle and earns our business!

In 2014, for the first time in our company’s existence, we began exporting products made in this factory in Wisconsin to China.

Proudly conceived, created and best of all…

MADE IN AMERICA!

Still Made in America…PROUDLY!
In 1995 we began mass producing the pond industries first ever skimmers and Biofalls. The originals were improvised out of garbage cans and cattle troughs. As a kid I was simply searching for the best way to keep my backyard pond clean. I never, in my wildest dreams, could have imagined the life long journey my tinkering would take me on! I remember how naive I was (and didn’t know it yet!) visiting a four year old plastics company just up North in Wisconsin while searching for the best way to produce our newly patented designs.
21 years later we are still searching for the best way to produce our newest designs with that same company!
Most people assume the majority of the products Aquascape produces are made in China. It is true they are the manufacturing capital of the world. A lot of what we create and produce comes from factories over there. But, America still has plenty of manufactures who have creatively figured out how to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Today, 25 years after they (and us) opened their doors, I visited our Wisconsin partners brand new state of the art 200,000 square foot factory.
WOW!
The traits that won our business back in 1995 are still winning it in 2016 while keeping them ahead of their Asian competitors. As a businessman I have no choice but to choose the best partners to work with. It’s the same thing our customers must do when deciding whether or not to work with us. It truly is a world economy and a dog eat dog world we all live and compete in today.
As a proud American though, I love when our country wins the battle and earns our business!
In 2014, for the first time in our company’s existence, we began exporting products made in this factory in Wisconsin to China.
Proudly conceived, created and best of all…
MADE IN AMERICA!

 Say hello to my little buddy Zoran. Zoran lives at Casa Hogar a loving orphanage in Cabo San Lucas Mexico. I met Zoran for the first time last January when I came to scout out a steep area at the entrance to the orphanage to install beautiful pondless waterfalls.

Zoran made an instant impression on all of us with his feisty attitude and the fact that he was wheelchair bound. Zoran was born lacking the use of his legs but that was the only thing he was born lacking. During construction all of the kids were all over us and our fun “toys” otherwise known as our construction equipment. The only kids having as much fun as they were were all of us who felt so amazingly blessed to be applying our skills as water feature artists for such worthy recipients.

Zoran, despite being in a wheelchair, threw himself into the middle of the action right along the other boys literally ditching his wheelchair dozens of times while physically dragging himself up and down the hill! Again, his indomitable spirit made an impression on us all.

If that was the end of the story I might have just kept the memory of Zoran filed away to myself in those “special life events categories” of my brain. But it gets better, way better.

When we returned to Casa Hogar and walked through the doors for the first time since we turned on their new waterfalls, the first person to greet us was Zoran. His wheelchair was nowhere to be seen and he was walking!

Last year another couple who too fell in love with Zoran flew him from Casa Hogar to their home and supported him as he had the final spinal surgery that miraculously gave him the ability to walk.

Chills and tears!

Today Zoran is still up for adoption. As an American not permanently living in Mexico it is not possible to adopt Zoran or any of his brothers. What is possible though is to support them all financially. Today I’m taking 40 people to swim with whale sharks in La Paz. Its 140 bucks a head and is certain to produce memories all of us can file away in our “special life events category” in our minds. That same 140 bucks would also support a child at Casa Hoger for a month!

There’s nothing wrong with living life to the fullest and celebrating success by taking epic vacations or doing amazing things. But what makes life worth doing is doing it with and especially for others.

I’ve swam with whale sharks twice before. But today I get to take 39 excitedly scared rough and tumble contractors to do so for the first time.

Chills…and tears of laughter!

Zoran’s smile is big, yours will be bigger I promise when you do things for others.

Casa Hogar

 

Chills and Tears!

If You Want A Job, Be Like Your Mom!

Say hello to Jimmy! Jimmy is an 18-year-old Senior at Wheaton Academy who’s interested in business. He’s spending the first two weeks of January working in all the Departments of Aquascape as an intern. Jimmy landed this opportunity for one reason and one reason only.

Jimmy has a real enthusiastic mom!

As the owner of Aquascape by far the most common questions I get from people on their first visit to Aqualand is “how do I get a job here” Sometimes though people don’t inquire regarding themselves, but rather how their kids could get a job here. Jimmy’s mom falls into the latter.

That’s why today Jimmy is learning how to install spillway bowls in our indoor sandbox with other contractors who traveled from near and far to Aqualand to hone their installation skills. It’s also why yesterday he was loading packages into a truck in our warehouse and why tomorrow he will be shadowing the accounting department people doing whatever it is all those ladies do over there. In other words, he’s getting a brief snapshot as a high school kid of how a business operates. If that doesn’t beat sitting for two weeks in a classroom learning theory than I don’t know what does!

The bigger lesson here though is not what Jimmy is learning actively participating inside a company’s operations. Rather it’s the energy his mom put fourth to land her son this opportunity that I see as his real lesson. His mom saw our business as an opportunity for her son to learn something that he thinks interests him (business) She then did what everybody who’s ever accomplished anything, anywhere before did…

SHE GOT IT DONE!

She went from talking to me (like everybody does about working here) to working through my H.R. Dept to help work on what a curriculum would look like. She then went back to the school to get his time working here approved.

In other words, she went to work on her son’s behalf and landed him this opportunity!

Everyone should be so lucky to have a mom like Jimmy.

But here’s what I want to say, above all else, to the “Jimmies” of the world out there.

You can’t take your mom to work. If you do bring her though she will be the one that I hire! You better learn how to get things done on your own if you ever want to do anything in the real world!

I know I can’t be the only employer concerned about the “go get it” attitude of these current generations?

Jimmy’s mom is a walking, talking dynamo of energy who when she sees something she wants she goes and gets it! As much as we might try, she, you or me can’t live our kids lives for em. Every parent should be working to help their kids successfully leave the nest. Usually to accomplish that nowadays, that takes a Herculean effort like the one demonstrated by Jimmy’s mom. I’m more than glad to help Jimmy out but more often than not I or even the most tenacious parent can only do so much.

They need to learn to fly and to do that they need to fly away from the nest.

After all, you can’t take your mom to work in the real world. And if you did you’d get fired and your mom would get hired in your place!

 

If You Want a Job, Be Like Your Mom!

The last time I interacted with this man he had his hand on my face mask and was screaming. Good to see you coach 27 years later and without any chance of me missing my block. Hah!

Coach James Rexilius Jr is a living breathing legacy to the picture he’s standing in front of, his father. As a 14 year old impressionable and even more so directionless kid I met his Dad for the first time. Coach Rex was a no nonsense Marine turned football coach. I’ve never been more afraid and also in awe of any human being I’ve met before or since. When he said jump, I’d say “how high?!” He was a role model any parent would feel blessed to have mentoring their son.

I’ve never taken a leadership class or even business class. I learned more about both playing four years of high school football being lead by this man. I experienced the ultimate success under his tutelage winning a State Championship my JR. year. When things fell apart my SR. year I learned even more about the power of a winning culture.

To this day I lead my team from the principles I experienced first hand way back then.

It’s why the first thing you see walking into my office is this framed photo of Coach Rex. I received it after a keynote presentation I gave for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Ironically that’s another thing Coach Rex introduced me to, FCA every single Thursday night for four years in his basement.

When I heard he was ill I immediately rushed to his house. I missed saying goodbye in person by a few hours. Instead, I sat in his basement once again surrounded by the images of a successful life dedicated to helping others, myself included, reach their fullest potential.

His wake was attended by thousands. Thousands!

His son is following his Dad’s footsteps having spent 30 years of his life coaching.

He’s not the only one following his Dad’s lead.

Coach Rex
The last time I interacted with this man he had his hand on my face mask and was screaming. Good to see you coach 27 years later and without any chance of me missing my block. Hah!
Coach James Rexilius Jr is a living breathing legacy to the picture he’s standing in front of, his father. As a 14 year old impressionable and even more so directionless kid I met his Dad for the first time. Coach Rex was a no nonsense Marine turned football coach. I’ve never been more afraid and also in awe of any human being I’ve met before or since. When he said jump, I’d say “how high?!” He was a role model any parent would feel blessed to have mentoring their son.
I’ve never taken a leadership class or even business class. I learned more about both playing four years of high school football being lead by this man. I experienced the ultimate success under his tutelage winning a State Championship my JR. year. When things fell apart my SR. year I learned even more about the power of a winning culture.
To this day I lead my team from the principles I experienced first hand way back then.
It’s why the first thing you see walking into my office is this framed photo of Coach Rex. I received it after a keynote presentation I gave for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Ironically that’s another thing Coach Rex introduced me to, FCA every single Thursday night for four years in his basement.
When I heard he was ill I immediately rushed to his house. I missed saying goodbye in person by a few hours. Instead, I sat in his basement once again surrounded by the images of a successful life dedicated to helping others, myself included, reach their fullest potential.
His wake was attended by thousands. Thousands!
His son is following his Dad’s footsteps having spent 30 years of his life coaching.
He’s not the only one following his Dad’s lead.

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.

Job resignation

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.

Respectfully,
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?!

I snapped this picture this week of our Director of Supply Chain Management for one reason … it made me happy!

Aquascape Employee

To anyone that didn’t know the story of Mark Williams, he would appear like any other casually dressed Aquascape Manager sitting in his comfy office. Maybe they would notice the big Fat Head Marine that decorates his wall, a throwback to his days when he served our country as a Marine fresh out of high school. But what they wouldn’t know is how he got his start with me soon after he got out.

Mark started shipping boxes in our warehouse in early 1997. He would still be where he’d be if he hadn’t made a few key things happen.

First, he had a strong desire to move up in the company. As obvious of a statement as that may be, trust me when I say it’s not for most people. Most people might think they want to move up, but few actually do anything to make it happen. I can conclude that based on the second thing that occurred.

Mark asked his boss what he would actually need to do to move up at Aquascape. Brilliant! Again, as odd as it might seem, rarely does someone ask what they need to do to move ahead with their job, or specifically our company.

Mark’s boss at the time had a misguided perception of our culture and to a now, growing extent, our society. He blurted out to Mark that he should consider turning his 2 year associate degree into a bachelor’s. Mark took him for his word and did just that, taking a class or two a quarter in the evenings after work. When he finally earned his bachelors degree in Business Management, five years after he began his journey up, he was rewarded with keeping his job in our warehouse (we pay for performance not degrees).

Speaking of Mark’s performance, his performance could be a blog in itself. Everything we gave him he did well, earning high marks and raises along the way for his work. Everything! The problem was, everything we gave him wasn’t enough for what he wanted to do! This opened the door for him to do what he ultimately did to open the door to his own corner office.

Mark Williams came to me, the owner, and said the magic words any company owner wants to hear, “I want to do more than I’m doing to help this company succeed.”

Stop the presses! This is not normal speak! Most people don’t even speak! They just do what they are told which is fine but often times a lot of what they do they don’t like doing … and it shows. And they don’t do anything to change it, either effectively closing the door forever on any corner office anywhere. Some do change it though … they leave in hopes of finding another job that challenges them more. Not Mark. Why the world is the way the world is I will never know. What I do know is this. Four years after Mark talked to me and moved from the warehouse to an office cubicle, he has moved into his own corner office. Rocket science? Hardly, but it might as well be as often as it occurs.

Mark Williams is that rare breed who doesn’t accept the status quo as his lot in life. He not only had a desire to move ahead, he did something about it. And all along the way he did the only thing everyone must do as a baseline to move ahead … perform excellently at the current task at hand.

I’m proud of Mark and what he has turned himself into through sheer effort, desire and execution. Me being proud of him matters little though.

He gets to go home every day and look at the man in the mirror.

Carpe Diem and in Mark’s case at Aquascape, Semper Fi.

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 to 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 real 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 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!

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 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 rough, 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) today’s college degrees so often are, but rather this:

In this 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).

Greg's Blog - A Passionate Purpose

Who’s the odd man out in this picture?! As usual it’s me!

Last week I had back to back meetings with two of my buddies both of whom are doing way cooler things than me. They had never met before and never would have had I not, by happenstance, had them scheduled this way.

Roger is a minister serving the youth in the community he grew up in in Elgin IL while Ramon is a youth pastor serving in Cabo San Lucas MX. I love kids and that’s how I became friends with both of them. They each, in their own way and in their own parts of the globe are doing great things serving your future and mine, which is our youth. With the destruction of the traditional family and the lack of male role models, particularly in impoverished areas, the need for the work men like Roger and Ramon are doing has never been greater.

Here’s the kicker and why I’m even bothering to share this story. These guys are two of the happiest and content people I know. I know a lot of people but few of them have the passion of purpose these two do. That’s saying a lot. If there is one thing everyone should aspire to do it would be to do something, anything with a passionate purpose. Agreed? I don’t know why than that isn’t THE message we are charged with passing down to all generations. Find your purpose and pursue it passionately!

Instead we preach as we were preached too. Get good grades, go to college, get good grades again so you can get a good job.

WHAT A JOKE!

Happiness with a “good job” happens about as often as getting “good grades” leads to getting a good job!

Think about that one than answer this.

Why does our society still preach something (good grades = good job = happiness) when, by far, we know that’s the exception to the rule today? There’s nothing wrong with earning good grades and certainly nothing wrong with landing a good job that pays the bills but neither, necessarily, produces happiness in those who pursue it. So why do we still say it does?! That is unless you disagree with what I’m saying? For clarity here’s exactly what I’m saying that more often than not goes unsaid or at least unheard.

Having a passionate purpose produces happiness 100% of the time. So why don’t we say that if indeed we know that?!

Roger and Ramon have committed themselves to what they do in a way few others ever will doing what they do. In turn they have the privilege of experiencing life living with passion.

To me they have achieved the elusive holy grail of a life, that’s living a life serving a higher purpose.

What better example could there be to kids searching for direction who desperately need a purpose to pursue than these two?!

Society needs to prioritize and value pursuing your passion rather than pursuing an arbitrary definition of success that may (or more probably than not) not lead to it.

Money, status and success are worthy pursuits only in the context in which you subscribe them. All who know them would say these men are rich beyond measure because of their pursuits.

And in turn I’m richer too for knowing them.

In that regard I’m far from alone.

 

You Will Never Have Time ... ‘Til You Make It!

One of the most disempowering statements I frustratingly often hear people make is “I don’t have time to do it.” Pardon the French but I say that’s bull!

We make time for what’s important to us. I have a buddy who never had time for exercise until a health scare all of the sudden made it a priority for him. He now gets up and goes to the gym regularly before sunrise and heading to work. And guess what, he’s dropped 30lbs and surprise, surprise, feels great! Did he all of a sudden get another hour in the day or did he change how much he prioritized sleeping or some other activity he was doing before? I think you know the answer to that one.

Our fourth company core value at Aquascape is FUN. It comes after CHARACTER, TEAM and WINNING. We never want to ask anyone to do something here where they feel it jeopardizes their CHARACTER. We need to always work together as a TEAM and if we do those things we will WIN. The problem of late is that by focusing on the first three values, we have little time or energy left for the fourth company core value of having FUN.

Half the solution to any problem is diagnosing the problem. I explained the importance to the TEAM of having FUN at work and the pushback I got was loud and clear. We have less people doing more work and a growing to-do list every day. In other words, Aquascape is like everywhere else these days! Undaunted I pressed ahead conveying the importance of a basic philosophy of mine, “those who sweat together, stick together” (remember I learned more about running a company by playing football than any class I ever sat in).

The next day I got a text from a Teammate suggesting we host a 3-on-3 Wallyball tournament, just like we used to do in the past. He even volunteered to organize it and pick the teams. Yesterday we had 20 or so people participate in it. I did as well, showing ultimate servant leadership by allowing both the teams I faced to have the pleasure of saying they bested the boss that day! It was a highly “unproductive” day at work for those who participated. It was also filled with plenty of high fives, smiles and a ton of good-natured ribbing that crossed department lines and managerial levels.

To me that makes it worth it.

We don’t have time for “fun” at work no different than you don’t have time to exercise … until you prioritize it. Life boils down to what’s important to you and therefore what you prioritize.

Having “fun” at work is not everyone’s priority. It’s fourth in our priorities but a priority nonetheless. So when it wasn’t happening enough I simply pointed it out and the TEAM responded.

Don’t ever say you “don’t have time for something” again but rather say “I choose not to spend the time doing it.”

Friday is Halloween here. I’m choosing to dress up with many of my coworkers. FUN is a priority of mine. And so is working out for that matter.

Make what’s important to you in life a priority and you will find the time to do it!

 

Greg's Blog - Incredible All Around

The incredible smiles are the first thing that jumps out to me from this picture. That and the arms around each other’s shoulders along with the requisite “thumbs up” prevalent at every Aquascape event. Do you think we are having an incredible amount of fun or what?!

Last week I got to play in the dirt and sling rocks around with some of the most incredible water feature artists from North America. When I announced we would be doing a second water feature at the personal residence of Jan and Diane Pol from The Incredible Dr Pol Reality show fame, Certified Aquascape Contractors came from near and far to be part of it. We filmed the whole thing for an episode of our digitally streaming reality show, Aquascape Pond Squad (Google it).

The one thing that stands out from this build, and every Aquascape Pond Build we have filmed for our show, is the incredibleness of the Tribe of contractors that come together to pull these things off! In two days we moved hundreds of tons of materials by having everyone engaged as a team to complete the project for one Incredible couple. With all Chiefs and no Indians that’s an incredible feat in itself!

“Everyone wants a water feature they just don’t know it yet!” If you have the incredibly unfortunate situation of sitting next to me on a plane and innocently asking me what I do for a living, it’s going be an incredibly looooong flight for you! Hah!

The reality is, I hope my reality of showcasing my passion for what I do to the world from Nat Geo Wild’s TV show Pond Stars to our web series Pond Squad, to even my blog or Facebook posts, inspires others to be equally inspired to do what they do, day in and day out. If that happens, it would be incredibly cool in my book! My world is so not about ponds (even though it could appear that way) and so much more about living life to the fullest with whatever it is you choose to do. Can you say “Carpe Diem?!”

I can proudly say that once again I worked with an incredible Tribe of people that live life to the fullest doing what they do. I’m sure there are plenty of other incredible people out there and even other groups as well that attack life with the same level of zeal and passion as we do, but it’s rare to find them doing it in a work setting. For that I feel incredibly blessed to be part of the Aquascape Tribe and I know I’m not alone in that regard.

Dr Pol was grinning ear to ear when we “gave birth” to his new; you guessed it, incredible waterfalls. We take great pride in creating yet another unique, work of art, one of a kind, incredible creation!

Just “another day at the office” for the most talented, most passionate and incredible folks I get the pleasure of calling my friends.

Who knows…maybe if you sit next to me on a plane or read enough of my posts you can become an incredible Pond Guy or Gal too? If not maybe you can be just a little more passionate doing whatever it is you’ve chosen to do for eight hours plus of everyday.

If that happens, than I would say, that’s INCREDIBLE!

Carpe Diem

 

Greg's Blog - Of Puppies and Ponds

Outside of Ohio Stadium before last weekend’s Homecoming game, two young students had set up a pen full of puppies. To say they drew the attention of passing fans would be an understatement! I stopped as well, unable to resist the pull of a wiggling puppy. I asked one of the girls what they were doing and she informed me that these puppies were future service dogs and that they were in charge of training them. The girls were both students in the Animal Science department who were specializing in training service animals. Most of the puppies were being trained to help detect the epileptic seizures of their future owners. These dogs could literally save someone’s life!

What a cool major and a rewarding career, I thought to myself that these two ladies are getting into. It also, once again, got me thinking about many of today’s college students. I wonder how many of them going to school now will be able to do something with their degree that they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment with?

Unfortunately I suspect very few.

Call me a scrooge or a pessimist but never have our universities been less effective at preparing students for the real world than they are today. I couldn’t imagine anyone, outside maybe a University President, even trying to debate that point with me. How could they when less than 15% of graduates who spend their time and in particular money, earning a degree end up in a field related to their studies?! Each year as tuition goes up, the percentages of people landing jobs related to their majors goes down. This isn’t only the fault of our universities though. Kids today, in general, know less what they want to do with their lives than any previous generation of graduates. If you don’t know what you want it’s a lot harder to find what you’re looking for.

What most people would agree they want is to find something that they could do that would make them happy. Agreed? But even on the rare occasion a college student might know what that was in their late teens or early 20’s, there’s the little problem of whether that major or career would be able to pay the bills. Money and the pursuit of it is a strong driver in what pursuits people would even consider doing. Puppy trainer might register high on people’s happiness meter, but most certainly not very high on the wage scale. At 30k or more a year, entering the workforce being six figures in debt, makes pursuing many college majors financially prohibitive.

My Interpersonal Communication degree was not necessary in my pursuit for building ponds. One could argue that the experiences getting a degree were valuable in preparing me for success with my future endeavors. I would agree, but only to a point. When I went to school it cost about half to a quarter of what it costs today to earn a degree! That makes education today an expensive life lesson for those simply going through the motions on getting a degree to land a “good” job. God forbid that “good” job only pays the bills and doesn’t provide happiness.

Being happy with what you do, regardless of what you do, should be the pursuit of every student. I also hope everyone is blessed to be a life-long student who pursues passions that make them happy. I was happy building ponds and I’m even happier helping other people build ponds and businesses along the way.

The pond business has been good to me. I suspect the puppy business will be good for these fortunate young ladies who have found a passion to pursue. I hope you have a passion you’re pursuing too, because life is simply too short to be doing something that only pays the bills. Agreed?

Carpe Diem

 

Greg Wittstock's Blog - SMILE!

So apparently, as I learned on FB, last Friday was officially “World Smile Day” I missed posting a pic that day of me smiling so here’s one with four of us smiling from that morning. Kayaking an alpine lake with cool people while watching the sunrise would be a reason for most people to smile. But what about walking in the office door on a Monday or visiting the dentist office for a root canal? For me those are just two more opportunities for me to do something I’ve been working at for years now. Smiling! It wasn’t always that way though.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from one of my business coaches was to consciously work on smiling more (and yes I paid good money to hear someone tell me this!). For me it’s a challenge to smile sometimes. This might come as a surprise to you but some people think I’m intense. Really? Me? Maybe it’s my Neanderthal gait, my eyes that can get squinty when I’m giving someone the third degree about something I don’t understand, or possibly the blood vessels in my neck or forehead that tend to pop out when I’m excited. Whatever it is, I will tell you one thing that’s proven effective (at least a little) in taking the edge off my personality … SMILING!

Maybe you’re a type A personality like me or possibly you’re just wired more like Eeyore from “Winnie the Poo.” Regardless of your personality, I guarantee if you smiled more you’d come off as more pleasant, not just for others but maybe even yourself. Ever tried being mad or sad while smiling? You don’t have to wait to be mad or sad though to follow the great advice (I paid to receive) to consciously smile more. And you don’t need to wait for World Smile Day to do it either.

SMILE!

Would You Stand Up for Your Values?

This man is the President of a multi-billion dollar (that’s with a B!) business. He has 23,000 employees and will open up his 700th store this year on his way to an anticipated 1200 locations. As impressive as all that is, it pales in comparison to the values with which he leads his organization.

Rarely do you see a political, or for that matter religious post from me. Hopefully though you don’t need to see me posting to know where I stand on things. As with most entrepreneurs, I’m about less government, not more. But what would happen if the government created a law that, as a business owner, contradicted the very values with which I created and run my organization? I’d like to think, like Hobby Lobby, I’d be willing to go all-in for my personal beliefs.

Regardless of what your personal beliefs on virtually anything are, the government shouldn’t be able to make you violate them simply to operate your business. Agreed? Well that’s exactly what they tried to do with Obamacare. That is until the Green family from Oklahoma City told them no.

The Greens were willing and ready to close all their stores and abandon their very real American Dream rather than be complicit by association to a law that they didn’t believe in. They sued the Federal government and it went all the way to the Supreme Court.

They won.

I got a chance to hear Steve Green talk about the values with which his organization operates. I could only wish our Federal government still operated with a similar set of values. Feel the way you want to about that. After all, that’s your right as an American. But don’t tell the Greens, or me, that we aren’t allowed to operate our businesses according to our values. After all, this is America.

Sometimes even the Supreme Court remembers that when they make their rulings.

Amen

My TiVo is programmed to record Pond Stars episodes every time NatGeo Wild airs re-runs. I don’t need my TiVo to tell me though when they are on in today’s social media connected world. I get the cutest, sweetest and coolest Private Messages from people not only in America but particularly abroad. I love inspiring others with the hobby I love or even just turtle lovers everywhere! Our show airs in over 50 countries and was even dubbed in Spanish for the Latin America markets. Hilarious!

I was disappointed at first when our show wasn’t renewed by the network last fall but then again not totally surprised. Statistically only 17% of all shows that premier get a second season. The odds were against us and our agent even told us we would need to attract a whole new audience to even have a shot at getting renewed. Our show was the only “Build” type genre done on a channel dedicated to running programming on animals. They tried to put an animal spin in every episode but alas it was too little to appeal to their animal loving viewership. Disappointed would be an understatement for a show we had high hopes for.

I’m a firm believer though that “Life’s 10% about what happens to you and 90% what you do about it” Agreed? So after wallowing in self-pity for a few weeks about what “our” show could have been had we actually been included in the scripting (newsflash “Reality TV” is almost always scripted), I decided to take my own advice and be part of the solution and not the problem.

As tough as having a boss was for a guy who last had a boss in 1990 when I had a whistle around my neck sitting poolside nonetheless it was an incredible learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything! I literally feel like I got my undergrad degree in what goes into producing a reality series. I decided to use that hard earned education and go for my Masters in Filmmaking! Today with my three co “stars” and two hard working videographers, we are creating our own digitally streaming (hello future!) mostly unscripted show entitled Aquascape Pond Squad (So prefer that title, hah!). With only two people vs a dozen and a $25,000 vs $250,000 budget per episode, we’ve now produced the same amount of episodes that a professional production company and an international network did together. Am I proud of that accomplishment? HELL YES!

So if you haven’t cut your cable and you get NatGeo Wild, tune in this week to see all the Pond Stars re-runs. You can also go on iTunes anytime and download every episode. But Aquascape Pond Squad is always available anytime, anywhere and on any device as long as there is access to the Internet. And it’s even free! Just Google Pond Squad and see for yourself. Again, welcome to the future, it’s here now.

I wish I could say that I’m fully happy with creating our own show. Yes ,I love the passion projects we’ve done (2 orphanages, a zoo and even a surprise makeover for my in laws-what a hoot!), but finding, funding, filming and of course pulling off the projects while trying to run and grow a business is no easy task. But as I struggle to balance everything just like most small business owners do, the lesson that gets reinforced for me every day is that nothing and I mean nothing worth having comes easy! Agreed? I truly feel blessed beyond measure to have the chance to wake up each day and fight to do something I love!

I’m currently getting lots of footage for potential upcoming Pond Squad episodes. I’ve even got a few celebrities on the hook right now for their own Aquascape Pond Squad pond. One tweet from one of them to their 11,000,000 fans and who knows what doors will open for us and this niche industry we represent. In the meantime I will fully enjoy the private messages and the pictures of Pond Star and Pond Squad fans from around the world. Technology is so cool and I guess if you get bored with that you can always still veg out in front of the tube. Thanks for caring.

Who Do You Take Into Battle?

Today was a tough day. I lost a big battle. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose right? But whether or not you win the war comes down to how you respond, win or lose, with the battles you face. That’s why I ended today calling an old friend of mine who’s 84 years young. He’s lost way more battles in his life than I’ve even fought, yet, in mine. I wanted his advice on how to respond.

Most of the people I get advice from are older than me. Not that I won’t listen to someone younger than myself, especially when it comes to technology, it’s just that I take a lot of credence in the saying “with age comes wisdom” I’ve also found the older someone gets, the more freely they are apt to give advice to those who seek it.

When I called my buddy I found him exactly where I suspected he would be…at his desk! He still goes into work most days, many times it’s just after he’s gotten in a quick 9 with buddies at his club. As I unloaded my tale of doom and gloom he did a great job of listening. I never got a chance to hear his advice though, I had to throw my fireman’s hat on and get back into the fight. We’re scheduled for an early am call tomorrow where I will shut my mouth and open my ears.

Many times if not most I meet with people that intrigue me not for what advice they can give me, but simply because I find them intriguing. This is a picture from last week during a two hour breakfast with my new buddy Frank. I met with him because he intrigued me.  He’s very self effacing, but as sly as a gray haired fox! Today I met him again for breakfast, this time though I sought his advice and I listened as he freely gave it.

You may have lost the battle today but that’s ok as long as you respond in a way that gets you closer to winning the war. Having a grizzled combat vet or two alongside you, never hurts in my book.

Carpe Diem

The Purpose of Life Is To Have A Purpose

The first time I met this guy we were both 18 and incoming freshmen at Ohio State. We hit it off immediately. It took both of us 6 years to graduate (birds of a feather stick together)  One year after graduating I built a pond at his family’s home and three years later at his very first home for a wedding gift. He officially got bit by the watergardening bug!

As I was busy building Aquascape he was committed to making his own career working for an Architectural Engineering firm. He was always openly jealous that while I got to throw rocks around for my job, he was trapped behind a computer working a CAD program. When I got recognized for my work it was through the happy tears and accolades from a new client. On the rare occasions Mike got recognized for his work, it was when a line was off and the client was mad.

By 2006 he had had enough. He wanted to take his love of ponds as a hobbyist and turn it into a profession. I was more than excited to help my buddy do what I loved too! He began working part time on evenings and weekends for one of our Certified Aquascape Contractors, Steven Shinholser​ at Premier Ponds close by to him in Burtonsville MD. He loved it and Steve loved his passion and work ethic. The next year Mike joined the Premier Ponds team full time.

Today Mike is the head foremen for one of the largest installers of our products in the world. He’s making more money using his hands to move rocks, than he ever did typing on a keyboard. And now he gets recognized almost daily for his work. However this time recognition for his work usually comes with a smile, a slap on the back and an offer to sit down and have a drink with a new friend, alongside what he just created for them.

I will always remember fondly the conversation I had with him on a cold and rainy day at the start of his first full season working for Premier Ponds. I asked him what he thought of the pond world now?! His reply assured me his dramatic career move was the right one. Mike replied “the best day in the office, doesn’t beat the worst one in the field!” Amen to that I proclaimed and bravo to you!

There is nothing wrong with a desk job or doing anything for that matter for work, provided you can find fulfillment in doing it. Unfortunately, the Mikes of the world are more the exception than the rule. Mike loves what he does today and that’s something everyone should be so blessed to feel. Agreed? While most people will answer yes, far too many of those that say so will also mumble “you still have to pay the bills though!” To those that say that I say this…

Life is too short not to do something that challenges you, that you can take pride in and ultimately leads to you feeling satisfied when you go home at the end of the day to “live your life”

The purpose of life, is to have a purpose, whatever that purpose may be.

As a businessman I’m impressed by what Mike’s doing. As a friend I’m beyond proud to see him working and living the life he has created.

Carpe Diem

Greg and Mike Powell

And people think I’m intense?! This is my new buddy Mike Powell. He was a state champion wrestler, a collegiate All American and most impressively the current National Champion coach of Oak Park River Forrest’s high school wrestling team.

I met Mike after watching an ESPN documentary on his life last year. We hit it off immediately. I asked him to please share his philosophy on life to all my Pondemonium attendees so they can learn from him too they way I do. I didn’t tell him what to say but I knew whatever he was going say was exactly what my team would need to hear. Boy did he deliver!

Mike was diagnosed with a life threatening disease that stripped him of his physical strength. Until that point in his life his life was defined by his physical strength. He asked my group “how do you win when you only have a third of the chips to play with each day?” He than went on to explain his daily ritual for doing just that! I haven’t woken up a single morning since not hearing his words of wisdom echoing in my head! How valuable is that?!

Life is a matter of perspective. You think you have problems, you have challenges to overcome and than perspective slaps you up side the head. When you learn about what other people have to deal with, are up against or recovering from it makes you appreciate the now minor challenges that are in front of you. True?

My wish is that everyone would be so blessed to understand how truly blessed they are virtually regardless of their individual circumstances. Life’s 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do about it. Agreed? I’m inspired by seeing that motto played out by others and it fuels my personal drive and resolve to deal with the petty challenges I face daily. “Everyday above ground is a good day” is great saying that’s meaningless unless you live your life to reflect it. If you live with that perspective you might just find life a lot more doable and even enjoyable in the process. Mike Powell is a winner in life and because of that he’s making other people winners too. He does that for the kids who wrestle for him and he did that for me and my team as well. Hopefully maybe even you now too. Carpe Diem

Did you watch the American girls soccer team completely dominate Japan on Sunday to win the coveted World Cup? I did and loved it! But there was something I loved even more and that’s what I witnessed watching the semifinal match a few days before between Japan and England.

In the final minutes of the game an English defender trying to make a pass kicked the ball into her own net effectively ending England’s dreams one game short of a world championship. What happened next was nothing short of beautiful!

Utterly devastated this girl crumbled into a mass of tears, hiding her face from quite literally the world which was watching. Her teammates, who were 100% focused moments earlier on winning the game, converged united to lift their teammate out of her personal hell. None of them wanted to be in that situation but all of them responded the only way a championship caliber team could by picking up their fallen member.

As an American I’m proud our team prevailed with the World Cup. As a human being though what I will remember most from this tournament is the example of Team I saw displayed by the English players. Those girls all had gone from fighting each other for a roster spot to gelling so much as a team they set all their personal and team goals to win a cup aside long enough to support one of their teammates that needed them more. I got tears watching it then and goosebumps writing it now!

People who know me well know I’m a simple guy at heart. I view the world very black and white. I see right and wrong and the daily struggle with good vs evil in this world. I choose to keep my religious and political opinions off Facebook but have strong leanings on both. In the end what I really care about is seeing people succeed. I truly believe the greatest gift in life (that’s a big statement) is helping others reach their fullest potential.

I don’t remember the name of the girl who screwed up. I don’t need to because what I saw was everything I needed to know. She’s part of a real team. They might not have won the game or the cup but they are part of something truly special. That’s success in my simple book.

I want to be successful too which is why I work hard to be part of things that are truly special. It’s why I do what I do both personally and professionally. I want to be around people that make be better and vice versa. If you haven’t been part of a team like that in this life you are missing more than you will ever ever know! No amount of money or anything money can buy will replace the feeling you get when your part of a team working for something greater than itself that needs you. You will love it way more than you love what society tells you you should. Trust me what society says is success is usually whacked if you haven’t figured that out yet! What isn’t whacked though is the English girls soccer team. That girl and all those girls are blessed to be part of it. Maybe their example can inspire others to be part of something special too. If so it will be the best goal that girl ever scored.

 

Carpe Diem

Greg's Assistant

After 15 years at Aquascape with 8 being directly in the line of fire as my Executive Assistant Kathleen Haben is leaving for greener fields. The first words out of my 12 year olds mouth when I told him Kathy got another job was, and I kid you not, “You’re going die!”

It is true almost everything in my world got filtered through her both professionally and personally. I took her to lunch this week and she said herself while training her replacement she couldn’t believe how much she actually did! “Everything” is a lot anyway you slice it especially when you have a lot going on.

She moved over 8 years ago from purchasing (a field she is returning too) after seeing the train wreck happening with my assistants. People LOVE to exaggerate stories especially when it comes to me and it’s been widely proclaimed I burned through 7 assistants in a year before Kathy successfully wrangled the position and made it her own. FALSE! (It was actually a year and a half!)

Replacing Kathy won’t be easy. My wife, HR Manager and President (all woman including my wife-imagine that!) met to update the job description. It’s been said behind every good man is a better woman. I agree with that wholeheartedly and they also “must love dogs” as that made the requirement list for this position.

I want to thank Kathy for loving me and my family over all these years (some of us were easier than others) She truly was always a professional and better yet willing and able to do anything to make our lives easier. I truly feel blessed anyone would care as much as she cared for me, my family and my baby (Aquascape).

Thanks for your loyalty, dedication and perseverance over many years Kathy and best of luck in your new endeavor!

Carpe Diem (and keep smiling!)

Together We Are Better

I posted this pic of my boy Ed and I reading the magazines at the airport we were both featured in. I love the story this picture says about us both. Ed is so the scientist in Dwell, and I’m the business guy who’s Forbes. We are so different but together we are better.

For 23 years now we have worked together. Do you know how rare that is today?! I couldn’t respect him more and I’d like to think he feels the same about me. We share similar values even passions but we are wired very differently (one of us is Gandi’ish and um let’s just say one of us not so much!) But it works and works well for one reason. Ed does what he’s good at and I try to do the same.

I’m involved a lot either formally or informally mentoring high school and college age kids. I give them a lot of advice but one piece of advice I give them more than any other is to work hard to find and develop their unique strengths. That advice is counter to what most of them have been told and indeed been doing most of their lives. What a travesty!

You bring home 5 A’s and one C it’s not to hard to guess where society tells your parents they need to get you to focus your efforts on. I know because my report card was consistently straight C’s with a D (math) and an A (gym) rounding things out. Needless to say I had a Math tutor all through school. Today I have a calculator and a CFO. Hmmm…

My advice to kids is always work to do your best at whatever you do. Sometimes your best results in an A other times a C. Ultimately however you succeed most when you focus your efforts on what your good at rather than what your not. Agreed? Nobody told me that though than and they still aren’t telling kids that now. Trust me when I say no teacher ever said my love of turtles will land me in Forbes!

Today I look at Ed living his dream by helping me live mine. I tried (very briefly) to get him to be like me. Thank God I failed because he’s become truly a one of a kind person and tops in the world in his field. Doesn’t everyone deserve the same? If he wouldn’t have stuck to his guns in his oh so Gandi’ish way he wouldn’t be were in Dwell today. Aquascape as well probably wouldn’t have made Forbes if I focused on getting A’s in math class. Ugh!

The moral of the story? As Marcus Buckingham pionered in his book “Now Develop Your Strengths” you get further in life by focusing on developing your strengths than fixing your weakness. 87% of Americans surveyed though felt it was the reverse! Is it any wonder our world is filled with so many people spending their lives less than fulfilled doing what they do?! The madness needs to stop and it starts by doing what you’re good at not by trying to become what your not!

Ed’s the best and he makes me better doing what he does everyday. Everyday I work to get better myself. Thank god for calculators!

Greg Forbes Article

People love to see other people fail. Better yet, people love to talk about other people’s failures. Personally, I’ve never shied away from talking about my own failures. After all, like most people I’ve learned more from my failures than from my successes. That’s why I had no problem talking to Forbes magazine when they contacted me last summer about doing a piece on Aquascape. Like many businesses, we’ve been through a lot highlighted by the Great Recession. Unlike many businesses though, we are willing to talk about it. I think that’s what interested Forbes in doing a story on us.

It’s been said all publicity is good publicity. I’m not sure about that, but what I am sure about is Aquascape has generated a disproportionate amount of publicity relative to our size. Again, I feel it’s due at least partially to our, or in this case my, extremely open and candid style. However, in every article I’ve ever read about myself or my company I always feel their interpretation of my words fails to capture the heart of what truly matters to me in this world … people! This Forbes story, bound to hit newsstands June 15th is no exception.

What gets me to pop out of bed in the morning is going to work to create an organization that helps people. Period. I might like turtles, but I love people! I dreamed Aqualand (not ordered it) to create a workplace utopia. A place people would love to come to. And for the most part, they do! When we had to lay people off to adjust our overhead to the reality of sales, some people left bitter. But you know what, most left thanking us for keeping them on board as long as we could. They knew people mattered to us, even if Forbes didn’t capture that in what they wrote.

By far, my favorite part of this particular story was not what it said about us and certainly not what it said about me. Rather what I loved was how it accurately portrayed how I felt regarding our customers in the article’s final words “Wittstock still thinks he can turn Aquascape into a $100 million business eventually, in part because his contractors know what they’re doing now. When it was the heyday,” he says, “they were making money by osmosis. Today they’re making money because they’re good.”

Amen, I say to that! Not just because I said it, but because I see it! Aquascape is a thousand times better because of what we went through and so are our customers who went through it alongside us. It’s not the problems that make us, or them, or anyone for that matter better, but rather the resolve that’s born from persevering through life’s inevitable struggles.

If I wrote this article for Forbes that’s what I would have said. So now with that said, here’s the article we are very appreciative to have been featured in.

View Article >> http://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2015/05/27/the-rise-fall-and-resurgence-of-the-pond-guy-aquascape/

I’m Not a Very Likeable Guy

Sometimes I dream of what it would be like, to be liked by all. Unfortunately, every time I do, I wake up! As an owner of my own business, some might say I hold all the cards. I can assure you from an owner’s perspective we more often than not feel the deck is stacked against us.

Today, one of my top managers, and a longtime teammate, stormed out of a meeting I called. He wasn’t happy with me, I wasn’t happy with a situation. This scenario and others like it play out multiple times a week, year after grueling year. It feels like everyday I wake up, put on my boxing gloves and go to work looking for the fight. The reason I have to fight every day is the reality of doing business when you’re an owner, manager or dedicated teammate. That’s because all business is, is fixing problems. If there were no problems everybody would be doing what we do and that in itself would be a problem!

The reason this manager pounded his hand on the table and walked out smack dab in the middle of the meeting I called was because he was pissed. He’s paid to fix problems as a manager. As an owner I get paid to find problems or when none exist to create them. Does that make sense? An owner and manager are very much on the same team just with very different roles and responsibilities.

As an owner I work hard not to be directly responsible for doing anything here (trust me, it’s better when I don’t). Thats because my plate is more than full being directly responsible for everything here. The buck stops quite literally with me for everything.

In this particular instance this manager did not like how I handled the meeting. I called the meeting the night before giving him no time to prepare. I like to wing things and think out loud, he likes to prepare himself and process information before he acts. His style isn’t better than mine, and my style certainly isn’t better than his. Although I would never storm out of a meeting I called (I’d throw everyone else out first LOL) I do understand his reaction.

He cares.

He cares and he wants to fix the problem and he felt kissing my butt (and being likeable) wasn’t going to help the situation; hence the blow-up and now my blog inspiration.

Most people would like to be considered likable; I most certainly would! Most owners and effective managers are not. That’s because saying the hard thing often precludes saying the nice thing in an owner or managers world. So how do we do what we do you ask? Is putting on the boxing gloves and going to work day after day, year after grueling year worth it? My answer, and I’d suspect my manager would agree as well is absolutely! That’s because there is something we love more than being liked. We love getting better! Better yet, we love seeing other people around us get better. It’s not the job of a boss, or a parent for that matter to be liked by their teammates or kids. If your goal is first and foremost to be liked by your teammates or kids imagine how good of a job you will do leading them when you have too? Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine that but rather just look around to see the results of that kind of “parenting” in society, and the morale that kind of leading leads to at most businesses.

I am not an easy boss to work for and for that matter neither is this aforementioned manager. And in the end that’s exactly what I like about him! Deep down I even think he likes that about me too. He just might need a day or two to process it. Hah!

Are You Number One At "Work?"

My assistant snapped this picture of two of my younger Aquascape managers working in my office when I was away. If you were me and saw this image how would you react? Personally I love it!

The fact that these guys felt comfortable enough to lounge around my office when I was away is another sign to me our culture is on par with my mojo. The most important job I have as the CEO of Aquascape is to guide and guard our company culture. Seriously. If I can make sure our people are taken care of than they will be able to do their job and take care of our customers. Brilliant huh?! As the owner if I can focus on our people, our team, our culture than they can focus on the all so important customer. If my teammates feel like they are number one than guess what the customers will feel like when dealing with them?!

I evaluate every organization by what I observe with the culture of that organization. I believe you can tell all you will ever need to know about an organization by simply looking at the people that work for that organization. Agreed?

So what do you see with these two guys working in my office besides the one with his bare feet on my furniture? LOL! I see two young men who both started working for me before they had even met the ladies who would later become their wives. One of them has two kids now the other has his first one on the way. Both of them are considered “whiz kids” by Sr Managers in our organization because of their digital prowls and competency evolving Aquascape into the new electronic universe. And proudly they both felt comfortable enough to kick back in “the bosses office”

Would you be comfortable kicking back working in your bosses office? Unfortunately I think few people would in most organizations. Most people also aren’t happy in their jobs. To most people a job is not to be enjoyed but rather done. That’s alien to me but more so it’s just sad. Life is short and tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.

I for one want everyone who has my back on the front lines to know I have their backs on the back end. Sometimes I see that’s working in the strangest ways…like when they don’t wear any socks on my furniture!

An Incredible Ride - A Greg Wittstock Blog Post

In the last couple days I’ve designed water features for both Dr Pol, Americas favorite veterinarian, and another celebrity who’s amongst the Top Ten sports celebrities in the world (stay tuned!) Are you kidding me?! Here’s the coolest part…incredibly, its only just the beginning!

When our Reality Series Pond Stars hit the air last September we didn’t know what to expect. I never would have expected though what this show would mean to my little company… and the niche pond industry we are in. Pond Stars aired in millions of homes in over 50 countries across the world! Daily I still here from people all over the world who are tuning in and becoming fans of what we do for the first time. Our show exposed so many people who never thought of ponds to the water garden lifestyle I’ve been living, loving and breathing since 1982. It also exposed us to celebrities we never had access to before.

What began with Pond Stars filmed by someone else, we are continuing ourselves with Aquascape Pond Squad. We get to do what we do and how we like to do it for some incredibly cool people. And with our show we get to showcase to the world something we’ve know for what seems like forever…”Everyone wants a water feature, they just don’t know it yet” Aquascape Pond Squad, with the help of more and more celebrities, is changing that!

Tomorrow we debut an all new episode on our YouTube channel, Aquascape Pond Squad. We won’t be showcasing a celebrity build, we will be telling the incredibly cool story of 34 orphan boys living in an incredibly beautiful place we make even prettier called Casa Hoger in Cabo San Lucas. It’s just one of the many passion projects we’ve been afforded the opportunity to do, through the creation of a TV show.

I love what I do and I’ve never been busier doing it than I am right now. Because after all “Everyone wants a water feature…and now with Aquascape Pond Squad people are finally realizing it!

Look closely at this picture and you will see what’s wrong with the world today from my view. You won’t catch me talking politics on Facebook but I will talk ponds. Hah! I was in Orlando at the same time the “Orlando Eye” opened to the public last week. The Eye is one of the largest Ferris wheels in the world. At its base is a large decorative waterfeature that Aquascape was part of the bidding process on through a local Certified Aquascape Contractor.

Our design was our typ…ical ecosystem approach we always follow whether we are specifying residential or commercial work. We keep the design process simple and work with Mother Nature treating the water biologically. The winning design used traditional construction methods, filters and pumps designed for pools and concrete versus liner construction. And the results were exactly what we’ve see in the vast majority of the commercial designs out there.

We found multiple low edges along the stream. 1000’s of gallons of chemically treated water is overflowing the streams bank everyday while needing a continuously running fill line to keep it running. 99 out of 100 people in the general populace never will notice the design or engineering flaws that a professional will. Our simplistic approach which minimizes the over complicated engineering and treats water biologically versus chemically is still vastly the exception to the rule on commercial construction. And here’s the kicker; our approach is more often cheaper with less corresponding upkeep than traditional methods.

Aquascape is fighting a battle against many years of tradition. Our show Pond Stars on National Geographic Wild helped showcase alternative methods we and our Certified Aquascape Contractor network are already seeing the positive results from. Aquascape Pond Squad is continuing to beat the drum to change perceptions. Whether it’s rainwater harvesting for sustainability, creating natural wetlands to filter water, or utilizing plants and animals to educate the public on the importance of ecosystems, Aquascape has great stories to share. We may have lost the battle with the Orlando Eye to spread those messages but we will win the war if we can get enough people to embrace working with Mother Nature and not against her. Something tells me consumer awareness is on our side.

Kids are our society's future

It seems like every few weeks I find myself with an opportunity to be in front of kids telling my story and offering career and even life advice. I truly enjoy having these opportunities as I believe the greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping others reach their fullest potential. Kids are our society’s future, so investing time with them is time well spent in my book.

Here’s what I find sad and even scary more often than not when I address them. The stuff I tell them, the things I’ve experienced with life and hold sacred they’re often hearing for the very first time. How is it that society still teaches kids their success in life is based on their success in school and accomplishing a degree? I most certainly was not a scholar and wouldn’t at all proclaim what I learned earning a college degree was the foundation of my success in my career and life. Now, maybe if I would have met my wife in a class that would be true but we met in a bar, so I digress. Some of the most intelligent and successful people I know weren’t great students and some had the audacity to not even bother attending college. Yet society still predominantly preaches you need to have good grades and most certainly earn a college degree with a high GPA nonetheless to be “successful.” That’s so not the world as I see it and when I say it as I see it; these kids are quite literally often hearing that for the first time. Why is that, mom and dad?

Look, I want my kids to work hard and do their best at everything they do, school included. I think that’s what any responsible parent wants for their kids. But everybody’s best is different, which in the end is what makes the world go around. Not every kid is wired for traditional learning or testing. I loved everything about school … except the classes. My education was filled with tutors and frustration for my parents and me. I graduated college (barely) and the only reason I went to college back in the day is it would have been sacrilegious in my family not to. I still think for many parents, not sending their kids to college is sacrilegious today. I’ve painted outside the lines my whole life. I argued on multiple choice question tests every chance I got with my teachers. And in general you could sum educational success by simply saying my creative right brain was constantly overshadowing my mathematical left brain, getting me into trouble. I’m not alone in any of this but damn it if that didn’t then, or would now, put me on an island when it came to what society values. Why should it be this way for students when as an employer, or greater yet a human being, I know the real world doesn’t work this way?!

Traditional education isn’t for everyone and College is more impractical today than it’s ever been, at least for learning a skill and landing a career. Agreed? Yet somehow kids don’t know this and are simply told to work hard, get good grades so you can earn a spot at a prestigious school, work again to score a high GPA and ultimately land a career and be “successful.” Of course all of that is still possible but I’d argue today it’s much more the exception than the rule. But nobody is telling our kids that from my experience.

All I can do is speak from experience when I speak with kids. I tell them I learned more about running a business and succeeding in life from being on sports teams in high school, and joining and actually participating in a fraternity in college. Again, when I say those things, they look back at me mouths agape and proclaim they have never once heard such a thing. I might not be a rocket scientist but I do know I’m certainly not the only one who got more real world education outside the classroom than in it.

I say all of this while saying I’m not anti-education or even traditional education. In fact, I pride myself in being a lifelong learner and devour insane amounts of content to feed my curiosity. My son is an A/B student (must skip a generation). He loves science and was tops in his incoming freshman class at a private college prep high school. Unlike me or his mom for that matter, he’s wired for school and most likely will attend college (and yes, we are saving for it now!) But here’s at least a partial point of what I’m trying to make. When I asked him what percent of his science knowledge came from what he learned in the classroom and what came from his own studies he guesstimated it was 80/20. That is 80% self-learning and 20% classroom. An hour a day in a classroom can’t supplant multiple hours a day watching YouTube clips expertly done by experts in their field. It’s a bold new world out there and learning any way you want to is a huge part of that. This leads me to the final point and the main point I try and make with the students I talk with.

Success in life comes down to finding your passion and a career you can develop it in. My son is passionate about science and I’m passionate about turtles, fish, and frogs. (Guess which passion gets rewarded more in our educational system?!) I believe every good parent ultimately wants their kids to find their passion in life. Agreed? Sometimes, kids can even find that through traditional education. Mostly though, finding your passion comes from learning outside the classroom, yet somehow that’s not what the majority of kids are taught. That’s nuts to me! My energy and indeed my passion is to tell my story to these kids and let them know there most certainly is more than one way to find your passion and purpose in life. It’s ok not to kill yourself working to master every educational discipline. You can get a C in a class and still get an A in life. Society never told me that then and it’s still not telling kids that now. That’s why I do!

So my fellow parents out there, tell me please, do you agree with what I’m telling these kids or not? If not, to each their own, but if so help me not to be the first one to tell these kids, your kids, the way society truly works more often than not. After all, everyone deserves to reach their fullest potential. The A students deserve to know the whole truth … and the C students most certainly do too!

Gregs Blog - Carla Sunset

Do you ever get to the point you feel like you just can’t take it anymore?! I do and I bet I’m not alone. I also know that if most people had a choice, they’d probably pick their problems over someone else’s. Weird but true! I know that the times I’ve grown most in my life were directly because of the storms I’ve been through. However, when I’m in the eye of the hurricane, personally or professionally, I have never been able to appreciate those trials and tribulations I’m experiencing. For that I also think I’m not alone.

I have enough faith, and gained enough wisdom, to know if I persevere during my trials while staying open for the learning, wisdom always eventually comes. Would you agree with that as well from your own life experiences? For your own sake I would hope so. The alternative to growth is to shrink, which is exactly what happens when you choose getting bitter versus getting better. I know this course of action is the road often taken in life by those feeling unduly scorned. The problem with that path though is the way the universe works. Get bitter, not better, and you’re going to find more often than not you’re digging your own grave.

Just as winning begets winning, losing begets losing. Double down on your negativity and more often than not you’ll just end up doubling your problems.

My favorite quote in life is “The definition of hell is a life without problems.” At first glance that’s counter intuitive to the max. Then when you peel things back to the core and look at the things you’re most proud of, how often is it something that came easy to you? No pain, no gain couldn’t be truer in further illustrating this point. The problem with problems is not in the problem. The problem is always with us. When we choose the easy road, the one lined in bitterness and self-pity, we become the very problem we loathe.

Ultimately when faced with the seemingly impossible, this thought is what keeps me soldering on; “Your attitude determines your altitude in life” Which means the choice is always mine whether I want to soar with eagles or scratch the ground with chickens. Rest assured getting better vs bitter always results in a better view.

Casa Hogar Group Shot

I couldn’t love and respect three guys more than I do Ed Beaulieu, Brian Helfrich and Chris Hanson. Last week we pulled off the impossible, once again, by building a Pondless® Waterfalls for some very happy kids at the Casa Hogar Orphanage in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Again herculean logistical efforts were required, along with long days and nights to get the project done. The results speak for themselves. There may be a team somewhere on the planet that could pull off such a feat as was required with this project, personally though I can honestly say I haven’t met them yet.

Tomorrow, our new reality show, Aquascape Pond Squad debuts digitally to the world. It’s a work in progress and truly a labor of love for all of us. Filming our original reality series took more out of me than just about anything I have ever done. It also gave me something I never thought I could get, and that’s a deeper love and respect for my co-workers. I’ve worked with Ed for 22 years and Brian for 21. Together we’ve created a business from a dream, and an industry from what was formerly just a lifestyle. As for Chris “The New Guy” whom I’ve only known for two years, he’s done something equally powerful. Chris has restored my faith that the next generation can be hard working, intelligent and even respectful to boot! That’s saying something in this day and age.

What we had to go through to film our old reality show and what we are doing to create our new one reminds me of the words of a totally out there artist and author Hugh MacLeod in his book, Evil Plans.

Welcome to the Hunger
IT WILL COST YOU YOUR LIFE.
The Hunger to do something creative.
The Hunger to do something amazing.
The Hunger to change the world.
The Hunger to make a difference.
The Hunger to enjoy one’s work.
The Hunger to be able to look back and say, Yeah, cool, I did that.
The Hunger to make the most of this utterly brief blip of time Creation has given us.
The Hunger to dream the good dreams.
The Hunger to have amazing people in our lives.
The Hunger to have the synapses continually firing on overdrive.
The Hunger to experience beauty.
The Hunger to tell the truth.
The Hunger to be part of something bigger than yourself.
The Hunger to have good stories to tell.
The Hunger to stay the course, despite the odds.
The Hunger to feel passion.
The Hunger to know and express Love.
The Hunger to know and express Joy.
The Hunger to channel the Divine.
The Hunger to actually feel alive.
The Hunger will give you everything. And it will take from you, everything. It will cost you y our life, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
But knowing this, of course, is what ultimately sets you free.
By Hugh MacLeod

We might be proverbially killing ourselves creating our own show, but it’s our show and nobody else’s! It’s why I changed the name from our old show. And in the end “Our Hunger” will only be fed by stepping back as we always do and evaluating what we just did and how we are going to make it better the next time. In other words, you gotta always stay hungry!

We love and respect each other too much to do it any other way.

Make a living

Jerry Nelson’s life changed on a dime when he met a “rich man” while he was still only in his early 20s himself. The rich man that Jerry met, who changed his life, was none other than Edwin Wendell Pauley. Mr. Pauley was a partner of Howard Hughes, founder of Pauley Petroleum, and eventually the namesake of UCLA’s basketball arena, the Pauley Pavilion.

As an undergraduate and President of his Fraternity at UCLA, Jerry was invited to Mr. Pauley’s home in Beverly Hills. Jerry, who grew up poor, took a seat next to Mr. Pauley at his bar and had his first drink of whiskey. Mr. Pauley asked Jerry, innocently enough, what he wanted to do with his life. What came forth was a torrent of excuses from Jerry on why he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be able to do much with his life. Mr. Pauley told Jerry that he thought like a loser and that’s exactly how Jerry felt leaving their interaction! But two weeks later Jerry revisited Mr. Pauley and took him up on his challenge to “make a difference with his life.”

Jerry has earned a living by starting over 40 companies, Ticketmaster amongst them. But as he’s fond of saying, he’s made a life not by what he made but rather, what he’s given. For the last 20 years, Jerry has been been giving back to undergraduates through his not-for-profit, the American Leadership Academy (ALA) www.americanla.org. What Mr. Pauley was to Jerry, Jerry tries to be to upwards of 500 young and inspiring men every year.

I’ve been speaking here since 2004, and every time I come to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on the tip of the Baja peninsula, I leave better off than when I came. I’ve only missed one year in 2008 when the economic downturn hit my business, Aquascape, hard. Afterwards, Jerry sent me an email wishing me a speedy business recovery. But, he also concluded by reminding me “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” I’ve never missed a year since!

Everyone should be as fortunate to have an ALA type of experience to give back too. The greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential. Mr Pauley did it for Jerry and in turn Jerry is doing it for countless others. Isn’t that just how it should be? Here’s to you finding your own way to give back. What you might just find out is how much you will get back when you do!

Sunshine Acres Plan

Until now, I’ve found it maddeningly impossible to describe to others the journey I’ve been on for much of my life and in particular the last year and a half. So when I discovered a post by Alex Mathers from his Red Lemon Club website that literally described what I’ve been doing and how I try and do it, I just knew I’d have to share it!

I’ve never conveniently fit in a box or ever worn a single label. Growing up, this caused my mom much angst and drove my teachers nuts! Something tells me many of you reading this just might relate to what I’m saying. So it is with great excitement that I finally would like to asses a label that I feel perfectly describes the journey I, and possibly you, are on as we wander purposely through life.

“Autogenous Leadership” is the label I’m officially adapting to succulently articulate my role as The Pond Guy. If you read how Alex describes Autogenous Leadership and feel it applies to you or maybe that of one of your kids, then do yourself or your child a favor and pass this concept along. Doing so might change one person’s life; it might also just change the world.

 

(Excerpt from Alex Mathers Blog)
When I wrote the first draft of this article, I said that you need to start working towards mastery in a skill. That’s a good thing, but there is something that eclipses even that.

Something that is already starting to define the early part of this new century goes beyond achieving mastery in individuals. That was something that could better describe those that were a success in previous centuries, like Mozart, Frida Kahlo, Muhammad Ali, Darwin, Picasso and J.K. Rowling.

What I’m talking about is what I’ve defined as ‘autogenous leadership.’ This does not describe a final point, whether that be classical piano, writing, or fine art, in the way that mastery implies it.

‘Autogenous leadership’ is the conscious movement towards – achievement of – and ongoing maintenance of – total dominance in some area of industry (or across all industries)as a direct reflection of your individual character.

‘Autogenous’ means literally ‘from within’. You must become a leader, and the product is not the skill. The product is not the label.

The product is you.

With rapid technological change and global competition creating things that can be shared instantly, this inevitably means that what you are doing is ever-evolving and probably some kind of a ‘mashup’ of several skills, even several forms of mastery.

There is no single way of doing this. Autogenous leadership is reached through many avenues.

Autogenous leadership is working towards a leading position in the industry through your careful construction, tweaking and honing of a tapestry of skills and approaches that are essentially an extension of you.

We’re seeing this more and more with multi-skilled designers like Kate Moross (art direction, film and illustration) or even musicians Daft Punk (electronic music, and film scores), and James Franco (writer, actor, director, painter, teacher) and Jessica Alba (actress, businesswoman).

It’s also seen with people who are carving a niche for themselves in areas that are putting a different take on – or even breaking completely new ground like YouTube filmmaker Casey Neistat, Internet cartoonist Matthew Inman, blogger Tim Ferriss, or electric car pioneer Elon Musk.

Everything about what these people create is rooted deeply to their own characters, their stories, their struggles.

It’s no longer viable to be a competitor. You will struggle if you try to compete. Competition will lead to mediocrity and your own unfortunate demise. It’s also near impossible to dominate in a field, like ‘fine art’, in which everyone else is working towards the same.

You need to stand out to succeed, and to do that means striving for dominance in something unique that reflects who you are. It means being known as an inventor; an innovator and a real person.

Dominance means doing something that no one else is doing, even if it is within a field that everyone knows, but all it needs to be is a small slice.

This is better attained through mixing up several skills and becoming known, not as a jack of all trades, but as a leader.

I must admit, this is an idea that is still in the early stages of development in my writing, and it’s something I want to discuss in more depth in other articles, but it’s nevertheless something to attribute great importance to as you move forward in life.

It’s also something that I’m seeing as a solution to a lot of the struggles experienced by my clients and Red Lemon Club followers.

Many are too quick to identify their craft under a particular, societally-imposed label, whether that be a ‘writer’, a ‘creative,’ an ‘illustrator’, or a ‘graphic designer’. All of these labels simply do not exist.

You need to innovate, and you need to invent your own craft. You need to be your own brand.

What can you become the best in the world at?

How can you be a leader?

This April 2nd I will be debuting my art. Indeed Aquascape Pond Stars is an ever evolving work in process rooted deeply in my personal character. It’s flawed just like me. But I’m putting it out there to the world nonetheless. This begs the question, what’s your art and are you willing to put yourself out there, flaws and all, to risk being the Best in the World in the process? If you do, you’re a leader…an Autogenous Leader at that!

Joe and Jennifer Petriell

Imagine going from a family of four to fourteen overnight! For Joe and Jennifer Petrielli, that’s what happened three years ago. As you would imagine, life for the Petrielli “family” would never be the same.

In 2010, life changed the first time for them when Joe closed the doors on his once thriving home construction business. “I rode the building boom up and rode it all the way back down” Joe said. “We had a wonderful lifestyle… a big beautiful home and two healthy boys. In the span of two years, we lost it all and were forced to move in with my parents” stated Jennifer. Joe took an entry level job with Comcast and contemplated what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. When an opportunity to move to Arizona with Comcast presented itself, they saw it as a sign to get a fresh start in a new state. “Illinois was the only place either one of us had ever lived, but my mom had a winter place in Gilberts, Arizona that we could live in while we figured things out.” What they had no idea about when they moved was that their lives were about to change even more drastically over the next year over the previous one. “The one thing I knew for sure was I wanted to give back with my life in ways I never was able to when I was busy building my business” Joe said. “We prayed a lot and had faith God would open a door for us” said Jennifer.

That door came in the form of Sunshine Acres, an alternative home for children whose own homes are not stable environments. Founded in 1954 as a faith-based, privately funded foster home, Sunshine Acres has now supported over 1,600 kids. They come for as little as one year, but the children are all welcome to stay as long as their unique situation requires. There is even a post high school transitional program that affords every kid the opportunity to make it on their own. While they are at Sunshine Acres each child is placed into a blended family consisting of 10 same sex siblings, and two surrogate house parents. Five weeks after feeling led to serve at Sunshine Acres, Joe and Jennifer inherited a blended family of 10 boys ages 4 to 17.

What has ensued for the Petriellis over the next three years is fitting for Sunshine Acres tagline, Miracle in the Dessert. “We’ve never worked this hard in our lives! These kids come from broken homes, with absentee parents, jailed parents, drug addicted parents, you name it. They rebel at authority in general as a defense mechanism and it takes a ton of love to break the self-destructive habit’s they have formed” stated Jennifer.

However, for all the thankless work that’s required to raise any kids, let alone a dozen of them at a time, one thing makes everything worth it. “When a boy who comes into your world as a stranger, and after months or sometimes years, looks you in the eyes for the first time and says “I love you Mom or Dad” everything you went through to get to that point pales in significance.” state Joe and Jennifer.

Today, life at Sunshine Acres for the Petriells couldn’t be more hectic and rewarding. Over three years they’ve raised and said goodbye to a total of 26 kids. Recently though, two of the boys came back on a Friday night. “They just were in town and dropped by for an unexpected visit. They slept in the guest bedroom and hung out the next day getting to know some of the new boys in the home” stated Jennifer.

Both Joe and Jennifer say they could never have imagined a life like they are living today. Even more telling though, they can’t imagine living a life any other way!

To see the pond Aquascape built for the Petriells and all the kids of Sunshine Acres tune into a season of the Aquascape Pond Squad this April!

Super Mentoring Kids

When I went away to college at The Ohio State University, I knew just one person in all of Columbus, Ohio. And that one guy I knew, I had only met once during orientation as he was my assigned roommate. To say I felt like I was on an island at America’s second largest University would be an understatement. Maybe that was why I was receptive to my mom’s overtures that I meet with a personal and business friend of hers that lived in the area. What began as a simple dinner at a Chinese restaurant became a mentoring relationship that lasted throughout my college career.

Lance Dickenson was a partner at the esteemed Arthur Anderson Consulting Firm. He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. Equally important in the equation was I held him and his opinions in high regard. I remember as vividly as it was yesterday sitting at his kitchen table and laying out my foray into franchising. When that plan failed I was back in the same seat a year later building on what I learned. And what we came up with would ultimately be the golden ticket that launched Aquascape into what it is today and the industry leader in its field.

Lance was a super mentor in my life. A super mentor is someone who inspires you to dream bigger than you would on your own. My high school football coach was another super mentor to me. Both men believed more in me than I believed in myself at the time. And because I believed so much in them, it gave me the inspiration I needed to go for it in life. Carpe Diem indeed!

I aspire to be a super mentor to everyone I have the pleasure of meeting and even those I don’t. I’m living my dream and I want to empower others to do the same for themselves. It’s why I write these blogs and if you boil it down, it’s even why I get out of bed in the morning! It’s also why I seek out every opportunity to work with kids. I want to pour into others, especially those who are young and impressionable, the way others poured into me. The greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential. I believe that. When you believe the greatest satisfaction is helping someone else you want to find every way possible to do just that.

I lost touch a long time ago with Lance. He was in my life for only a short period but he made a big impact. As for the only other guy I knew on campus back then, we are still friends to this day. You might even say I was a super mentor to him. Today he’s a full time pond builder and loving it. That makes two of us!

At Pondeminium in Pennsylvania last week I talked with a CAC who said “Every time I go into my Distributor’s location the branch manager tries to get me to switch away from Aquascape and to buy “Brand X.” To say this makes me less than pleased would be an understatement. If you understand why this gets my goat (to put it mildly) you would not just get me, but you would get all Aquascape stands for.

At the end of the month I will once again travel to the second largest event in our industry. The Water Garden Expo is sponsored by a Distributor of ours, Pond Liner in Oklahoma. I wish everyone could see, experience, and feel what the rest of the water garden industry will be presenting there. Last year I brought Steve Shinholser with me. As someone who is an influencer in this Tribe, I wanted him to gain a perspective “growing up” with only Aquascape hadn’t afforded him. He told me it was “a real eye opener” for him. I truly wish everyone’s eyes could be opened to what my eyes have seen over the now 24 years I’ve been living, eating and breathing the water feature game. Maybe then they would understand my passion and convictions for preaching what we do!

Here’s what I see from my view; 95 of the top 100 pond builders (in terms of volume) are Certified Aquascape Contractors. This statistic, hands down, is the most effective way to summarize what differentiates Aquascape from the rest. As business owners who pay the bills by selling our goods and services, could there possibly be a better gauge to track success than sales? It’s why we rank our Top Frogs every year at Pondemonium. And it’s why we then put those selling the most on a pedestal and put a big spotlight on them for the world (and all our competitors) to see. You can spin it all you want, and our competitors sure do, but that stat of 95 of the top 100 pond builders being CACs says it all.

Top Aquascape Customers at Pondemonium

I don’t expect you to just take my word for it though. It’s why I’ve always encouraged our Tribe to attend our industry events. I truly want you to see what I see! It’s why I asked Steve to go to Oklahoma and formulate his own conclusion. Oklahoma is where basically every single manufacturer and the customers they are courting will gather to see the “latest and greatest in pond products.” Not business blueprints like you get by being a CAC and with Aquascape, but rather PRODUCTS! When you attend these events what you will hear from sales people is “buy our stuff.” I will be there too, and I certainly want you to buy what I’m selling. This year what I’m selling in my Keynote speech is “The How’s and Why’s to Succeeding with Content Marketing and Creation.” What I won’t be talking about is how we developed the first skimmer in the pond market. Nor will I be discussing how we created the first waterfall filters out of cattle troughs over thirty years ago now.

Am I proud of our contributions (product wise) to this industry? Damn straight! Do I ever talk about why my widget is better than the next guy’s? Rarely! What I do talk about though is the next guy. Last year it was Steve Shinholser and this year it will more likely than not be a new number one. Here’s what gets me, and I mean what really, really gets me! Could you name a single number one customer from a single manufacturer in this entire industry?! I can’t and I really wish I could, so I too could go after them the way every single competitor targets our Top 40 and even Top 100 customers! I got nobody. There’s not a single customer of a single competitor who I’m targeting to earn their business.

If you’re wondering why I don’t target those 5 other top installers who aren’t using our products it’s because it’s futile. They don’t use any single system. They are their systems, which change with each unique project and customer. How they succeed at all is a testament to their unquestionable passion for what they do and their maniacal work ethic in doing it. The question everyone should ask themselves is, would I rather be on the number one team with hundreds of others dedicated to improving themselves and helping the group, or an individual navigating this pond world experimenting on my own?

When I asked my customer how he replied to his branch manager who’s always trying to get him to switch to another product line, here was his response: “I tell him, you don’t get it ‘Joe’. I buy Aquascape products because their entire business is set up to help me succeed.”

Aquascape does not exist to sell products. Product sales are a score card though. But our first goal as a business has and will always be to help our customer succeed at building, selling and retailing water features. I’ve learned that by focusing on our customers’ success; the product sales will come. That’s at least how Aquascape became the No 1 supplier in this industry. 95 of the Top 100 Water Feature Installers know that. You’re welcome too, to join me in Oklahoma so you can see for yourself (http://www.wgexpo.com/class-schedule). The other 5 guys will be there too.

Carpe Diem.

Gregs blog - in with the new

I met Jack (not his real name to protect him from truant officers) last week in York, PA. He is a high school junior enrolled in a work/study program that lets him explore possible careers while attending high school. Every other day he goes to work in the real world before returning to the classroom the next. I met him on his work day at an industry conference we were both attending. I was excited to see a bright-eyed, bushy-haired kiddo amongst my graying peers. I sought him out and learned his story. He was attending the conference to explore possible career options; I was there to get better at my career. It turns out we both needed each to achieve our respective goals.

It’s been 33 years since I installed my first water garden and for the last 24 years it’s been my chosen profession. You could say I’ve been around the pond a few times! As for Jack, he’s still a tadpole. But alas, we were swimming in the same water at an event organizers have lovingly dubbed Pondeminium.

Where Jack needs inspiration in his career, I’m just looking for continued motivation in mine. I was excited to see Jack front-and-center on day two. Yes day two! Apparently he liked what he heard so much the first day, he just had to play hooky from school the next. That’s my kind of kid right there!

I’m motivated to do my job better for the Jacks of this world. That is, kids who for whatever reason learn better outside the classroom than in it. I went to college and loved everything about school besides the classes. I’m not alone in my feelings and society is starting to accept that not everyone fits into the standardized school box. It’s why work study programs in high school exist and why the emerging field of Gap Year Programs are exploding. Companies are creating programs for the so-dubbed “Gap” year between high school graduation and college or career. Truth be told, we need the Jacks of this world in my industry as much as so many rudderless youth need us. Not enough new blood is coming into almost all professional trades as this digital generation enters the work force. We’ve had people out with our crews that have never even so much as held a shovel in their 18 years on this earth! That’s scary!

I was once like Jack and ponds provided me the direction I needed. Today, providing that direction for others is what gives me a lift. Up with the old in with the new is my new found motivation. I’m inspired by a need in both our industry for new blood and society’s desperate need to find alternative outlets other than college or the military for upcoming generations. I’m tasking my organization to organize ourselves in a way we can be a GAP year option for young adults or even a second career option for those ready for a new challenge.

If you think you or someone you know might be interested in the opportunities that could come from the kind of real world education that the water feature world provides, contact us at [email protected] If you want to see what kinds of things a career with water features entails, check out our On-Line Academy at http://training.aquascapeinc.com/.

As for Jack, I told him to go back to class and finish high school. College may or may not be in the cards for him. Ponds may or may not be in his future. But I’m excited to take what I’ve learned by doing what I do and help others who want to, to do the same. Let me know if that’s you!

Cabo Group Shot - 2015

How would you like to go on a tropical vacation with 80 people, all with something in common, and many of which you are fortunate enough to call your friends?! That was my week last week. I came back exhausted and most certainly exhilarated, which is just the way I like to live! But I also came home wishing everyone could feel the profound sense of belonging I always feel after one of these events.

In high school my fondest memory is being part of a State Championship football team. In college it was coming into my own with my fraternity. Today it’s being a member of a Tribe of rag-tag professionals all committed to being the best at our chosen trade while growing and stretching one another in the process. Nobody handed us that trophy for being the best in the state in high school, we earned it with our own blood and sweat! In college I literally grew up alongside brothers I now consider lifelong friends. Yet never during the formative years of high school and college did I consider what I was doing, experiencing, and living through, as life altering as being part of those groups would prove to be. As a professional however, I know exactly how important my Tribe is to my development and even self-worth.

The choices of who we do life with are nothing short of the most important choices we make in all of life. From your spouse to your church and all your friends in between, your life’s trajectory, and more importantly your happiness level will be a direct result of the relationships you forge.

The saddest thing for me is how many people miss this.

Relationships are not something we are taught in school yet everyone has heard “it’s not what you know, but rather who you know” that gets you ahead in life. Still many, if not indeed most people, go through life doing life on their own. They bring home the bacon but once that goes to paying the bills there’s often nothing left to feed their souls.

Everyone should be so blessed to be surrounded by the kinds of people that have come into my life. Unless you’re a movie star you have to work at making that happen. Last week in Cabo San Lucas only happened because of a lot of work. And boy was that work worth it and then some!

Life isn’t meant to be done alone. That message gets cemented for me every time I feel the joy of coming home to my greatest accomplishment; my family. Or when swapping war stories with a high school teammate or reconnecting with a fraternity brother. Professionally I would not have gone nearly as far or have the joy in my life that I do if it weren’t for the people in my life I’m doing it with and for. We are getting better together. So if you find yourself less than fulfilled participating in “the grind” while not feeling like you’re getting ahead, do yourself a favor. Do life with others who you want to make better. You just might find yourself getting better in the process.

I could only wish I lived the life portrayed in my Facebook pictures. I don’t! Every single day for close to four years now I try and post a single picture on Facebook. Excessive? Maybe. Fun? Absolutely! As my FB profile states it’s my goal to photo journal my life with a daily snapshot of a beautiful image, an important or noteworthy event or a picture of something I find cute, funny or even inspirational. I love the challenge of capturing an image, everyday, that represents how I see the world or more specifically how I want to see and remember the world! What I don’t post is the images of my mundane life or in particular the crap, like everybody else, I have to deal with. After all a photograph of my wife’s “angry face” over something stupid I did or said isn’t nearly the kind of image I’d like to remember from that day. However hiking a state park with my family and dog in tow as the sun rises or sets most certainly is! In that regard I kinda feel my posts are par for the course from what I see others doing on FB. But believing that what others post is the whole and complete “picture” is far from reality. What inspired me to write this blog, was this private message I received from “someone I’ve never met” after reading my blog, “My Problems are Bigger than Yours.”

 

Greg back in May I wrote you a pretty heartfelt post and got no response at all, not even a Carpe Diem. I know that you don’t know me but I am a client who had one of your Certified Aquascape Contractors build me a pond. I have held a bit of a grudge since you didn’t respond and started to delete you several times. The blog you posted today changed my viewpoint. I see your posts and you come off as a guy who can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. No problems and no worries. After reading your blog I saw a vulnerable side I haven’t seen before. A guy with issues like me and everyone else. Thanks for posting it. I wish you the best now and in the future with your adventure in the Dominican Republic. God Bless.

Mortified! That’s how I felt after reading this person, again someone I’ve never met, note to me. Simply put I read his private message to me wishing me luck and blessings on our family’s decision to relocate to the Dominican, I appreciated it, and than the stewardess told me to turn off my phone. In other words I thought I had replied in kind but apparently the crap of life happened and I didn’t reply. In the process I offended someone I never intended to. It’s happened to all of us. Thankfully I got a second shot to make it right and this time I actually replied and even closed with a “Carpe Diem.”

Here’s the point of my weekly rant. Facebook is fake. It’s always an incomplete picture of the whole story. If you were my kids you would see how many pictures I shoot and reshoot trying to capture the action, the sun and the moment in just the right light. We all try and do the same things everyday in our relationships, our businesses and our life. As for me I take far more pictures than I post and fail many more times than would be apparent from the pictures I do.

So remember the next time you see a post from me or anyone else, it’s the image they are choosing to share with you and only part of whatever bigger story there is. I’m cool with that. After all I enjoy seeing my friends’ kids smiling (after or before the tears) my customers or even customers of customers ponds looking beautiful (after the weeds are pulled) or pictures of someone’s beach vacation (not the lost luggage or flight delays). The crap of life is fine to share too, every now and again. But be truthful, when people share their personal crap daily are those really the kind of “friends” you want to be “friends” with?! My life is far from perfect, as it will be when you’re pushing the envelope, owning a small business and choosing to love flawed people. We are all flawed even if our Facebook pictures don’t always reveal it. But now you know so post away and don’t ever stop loving people or trying to make an artful life in the process in your own unique way. Carpe Diem…indeed!

Pond Squad

Our universe is changing before my eyes and I heard the perfect analogy that sums up what I’m seeing but have been unable to effectively convey. We (at least those over 40) grew up in a solar system that consisted of one sun with nine planets. For this analogy the sun is effectively the Hollywood studios and the planets are the major network channels: ABC, NBC, and CBS with WGN being like Pluto (Hang with me) Who remembers watching Love Boat followed by Fantasy Island on Friday nights on NBC and then tuning in for Saturday morning cartoons? If you’re in your forties you probably do. The Andy Griffith Show and Buck Rogers may come to mind if you’re a tad bit older. For fifty years this was the only universe any of us knew.

In the last twenty years however we discovered another solar system here-to-referred to as cable television. It consisted of many more planets but still one sun – albeit a much bigger and brighter one.

However, in the last five years hundreds of new solar systems have been discovered; the ramification of which are just now starting to be seen. They each have their own sun and planets. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube with original programming and literally billions upon billions of videos, being discovered every month! Today, we are at the forefront of the Digital revolution. Everything is changing and it’s changing at light speed. Agreed?

Leave it to Beaver is long gone. It’s a bold new world out there today. My kids watch more YouTube videos then they do all of network and cable channels…combined! They aren’t alone even as they are though. It’s a rare experience for us all to be in the living room watching the same thing. Everyone has their own devices and they’re doing their own thing. The term of families doing this even has a phrase “the shared living room.” And more often than not when they are being entertained they’re probably “Binge Watching.” Entire seasons of shows are now devoured in a weekend while YouTube takes you down an endless black hole with every click.

It’s an alien world for anyone out of their teen years but it is the world we all live in today. You might love this, you might deplore it, but one thing’s for certain, the world we all live in has changed and it’s the Wild Wild West of outer space right now!

As a business owner and marketer at heart I’m doing all I can to keep up to speed with these changes. It’s a full time job and then some! It’s no wonder than that most people I talk with who grew up in a different solar system are having a hard time picturing what I’m talking about! Cable TV as we know it will go first. Cable TV has five years max before the cord is cut completely. Broadcast channels will fall next. This is unimaginable to everyone who tuned in at 6:00 p.m. to hear Tom Brokaw deliver the nightly news let alone Walter Cronkite! Today the “nightly news could be retitled” “The Minute News” because it’s delivered to our laptops, tablets and in particular our smart phones every minute of every day. People watch CNN on a device other than a TV by a margin of 3 to1!

The Aquascape Pond Squad will debut digitally next month. Season 1 debuted last fall on cable and ended six weeks later. It was like a comet shooting across the sky. If you missed it you can catch the re-runs 24 hours a day on YouTube. Or you can tune in for Aquascape Pond Squad every other week. We will be playing on your laptop, tablet, smart phone and of course even your living room TV too.

Eat your heart out Captain Kirk. The Aquascape Pond Squad has officially entered your time warp. The future is now.

The All New Pond Stars

In life you never truly know how one thing is going to lead to another do you? Often the most challenging of situations create opportunities that wouldn’t have existed if you didn’t persevere through life’s trials and tribulations. It’s hard sometimes in the moment to conceptualize how something good could come out of something so dire. Filming our Reality Series Pond Stars is one such example.

As silly as it sounds I consider filming our Reality Series one of the three hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The physical aspect of laboring outside for upwards of 16 hour days, 6 days a week was exhausting enough in itself. However, the real draining part was the emotional toll that went into creating our show. First off “our” show is a misnomer. The network and in particular the production company they hired to produce Pond Stars called all the shots. For my co-stars this wasn’t a big deal. For me, the last time I had a boss I was 20 years old and working as a lifeguard.

My boss on set was the “Showrunner” that is the person hired to “run the show.” I run the show! But on Pond Stars I was considered merely “talent.” Although my wife and friends might scoff at that description, the reality of my situation was I had zero editorial control. Now, if you’re thinking at this point I’m just thinking like a spoiled brat and need to fall in line, you might be right. However, let me add one more caveat to this story that might explain my mindset.

I considered landing a Reality Show the pinnacle of my adult life. I turned my hobby into a business and birthed what would eventually become the largest business of its kind in the world. Aquascape was my baby, a big fish in a small pond. Pond Stars was our coming out party to quite literally the world! And someone else would be tasked with telling my story. It was an impossible situation for them and a horrifying one for me. I remember the excruciating months from the time filming wrapped, till the time we saw the first show. Although we were there for all of it, none of us had seen any of the edited footage despite filming thousands and thousands of hours. Someone else was tasked with telling a story about me, about my team, my dream and I had no input into what they were going say.

I was scripted as “The Boss” (not a stretch there) and repeatedly told to keep everything at a 5th grader’s level (easier for some of us than others). With this footage, whether they portrayed me as a buffoon or worse yet a jerk, was completely their call. But it didn’t stop with how we would be portrayed on camera. Would what we do at Aquascape be shown in the light we wanted it to? I didn’t know, I wasn’t consulted, and the bottom line reality of “our” reality show was I wasn’t in charge of telling my story, our story, the Aquascape story to the largest audience we’ve ever had the privilege to be in front of. Stressful is an understatement!

In the end we liked what we saw. We thought the production company did a great job and the network too. We also knew we could be so much more than we were portrayed.

Today we’ve come full circle. We are currently filming what we want and how we want to do it. We are telling the stories the way we want to and portraying ourselves by being ourselves. In other words, we are producing REALity TV. To say I feel freed would be an understatement. I earned my undergrad in what goes into creating a series working for someone else. Today I’m working for myself on my Masters by producing my own show. But I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing nearly as effectively if I hadn’t experienced what I went through taking orders and direction from someone else.

The life lesson for me is this: Not once during the filming of Pond Stars did I consider that I was being educated in the process for what I’d be doing today. Yet here I am bouncing out of bed in the morning after another restless night of dreaming of what could be, than going to “work” to make it be. Invigorating to say the least! Going forward when experiencing frustrating situations beyond my control, I want to remember my out-of-control experience with Pond Stars. Because pain often leads to gain as long as you’re open to it. Again, how one thing leads to another is rarely evident when you’re in the situation you’re in. I guess that’s why success is a journey and not a destination. I had my “fifteen minutes of fame” with someone else writing the script. As an entrepreneur I’d much rather be the author of my own destiny every hour, of every day. Stay tuned to see just what that looks like when the Aquascape Pond Squad debuts! Carpe Diem

Greg's Race

This week I had lunch with a friend of mine who suffered a heart attack while only in his 50s. He then proceeded to have three more! He shouldn’t still be with us. He is because after his fourth heart attack he listened to what his doctor said (Some of us are more stubborn than others I guess!). What his doctor said to him that finally got his attention was this, “You have a choice, you can either choose to live or you can choose to die. What’s your choice?!” Thankfully this woke him up to the severity of his situation and he started making the lifestyle changes he should have made well before the first heart attack.

In 2008 Aquascape suffered a heart attack too. That year our sales suddenly dropped $12,000,000. Ouch! It came out of nowhere and was completely unexpected. You could say it was hereditary and out of our control as the economy gave many once healthy companies heart attacks that same year. That didn’t lessen any of the pain or the impact though. One moment Aquascape was like a world class athlete, tops in our field and suddenly we were flat on our backs fighting for our life. Scary is an understatement! But unlike my friend we listened to the business doctors right away and shed our extra weight. We dropped teammates and cut expenses. It was by far the hardest, and darkest time we’d ever had in business.

Since our business’ heart attack we’ve been exercising ourselves back into shape. First we started jogging, adding social media efforts and a YouTube channel to promote our business. We graduated to running 5ks by improving our programs to attract new customers while making our policies better for our old ones. We worked up to running 10Ks by revamping our product line with the singular goal to “provide the best value in the water garden business” with every product we produced. In 2014 all the pieces came together with our marketing, programs and product and we completed our first post-heart attack marathon! Damn it feels good! Running the marathon of business is quite an accomplishment. That’s how I’m feeling wrapping up 2014.

Aquascape is fully fit and healthy and for the first time in a long time entering a new year poised to get back to our old form.

In 2015 we don’t just want to run the marathon but rather win the race! We are quite literally going for gold! We have significant growth forecasted and a plan in place to get us there. It’s going to require the incredible effort of the whole team and all of our partners to realize this dream. In other words, it won’t be easy. Nothing worth having ever comes easy though.

Life is a marathon, and not a sprint. Success is a journey, not a destination. Everyday is a choice, to get busy living or get busy dying.

Everyday my friend said he wakes up feeling blessed to be here. “Every day is a gift” is his motto and his excuse to celebrate life. And it all started when he chose, like Aquascape chose, to do the work that needed to be done. Like my friend, I want Aquascape to “Celebrate Life” here on out. The last five years were a lot of pain but little gain as we did what it took to get healthy again. It’s been said “If you have your health you have everything.” I disagree. Aquascape was healthy until 2008 and I took it for granted. Most healthy people and corporations do. Every day in 2015 when I’m dealing with the pain of running a business, I’m going to remind myself to celebrate the gift I’ve been given to do it.

Here’s to you too, focusing on the gift you’ve been given, and maybe don’t realize, this New Year. Of course, the choice as always is yours. You can get busy living, or get busy dying. What’s your choice going be?!

Gregs Blog - The Reality of the Future

I feel like my head is going to explode! As I write this I’m once again on my way to L.A. to plot the future of our reality show the Aquascape Pond Squad. I will be meeting with – amongst others – our manager, the original production company that discovered us and our PR firm.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have heard how non-traditional internet TV is disrupting entrenched networks, and specifically cable and satellite providers that currently command the lion’s share of content distribution. This is all changing, hence my head exploding and my visit to L.A.

1.5 billion videos are watched daily on the internet. Those numbers are rapidly growing! Pond Stars was originally created for the Nat Geo Wild cable network. Nat Geo Wild is a premium channel that may or may not have even been available for purchase depending on how your cable package is bundled. That is, if you even get cable and haven’t joined the expanding masses of “cable cutters” out there.

The Aquascape Pond Squad has been uploaded to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDN7H5HkmH5VM9RXPDJLbfg). Everyone, or virtually everyone, has access to YouTube. Not everyone has cable and many of those who still do don’t have Nat Geo Wild. Our show debuted in September and unless you catch a re-run, you can’t watch it anymore…unless of course you have an internet connection. The future of media is people watching what they want to watch, when they want to watch it, on whatever device they want to watch it on. Agreed?

For us, that means more people will watch the Aquascape Pond Squad streaming over the internet than ever tuned in on Tuesday nights at 9pm CST. It also means my head’s going to explode trying to figure out ways to capitalize on this seismic shift in viewership!

Something tells me my head is not the only one exploding as Hollywood — quite literally — is trying to get their head around this dilemma.

They should read the book The Innovator’s Dilemma. If they do, they might conclude television, as we have grown up knowing it, is doomed. I would agree. Money makes the world go around. Newspapers as we know them have one foot in the grave. As readership shifts online, and viewership does the same, advertisers will follow. It’s why cable bills keep increasing, and why you have to watch a 15 to 30 second commercial more and more before viewing an online video. It’s a cheaper price to pay though, which is evident as more and more consumers are choosing it over traditional cable and its expense.

For me, the freedom to watch House of Cards on my iPad versus The Grand Budapest Hotel — the movie American Airlines selected for me and one I’ve already seen — is refreshing. For Aquascape — and all of Hollywood for that matter — it’s a matter of dollars and cents. I want people to consume the Aquascape Pond Squad anytime, anywhere and on any device they choose. HBO agrees with me. You no longer need a cable provider to provide you with arguably cable’s biggest brand name. HBO is choosing to address their industry disruption – Internet TV – the exact opposite way Blockbuster addressed Netflix’s. Speaking of Netflix, I’m about to use it right now.

Thankfully, besides Grand Budapest Hotel, House of Cards is playing on Netflix over the American Airlines wi-fi. Welcome to the future. The view from 30,000 feet is incredible!

How are you reading this?

Here’s a fact that people love to disagree with me on; I love to say “Newspapers and magazines are going away.” It might not be in four years, but certainly they will be gone in seven. Yes, that’s right, maybe by 2018 and certainly by 2021 you won’t be able to read The Chicago Tribune or Wall Street Journal in paper form anyway over your morning coffee. Nor will you be able to sit by the pool reading a paper People Magazine. It doesn’t matter how much you love it! Heresy you declare? I say don’t shoot the messenger.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that the majority of people think about tomorrow based on their experiences of the past. If you grew up with the world existing one way it’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine it existing another way. If you have been reading the morning paper over a cup of Joe for the last twenty years, you naturally assume you will be for the next twenty. As for the fact that it costs 80% less to deliver you the news electronically, not to mention faster and often with multi-media functions, it matters not. You still prefer reading your printed paper. Until you don’t or eventually can’t. Because less people today are consuming their news, or anything for that matter, by the printed word than were a year ago. Anyone want to bet me that 2015 is not going to continue that trend? How about 2016?

Bye-bye Newspapers, you’re dead!

Newspapers and magazines won’t go away of course, they will just evolve. You will read them on your laptop, your iPad or your smart phone. You might even read most of your news by author by tweet. If you don’t know what a tweet is you’re probably still reading a paper delivered to your door. By the way the majority of the expense of that paper is not in the paper or even the money the journalist makes to deliver you the news but rather the fuel expense to get the printed word to your house! Guess how much fuel is spent to push the send button?

Despite these facts, that it costs 80% less, is often multi-dimensional in its offering and has an irreversible trajectory in terms of readers. (Do young kids buy paper anything?!) Many people tell me I’m crazy to say newspapers and magazines will be gone sooner rather than later. My only question to them in reply is “When’s the last time you bought a CD?”

Cabo Guests

This week I will be hanging out with winners and getting better by default. Steve Shinholser is flying into town to meet the owner of The Fish Gallery and Tom Reber of MOTORhard will be joining us as well. I only loosely know what we will be talking about. I don’t have to know because I know enough to know I’m going to learn a lot! Here’s what I do know.

Roger owns three retail locations in Texas, designs and installs stunningly beautiful aquariums and has thirty service vehicles on the road. 30! I met Roger at an aquarium show last month when I admired his tank so much I bought it. We got to talking and both agreed we should talk some more. Tuesday and Wednesday we will be doing just that. Amongst other things he’s interested in social media; I’m interested in how he manages a fleet of thirty vehicles. I’m sure we will be discussing much, much more. I invited Steve and Tom to be part of the conversation. If you wish you could be here you will. I plan on blogging about it and even shooting some video. Stay tuned.

In January Steve and Tom will be joining me in Cabo at Cabomonium along with a whole cast of characters from both Aquascape and the Certified Aquascape Contractor network. What are we going to be talking about? Amongst other things it will be Social Media and running a service division. Truth be told, we will be talking about anything and everything! But here’s the number one thing I will be getting out of my meetings with Roger and with those who are at Cabomonium – a winning mindset! When you hang out with winners you are more likely to adopt their winning ways. It’s been said you’re income is the denominator of your five closest friends. If you want to grow your income grow your friends! Whether it’s through following their advice on a particular matter or simply through osmosis you grow when you associate with people who are successful. As every parent knows, you want your kids hanging with the good crowd. The good crowd will be in Cabo and that’s where I will be too learning with them.

In conclusion the number one thing successful people do is spend time with successful people. It’s why Steve is flying into Chicago to meet Roger. It’s why Roger is coming to see us and our operation and why I’m excited to go see him and his operation. It’s also why I asked Tom to join us and he leapt at the chance. And it’s why I invest so heavily in creating platforms like Pondemonium and Cabomonium that allow people to connect. I can’t wait for this week and I can’t wait to tell you what I learn. You become who you hang out with. Looking forward to hanging out with you by the pool in Cabo. You going?!

Greg's sunrise

Earlier this year, I received a check in the mail along with an apology note. The debt this person had owed me I had long ago written off. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. In the letter, this person acknowledged the deceitfulness of their actions and took responsibility by including a check for partial payment of what he owed me. It was obvious it would cause considerable financial strain to this person to repay me. As much as the money was appreciated, it was the gesture itself that really registered for me.

As a business owner, many times I have been left holding the bag when a business deal goes south. Often it’s because a business that bought goods from me on credit didn’t pay on their obligations. Sometimes I’m not the only one this occurs with. When a business goes out of business, a lot of people are left holding the bag. It goes with the territory. What also goes with the territory more times than not is how the person who ends up owing you money somehow flips it around to make it your fault. Psychologists would call this classic projection. It’s how people live with themselves by telling themselves a story that justifies their actions. This was the case with this fella. He in fact was quite vocal regarding his displeasure towards Aquascape and even me personally.

I learned early and often that life isn’t fair and I’d pretty much chalked this situation up to that. Then the check and letter came.

In his apology note he stated “he wanted to make things right with me while he still could.” Turns out he had a near death experience and unfortunately was still on uncertain terms. He pledged before he went, he wanted to repair the broken and even the burnt bridges in his life. Next month he makes his final payment and he will be giving it to me in person over lunch. I accepted his invitation to meet face to face, quite impressed that he honored an obligation, many years in the making. The rarity of his gesture alone warrants my respect and admiration. It also got me thinking, what bridges have I destroyed or even burned in my life and would I — with the knowledge I was dying — do the work and make the sacrifices to repair them? I’d like to think I would. But if I really think about it, and I have, I could be dying.

Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.

Emboldened by my friend’s actions, I’ve taken stock of my own. I have begun to make wrongs that I’ve contributed to right. I had my first intervention last week with a damaged relationship. It ended in a hug and I floated away. It was cathartic. More will certainly follow.

Take it from me and do yourself a favor; live like you were dying. Someday we all will. In the meantime why wait till you die to float up, when you can start floating today!

Courtney in our Retail Store

We’ve been selling seasonal heaters, aerators and pond nets for years and years. Our Purchasing Department ordered 20% more inventory this year to handle our business’s projected growth. We are currently seeing a 50% increase in sales across these seasonal categories! It’s a great problem to have and has the department scrambling. With only a 12 week window for the majority of these sales and the production and shipping times from Asia being what they are, their efforts are probably going to be futile. Aquascape will miss some sales and worse, inconvenience customers because of our lack of inventory. So goes the life of running a business. Not being able to keep up with demand is a good problem to have but a problem nonetheless. Remember, all business is, is fixing problems! This post isn’t about heaters, nets, and bubblers or even fixing problems. This post is about Pond Stars, reinvention and you.

We recently learned one of our long time competitor’s sales are reportedly 70% off their peak. Aquascape was far from alone with our self-professed struggles during the economic downturn. But today our sales are rebounding and the future outlook is as bright as it’s been in years. Why? Aquascape has reinvented ourselves since the downturn and if you’re reading this you probably have too. The world entering 2015 is vastly different than it was entering 2008. True? A lot has changed in six years. Many of Aquascape’s former competitors are gone or are a fraction of their former sizes. For you, if you’re a contractor or retailer you probably have experienced the same attrition of competitors gone from your local market. If you’re still around and your sales are growing again today, you almost certainly have reinvented yourself to achieve those two accomplishments. Yes?

In 2008 we had a sales team on the road calling on accounts. In 2015 we have a marketing Army generating content to reach those same accounts and find new ones. Back in 2008 we hosted events, went to trade shows and did customer visits. We still do all of those things but far less often than we used to. But today we blog, tweet, and Facebook. Our Aquascape On-line Academy has 2,500 users and is growing and expanding rapidly. Same with our YouTube channel which we started in 2008 and have surpassed 6,000,000 views with. We even have our own Reality Show, Pond Stars, that we are just starting to see the results from. Which brings me back to my original question/thought; Is Pond Stars, which debuted this fall, the reason why we are seeing the dramatic spike in seasonal items right now?! Or is our sales growth a result of our continued efforts with social media? How much has the growth in our YouTube channels and on-line training contributed to our increased sales? My best guess as to why sales are spiking is it’s all of these factors and probably even a few more!

It’s exciting to see the fruits of our efforts paying off. And as much as I’d like to be able to quantify fully each and every effort we make to grow sales, I will settle for seeing sales grow. The one thing I won’t settle for though is standing still while the world changes. I’m more than happy to leave the standing still for the competition!

Every once in a while something so good and so cool happens that even news shows that feed off the negative, the dramatic and the sensational report on it. Such is the case with this seemingly too-good-to-be-true story involving the Casa Hogar orphanage.

This story struck a chord with me for personal reasons. I have been traveling multiple times a year to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, since 2004 as a faculty member of the American Leadership Academy. In September, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit Cabo devastated the area, including our long-time host hotel, Marbella Suites. In January, I will be hosting a group of Certified Aquascape Contractors for our 7th annual Cabomonium networking event.

When some of the attendees, hearing of all the challenges Cabo faced after the storm, began inquiring about what they could do to help, it prompted me to reach out to my friend Keith Cote. Keith is the founder of the non-profit LEAD222 and has been leading multiple mission trips to support the underprivileged who are often an afterthought to guests enjoying Cabo’s ritzy hotels.

One of the organizations LEAD 222 has supported through the years is Casa Hogar. Keith, knowing the soft spot I have for kids, sent me a link to the video of them winning the grand prize in the Bisbee’s fishing tournament and included a note: “Why don’t you build one of your Ponds for them?

What a great idea, I thought! So that’s why now, during the last week of January, a group of contractors from across the U.S. and Canada will converge on the Cabo orphanage to do our thing. All because of them being catapulted into the spotlight and onto my radar by winning a fishing tournament!

Now they will have their own pond to fish in or simply just reflect by. Not to mention a cool quarter million to fan themselves with as well. Hah! Pretty darn cool indeed. Something also tells me when we are done creating this pond the kids won’t be the only one’s smiling!


Greg with Heiko Bleher 

I had lunch this week with a man who has personally traveled to 207 countries over his 70 years on this earth. The United Nations only officially recognizes 192! What could possibly compel anyone to spend on average nine months of every year traveling to the earth’s remotest, and often inhospitable, regions? Fish! Heiko Bleher is the world’s (go figure) leading authority on freshwater fish. His life’s purpose has literally been to find and catalog as many of the earth’s freshwater species (28,000 and counting) as humanly possible. Cool!

If you’re wondering what you talk about over a chicken salad with a man who’s the world’s foremost authority on a subject and has literally been everywhere (and then some) I will tell you. Flipboard. That’s right, I shared with him how the Flipboard App on my iPad works for me to curate content and even create my own online magazine (76 magazines and counting at Aquascape, Inc.) He might have documented 28,000 fish around the world, but we discussed Flipboard for the first time at a hotel restaurant in good old Schaumburg, IL.

We got on the discussion of Flipboard after I purchased his book (Bleher’s Biotopes) and I asked him if he ever considered distributing his content digitally. He was repulsed by the idea and I, being me, was fascinated by his repulsion! Social Media, electronically adept, Heiko is not. What could one expect of a man who’s spent more years in the Amazon than I’ve even been alive?!

But as I leafed through his tome, itself the size of a coffee table, and page after page of his life’s journey were unveiled, I was left wanting more. Primarily, I wanted more people to see this man’s incredible life work! More people need to be exposed to his overarching goal of “getting people to value our freshwater rivers, streams and lakes.” As Heiko so eloquently stated “Freshwater rivers are the artery of all life.” What Jacques Cousteau was to the oceans, Heiko is to freshwater ecosystems. What an honor I had to have an hour of his time and now I feel a responsibility to help the world hear what this environmental pioneer has to say.

If this man travels on another expedition without a GoPro chronicling his every discovery it will be nothing short of highway robbery for generations to come! As Heiko duly noted, many of the places he’s been, sadly, don’t even exist anymore. If indeed his goal is to educate the “youts” on the value of preserving these places then he needs to connect with them, the way they connect with the world. They won’t buy his $120.00 book; they will read his tweets from the field though. But the last thing Heiko needs to be encumbered with is tweeting from the Amazon. That’s why he’s just gotta do himself, you and me, and for that matter the world a favor and bring one or two of those “youts” with him on every expedition he takes here on out! And besides tweeting their experiences for the world to read, and Instagraming their pictures for all of us to see, and blogging about his discoveries for us to learn, all of it should be captured and shared on YouTube for us to experience! Heiko’s book is the bible for fish lovers worldwide and he’s truly a living gem. I want everyone I know, and even those I don’t know, to have an opportunity to hear his wisdom over lunch just like me. So enjoy a video of the man himself courtesy of my iPhone and the cloud. Amazing what opportunities technology provides us all. Who knows, maybe my next post will be from one of his expeditions. I’ve got a GoPro and a passport and I even know how to tweet! Want to go with me? If so great, let’s meet on Facebook!

 

I speak often to college and even high school kids on entrepreneurship. I’ve never spoken to junior high kids on that topic until last week. So it was with slight trepidation that I walked into my first junior high entrepreneur class to try and convey success principles in a way they could understand. I started my talk with a clip from our reality series Pond Stars. I then delivered a high level overview of the business today starting with my love of turtles at age 12. When I opened it up for questions I had no idea if I would get any, and if I did how interesting they would be. I didn’t have to wait long.

The first question was from a jockish looking boy in the back of the room “What’s it like to be a millionaire?” he asked to nervous laughter from his classmates. I’ve never been asked that question, at least so directly, and I decided to have some fun with it. I replied by asking the class if they “thought money bought happiness?” More nervous laughter before the same kid piped up “I’ve never seen an unhappy guy on a yacht!” More laughter ensued and I began to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. I replied by asking the class if they had ever heard of a dude named Bernie Madoff? The teacher jumped right in and pointed out to the class that Bernie Madoff ran a Ponzi scheme using money from new investors to pay dividends to old ones. Turns out they had recently covered that topic for one of their classes. I told them Bernie Madoff was a millionaire but he only achieved that “success” by defrauding others.

Bernie Madoff indeed had a yacht I said, but now he’s off it and rotting away in some prison cell. Silence. I asked them if they felt Bernie Madoff was content and “happy” when he was on his yacht? More silence but this time I saw a few heads shaking “no.” With the context established I felt it was a good time to lay down some of the most basic of success premises, but unfortunately few people fully comprehend in their lives. “Life is a son of a gun” I said. “Success is a journey not a destination. A life without problems is the definition of hell and all business is, is fixing problems. Find something that you love to do and you will never have to work another day in your life. Getting good grades isn’t by itself going to get you a good job or a “happy” life. Finding what you’re good at and developing your strengths while surrounding yourself with people that offset your weaknesses is how you achieve success and happiness.” And finally, “if you want to get what you want, focus your efforts on helping others get what they want.”

Give me the microphone and you better be careful what you ask for! I also let them know I learned more about running a business by playing sports in high school and joining a fraternity in college. I can just imagine the conversations around the dinner table … “what did you learn at school today son?” “Grades don’t matter, football rocks and college is over-rated!” Woo hoo! I wonder if I will get invited back?!

Truth be told, society is whacked and somebody needs to say so! I bet “millionaires” are just as unhappy, if not more so, than the general public. Money often buys as many problems as it solves. But then again if people think a problem free life is the answer to happiness than I betcha they’ve never put themselves out there accomplishing anything either! Talk to anyone who has achieved anything and I will show you someone who has sacrificed a lot to get it. They might indeed be on a yacht, but they will have the scars all over that it took to achieve it! If they got that yacht because they stole to get it or mom and dad bought it for them, well, it’s hard for me to imagine that being very fulfilling. We might know that now but I know at least for me I didn’t know that, or much of anything else about life when I was their age. What good does sugar coating it do anyone?!

So when some kid unwittingly steps on the land mine of insinuating that being rich buys happiness it triggers me to explode all I’ve learned the hard way. Hopefully, he in the process will hear there’s no easy way to success. And if and when my yacht does come in, I sure hope I have the cojones to set sail to another destination. And maybe just maybe some of them now will too. Their teacher gave me an A for effort. I think it might be my first A outside of gym!

By Ed Beaulieu

There are a lot of analogies I can use to illustrate this phenomenon but since it’s fall and we’re in the midst of football fever, I’ll use a football analogy. This past Monday night’s game between San Fran and the Rams is a textbook model for momentum. The Rams dominated the first half!

The 49ers struggled to make anything happen but with only 15 seconds left in the half, Kaepernick connected with Lloyd on a deep pass and it turned into an 80 yard score! They were still down going into halftime but in that one instant the momentum changed! The third quarter started and the 49ers never stopped! They ended up crushing the Rams and it all started with one play.

So where’s the analogy? Aquascape and the Certified Aquascape Contractors have been down in recent years: bad economy, beaten up from lack of sales, employee challenges, you name it we were struggling just like San Fran. Nothing worked and the energy was low. As you all know we just finished our first TV series. I’m sad that’s over but … we just finished our first TV series!!! That’s like an 80-yard scoring drive with 15 seconds left in the half! The momentum has shifted; there’s an energy and engagement that I haven’t seen in a long time!

It’s halftime right now; we’re finishing projects and getting ready for 2015. We don’t know if we’re gonna get renewed by NatGeo but the momentum is ours to lose. That’s right, the 49ers could’ve easily lost the Monday night game if they started the third quarter with an interception or fumble, but it didn’t happen. They stuck with their game plan and the momentum carried them through the rest of the game. We need to keep our focus. The game isn’t over and with or without a second NatGeo season, the momentum is strong enough to keep us moving forward.

We had a solid winning team to start with, similar to the 49ers. You can’t take a losing or inferior team and have them win the Super Bowl on momentum alone. San Fran has a lot of weapons from Kaepernick, Gore, Crabtree, Boldin, etc. Greg and I just returned from the Dwell on Design conference in New York and we’re gonna have access to a new group of designers and potential customers. There will be reruns of the Pond Stars running between now and spring and our locator has been busy because of it! Greg has been interviewed by multiple magazines. I was on 7 Radio Morning Shows. Brian is more focused than I’ve ever seen him. Chris is finding his groove as our foreman. Our local crew is getting better by the day. Dave and Scott are heading to China to work on upcoming new products. Michelle, Jennifer and the marketing team are getting us in front of a new group of marketing and PR opportunities. Lisa was just hired to work with Tony so we can continue pumping out YouTube videos (that started the TV show), and the Certified Aquascape Contractor network is growing and working together as a Team.

I can go on and on! This is the momentum shift we need. Opportunities are opening up for us daily. Let’s stick with our game plan and trust me when I say, “We will win!”

Filming season one of our reality series, Pond Stars, almost killed me. The reasons why are numerous, but also irrelevant. I would, and hopefully will, do it again in a heartbeat! Who wouldn’t want the incredible opportunity to share their passion with the world?! What I won’t do however is let it almost kill me again! And since I doubt my personality is going to all of the sudden mellow and my patience level increase it’s up to me to figure things out if I hope to survive the next meat grinder of reality television.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret of mine (like a guy as outspoken as me has any secrets anyway.) I love to figure stuff out! I’m maniacal on devising better ways, more efficient ways, of doing things. I stay up at night thinking about stuff like the logistics of how to get the garbage cans to the curb better! So it should come as no surprise that I have devised an entire game plan for attacking a season two of Pond Stars, if indeed our efforts earn us one. Whenever I do anything I haven’t done or tried before, the Holy Grail for me is to find someone who’s done what I want to do so I can learn from them. When I do find that guy I’m like a vampire sucking every bit of knowledge I can get out of them. If I have to buy them dinner in the process so be it!

“Tanked” is a show that is about two New Yorkers who work out of Vegas creating the most over-the-top custom Aquariums the world has ever seen. It’s a cool show and I’ve always felt an affinity with the founder and owner, Wayde King. As a kid growing up, much like me, he got lost in his passion for all things aquatic. I knew I wanted to connect with him and pick his brain about his experiences filming his series. It took me a little while but once I was finally able to meet with Wayde we really hit it off. He offered to take me under his wing and show me the ropes the same way Paul Sr. (Ironically an Aquascape pond owner) of Orange County Choppers had done for him when he was entering the business. Wow! Wayde truly has been a great and generous ally to me ever since.

As I write this I’m on a plane with my fellow Pond Stars and some of my top managers on my way to Vegas to visit and learn from the team at Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM). Additionally, I have some of our most talented Certified Aquascape Contractors meeting us there as well. Because Wayde has given so generously to me, it will truly be my pleasure to give him an Aquascape pond. It won’t be filmed for an episode of Pond Stars or even Tanked. It will be a small token of my appreciation for the advice and support he’s given me. Besides, it will be a hell of a lot of fun working with these characters to boot!

Far, far too often people reinvent the wheel trying to be successful. Not me! That’s my little “secret.” I seek out individuals who are wiser, more experienced or have simply already accomplished something I’m trying to do and I learn all they are willing to share. More often than not when people tell me about an invention idea they have, a business concept that’s a “can’t miss,” or just a new way of doing something I always ask them if they have talked to someone who has done it or something like it before. 99% of the time they haven’t. I wonder if there’s any correlation that only 1% of the time the people I’ve talked with actually accomplish what they set out to. Hmm?!

I want to succeed at everything I do. I can’t imagine anyone saying or feeling any different about that than me. How I go about doing just that isn’t rocket science. If you don’t have mentors, if you’re not being coached by someone who has been there and done that before, do whatever it takes to find those people and listen to what they tell you! By doing that, you might just find you will end up making your own reality!

Greg's Blog - 15 Min

I would like to start off with a small apology and a huge thank you! The apology is for everyone who has been subjected to my pond passion on social media ad nauseam! My enthusiasm for what I do is already over the top. Throw into the mix my promotion of the biggest thing to happen to my baby, Aquascape, with our Pond Stars show debuting on Nat Geo Wild and I’m afraid I’m guilty of blowing up Facebook with posts and updates that might not be interesting to all. Sorry to those of you who “Don’t like turtles” nearly as much as me. Hah!

The last 24 hours have been surreal. Not did we just have a show premier last night that we’ve been working diligently on for the last three years, but in many ways Pond Stars represents the culmination of my life’s work. I’d say that’s grounds for some introspection on my part. First and foremost I want to express my overwhelming sense of gratitude for all of my friends, family, teammates, customers and even my customer’s customers. It’s only because of your support that I’ve been able to live my dream. THANK YOU! I won’t turn this into an Oscar speech but please know this from the bottom of my heart; People drive me, “I like turtles” but I LOVE people! I have been able to meet, interact with and hopefully positively impact thousands of people from what I do as a profession. Ultimately it’s the joys of seeing people grow and helping them prosper that drives me. My little company that started out of my personal passion and my parents’ garage is now inspiring others to do the same. “Everybody wants a water feature, they just don’t know it yet!” Here’s to Pond Stars introducing more people to this wonderful and unique pond and water feature lifestyle while providing an honest day’s wage to those who create these paradises!

I want you to know that regardless of this show’s ultimate success, I won’t be changing. Besides being grounded by a wife far wiser than I, I also realize that life isn’t about getting your “15 minutes of fame.” In fact, a life truly lived, is a life lived for others. My wife is my rock. She’s the glue of our family. And every day she sacrifices what she could be doing for what she wants to be doing which is raising our two boys. What job can one possibly have that’s more important for our future than helping raise the future generation?! Every parent is either part of the problem or part of the solution. And every human being for that matter is either contributing or subtracting from society through their actions or inactions. Although, certainly a subjective barometer, I’d like to provide my perspective and indeed my personal barometer regarding being a contributing member of society. Having a television show does not in itself make one a contributing member of society (Keeping Up with the Kardashians.) However, whether or not you live your life focused on what you can get or what you can give, in my book is what will ultimately determine whether you subtract or add to the betterment of the human race.

I’m dedicated to giving all of myself to the Pond Stars reality show but not for the fleeting 15 minutes of fame it may provide me. Instead, if by me giving my all I can inspire or even just entertain others for an hour or so each week then I will be happy. That’s because I believe the greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential. The key phrase there is “someone else.” I might not be as smart as my co-host Ed, or as funny as Brian, or maybe even as handsome as the dashing new guy, Chris, but here’s what I am: I am proud beyond belief for seeing all those guys being recognized with this show for who they are! They are the salt of the earth, grounded dudes who are amongst the most talented artisans in the world at doing what they do!

It’s been said that everyone gets “their 15 minutes of fame.” If you want to maximize yours, I say spend your time in giving back to others. If you do so trust me when I say, it will come back to you a hundred fold! #pondstars

Dr Pohl

Dr. Pol’s job entails putting his hand, and indeed most of his arm, up a cow’s butt on a regular basis. But he does it with such flare and enthusiasm that millions tune in to watch him do what Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs would be hard pressed to even try! For that Dr. Pol has become a celebrity, something I witnessed firsthand getting to hang with him at a Nat Geo Wild press event recently in Vegas. Fan after adoring fan stopped him for photos. (They even shook his hand!) “Who would have thunk it?!” he said to me. But, Dr. Pol wasn’t the only accidental celebrity I got to rub elbows with (Thank God Dr. Pol wasn’t working!) A Fish Biologist and college professor, Zeb Hogan parlayed his passion for fish into his own series titled Monster Fish. Not only does he travel the world in search of giant fish, he flies to events funded by corporate sponsors to deliver keynote speeches and, get this, sign autographs. A fish geek signing autographs! The last celebrity I interacted with was introduced to me with a story of how he showed up in New York City for the morning show circuit wearing boots and dirty jeans. The subsequent telling of the mad dash scramble Nat Geo staff members went on to find him suitable clothes that fit his freakish athletic build was almost as entertaining as his lion chasing tales! Boone Smith lives in rural Idaho and grew up running dogs and chasing down mountain lions to collar. Now, he’s filmed multiple specials and has his own show called Urban Jungle.

All of us have one thing in common; we parlayed our passions into our careers. Our enthusiasm doing what we do has afforded us an incredible opportunity to not just entertain but indeed educate the masses about something we love. For that I’m feeling blessed beyond measure!

On Tuesday, September 9th at 9 p.m.CST on the NatGeo Wild channel I will join these awesome dudes when Pond Stars debuts. People who never really knew this crazy world of backyard water gardening existed will now have an opportunity to peek inside a whole other way to live at home. Ponds rock and I’ve been shouting that out at the top of my lungs for 23 years now ever since I founded Aquascape in 1991. It all started in 1982 when I built my first pond to house my beloved pet turtles. I made every mistake possible with that pond but that only allowed me to learn along the way. I didn’t go to school to study turtles or even landscape design. Truth be told I was an awful student! I didn’t fit nearly as well in the box as I did floating in a pond. For that I know I’m not alone. I hope to use the platform Pond Stars provides to reach through the television screen and into the hearts and minds of viewers around the globe. After all, I believe all of them want a water feature, they just don’t know it yet! And maybe just maybe a few of the viewers will be inspired by what I did, what we do, and decide to follow their own wacky dreams. It might have been turtles for me and cows, fish and mountain lions for others, but everyone needs to find something to be passionate about in life.

Life’s too short not to enjoy what you do whatever it is that you do. After all, when you find something you love to do you never have to “work” another day in your life. Tune into Pond Stars and maybe you will find yourself inspired to do what you want to do too!

Aquascape Leadership Team | Roof Collapse

Aquascape’s Leadership team, standing on Aqualand’s collapsed roof.

On February 11, 2011 my building, Aqualand, collapsed under 24 inches of melting snow. Thank God it happened on a Sunday and nobody was at work. However, it also effectively put us out of work as our building with its phone lines, computers and millions of dollars of inventory was inaccessible. Talk about a shot to the gut! I was effectively down and out and literally on my knees. But that’s when it happened. One of the greatest life lessons occurred at one of the most trying times of my life. (Funny how that happens huh?) My team stepped up, surrounded me and came together in a way that demonstrated a lesson that’s now engrained in my mind and on my heart. It’s all about the people! Without people, more specifically the right people on your team, you have nothing!

We just got done hosting our largest event of the year at Aquascape, our annual training and networking event dubbed Pondemonium. We put it on in our rebuilt building which the architects have assured me is strong enough to land a commercial plane on! I hope a plane doesn’t land on our roof or anything else catastrophic happen to our business but if it does here’s what I now know. I have the team in place that can handle whatever Mother Nature or life throws at us. And with that I have everything a man could ever hope or ask for. Do you understand that? Whether it’s at work or at home I have teammates, family and friends that not only have my back but collectively are far stronger than any one person could ever be.

Do you have a support team around you to prop you up when you need it? If not, then why? If you feel you can handle life on your own trust me when I tell you it sometimes snows…a lot! If you try to be a Super Leader, that is someone who feels they can always do it best, you’re going to need a big shovel to handle not just the snow but all the bullshit you’re going to need to shovel through. You also won’t have 3:00 A.M. friends; those are the guys you can call on when you need them most. Why would you have them, when you’ve always been so good at handling it all yourself?!

Pondemonium this year was about the people, specifically the people that make up your team. The Aquascape Community of Contractors, Retailers and Distributors is part of my team and the team of all those who choose to be a part of it as well. But you gotta choose. Finding something to be part of and surround yourself with the right kind of people that can help you succeed. Because in the end none of us can do this thing called life all alone. Do you understand that?! Those that try to will inevitably get lost at some point along the way. I found that out when I needed it most. And now I’m surrounded with a team that holds me up. Start building your team today…because you might just need them tomorrow.

Ryan and Blake Scuba Diving
Ryan and Blake Scuba Diving

I was talking to a buddy who just got back from his first family vacation in years. They went to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas. Their two boys who are high school and college age loved the all-you-can-eat buffets, the sun and the beach. For all intents and purposes it was a great family trip. However, my friend experienced one disappointment from their vacation; he couldn’t convince his sons to go on a resort instructional scuba dive. The first time I dove in the ocean I was seven years old and it was was in the Bahamas in a resort course. My Dad signed me up and I was so excited I couldn’t sleep the night before! The really cool part was my Dad’s enthusiasm even encouraged my Grandma, who was in her 60s, to try it too! I remember the instructor making a big deal about having his youngest and oldest students ever, both of us on the same dive.

That first dive hooked me on the sport. I was certified by age 12 and spent my high school and college years going on an annual scuba trip with my Dad and seeing much of the world that way; that is at least it’s underwater portion. It was a great bonding experience for my Dad and me. My buddy’s kids may or may not have liked scuba diving as much as my Dad and I did, but they won’t ever know that because they never gave it a try. I asked my buddy why he couldn’t convince his boys to try it and he said, “Their mother is over protective and they have lived a sheltered life. They were too scared to try.”

That got me thinking. Do you know how old society now considers you to be before you’re not considered an adolescent? 30! That’s right; society deems you something less than a responsible adult until the age of 30! People say, “Oh he’s just a kid, he’s only 29, he will figure it out.” What?! How is it that an elementary school kid of the 70s would jump head first into the water and a teenager of the 2010’s won’t even dip their big toes in?! To be fair, every kid is different and I’m sure there are ones out there that wouldn’t hesitate to jump into just about any life experience. But here’s the point, there’s a heck of a lot less independent kids today then back in the day when I was growing up. Agreed?

You could, and even maybe should, blame the parents for this increasing lack of independence but by doing so you would be only further be contributing to the problem with that attitude. The problem with that is the belief it’s the parents’ or society’s fault rather than the individual for their own lack of maturity. As a parent of two young boys, I’d be the first to admit it’s a struggle to raise our boys to be independent in the society we are part of today. When I was my boy’s ages I lived on my bike. LIVED! Being driven to practice in my parent’s car would have required a category 5 hurricane to be hitting at the same time! But the society I, and maybe you, grew up in is very different than today’s. There was no such thing as travel sports though in society back then; or cell phones or texting, or Facebook or Instagram.

Is it any wonder that fewer 16 year olds have their driver’s licenses today as a percent of the population then any other time in the last 50 years? Why do they need one? They can talk to their friends virtually anytime they want and since fewer teenagers work today than at any time in our country’s history they don’t need to get to work either. The world my kids are growing up in is vastly different than the one I grew up in. This means, if I don’t work like crazy to raise my kids vastly different, they too will be considered adolescents until they are 30.

It’s a daily struggle and one I feel I’m only half succeeding at. In our house, electronic time is limited and indeed only earned when chores and tasks are completed. My 14 year old has a part-time job but his bike doesn’t get him there, we do. We work diligently as parents to instill good exercise and eating habits which has a nice side effect of getting us to practice what we preach. But when it comes to money they have such a skewed perspective that we made the extreme decision to move for a year to a third world country. It was a desperate attempt for them to gain some real world perspective. Then society intervened, as it often does, and my job forced us to scrap those dreams. Ultimately my dream for my kids is to grow up as I did learning to be independent. I would hope that’s every parent’s dream. Let us that are so privileged to be raising kids in today’s challenging society not forget that. Because after all, the kids we raise in society today will be the ones creating the society we live in tomorrow. That’s why it goes without saying; my boys will both be getting certified to dive into the ocean’s depth. I want them to learn the world is their oyster…but only if they are willing to swim for it!

Michael Jordan and I have something in common; we’ve both missed more shots than we’ve made. I’ve had many good ideas that didn’t pan out for one reason or another. Critics love to point out your digressions when your idea misses its mark. That’s because it’s really, really easy to be an editor. An editor is someone who is a professional at looking at the world and pointing out what’s wrong with it. Sometimes they even have suggestions on how to fix it. Rarely though will they ever author the changes needed to improve on it. Why? Because doing so would require them to put their neck out there. If they did that they know there would be more than a few other editors ready to cut it off!

I took my former videographer many years ago, to film a session at the American Leadership Academy (ALA.) The ALA’s mission is to train tomorrow’s leaders today and that’s exactly what we do each year for over 600 young men. Pretty cool huh? Not if you’re an editor. Most of these young men come from America’s universities and primarily the Greek system. Many, if not most, come from middle to upper class families. To a liberal videographer who’s already an anti-establishment artistic type this sort of scene is the perfect opportunity to be an editor. Instead of seeing the vision of giving back that the self-made man who founded over 40 companies including the ALA had, this cat saw a nepotistic organization dedicated to giving a hand up to its members.

The glass was, and always will be, half empty to the masses who love to put their edits on how others could and even should be doing things. But the one thing life’s editors will rarely get to hear is the satisfying sound that an idea makes when it hits its mark. Michael Jordan is not a six-time NBA champ because his game was perfect. He combined talent with hard work and a hell of a lot of shots, most of which missed their mark.

The challenge for every author is to have the fortitude to keep lofting shots even though most rim out and some occasionally get nothing but air. For you shooters out there keep playing the game knowing there will always be a stadium full of editors ready to criticize your every move. Let them enjoy their view…from the stands.

I love getting massages. I have a membership at Massage Envy, a national chain where you get a massage a month for only $49 bucks. The guy (yes, I prefer a dude) who I usually go to when I’m in town recently announced he was leaving to work out of his house. He figures he can make more money on his own. Typical! I “innocently” asked him to tell me his business plan. He confidently announced he was going to charge $75 bucks a massage and even if only half his customers go with him he will be making the same amount of money working for himself as he does working for someone else. Interesting I replied and then I asked “Hey, if I go with you what would I be getting for my extra $26 bucks a month?” “A Bio-Mat” he enthusiastically proclaimed! He then geeked out about his new $1,200 Bio-Mat massage table expounding on it’s ergonomic features and improved comfort. Funny I thought, never once have I laid down on a massage table and felt anything but comfort. I began to mention that but before I could he quickly cut me off again proclaiming the virtues of his new Bio-Mat. How much did it cost you again, I asked? “Only $1,200 bucks which means it will only take 16 massages to pay it off!” As I lay there I “innocently” wondered if he was planning on paying his mortgage or even eating for that matter? Or paying taxes? I also wondered how many of his customers would leave Massage Envy with their fireplace, classical music and even eucalyptus smelling waiting room for his basement? I’m not sure but I am sure of a few things. His Bio-Mat sounds cool but not nearly cool enough. And it most certainly won’t be paid off with 16 massages. He will certainly have a “few” more expenses he’s yet to factor in. I know he’s a good masseuse but as for being a businessman, I have my doubts. But my doubts laid with me as he wasn’t asking my opinion, rather telling me what he’s going to do. After all, what does a Pond Guy know about Bio-Mats?! He also didn’t ask me if I would be leaving to join him in his new venture. A salesman he most certainly is not!

I see a lot of people who either make the leap or live in a perpetual state of “someday, I’m going to make the leap and do this for myself” kind of mindset motivated by whatever their Bio-Mat” is. Right? Obviously we all know that to be successful all you need is an innovative idea or a better mouse trap. Right? Marketing, sales, let alone business acumen, are all just superficial skillsets after all that hard work will overcome.

I work really, really hard at marketing and sales and for that matter all other aspects of running a successful business. But no amount of marketing and sales I do will dent the resolve of the masses who believe success and failure in business comes down to their version of a “Bio-Mat.” Or those that believe success comes from your passion and hard work—sales, marketing and finances be damned! More people than not reject the value of saddling their businesses alongside the Aquascape sales, marketing and business model machine. They won’t become a Certified Aquascape Contractor which would allow them to be listed as authorized installers of our system on the number one site in the world for consumers searching for information on water features. Why? Because they have a favorite “Bio-Mat,” pump or “fish safe skimmer” they would prefer to install instead of swearing loyalty to a brand that’s entire business model is predicated on their success. That’s their right and their prerogative. As it’s also my right and prerogative to keep my membership with a national firm that has an app that finds the closest Massage Envy to wherever I’m at (fireplace, classical music and eucalyptus smelling waiting room and all). I will miss my masseuse however…and his “Bio-Mat.”

Brad the Boys and Me

Brad the boys and me

“The greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential” Truer words have never been spoken. As a boss, friend and certainly as a parent it’s a concept I embrace whole-heartedly. Which is why I found myself extending a business trip turned family vacation into two additional days of focused fact finding. I traveled with my fourteen year old aspiring high school distant runner to Ogden, Utah to spend a few days with a world champion. How many people do you know personally that own not only one world record, but two?! I know exactly one, which is why I found myself at his door step, child in hand. “The easiest way to succeed in life is to find someone who has succeeded at doing what you want to do and do what they did!” Brad Barton is a former Olympic Qualifier and a current two-time World Record holder in the Steeplechase. Dudes got wheels and at 48 he has something even more valuable to me; an encyclopedic knowledge of running and the art of racing. I played football. My son is a runner. Hello Brad!

Brad’s a friend but better yet transcribes to the same school of thought of helping others reach their fullest potential. It’s why he criss-crosses the country delivering knock-out motivational keynotes and was more than willing to spend two days mentoring my boy. As we sat together watching him break down both of his world record performances, stride by stride, turn by turn, thought by thought, I felt I was running the races with him. More importantly though my son was running it in his mind too. As Brad spoke my son absorbed the techniques of a seasoned running vet and even more importantly, the mindset of a world champion.

I asked Brad why all the races we broke down he was starting the race if not in last place, second to last? “Simple” he said, “Those young kids know how to run but not how to race!” And as lap after agonizing lap played out before my own eyes, kid after talented, but raw, kid fell to this not so old, slightly balding buddy of mine. “Look right there” he explained with all the enthusiasm of someone who owns two Masters World records. “Look at their arms flailing, wasting energy!” he stated “All I’m thinking to myself here is calm, quick and short with every turnover,” proclaimed Brad. “Did you get that Ryan?” I exclaimed with equal enthusiasm for the gift of gold we just received!

I don’t get to run the races for my son, nor do I want to. I do get to expose him though to others who can help him better than I, to reach whatever his maximum potential. Some might call that parenting, or even coaching, I call it common sense. I know a World Champion, how could I NOT expose my son to him?! My son learned a ton as did I but that’s not all I cared about. I just wanted him to learn one thing he could apply in every race to gain a potential edge over the next guy. The one thing he learned, which was analogous to me and if you’re willing to go through the pain maybe you too, is this; Don’t ever allow yourself to fall behind a runner when you come alongside them no matter how tempting it gets! Pick up your momentum and go around ’em every single time! Whooh! Words to run by for my son and live by for the rest of us. And when you live your life running like that, you too might just find yourself performing like a World Champion at your chosen craft.

So here’s to picking up your step a little bit tomorrow, in whatever you do, and then doing it even a little more the next. Because if you allow yourself to fall back and draft off the guy in front of you, just as the saying goes “when you’re not the lead dog your view never changes.” My son now see’s that, how he runs his race is now up to him.

People change for only two reasons; they want to or have to. Unfortunately that means many people who maybe should change don’t. My father-in-law will never buy a General Motors product. Never! His reasoning is sound based on his past negative experience with two General Motors vehicles. The challenge however is that he thinks about the General Motors of the 80s as the General Motors of today. Even though the company now is very different then the company he last did business with over two decades ago, it isn’t to him. Ultimately it’s his choice, as it is all of ours to feel anyway we want about anything. Frankly I don’t care what he drives or how others choose to think. But what I do think is far too many people let events of their past taint their choices for the future. Agreed? What happened yesterday may or may not be relevant for what’s happening now, yet more often than not it plays a large role in how all of us make choices. Sometimes events of the past, prevent us from making the best choices for our future.

As an owner of my own company I realize that my entrepreneur’s survival is 100% reliant on whether people choose to change or not. NO amount of marketing and good will get someone to buy my products if they don’t want to or don’t have to.This is an exceedingly challenging proposition for me to deal with. On the heels of our biggest marketing and public relations coup, our Pond Stars reality television series, I’ve been putting on a full-court press to get new contractors and retailers into the Aquascape fold. For the most part my efforts have been met with minimal success. Why? People only change when they want to or have to. Most people are comfortable doing things the way they always have even when a better or more opportunitive alternative is available. Why is this and how does someone like me, who at the very least believes he has a better mouse trap, get through to the masses? At this point I think there is little hope of overcoming a non-Aquascape customer’s perceptions, real or perceived, on why they won’t do business with my organization. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying, it just goes back to people being set in their ways.

Since I’ve determined that many people won’t change even if changing will help them, I’ve come up with my own plan to get them to do what may be better for them but they just can’t pull the trigger on for themselves. This September I’m taking to the airwaves with our reality series Pond Stars and showing the world what we’ve been developing for the last 23 years. And then we will leave it up to the world to decide if it still thinks ponds are a lot of work! Today the world wants concrete shells versus liner, and waterfalls made of stacked stones reaching high into the sky and spewing water like volcano spews lava. Oh my breaking heart! Since this is the way the majority of water features are built today, there are plenty of contractors more than happy to build it for them. Today. But when we showcase beautiful, low maintenance water features installed with 20 products in 20 steps, maybe just maybe, we can change the public paradigm for ponds once and for all. Then people will ask their contractor or their retailer if they could have a pond “just like the one they saw on TV.” When this occurs their contractor or retailer will be forced to change with the changing paradigm or go the way of the dinosaur. And “Ponds Done Right, Customers Served Right” will no longer be the exception but rather the rule. That’s the kind of change I’m after. That’s the kind of change that’s good!

A CEO's Son - Ryan

A CEO’s Son – Ryan

My oldest is turning 14 this summer and I felt it was time for him to start working part-time. I know a company that’s always on the lookout for good workers and I have some influence there, so I got him an interview. The company is Aquascape which I happen to own so it might not be a surprise he was hired. I told everyone that works for me though I would only allow my boy to work here under one, and only one, condition…they treat him like the CEO’s son. That is, to treat him the opposite of what society tells them they should. In other words give him the worst jobs possible and cut him no slack for doing them anything less than to perfection! I better not catch him pushing a broom I said, if there’s still toilets to be cleaned!

To me the point is simple. My son, through no fault of his own, was born into a situation fraught with disincentives. Does he really want for anything? That’s not the way I was raised or my wife for that matter and that’s certainly not what we want for either of our sons. That’s why I can’t miss this chance with his first job to teach him the lesson too many kids don’t get these days. That’s that satisfaction comes from doing an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s pay. How many people have forgot or even worse never known what that feels like in today’s entitlement society? But you know what happened when he got his first check for $72.00? His 11 year old brother went nuts and declared “I want a job!” Amen, hallelujah and woo-hoo I say to that!

I had every advantage a kid could ask for growing up; two loving, supportive parents, food and shelter. I also had a need for speed and a passion for Go Karts and three wheelers (ya, I’m old). Whatever machine I had at the time I coveted the next one. And my parents supported me fully, provided I wanted to earn the money on my own to buy it! And earn I did – cutting lawns, cleaning gutters and even going door to door offering to wash and vacuum people’s cars. (I made more in tips then what I charged.) My first job was as a lifeguard at a pool, also starting at age 14. And I did it all while playing sports year round. Was I Superman? Nah…just a kid of the 70’s and 80’s. I learned hard work and the satisfaction that came from it. I also learned the joy of saving for my dreams, every time I plunked my own money down to upgrade to an even better toy to have fun with.

This is why I wanted everyone at Aquascape to treat my boy like the CEO’s son and make him work for his pay. And I knew it would be a battle to get them to do just that. Society tells them they should treat my kid, the owners kid, with kid gloves. And most kids of owners who work in their parents’ business subsequently never get to experience just how back breaking success is. What a shame! Why anyone would want to slap their offspring with the debilitating handcuffs of a trust fund, or a job in their family business above their skill level or passion, is beyond me. It’s counter-intuitive to my core to remove the hurdles of opportunity otherwise described as the challenges that come from working hard and sacrificing. I want my boys to experience the joys of victory but they won’t be able to if they don’t put in the work and make the sacrifices first. So please treat my boy for what he is so indeed he can become all he will be. And if it’s up to me, and it very much still is, that means letting him work his way up from the ground floor. Because whether he works for me someday or someone else, he will need to be working like everyone should. An honest day’s labor for an honest day’s pay.

Greg and Tyree

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. That is two parents who loved me and provided adequate food, clothes and shelter. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have that kind of start. I’d like to believe I’d be someone just like Tyree Guyton.

I met Tyree while riding my bike around to the various abandoned factories and neighborhoods of Detroit. I’m glad I didn’t listen to all those concerned for my welfare as what I discovered was even more than I hoped for. What I stumbled upon, right in the middle of decimated neighborhoods was a block that, although filled with abandoned structures, was filled with life and even joy. Joy? In Detroit?! YES! How else would you describe homes and roadways painted with all the colors of the rainbow with stuffed animals positioned having tea at tables alongside mountains of shoes and even totem poles made of furniture? All of it the eclectic, artistic, interpretation of a single man, Tyree Guyton, and his Heidelberg Project www.heidelberg.org

My mind was overwhelmed with the mind blowing context of the entire scene. That’s when I met Tyree, paint brush in hand. “Hey bro, what is the place?” I innocently asked. “My dream!” he proudly proclaimed. Tyree Guyton is a native Detroitian who was sad and even angered by what was happening to the city he loved. However, unlike most who might have felt the same way Tyree choose the path less taken in how he responded. Namely he took action! He started using the discarded “junk” of others to create his very own style of urban art. For 25 years now, this self-taught artist has been transforming homes and even city blocks creating a decidedly different vibe in the process. Along the way he earned an honorary doctorate in art and better yet, inspired others to be the change in their universes as well. That change included me as he very surprisingly handed me a paint brush and bucket and asked me to join him in transforming a dingy patch of asphalt into a polka dotted fantasy land! Who would have thunk it when I started pedaling that morning?!

I could only wish, dream or hope that like Tyree I too would have chosen the path less taken. Tyree, like many others born with less than I, certainly have an argument for accepting their lot in life. In fact even those born with more, (whatever form more takes) have an argument for choosing the path they ultimately take.

After all rich kids who have been spoiled their whole lives are equally guilty of choosing drugs or even simply apathy when it comes to choosing their path in life. Not Tyree and I’d like to think not me either. What about you? Are you the kind of person who finds solitude in finding all the reasons on why you can’t succeed accomplishing something? Do you focus on the very real circumstances you find yourself surrounded in as justification of staying on the path you’re on? Or do you pull a paint brush out of your pocket and start painting your path on the proverbial pavement to self improvement or even self worth?

I asked to take a picture inspired by my experience with Tyree. He politely declined. I understood his message loud and clear and made my own path immediately over to his store (or should I say shrine) in one of those formerly abandoned homes. Once inside I bought one of his books. When I walked out with his book I went right over and took the photo he now enthusiastically agreed to take with me. When he put a paint brush in my hand he effectively had taken my money. This guy was the kind of street smart entrepreneur we need more of in this world. Yet most of the street dumb entrepreneurs on Detroit’s East side are of a decidedly different kind. They choose a traditional path, he choose an unconventional one. He’s the difference maker in his life and that’s exactly the kind of enterprise or more succinctly enterprising individual I’d like to support with my money. That’s because inside me I will always have one burning and unanswerable question. Would I too have had the same mental and emotional fortitude of the Tyree’s of the world who have overcome far greater odds than I to become who they are today?

I respect those who refuse to take the path most taken and choose their own positive path in this world instead. Those people, by definition, are the minority. But they’re the majority of the people I aim to surround myself with. What about you? Who do you surround yourself with? I bet how you answer that question is also how you answered the first one. Because ultimately the choice of being a victim or not, is up to each and every one of us irregardless of the situation we were born into. If you don’t agree with me just ask Tyree. But don’t be surprised if he replies by handing you a paint brush!

Niagara Falls in the background, kids on electronics in the foreground. The world today!

Niagara Falls in the background, kids on electronics in the foreground. The world today!

Last night as my younger son slept and my wife read, I watched YouTube video after YouTube video with my 13 year old.  It was our “movie night” and an illustration how the world today is very very different than the world we grew up in.  Neither of my boys remember going to a video store to purchase our entertainment. Watching The  Brady Bunch, The Love Boat, and Gilligan’s Island type of shows broadcast over a television screen is not the way they unwind.  My youngest does watch cartoons…on his mobile device.  Most of us who didn’t grow up in this electronic age don’t really grasp its full impact on our world’s future. How could we?  It is true, from my perspective anyway, that constantly being connected to entertainment options leads to more isolation and less interaction with others.  As a parent who didn’t grow up this way myself, I question how these changes will impact our society when this generation grows up.

But there’s a flip side view of this radically different world than the one I grew up in.  My son is entering high school tops in his class on his science placement tests.  Last night along with the occasional “world’s greatest wipeouts” and “when animals attack” videos thrown in for diversion we bonded over science videos.  Science!  My son has watched hundreds of hours of science tutorials and explanations over the past few years and he was more than excited to show me his favorites.  For the ones that weren’t way over my head, I actually learned something.  All of them were entertaining, though especially to my son who is fascinated by all things science.

Now he’s had a class period devoted to science throughout his traditional schooling.  No doubt he’s learned a lot from those units in school.  I also have no doubt he’s learned a lot more on his own.  It’s not even close. Whether it’s something  he’s read about from a Google search, or watched with the aforementioned YouTube videos, he’s smart because of his time spent learning outside the classroom. What a different world indeed.

It’s been said you could become an expert in five years on any topic you desire to be by spending twenty minutes a day studying it.  We did that by going to a library, my son has done it from the couch!  Many of us over 40 still make sense of the world the way it was when we were growing up. True?  It’s why we want our kids to get a college degree, to prove their worth to employers, and land a good job.  As an employer myself today, I could care less if someone who works for me has a degree or not.  What I do care about though is what someone is passionate about.  My son is well on his way to becoming an expert in science.  He’s in love with the periodic table and elements!  There’s no question it’s nature versus nurture with him.  I grew up with a net and a bucket catching frogs and turtles.  He’s growing up with CGP Gray YouTube videos.  If he’s not going to be a scientist than I could easily see him being a science teacher. Here’s the crux of my point. Should he need to go to college to get a teaching degree to be hired by a school to teach science? Unless our society believes a degree trumps passion and knowledge in a teacher for ultimate effectiveness I don’t see why. The world’s a very different place. It’s about time us older folks acknowledge it with a paradigm shift regarding how one learns and educates oneself today!

Here’s a final thought about our changing world and proof an old dog can learn new tricks.  I’m writing this post from a busy lobby in another country, but I can’t hear all the commotion. I can’t hear anything besides Neil Diamond screaming “Forever in Blue Jeans” streaming in from outer space via my Pandora app. Still I’m literally writing using a pen and actual paper as that’s what I grew up doing.  But when I’m done I will take photos of what I wrote and email it to my Executive Assistant back in the states for her to type up.  It will than get posted to our website, shared via Facebook and Twitter and even flipped into my Flipboard magazine, The Pond Guy’s Blog.

Our world is different.  We need to be different too if we want to be part of it.

Carpe Diem

Pictured Above: The new CEO of National Geographic Channels Courteney Monroe, Manager Bob Aniello, and Aquascape President Colleen Heitzler.

In August of 1992 my life changed forever. The previous summer I had decided to do what I loved for my summertime gig and began a business building ponds for other people’s gardens. I had a blast and made some great money. The summer of 1992 was no different; I was building ponds, having fun and making money. But on August 2nd of 1992 my business and I were featured in a front page story in the Chicago Tribune’s Tempo section. I had installed 17 ponds to date. That one story alone generated hundreds of requests for ponds! I was overwhelmed! My Dad joined the company and I hired my first full-time employees. With that one article my summertime gig became my full-time career and the course of my life was set. It’s fair to say that one article changed my life.

Last week I was in Hollywood cruising around town with my manager and meeting public relations firms and publicists. What? Me?! Our upcoming reality series Pond Stars debuts this September on Nat Geo Wild. I’ve experienced what happened with a large local newspaper, I can only imagine what is about to occur with an international reality TV show! I’m excited while trying not to be overwhelmed. Most of all I’m preparing, which is why I was in Hollywood in the first place. Filming a reality series has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had no idea the amount of people and work that went into creating a network worthy reality series. It’s a multi-million dollar investment and many, many thousands of man hours of work. I’ve been blown away at the process! Hollywood is also a very different business than what I’m used to. That’s a nice way of saying that I feel like a fish out of water! What’s everyday business in the entertainment world for the network, the production company, and even my manager, is a completely alien experience for me! I feel like a high schooler enrolled in a PhD program. It’s a very strange feeling for me not to be “in the know” especially when it’s my life’s work being chronicled.

Here’s what I do know: It’s like 1992 again. Everything is going to change. Aquascape’s “15 minutes of fame” is on the horizon. Once this show airs, my world won’t be the same. This show, whether it’s good or bad, will define what Aquascape is in the public eye. Most people couldn’t tell you what a water garden is today. It’s not like this show is going to change that. But millions of people who wouldn’t be able to tell you what a water garden is today will be able to after this show debuts. Millions!

This is by far and away the biggest thing that’s ever happened to my business and by default me in my twenty three years of being at the helm. That’s exciting and scary too! It’s also one of the things that is making this process so hard. With prime time exposure comes increased demand for our goods and services. But in order to deliver them, we’ve got to prepare now. We are looking at everything from our teammates to our vendors to our warehouse space and even our entire go-to-market strategy. Everything Aquascape does and how we do it needs to be vetted out in the wake of landing a reality TV series about our business. Everything! It’s a great problem to have but a problem nonetheless.

September will be here before I know it and a process that began almost three years ago will come to fruition. Not a day will go by between now and then where I won’t be preparing for it. This reality series hasn’t even hit and it’s changing how I do things today on a daily basis. Yes, I’m excited, of course I’m a little scared but most of all I’m grateful. Grateful that my life is far from boring. Grateful that for the first time and in a big way, I get to share our art with the rest of the world. And finally I’m grateful for the opportunity that this show presents to not only everyone at Aquascape but the customers we serve. Our industry is filled with cool people doing cool things. Pond Stars is about to expose them and what they do to literally the whole wide world. Everything is about to change and for that I’m extremely grateful. (And a little bit scared!)

Are You The Man in The Arena?

Last week I wrote about my father-in-law in my blog post “What’s Your Bus?” My father-in-law’s story was the story of every self-made man. Mainly it was about not accepting the “no” life always gives you, again and again, on the road to success. Unfortunately, I feel more and more people would rather say “yes” to the world telling them “no” today than ever before. Do you agree? The problem though isn’t just people unwilling to push the status quo by pushing back when the world tells them “no,” but rather not even being motivated to reach the status quo! I feel no trait is more lacking today than that of initiative. In fact, I see it lacking so much today that many people don’t even have the initiative to reach the status quo. To me the status quo is one’s ability to take care of oneself. When someone isn’t self-sufficient enough to take care of themselves, how is it they could possibly provide for others? If one can’t provide for themselves, and therefore someone else, namely a spouse or a child, than what hope is there for society? Now, I’m not saying the second coming is near, but I am saying it’s the job of those with initiative to do something about the continuous rise of our entitlement society.

Those who aren’t willing to step up for themselves look to others to do it for them. It’s not fair but neither is life – right? As you might imagine however, this is maddening for many self-made people even if they agree that life’s not fair. I’d like to address all of you, whom like me, in my weaker moments, think it’s not fair that life’s not fair. Here it goes.

Initiative as I see it comes regardless of the spoils. Now that’s nothing against the spoils, which certainly help lubricate the wheels of the road to success, but rather a plug for the underlying motivation of one’s initiative. If one desires riches but isn’t ready to put in the work to earn them, then they better play the lottery! If one is willing to do the work but only for the riches I profess they, not much unlike those who lack initiative, are missing the forest for the trees. There’s a reason the road to success is a journey and not a destination. That’s because I believe to live life to the fullest one must be always raising the bar for themselves. That’s why I feel most sorry for the seemingly increasing percentage of society that feels entitled not to have to even work hard enough to support themselves let alone others! What an unfulfilling life indeed.

But on the flipside, those souls who have initiative simply for the pursuit of the spoils, also miss the forest for the trees. What a sad life they lead!

Rather I think the perfect description of initiative for initiative’s sake can most eloquently be summarized by Theodore Roosevelt’s timeless quote.

 

My father-in-law is a self-made man. He spent most of his life owning and running his own business. When he “retired” a few years ago he discovered he wasn’t much for sitting around and besides how much fishing and hunting can one do anyway?! He had a friend who drove a school bus in his “retirement” and really enjoyed it. My father-in-law decided he might like it too so he went to “bus school” and got his license. That’s how in his late 60’s he began a completely new profession, one involving shuttling kids to and fro each morning and afternoon. Low and behold he too found out he enjoyed it even when it cut into his occasional fishing and hunting outings.

Two years ago both he and my mother-in-law had had enough of Chicago winters and decided to “retire” to a bed and breakfast community located just outside the Gulf of Mexico in Fairhope, Alabama. They love it there! Part of the reason, besides the weather, is the fact that my father-in-law decided to continue driving a bus there as well. Here’s where the moral of the story comes in. When he went to the bus company in AL to apply, they told him they had no openings. They weren’t hiring. But saying “no” to someone who is self-made is really just saying “find another way.” And find another way he did.

He went to Kinkos, made flyers stating his qualifications and contact information, and started going door to door. That is, he started going school to school and asking this simple question at each school office: “Who’s in charge of scheduling bus drivers here?” Almost always he was shuffled right to each school’s decision maker, whom, when he introduced himself and handed them his flyer they replied with a standard “nobody has ever done this before.” His response was “I’m new in town and I’m willing to take whatever fill-in routes you can get me. If you call me at the last minute and I’m not already driving for someone else I will drop what I’m doing and be there for you.” He then asked if they had a magnet or tack and he would go behind their desk and post his flyer where they would hopefully see it when they needed it.

Almost immediately his phone began to ring…and ring and ring! He said it was often not convenient and was often at the last minute but he fulfilled his promise and dropped whatever he was doing or had planned and took the job. Within a year he had earned a full time gig with one of his regulars. Why? Because he didn’t do what the majority of people do and take no for an answer! Because he did what all self-made people do and he took initiative, thought outside the box, and made his own opportunities. And he got lucky when the preparation of creating flyers and knocking on doors met the opportunity created when someone else got sick or couldn’t drive their regular route.

Business owners love when people have initiative. We love when people think outside the box and create their own good luck from being prepared for the opportunity that always will present itself eventually. We love when people don’t take no for an answer even when that no might come from us. The question for you and even all of us business owners is; What’s your Bus? What’s something you want to do that you haven’t yet done because someone or lots of someone’s told you “NO!” The ultimate question is if you are someone who feels controlled by destiny or do you work to make your own destiny? I for one don’t want to ever be a victim. A victim feels that someone or something else controls their destiny. It’s almost always a boss “who is holding a victim down” or maybe even a spouse “who can’t make ME happy.” You and you alone, determine not only your happiness but your ultimate destiny in life. Life’s 10% about what happens to you (NO) and 90% what you do about it. “Find another way!” “Make your Flyers!” “Knock on more Doors!” If not someone else will…even if they are “retired.”

Carpe Diem,
The Pond Guy

I love ponds but I love people more. When I plug in a waterfall that I just strained for hours to create and the homeowner I just built it for sheds a tear of joy, I have immense pride in what I’ve just done. But when I see my 13 year old dig deep to run a personal best, the level of pride I feel in what he just did isn’t even comparable. “The greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping someone else reach their fullest potential.” Wouldn’t you agree?! That’s why I’m bursting with pride today after Aquascape’s winter training event, Chicagomnoium. I saw people reaching their fullest potential and it felt damn good to know I could be a small part of it. Even better was the fact that Jennifer Zuri, our Marketing Communications Manager, could be a part of it too. After all, she had the herculean task of teaching old dogs new tricks by getting contractors to comprehend social media for their businesses. And you know what, she did it and today she’s better for it. Her “potential bar” just got notched up a level!

The world will soon be seeing what I and many of you already know and that’s how talented of an artist Brian Helfrich is. Whatever pride he felt showing off his latest masterpiece at the Chicago Flower and Garden show paled in comparison to the pride I had in seeing him reaching his fullest potential (at least until next year anyway.)

I could go on and on about the people I saw reaching their fullest potential during Chicagomonium. From Jeff Payton who has the amazing gift of turning complicated matters into simple digestible nuggets or George Janowiak having the cojones to share his financials with not only a roomful of peers but a world of peering eyes on a live camera feed! Are you kidding me?! That’s balls!

I could go on and on but will conclude with this only for the sake of brevity; My mom walked into the room during our marketing session (if you could call it that). I said something to acknowledge her and she didn’t hesitate to jump up on stage and for all intents and purposes steal not only my microphone but also the show. She weaved together whatever I was trying to say much more eloquently than I could. She said something about the five layers of success with the pinnacle being Pride.

As my mother she has, what I hope all mothers would have, immense pride in the man her boy has become. Without her constant mentoring, her leading by example I wouldn’t be half the man I am today. She should have pride too, after all I put her through! I have immense pride in calling her my mom; and Ryan my son, and Jennifer, Brian, and Jeff my Teammates, and George and maybe even you my customers. My greatest wish for all of you is that you too can experience the level of pride I get doing what I do, by doing what you do too!

Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

Dont be like Tony

Tony Sargeant is a legend. He’s a former Aquascape Businessman of the Year and an 18 year customer of Aquascape. Not only was he at the first Pondemonium but he’s been at every one ever since. In every way but one we want you to be like Tony. That one is the fact that Tony didn’t submit his application to be a CAC. That’s right, one of the longest standing, most influential and certainly most humble CACs hasn’t submitted his paperwork yet because of a misunderstanding. That scares us! If Tony could almost slip through the cracks anyone could. Hopefully this piece will help continue to clear up the miscommunication so everyone who should be a CAC is a CAC by the end of the month.

First things first with the new program. Anyone can now become a CAC. That is anyone who fills out the application, passes the online classes, and submits photos from three jobs. Now, the biggest differences between being a CAC in the new program and the old are pretty dramatic. Product discounts and leads go away. Simply put, people in the new CAC program who aren’t Professionals or Masters haven’t earned our support with additional product and event discounts as well as lead referrals through our website. You don’t have to be exclusive to be a CAC under these terms either. You will have access to the CAC Facebook page though, and you’ll be able to participate in the discussions there. Why the change? We don’t want participants to feel we are demanding exclusivity, but rather let people who want the additional value to choose on their own to follow the guidelines. Of course, everyone always has had that choice before, but that didn’t stop people from choosing to be a CAC and then choosing how much or little they wanted to follow the agreement. That wasn’t fair to us or even the other CACs. We HATED playing the bad cop and calling people out who say one thing but do another. No more! Now that CACs must submit their purchases to qualify for Professional or Master Status, everything changes.

Bottom line: Aquascape has suffered, the program has suffered, and every CAC has suffered since 2006 when Aquascape opened up distribution in response to almost everyone asking for local distributors closer to their location. When we went from 72 locations carrying our products to 450 we may have provided our customers with more choices, which was great, but we also lost visibility into our customer’s purchases in the process. Gone were Top 40 and Top 100 recognitions and much of the good old-fashioned competitive spirit that was fostered by tracking sales (Steve Shinholser of Premier Ponds came to his first Pondemonium after finding out he missed the Top 40 by one spot!) Winners want to win and we want all our customers to be winners! With the new CAC program we will now be able to bring back Top Frog Awards so people can once again see how they rank compared to their peers nationally. CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH?!

In order for us to rank CACs, you will need to track your Aquascape purchases. Tracking your purchases might be a pain but so is paying taxes. But unlike taxes, submitting your purchase history has tangible advantages to you and for us. When you track your purchases you will be more likely to track your project financials too. Everyone agrees job costing is important but truthfully how many people have the discipline to do it? By tracking your purchases we will get back to learning a few valuable things we have missed that we can use to further the benefits of being a CAC. By seeing who’s buying what, we can learn who’s having the most success out there and what they are doing to achieve that success. Furthermore, being able to reward and honor those CACs who earn Top Frog status is something we loved to do and we can now do it again. Getting back to a measurable way to encourage some fun competition among the CACs will give everyone a barometer of how they are doing among their peers. From our viewpoint it’s a win, win, win scenario which is what we always strive for with whatever we do. Are you as excited as we are to bring back the old esprit de corps the Top Frog awards encourage?

It took one beer with Tony to answer his questions and concerns. As much as we would love to, we can’t have a beer with every CAC between now and the end of the month. We have around 350 CACs today. We anticipate with these changes we will lose about a third of them. We don’t want to lose any! But we would rather lose all the guys who don’t participate or play by the rules they agreed upon than to keep the program the way it was. Do you concur? We also hope that you believe as we do that a rising tide lifts all ships. The more CACs we have out there participating and playing by the rules and installing ponds done right/customers served right, the more all of us will prosper. It’s counter-intuitive to want more competition but, when that competition becomes coopetition, like the CAC brotherhood is, everyone wins. That’s not just a spin from a manufacturer that benefits from more people buying our products but rather a realist Pond Guy who still sees the MAJORITY OF WATER FEATURES INSTALLED IMPROPERLY! True or false? If 9 out of 10 people still can’t properly define what a water garden is today, and the ones who can all think they are a lot of work, wouldn’t WE all benefit from more people doing ponds done right/customers served right? Please let us know your thoughts, feelings, and emotions supporting or challenging our perspectives and how we’ve redesigned the CAC program for everyone’s benefit.

So help us help you and help the industry in the process, not to mention all the unsuspecting consumers of our goods and services. Get your CAC application in by the end of the month!!! And please, if you know some dude who’s on the fence try to talk him over his issues so WE don’t lose any more good people then we have to. If you have questions, concerns or support with anything stated, again, please state them here. There is no dumb question! Aquascape is here to help make running your business easier, help you make more money while doing all while having more fun in the process! Why wouldn’t everyone want to be a CAC, you ask? Because everyone isn’t cut out to be a CAC let alone an exclusive Professional or Master CAC.

Are you?

Carpe Applications!

The Pond Guy

PrideYou know what I see when I look at this picture? Perseverance, Pain, and Pride. I also see Team. I see the efforts of an entire organization that sewed a purse out of a pig’s ear. The perseverance of a Team handicapped for resources whether that was money, or time, or maybe even a lack of support on my end. You know the saying that “nothing worth having ever comes easy?” Well, you’re looking at the fruit of those labors in this picture.

It’s a snapshot of a product line that’s been turned upside down and inside out from top to bottom; from the design, to the pricing, to even the damn packaging! No stone was left unturned in our Team’s efforts to create products for our customers to succeed with. These products were created for consumers to improve their experiences with their decorative water features. We want them to encourage people who have never even thought about owning a water feature to get one and fall in love with it. It’s for the next generation to fall in love with what the rest of us fell in love with a long time ago. There’s a lot riding on what’s pictured in this frame.

This picture also represents a victory of the human spirit. What you can’t see in this shot is the Pride I feel viewing it. Pride for the sacrifices of an entire team whose efforts are represented on these shelves. This business, our industry, and even your business is not a game to us. This picture says that in a thousand words. We’ve done it! We’ve reinvented ourselves and subsequently your opportunities to succeed with us. That’s what I see in this picture. An entire organization that’s made up of many diverse talents is counting on you to see it too. This picture represents our life’s work. The future is bright indeed. Hope you see that too? Carpe Diem

Secret To Success

It’s been said luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. In 1995 a major milestone occurred in my world that would reinforce that definition of luck. In the early spring of that year, I moved out of my home office and garage and into my first building in an industrial park. I had arrived! I felt like the king of the world moving into that huge 1,800 square foot rented space. That’s when I saw it. A gigantic, massive, 36,000 square foot building with a sign out front that read “In The Swim.” I thought “how cool, there’s somebody else doing something with water. I’ve got to stop into that place and see what they do.” (So me, by the way.) The next day I did just that.

Walking into the lobby I introduced myself to the receptionist. “Hi, I’m Greg Wittstock, The Pond Guy from Aquascape, your new neighbor. I’d love to meet the owner of this place!” She gave me the once over and then said, “Let me see if Mr. Coxsworth is available.” A few minutes later a big dude comes up front and I extend my hand. “Hi, I’m Greg Wittstock, The Pond Guy from Aquascape and your new neighbor!” He chuckles and says “Hi, I’m Jim Coxsworth, The Pool Guy.” Turns out that Jim, a 6’4” former hammer thrower from Arizona State was the owner and founder of In The Swim, a direct-to-consumer pool supply catalog company selling everything from chlorine to rubber ducks. I asked to see his operations and he proceeded to take me on a tour of his facility that blew my socks off!

He took me through his customer service department with row after row of reps taking orders. We went past the accounting department with people clicking away on their calculators and into the warehouse which was a bee hive of activity. One thing I will never forget was the rolling conveyer belt of brown cardboard boxes going through an assembly line of packers and labelers ending with stackers putting the packages into a half full semi-truck bound for a UPS terminal. As a businessman with big dreams I felt like a chocolate lover visiting Willie Wonka’s factory!

The tour ended in his corner office with me sitting in front of him and machine-gunning questions and then furiously taking notes of his answers. He gave me, a young and inspiring business owner, a hundred great nuggets of advice. But it was his answer to one question that changed the course of my life and that of many others as well. The question I asked him was this: “What was the best business decision you ever made?” Without hesitation he responded “Hiring O’Keefe Henry Direct as my list broker.” Now, I too had a catalog at the time, but I had no idea what a list broker was. Jim explained that a list broker rents consumer or trade lists from magazines and organizations and then tracks which lists generate the most sales. Every list and mailing gets analyzed and names from better performing lists get mailed more often.

I left that impromptu meeting with pages of notes and a business card for O’Keffe Henry Direct. Here’s where the story gets crazy. I went right back to my little, teeny, weeny, 1,800 square foot building (amazing what effect perspective has) and called the number on the card. I ACTED ON WHAT I HAD JUST LEARNED! Crazy huh?! Taking action is what separates those who get things done and those who talk about getting things done. It’s the old “luck happens when preparation meets opportunity” phrase.

The next week a BMW convertible pulled up outside my building and Peter Henry of O’Keefe Henry walked into my life and changed everything in my life. I showed him what I did and then specifically how I marketed what I did. After I was through, he leaned back in his chair and spoke. He told me I was doing it all wrong. My assumption that people received my catalog and filed it under “P” for ponds was just not the way the world worked. He didn’t add “sonny” when addressing me but he might as well have! I’m no pushover myself and I went right back at him. He didn’t flinch.

Impressed in how resolute he was with his conviction and how I was off base with my convictions, I asked him how much it would cost to hire him. He said his fee was $4,200 plus list rental commissions for each mailing. I thought it was a little high, but I agreed in principle and that’s when he added. “You do understand that’s $4,200 per MONTH!” I was floored! “I thought you said you would only work a few hours a month on my account?! I could hire someone full time for less than that.” Peter responded with a line I’ve now used countless times when in numerous situations “You could hire a lot of people for less than me, and none of them would be as good.” Ouch! I hired O’Keffe Henry Direct and he revolutionized my marketing.

I went from mailing 26,000 catalogs once a year to mailing 3.2 million catalogs spread out over eight times a year! And our sales went from hundreds of thousands, to tens of millions annually. We even became an Inc. 500 Fastest Growing, Privately held Company, four years in a row from 1998 to 2001. All because I took initiative and went and said hello to my neighbor. All because I asked questions. And most importantly all because I listened to seasoned advice and then did the one thing most people don’t do when they “hear” good advice. I ACTED ON IT! The secret to success is taking action. Taking action is the only way anything important ever gets done.

What good advice have you heard today or last year that you have failed to act on? Taking action on it today just might prove to be your “lucky” break.

Tomorrow I will be attending the bi-annual Social Media Week Conference. It’s being held in Bangalore, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Lagos (I’m not quite sure where that is), Milan, Tokyo and New York. I will be attending the New York one but doing it from Chicago, because Everything is Changing.

I can now be in two places at once. With advances in technology and social media I can now watch live streams of the conference, chat via twitter and text with attendees who are there both physically and virtually, all from the comfort of my home or office. And if I have to hop off to speak to someone, maybe even my wife, I can always go back later and listen to the podcast; that is if the reviews from the other attendee’s twitter feeds are positive. We might not be living (yet) in a Jetson’s society but every day, and even every hour, we are getting closer. But what’s this all mean to me and even you today? For me it means my one and only week in the office, and at home, for the entire month of February can be spent in my office or home, and not in New York. For you it might mean the same thing from wherever you are at, as you too can register to attend Social Media Week. It’s free after all, unless like me you count your time as money. That’s why I’m choosing to attend remotely; something I believe is well worth my time investment.

Whether or not you choose to attend Social Media Week I have one challenge for you. Look at the agenda and read the course descriptions. That’s it, nothing more. I believe if you take me up on this challenge at least two things will happen. One, you will be very intrigued by many of the topics being presented. And secondly if you’re anything like me you will be completely overwhelmed at how much and how fast the world is changing and how woefully unprepared you and your business are to embrace it! Intrigued? Check out the agenda and see if you agree or disagree with what I’m saying. That is if you have the time. But if you don’t MAKE the time to check out the agenda I don’t want you to worry. I, along with others from my organization, am going to be attending for you. And then we are going to teach you what we learn and how you can apply it to your business. That’s exactly what Aquascape has always striven to do for those who have actually been willing to listen. Because the best way to learn anything comes from first doing it, and then to really learn it, teach others how to do it too! And speaking for myself and the organization I lead I really, really, want to learn about the most historic shift in sales and marketing in any of our lifetimes. I see nothing but endless possibilities that technology and social media are creating for your business and subsequently mine. That’s why I’m going to teach you what I learn so I can learn it better myself in the process!

Chicagomonium is a month out and sold out. But if you didn’t register because you couldn’t be in two places at once that’s ok. We’ll still be there for you sharing what we are doing at #Chicagomonium. Our sessions will be recorded and podcast too. We even are working on a live stream so indeed you too truly can be in two places at once! I would be the first to argue you would get more out of Chicagomonium if you were there. If I was in New York, live and in person with other like-minded people I’d get more out of Social Media Week too. But Everything has Changed and thank God we all have options we didn’t have before including the ability to be in two places at once. More people (by a significant number) tell me or at least themselves, that they can’t afford to be at Pondemonium every year. For every person who does come there’s ten more who would like to be there but aren’t. Something about making hay when there’s time to make hay, kid’s school and sports obligations or elderly parents who need a looking after, too. Try as I might the majority of the people I talk to about coming to Pondemonium CHOOSE not to. And until now when “Everything has Changed” I couldn’t help them. Now I can and I am thrilled! Until we “talk” again Thursday, 2/20 at the Chicagomonium Webinar I leave you with the same challenge and one more. Check out the class descriptions now at Social Media Week and tell me here how you feel about these changes and your businesses ability to embrace them. Or better yet, tell me in person at Chicagomonium.

Until I “see” you at Pondemonium (or not) Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

Change is the one thing (besides death and taxes) that you can be certain of in life. Yet most people are hard-wired not to want to change. Comfort, familiarity, and ease of doing things make the prospect of changing less desirable for all of us, myself included. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of not changing myself. As a business owner, I must adapt to an ever changing world while also leading my organization to embrace change. Because the one thing you can be certain of in running your own company today is you can either change or go away.

In 23 years of running Aquascape, my role has changed quite a bit. I went from the field to the office to traveling the country to spread the water feature gospel. As my role evolved, so did the company with me. Today is no different. But today EVERYTHING has changed. With the convergence of technology and social media, how I and subsequently Aquascape interacts with the world has changed. No longer do I need to go on the road to spread the good word of water features at seminars, lunch and learns, and over dinners with clients. Now I can preach their merits for contractors, retailers, and even consumers through our YouTube channel (4 million views and counting.) Today when a customer or a consumer has a question, compliment or complaint, I learn about it almost immediately from Facebook or Twitter. No longer do I need to talk on the phone or even email to respond to an individual when I can respond to them and the masses over social media.

You know how big and far reaching the implications of being able to communicate in this fashion is for our business AND for yours?!

EVERYTHING is changing because of what technology and social media creates for us and for you. Our once defunct magazine Aquascape Lifestyles is now alive and better than ever thanks to the revolutionary technology developed by Flipboard. And now with social media everyone can share it with anyone which changes EVERYTHING for all of us! Are you kidding me?!

I do miss the good old days of traveling and visiting customers. I won’t miss the hotel rooms with crappy gyms, meals on the road and being away from my family. But now with the Aquascape Academy, we can train you or your new foreman from your laptop late at night or even in the cab of your truck on your smart phone at lunch. And because of that I don’t need sales guys on the road trying to find a time to meet when you’re not busy. EVERYTHING changes when we can meet you wherever you are whenever you want! Who says all change is bad?! This is game changing, career changing, life changing.

More jobs will be created, more jobs will be eliminated when EVERYTHING changes. If you’re selling ads for the Yellow Pages, consider yourself warned. If you’re still taking ads out in the Yellow Pages, consider yourself doubly warned! Because whether your job is being eliminated or created is a direct result of whether the company you work for or run is willing to change.

Carpe Change,

The Pond Guy

After reading what our foreman Chris wrote about his experience working with one of our Certified Aquascape Contractors, I figured it easily qualified for “my” blog. Hope you enjoy Chris Hanson’s observations!

My Mentors

“Some of you may know me but, many of you don’t yet as I’m the newest team member of the Aquascape construction crew. I graduated with a horticulture degree and have been working for the last decade or so in the landscape industry. I love working, playing and just plain being outside–which is why I choose this profession.

Working in the landscaping field, I’ve never been a stranger to hard work and physical labor. However, I’ve never worked as hard at anything than when I did my first pond with Aquascape! I mean, the guys absolutely cooked me right out of the gate! But despite how hard it was, I was absolutely hooked! I love the creativity that comes with building water features and the satisfaction behind creating a functioning ecosystem that helps the environment. I have to say in all my years in the landscape profession, very few things I’ve created have rivaled the kind of reactions pond owners have when you turn on their waterfalls for the first time! It gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment. However, it’s not my pond building experiences I want to talk about today.

As many know, we are now in the middle of filming a reality series featuring what we do at Aquascape. I’ve landed a supporting role in it as “the prospect” that the old hats get to teach (how fun is that?!). Since filming has started, I’ve gotten to build some of the most incredible water features on the planet… for people who TRULY deserve the world in their back yard.

The coolest thing though, besides traveling to awesome places and being part of the show, is I get to be doing all of this with THE Greg, Ed and Brian. Those three are truly the best in the world at what they do! (And I’m not just saying that because they’re my bosses.) Not only am I doing something I’ve grown to love, in cool locales, but I get to do it with people who love it too. However, just as awesome as working alongside those three, I also get to meet some pretty cool people along the way that have the same passion.

Recently we were doing a job in beautiful Wrightwood, CA. We were brought to help out Bernie Kerkvliet and his crew from Skyline Ponds. Bernie is a 6’5″, soft-spoken, gentle giant of a man and a long-time Certified Aquascape Contractor. It was truly an honor to meet and work alongside him creating a large water feature with his crew. I learned so much from Bernie. He taught me how to operate his various machines (which are totally different than what we’re used to). We both have degrees in horticulture and we connected over his encyclopedia knowledge regarding local plants and their effective and practical uses. I learned some fascinating uses for some cool exotic plants. And it goes without mention that he taught me a thing or two from his years of pond building experience.

But, by far, the thing I took away most from my time with Bernie was not what he said or even what he did. Rather it was who he is. He made an incredible impression on me when I realized his real passion in life is his family. As a new father who’s about to be a daddy again, I’m in a pretty impressionable state of mind. His love and passion for his job is one thing, but how he feels about his family is another. You can feel the love in his voice or see it in his eyes when he speaks of his wife and four adult children. The bonds that Bernie shares with his children would make any father envious. I truly respect what he’s created and desire to strive for the same thing with my own family.

I’ve struggled in my growing career to manage a successful work/life balance. But this experience has led me to the realization that it’s not only Greg, Brian, and Ed that I can learn from. There are incredible people associated with Aquascape all over the country and I can’t wait to meet them! My experience with Bernie crystallized for me why the organization values the CAC network so highly. It also cemented for me another one of The Pond Guy’s favorite quotes, “When the student was ready the teacher arrived.” Thank you “Big Bernie” for your real life example of what a family man truly is. I’m going strive to follow your lead.”

Passion Before Profits

For three years a couple friend of ours have been searching for a business to buy. Sadly I know whenever, and if ever, they do find something to buy it’s more than likely going to fail. If I sound like a downer let me explain.

Most businesses fail. Most businesses fail before they have even had time to become successful. For those that do find success most of them eventually fail, too, when variables change. Those are simply the facts. And the numbers don’t lie, they tell a story. Running a business is hard, very hard, and the number of things that can cause a business to fail are almost as numerous as the kinds of businesses that are out there. From the economy to theft, from government regulations to a change in weather, you never know what the next hurdle you might not be able to jump over might be. To say running a business is hard is an understatement. It takes everything you got which is exactly why running a business is not for everyone.

Our friends are hardworking good people. He’s supported the family working in a 9 to 5 job that more often than not takes a 7 to 7 day to complete. She spent her time raising the kids who are older now and they’d like to find something they could do together. That something has become anything, as their search has included everything from Laundromats to Marinas, to the latest endeavor, a print shop. I was surprised to learn print shops were still around? The common denominator between every business “opportunity” they’ve explored is it’s being sold by an owner who wants out. Which begs the question “Why do they all want out?” The answer I believe to why they want out is also the answer to what it’s going to take to make whatever business they do choose a success…PASSION!

The biggest variable of what makes a business successful is passion. Conversely the biggest reason a business fails is a lack of passion. Passion is the multiplier of success or the divider of failure. Yet passion is nowhere on my friend’s radar as they evaluate business “opportunities.” Despite the overwhelming evidence that everyone they have talked to has been more passionate about selling their operations than doing them, my friends simply haven’t concluded that to have any chance at success in business they need to have passion for what they will be doing. So three years after beginning their journey, they are still searching a sea of opportunity not comprehending that whatever enterprise they evaluate, must first be put through their passion filter to have any chance of succeeding.

As I’ve watched without commenting (if I’ve learned one thing in 43 years it’s that I need to be asked my opinion if I have any hope for it to be heard!) on what’s become a wild goose chase for them, it’s made me evaluate things for myself. I see far too many business owners running businesses that are running them, not vice versa. The very freedom they hoped for, and maybe once had, has been lost over the years. Instead of becoming happier, many business owners have become downright miserable doing what they once loved.

Here’s the crux of this blog. If you’re in business for yourself here’s the question all business owners must ask if they want to stay successful. “How’s my passion today and is my organization a reflection of that?” I have a passionate organization, and no one at Aquascape is more passionate for the organization than me. I don’t feel I’m alone in that regard from many a kindred spirit business owners I’ve met in my field and others. But, I’ve also met far too many business owners in my field and others who are anything but passionate about what they do. And without fail, from what I can observe these organizations are a reflection of their personal passion levels too. If you don’t have extreme passion for what you do, how could you expect your people to have even a normal level of passion for what they do?

So as I watch my friends pour over financial statements as the sole barometer for whether they should buy a business I just shake my head. But it shouldn’t surprise me that they have their priorities misaligned. Most business owners focus their energy on the top and bottom lines of their business. That in itself is not a bad thing. But if you really want to evaluate a business to buy, or drive profits of one you already run, look no further than your passion. Focusing first on your passion level will be the only way you have any chance of long term success.

Carpe Diem

The Pond Guy

Social Media Mania

You may have noticed Aquascape social media mayhem lately. Whether it’s one of our many Facebook pages we support, our Twitter accounts, or my personal latest craze Flipboard, Aquascape is all over it! If you’re wondering why, it’s because we’ve reached a tipping point with social media and technology and how consumers engage with it. I blogged about it here: The Most Important Blog I’ve Ever Written.

If your head is spinning from all of the options, the changes, and seemingly endless possibilities for your business, know this: The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Aquascape is here to help you succeed each step of the way.

First things first. This March 17th and 18th Aquascape is putting on a two-day Sales & Marketing event, Chicagomonium, “Creating the Future Together.” Unlike any classroom training we’ve ever done we are going to explain what platforms Aquascape is on, our strategy to succeed in them, and here’s the kicker: walk you through building your own platforms while you’re here. Taking what a presenter teaches you, and relying on the resources we provide, you will build your own social media tools and come up with a marketing template to follow for the remainder of the year. Chicagomonium is not a note taking, inspirational event like Pondemonium! It’s a working seminar we do together, assuring you will leave having accomplished something tangible. If you’re unsure of what to do next to take your business to the next level utilizing social media, register today for Chicagomonium by clicking here Chicagomonium registration . We will be hosting a conference call on Monday Feb, 10th to provide you with more details. Click here to register for the call: The Pond Guy Webinar re: Chicagomonium

Another tool to help you “eat the elephant” is our online magazine Social Splash. Aquascape created this tool for contractors and retailers interested in leveraging social media and technology for their businesses. Updated regularly with what we see as the most relevant social media and technology articles published today. Additionally we will be publishing real world examples of successful social media practices of your fellow contractors and retailers so you can see what the most innovative peers of yours are doing to apply the new ways people learn as well as learn about you! Of course to access Social Splash you need to sign up for Flipboard by clicking here: Flipboard.

My biggest fear with everything Aquascape organizationally is doing to connect, educate, and engage with you through social media is to overwhelm you for doing it on your own. We aren’t doing this to scare you but to help you. Our (ok my) enthusiasm for connecting with the world the way the new world connects is over the top! Call me a freak or whatever you want, I’m quite used to it by now BUT not having a social media strategy in 2014 will put you at a significant disadvantage in reaching consumers today. The bigger question however, is if you fail to put that strategy in place this year, how are you going reach consumers next year? The gap will only keep growing wider between old school ways of selling and marketing and the new school ways people will use to find you. Bottom line, the world has changed and it’s only going to change more and faster herein out. Do you have the corresponding energy in your business to keep pace? I do and I want you to too, hence my enthusiasm. We can either change with the world or watch it move on without us.

Aquascape is here to help you and your business stay relevant in the future.

The Pond Guy

I hope my boys don’t go to college. There, I said it. Before you burn me at the stake, hear me out. I loved everything about college except the classes. I came into my own during my six years at The Ohio State University then again tuition out of state was only $7,000 bucks a year. My, have times changed since then which is the point of this rant.

Society, because of some archaic and outdated belief systems, values higher education for its citizens regardless of whether its citizens should be going to college or not. First, let me say college “then” and college “now” are two very different arguments. Of course, most of the arguments for college now are being made by people who went to college back then. We’ve already established college back then cost a lot less than now. Furthermore, a degree back then was much more a ticket to a job and career then it is now. The crux of the argument isn’t whether someone should or shouldn’t go to college. To each his own. And I for one want my Doctor, or the engineer I hire to build my building, to go for the full required terms of their professions while excelling while they are there! But whether or not the president I choose to run my organization has a degree (she does) or my VP of Business Development (he doesn’t) could matter less to me. Don’t even get me started on how relevant GPAs are!

Yet despite how I feel, society hasn’t yet gotten to the place I am with education. I remember talking to a contractor during a How to Sell seminar and he responded “that’s easy for you to say, you went to college.” What?! Since when does going to college have anything to do with selling? To this person, and unfortunately many others, college has a lot to do in whether one can succeed or not, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ever hear of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates both dropping out of college to start businesses in their garages? A scant ten years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was in his dorm room when he stumbled on a concept. Should he have finished his college degree at Harvard nonetheless instead of dropping out and creating Facebook? I don’t think so, do you?

College then isn’t college now and the only thing I’m certain of is it won’t be college either when my boys are ready, or not, to go to college. One thing’s for certain: when my boys go to college, or not, it will look very different than it does now. That’s comforting to me today. Technology will continue to radically shift people’s access to information. Funding for state universities will continue to dry up as secondary education will meet the cold, hard, reality of a free market system unable to support institutions that churn out graduates strangled with debt, without the accompanying ability to pay for it. Nostradamus I’m not, but higher education’s demise, at least how it’s structured today, is as clear as the nose on my face.

So why is it so taboo for me to be talking now about the possibility of my kids not going to college? I think the lack of alternative options, getting a good job notwithstanding, scares parents today. How will my kids grow up and mature if they don’t go away to school? Here’s a newsflash: How do your kids grow up and mature living in your basement and working at Starbucks after attending college? There are about one thousand things I could think of if I were eighteen today that I could do to grow up and mature. I would highly recommend couch surfing Europe for a solid year to my eighteen year old self! Bottom line I hope we reach a point sooner, rather than later, that alternative choices than attending college aren’t meant with negativity that they illicit today. After all, I built a career around my love for turtles. Then again, I went to college.

Chillin

It’s been -20 degrees in Chicago the last few days and every school, but one, has been cancelled. It just so happens that the one school that’s open is our kids’. Now that fact in itself is not blog worthy, despite how disappointing it may have been for our boys to be going to school when their friends in public schools weren’t. What’s beyond fascinating however is the reaction parents had to our school’s decision. Judging by people’s comments on Facebook you would swear people’s lives will never be the same! The drama and study in character has me shaking my head utterly amazed at the raw emotions a private school’s decision has ignited, not with just the student body, but mostly the parents of those students. If there was a way to bottle these emotions and uncork them in the Chicago atmosphere, I’m convinced we’d all be basking in the sun at the beach by noon!

A few background facts: Our school does not bus, meaning kids must be driven from their house to the school rather than standing outside waiting for a school bus. Once kids arrive at school they get dropped off in a covered parking garage just feet from the door. Now enter the drama. Hundreds, if not thousands, of public Facebook messages have been posted and replied to with people fully and publically stating their personal feelings regarding the school’s decision to open despite the extreme cold. Most, and certainly the most vehement posts, were from parents outraged (seems like a weak adjective actually) with the school’s decision. People cited the Governor of Illinois’ (who’s not in jail…yet) declaration to our state’s residents to stay off the roads the day before when there were threats of drifting snow. The problem with that argument however, was it wasn’t affecting the roads the day school was in session. People talked in very loud typing voices about the poor parents who lived far away from school and conceivably would have to drive longer (in a heated car). Unless of course, as one of the replies to that comment asserted “But what about the people who have far drives and DON’T HAVE HEATED VEHICLES!” How someone driving an unheated vehicle in January in Chicago is a school’s fault is beyond me, but I chose not to take the bait and engage. In fact I had many choice responses I kept to myself…until now.

What I wanted to say was “What about all the Amish families taking their kids to school in a horse drawn buggy, to a one room schoolhouse heated by firewood?” But I didn’t. Because instead of engaging on Facebook, I engaged my groggy kids instead, awakening them from their slumber to introduce them to the oh so cold reality of life. “GET UP, AND GET YOUR REARS MOVING!” As they were being driven to school in their luxury heated coach nonetheless, we passed the garbage man, the FedEx guy and a road filled with cars. You see, I send my kids to school to educate them on life, but I don’t rely on the school to be life’s education. If I was going to work, you better believe they were going to school.

You see, my job in the real world needed to be done yesterday despite the cold. The only people who didn’t show up to work were the mothers (why is it usually the mothers and not the fathers?) whose job was to be stuck with kids who had no place to go? (Unless it was to the mall, the movies, or the restaurants as some of those who choose to “stay home” and then posted the evidence for all to see.) Why does somebody else’s decision so greatly and severely impact people’s lives that they feel the need to vent their emotions so emphatically for the whole world to see, I ask? The school concluded it’s carefully crafted and much stressed over announcement with this apparently incomprehensible statement: “It is always a parent’s prerogative to keep your children home.” Apparently, what they should have also said was it’s also your prerogative, to rile up the world regarding your decision. I’d like to expose my kids to the real world, and on this day that meant driving them to school despite what the world was screaming at me about that decision on Facebook.

We are the teachers of our future generations. Stay warm but stay real for your kids who will one day be released into the real world.

Carpe Diem,
The Pond Guy

P.S. We sent our kids to school and they came back saying it was one of the most fun days they had at school in a long time! I’m glad they got an education. Whatever they learned in the classroom that day however will pale compared to what they learned about the way the real world WORKS!

 

The Most Important Blog I’ve Ever Written

In many ways I have the sense that this is the most important blog I’ve ever written. I only hope I can articulate the energy, excitement, and fear I’m feeling. Because today I find myself facing a whole new world and I know most people, or at least the ones I interact with, haven’t yet seen what I’m seeing.

We’ve reached what Malcolm Gladwell brilliantly coined The Tipping Point, (The Tipping Point) when it comes to how people interact with the world. The convergence of technology and social media means it’s a whole new world and therefore game for businesses trying to reach consumers today. And if you and your business haven’t joined this game changing revolution I fear you both will be left standing on the dock. Let me explain what I’m seeing.

Content Marketing is the new way businesses are reaching their audiences and social media is the tool that’s dispensing what marketers create. If that last sentence has your eyes spinning let me tell you that if this old dog can embrace this new reality you can too! Content Marketing is a catch-all term for marketing strategy that involves communicating and educating rather than advertising. If you want to sell stuff today, whatever stuff that is, you better have a strategy that relies more and more on engaging consumers in the way they, more and more, learn about goods and services today. If they can’t Google you, or more specifically know they even want to Google you, you’re toast! Consumers aren’t going to find you by looking in the Yellow Pages, or by reading a newspaper or magazine and unless you’re buying space during the Super Bowl even your television commercials will be skipped with their DVRs. True? The bold new world of Content Marketing and Social Media is officially replacing these and all other traditional forms deployed by marketers for generations. Do you know how historic this change is for businesses, ours included?!

The proverbial boat left the dock a few years ago highlighted by the explosion of Facebook. Like any “on top of it” CEO, I assigned the task of catching that boat to our marketing department. They pulled me along in a dingy though by creating a Facebook account for me and even posting for me. You can imagine how well that worked! Today, this old dog stands triumphantly on top of this mega ship shift in sales and marketing. I have successfully rowed hard the last few years to catch the boat just before it left port. If I caught it, so can you and I’m designing Aquascape, the organization I captain, to help you and your business do just that.

Consider Aquascape your massive content marketing creator! From 217 educational YouTube videos to 20,000 pictures of ponds, waterfalls, fish and plants, to articles, blogs, and even entire on-line books all ready for you to repost. In a content marketing world we give you more tools to succeed than anyone. Why? Because our mission statement is “To help our customers succeed at building, selling, and retailing water features.” From your website, to newsletter, Twitter feed, and Facebook page; to the newest and possibly most exciting tool out there, Flipboard, we provide you with the material to communicate and educate to today’s savvy consumers through whatever medium you choose too.

However, there’s one final aspect I really want to convey. Aquascape doesn’t stop at providing you with just the tools to succeed. If that were the case we’d be just like every other manufacturer in the water feature industry and simply sell you our products. Aquascape is a training and education machine, not just around ponds and waterfalls, but how to run your business. Since your success is our first goal, we put on events like Pondemonium® and Chicagomonium, we have programs like the Certified Aquascape Contractors and Pond Guy Peer Groups, and create continuous and numerous learning opportunities with things like the Aquascape Academy, Facebook, YouTube and blogs (like the one you’re reading.)

If you’re overwhelmed at the amount of change in running a business today, and in particular marketing and selling to today’s consumers know this: Aquascape has an overwhelming amount of resources to help you succeed. Trust me, I’ve learned, and will continue to learn, what it takes to succeed in a rapidly complex world. The boat’s left the dock but it’s not too late to catch it. You’re the engine, social media is the fuel and we want you to use our resources to propel you to new sales heights. The boat’s leaving the port, with or without you. I’m beyond excited to help you and your business be on the boat with us.

Carpe Diem Indeed!
The Pond Guy

I heard a knock on my door Sunday night and went to answer it. It was my friend Tony, “The Snow Plow Guy”, as my kids like to call him. I’ve known Tony since 1996, but I hadn’t seen him since the previous winter. Tony’s a landscaper who came on our pond tours and eventually was installing a dozen or more ponds a year himself.

After exchanging pleasantries, I asked him how business was and he replied, “I’m hanging in there.” He then asked me how my business was going and I said, “Ok on the supply side and incredible on the installation side!” He looked perplexed and said, “Really? I haven’t built hardly any ponds the last few years. People aren’t asking for them anymore.”

How is it that Aquascape can’t keep up with the requests for water feature installations and a contractor one town over can’t get the phone to ring? The answer is marketing and sales. Bottom line: Ponds aren’t bought, they’re sold. People need to see them and they need to learn about them first to know they even want them before you can make a sale. And speaking of sales, if you’re selling water features like it’s 2005 when people had home equity lines of credit then, well, you’re probably in the same boat as “The Snow Plow Guy”.

Aquascape has figured out that sales and marketing circa 2014 looks nothing like sales and marketing did a few short years ago.

If you’re not on board with the NEW sales and marketing mentality – you don’t have an option – you need to be at Chicagomonium. If you’re on board you must certainly want to be here more than anyplace else. Everything with sales and marketing is changing and you need to change with it. Scary? Maybe. Exciting? Absolutely!

We’ve opened 100 spots for progressive contractors and retailers who want to take their business to the next level. Roughly half of them are open today. The one guarantee I will make if you make it here: Come and you will sell more water features in 2014 than you did in 2013… Period.

I told Tony, as we stood in my doorway, about Chicagomonium happening in his back yard less than two months from now. I could have guessed his reply almost to the word: “I’ll see if I have time.”

Guess I’ll be seeing “The Snow Plow Guy” next January, stuck in the same place, with the same concerns he has today…

To register for this event, please click here: Chicagomonium 2014.

Carpe Diem,
The Pond Guy

Born in 1970 so even I can calculate easily each year how old I am! Summit NJ, Dad Engineer, Mom English teacher (no I still can’t spell!) first child, sister came two years later. Moved to Astabula OH till age 5. Remember riding my bike all around town (different era!) 1975 moved to a kids dream world Medford Lakes NJ. Life for next 7 years sports, turtles, sports, frogs, turtles, turtles and more turtles. LOVED NATURE AND WATER! (Foreshadowing) Moved to Wheaton IL in 6th grade. Hated it! No ponds! Brought my turtles with me (11 of ‘em!) Built my own pond out of concrete. Leaked, turned green, turtles migrated away! Undaunted I ripped it out and rebuilt it again and again and again year after year after year. It became my classroom! Liked it more than school. I was big kid, tried football freshman year…LOVED IT! Coach Rex became my idol. Went from class clown to straight laced jock. Never got in trouble once in High School because loved and respected my coach. Believed in me more than I believed in myself. Accepted Christ – because of him (way cool.) Don’t drink to this day – because of him. We won a state championship! I run my company today because of what I learned about creating a winning culture playing H.S. Football!

Went to my parents’ alma mater. THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY (Go Bucks!) Probably should have been a Marine…better yet a Navy Seal! Joined a fraternity, played intramural sports, went to school (sometimes) too. Took an internship, first real job outside of life guarding. Didn’t like reporting to “The Man.” Heard “when you find a job you love you never have to work another day in your life.” Thought about what I love, hmmm…PONDS! Told my mom next summer going to start pond building company and call it Aquascape Designs. She validated me and my idea (my mom rocks!) Got confidence to tell my dad. He asked what I needed – told him wheelbarrow and shovel (I already had strong back!) That Christmas got the wheelbarrow and shovel. June 1991 Aquascape Designs was born! Built 5 ponds in 3 months cleared 11K! I WAS RICH! Bought a truck went back to school. 6 months of school, 6 months of ponds next 2.5 years. Graduated 1994 B.A. Interpersonal Communication 2.01 GPA (Damn, studied 0.1% to hard!!!) BUSINESS EXPLODING Dad comes in (uh-oh!) Got my first patent on my garbage can skimmer and cattle trough waterfall filters (who would’a thunk it!) My dad conservative engineer (50 something) me wild-ass entrepreneur (20’ish) Oil and water! Family businesses suck. Dad left to do his own thing. Met hot Italian girl at bar. MESMERIZED! She played me like a fiddle! I marry Carla Gulisano and have my 2nd real boss. Inc. magazine names Aquascape Top 500 Fastest Growing Privately Held Company 4 years in a row. Success came fast and furious. Got a little to big for my britches. My son Ryan came into the world July 2000. Had to grow-up for real now! Fell in love with Christ Community Church. Met great friends and mentors. Blake came into the world 2003. Designed and built Aqualand, my dream a quarter million square foot workplace utopia. Whole 3rd floor dedicated to sports. Remember football?! “Those who sweat together stick together!” Had 195 teammates. Some rotten apples too! The economy tanked. Got rid of the rotten apples. Found my real team at about 100 people (Their my 300!) So many smart talented and dedicated people! My dad came back on board (introduced him to his grandkids for the first time. I’m mature enough now to see my dad for his gifts. I know my weaknesses. I married up! 2 phenomenal kids. Great dog named Buckeye (go figure.) Aqualand’s roof fell down. Moved out while we rebuild. Found out who my “true” friends are. “A life without problems is the definition of hell.” “Doing work worth doing is the greatest GIFT in life.” “Helping someone else reach their fullest potential is the greatest satisfaction in life.” BE HAPPY…NOW!

I post one picture a day on F.B. Gonn’a photo journal my life that way. Thanks for caring.

Carpe Diem!

If you were to start your own personal magazine what would you call it? I could think of many cool names but one for me stands out: Carpe Diem. Seize the Day is the way I want to live life and therefore the perfect name for my personal publication. If you’re wondering what it’s going to be about, or even just what a personal magazine is, let me explain the wickedly cool Flipboard App.

Right before Christmas we re-launched an Aquascape classic, the Aquascape Lifestyles magazine. Fully digital, this online version of our defunct print publication has everything our old paper version did, plus embedded video and so much more! The Flipboard App is available for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, and Nook. And the best thing of all is; it’s free!

Inspired by being able to share all of the pond information we have in many places, in one location, it got me thinking: As a voracious reader, and lifetime learner, wouldn’t it be cool if I could use Flipboard to not only compile all the online articles I read and find interesting, but share them as well with anyone else interested in what I’m interested in? For me, that’s business, fitness, knowledge, inspiration, nature and fun. Or in simple terms, living life to the fullest, hence the name Carpe Diem.

So if you think you might like what I have to share, join Flipboard and type in Greg Wittstock or visit https://flipboard.com/profile/pondguy to see my magazine. Push the subscribe button after you open Carpe Diem and each week you can see the best of what I’m seeing out there in the public domains. If you’re anything like me though, when you join Flipboard you’re going to join a lot of other curators on whatever topics have a personal interest to you. Heck, maybe you too will start your own magazine. It’s easy!

Finally, because I believe it’s virtually impossible to stay up on this crazy and rapidly changing world of social media, Aquascape is launching a third Flipboard magazine called Social Splash, geared towards Green Industry owners wanting a highlighted version of how to promote their business effectively via social media. Social Splash will not only highlight the latest buzz-worthy information on the various social platforms, but also the success stories of your fellow contractors and retailers with social media. Jen Zuri, Aquascape’s own social media maven, will be keeping you up to speed on the best of the best on what business owners need to do to stay on top in today’s social world.

From Aquascape Lifestyles, to Carpe Diem, to Social Splash, we’ve embraced Flipboard as an essential tool in our tool box to reach and communicate in whole new and exciting ways with those interested in what we do. I hope you will be one of them!

Subscribe to Our Flipboard Magazines:

Aquascape Lifestyles

Carpe Diem

Social Splash

Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

If you’re not on fire for what’s in store for your business when it comes to water features in this New Year stop reading this now, or better yet, read this blog with a highlighter! 2014 will be a defining year for the water feature industry. The economy might not be burning it up but it isn’t 2009 either. Because of 2009 and 10 and 11 for that matter, 2014 is a defining year. Out with the old and in with the new.

If you’re still building and selling water features today it means you did what many others didn’t. When the economy soured many contractors and retailers soured on so called luxury items like water features. They were right to get out, you were right to stay in. Whether the pond is half full or half empty is a matter of mindset. The mindset of those of us left in this niche industry almost to a person is the pond is half full. Indeed, that’s the only way we’ve been able to make it when others got out. But those of us who are left are the perfect ones to take this industry forward. 2014 is the year we take water features into the future and here’s how we are going to do it.

Technology, social media and reality TV. Never before has the infrastructure been in place like it is today to reach, connect and share with customers, potential customers and each other like it is today. Do you have any idea how game changing this is?! The number one dilemma for selling water features is to get people to understand what water features are in the first place. Consumers understand green grass; not waterfalls, let alone fish. But when people do, when they understand what can be done in their yards, they’re sold! The challenge has always been showing ‘em…until now.

Aquascape has more tools, more resources, more content for you to use than any other manufacturer in not just the water feature industry, but the entire green industry! From our image gallery with over 20,000 water feature photos, to our YouTube channel, Aquascape4, with almost 200 videos, to our seven Facebook pages pumping out content, to even our newly re-launched electronic magazine, Aquascape Lifestyles. If you’re not plugging into our content and sharing it regularly with your customers and potential customers, you’re really, really missing the boat in this day and age. And it’s not just customers you need to be sharing with.

With our brand new Aquascape Academy online education and training course, you can get your foreman or retail staff not only trained but certified. But the Aquascape Academy isn’t just for you and your teammates. You guessed it, it’s for your customers and potential customers too! Why not share the site with an enthusiastic new pond owner so they can learn the right way to care for their water feature? And if you have a doubting Thomas potential customer, send them to the site to get all their concerns addressed thoroughly. Bottom line, Aquascape has more resources for you, your teammates, customers and potential customers than ever before BUT you need to structure your business to take advantage of them. It’s winter, now’s the perfect time to build your strategy!

Lastly and probably most significantly, in regards to making 2014 the defining year for our industry and all of us who rely on it, is our upcoming Reality TV show. Each week tens of millions of homes will be exposed to what’s possible for theirs. Umm…can you say game changer!

From Reality TV to online training, Facebook to YouTube, never ever before has the network been in place to get our message out there to the masses. So if you’re ready to eat cake in 2014 we will provide you with all the ingredients but it’s still up to you to bake it!

One year ago almost to the day the Aquascape family lost one of our most beloved and well respected members. Perry Molema passed away due to injuries sustained in a car accident in his home town of Chatham, Ontario.

Wanting his legacy to live on forever and as a show of respect and gratitude, longtime friends and co-workers, Chuck Catton and Sasha Hunter, decided to try and transform Zonta Park in downtown Chatham, into a memorial garden. This was no small task…

The funding started with a $5000 donation from Landscape Ontario and quickly snowballed into almost $250,000 in total donations including labour, machinery and other such in-kind donations. Contactors, friends, family, co-workers and even people Perry had never met came from coast to coast to lend a hand. Such momentum was created that Landscape Ontario decided to raise money for a bursary in Perry’s name that will be given to future students showing a passion for water features. The work isn’t finished yet however as money is still needed for future maintenance of the park as well as the bursary itself.

After countless hours of planning, design approvals and revisions, several discussions with the city and the parks board as well as a town council meeting or two the final go ahead was given and the work began almost immediately. Through social media the volunteer workforce had assembled and was ready for action!

Over the course of ten days an ever changing army of volunteers battled chilly November weather to construct a memorial garden that covers approximately 7600 ft2 and features several large bubbling rocks the largest of which was nicknamed “The Chief” a name used adoringly by those who knew Perry best. There were laughs and there were tears but most importantly of all, there was healing.

Perry was passionate about water gardening and sustainability so the whole feature sits on a permeable paver patio capable of collecting 3000 gallons of water. The cored rocks and patio are also lit for nighttime viewing and several pavers bear the engraved names of key contributors to the project. The landscape was then finished off with several of Perry’s favorite plants including eastern redbuds, flowering cherries and zebra grass.

This project was hard not only mentally and physically but also emotionally as well. It’s amazing though the strength of the human spirit – how such adversity can bring out the best in people. “You can accomplish anything if you can visualize it” Perry used to say.

This was truly a labour of love for all involved and a testament to what Perry meant to not only this industry but to his family, friends and anyone else who was lucky enough to spend five minutes with him. If you knew Perry, you knew that he had time for everyone. Young or old, rich or poor it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. Perry was a beautiful person and if you’re ever near the corner of King and William in Chatham, stop by and say hi. Perry would like that.

List of Contributors for Memorial Build*
*At time of writing (12/19/2013)

Al Pinsonneault
Alan Beaudoin
Alain Dube
Anne Marie & Paul Rancourt
Aquascape Inc.
Blake Bennett
Brad Labonte
Brandon Brockman
Camilla Ackroyd
Catherine Neville & Nicholas Bott
Chris MacKinnon
Chris Powers
Chris Smyth
Colleen & Charlie Van Kesteren
Colleen Gillet
Cory Mann
Craig Saunders
Dan Garlatti
Dan & Colleen Warrener
Dana Schultz
Daniel Beland
Darren O’Grady
Darrin Utley
Dave Braun
Dave Fowler
Derek Dunphy
Don Tellier
Entegris
Eric Dunlop
Eric Leplante
Eric Plat
Ernie Jenkins
G. Shuttleworth
Geri Sanson & Family
Gord June
Gord Szolnyanszky and Adrienne Beck
Great Lakes Electric
Henry & Elisabeth Molema
Hetty Tueber
Ina Dennekamp
Jamie Rogers
Jason Cheswick
Jason Watts
Jay Rivait
Jay Terryberry
Jean Brule
Jeffrey Comiskey
John & Roberta Young
John Lein
Jordan Ward, Iris Ng & Monty Ward
Julie-Ann Hunt
Kaitlyn Taylor
Karen & Paul Koomans
Karen, Chuck & Aidan Catton
Keith Denomme
Kevin Langlois
Kerri & Joe Genovese
Landscape Ontario Horticultural Assosciation
Landscape Ontario Windsor Chapter
Larry Brown
Leen Lamin
Lex Kraft
Liam Compeau
Lin Li
Linda Ruhlig Miller
Lindsay Molema & Daniel Golas
Lisa Fantin
Lois & Ross Eberlee
Lois Mitchell
Marcel Koller
Mark Hecnar
Marvin Siderius
Mary A. Mouissie
Mary, Adrien & Chantelle Roy
Matt MacKinnon
Matthew Lipinski
Matthew Littlemore
Melanie Erickson
Melissa Molema & Shaun Melo
Melissa Tuinstra
Michael Turner
Mike & Chris Harwood
Olivia Benko
Phil Jackson
Rob Northcott
Robert Hutchison
Rosanne Brown
Ross Pyne
Sal Costante
Sandy MacDonald
Sasha Hunter
Scott Parkhouse
Sherry Molema
Simon Van Raay
Spencer Clemerson
Spiro’s Restaurant
Stacey, Carson & Thatcher Warrener
Steve Dube
Steve Kovacs
Steve Van Kesteren
Stuart Gillies
Sue & Dave Van Raay
Sue & Mark Williams
Suzanne & Jason Korkidakis
The Chilled Cork
The Retro Suites
Tim Hortons
Tom Beaton
Tom Davis
Tom Intven
Tulin Okus Seckin
Tracy Mcallister
Tyler Rancourt
Zac Hertel

Bob Dylan said it best forty years ago, “Times, they are a changing!” At Aquascape we’ve reached the tipping point with the convergence of social media and technology. For that I say, Halleluiah, it’s been a long time coming!

For years I’ve envisioned how Aquascape would fit into today’s world and today I can finally say we’ve arrived! But because “times they are a changing“ we’ve got to keep arriving to keep pace with the most rapidly and radically changing times in history!

On January 1st we will be launching our online Aquascape Academy. Everything Aquascape has ever done, ever written, ever created, is being born again in a simpler, more effective fashion. You won’t need to attend a seminar or buy a book to find what you’re looking for from what we offer, or better yet, have offered. Bottom line is, if you want to become a Certified Aquascape Contractor, train a new foreman how to install a Signature skimmer, show your customers how to prepare their pond for winter, find the contract Aquascape uses to sell water features, or read an article from the Aquascape Lifestyles Magazine…whatever it is you want to know, all you need to know is how to go online to our site to find it. How cool is that?!

If it makes you sad that Aquascape isn’t going to be traveling from town to town putting on Build-A-Pond Day, after Build a Pond Day, consider this: No matter how many people we reached “the old school way” it was a drop in the bucket compared to how many we are going to introduce to our methods, our philosophies, and our model by going “new school.” If you’re wondering how effective watching videos and taking tests could be know this: we’ve never tested a single participant at a Build A Pond Day to see if they retained what we showed them. Today you can learn everything from how to play an instrument, to speak a foreign language, dialect, and all online. Why should designing and building ponds not be the same?! In fact, if we went to attract the next generation of pond designers and builders, it’s the only way we will! When kids want to learn anything about anything, they “Google search” it. I do the same, and come to think about it, I bet you do too. Point made?

Aquascape has embraced technology and social media, to its core. Our YouTube channel, Aquascape4, has 4 million views today and if it’s not more than twice that many by this time next year something’s wrong. Where do you think it will be five years from now? Any questions on why we are embracing this now?! If you want to see what the future of all education is, and not just Aquascape’s education, Google (go figure) Khan Academy. We used their open source software to create Aquascape Academy. Times they are a changing! At Aquascape we are on the cutting edge of technology and social media and so are our customers, and better yet, our customer’s customers. I just finished watching a YouTube clip I found on Facebook shown by Jaack Harju of Atlantis Water Gardens, AtlantisWaterGardens, he’s sharing with his customers, me, and now even you a video journal of his trip to Ghana, Africa with the Aquascape Foundation in January. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone he posts. Something tells me I’m not going to be the only one!

I watched, day after day, as he set up his shells on the same rock. I watched as he sold his wares to tourists each morning then disappeared each afternoon for hours on end into an endless ocean. What a life, I thought to myself. I asked him his name, which he said is Dedo, and I asked him his story – he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident at age 19. He’s cuarta-y-tres, same age as me, and he too is his own Jefe (boss). He’s known as “the fisherman of Kite beach.” Seven days a week, 365 days a year, he does the same thing, day after day, year after year. When I asked him if he had ever been to America he said he’s never been off the island, and then with a broad gesture he claimed “The beach is my home, why would I ever want to leave?!”

I thought about how different his life would have been had he been born in the U.S. There is no disability given when you lose your leg in the Dominican. It’s eat or be eaten. It’s beg or get up on your one good leg and do something about it! And Dedo used that leg to put on a flipper and go out into the ocean to find enough food to eat, day after day, year after year. Even with one leg he grew strong and was able to dive deeper than fisherman with two legs. He caught more than he could eat so he began selling his excess. He was in business.

I asked him if I could join him on one of his afternoon jaunts in the search of shells, langosta and octopus. I’m very comfortable in the water but he was a fish with one leg and three lungs! We caught a few octopus and I was very proud when I found a large king conch hidden in the sand that I knew would earn him a few hundred pesos.

For me, it was a day in the life; for Dedo it was his life and what a way of life it is! It’s not what you do that matters in life but doing something that matters. Fishing started out as a way to survive for Dedo but now he earns a living from it. As I was saying goodbye to my new friend he asked me if I was coming back next year, and if so to come by the rock and say hi. I don’t know when I will be back to Kite beach but it doesn’t matter when I return, something tells me Dedo will still be doing something that matters.

Carpe Diem

 

Bill Gates and I have a lot in common; Smart, rich and geeky. (Well at least I’m one of those!) We both started our businesses while we were in college, him at Harvard, me at The Ohio State University (only one of us finished though and it wasn’t him.) Ha! Neither of us saw the world as it was but rather how it could be. We both then did something that everyone whose ever done anything must do…we took action! We took our hobby and passion and made it into our careers. He geeked out over computers and specifically programming them, for me it was ponds and the creativity needed to build them. I received my first patent at age 25 and by 26 I was mailing catalogs and traveling the country pitching our Ecosystem approach to water feature construction. Bill went from writing code to selling it. He went from the back room to the front room and I went from the field to the office. And both companies grew and grew and than grew some more. He became a big fish in a big pond, I built the damn pond and filtered it to boot!

As our companies grew however, I didn’t get to build nearly as many ponds and Bill didn’t write code anymore. That is until one day, the richest man in the world decided he wanted to write code again so he did! So it is with him as it is with me. I might not have his kind of riches but I’ve got plenty of my own from family and friends to teammates I love.

I’m at that point in my life that I want to do something different again. For Bill, as for me, that means going back to my roots. I’m getting my hands dirty again coming home filled with dirt and grime without any doubt what I got accomplished that day. You know how good that feels?!

I have a new goal with my rebirth. I want to do everything I did before again! I want to invest in some new bright eyed kids and see if they can grow and become the best in the world at their craft, the way Ed Beaulieu and Brian Helfrich did before them. Those two guys are the longest teammates at Aquascape with 21 and 19 years respectively. For me working with them is like playing alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen during the second Three-Peat. We might be in our second act, but it’s only just the beginning. The first time we played together we were forming what would become the foundation of Aquascape. Today we are doing it for the cameras in our own reality tv show. Are you kidding me?! How many people get to live their dream once let alone twice?! I’m feeling like the luckiest man alive. And I’ve got the dirt, the grime, and the smell to “show” for it!

Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

What do Gem Ponds, New England Aquatic Landscape, and Texas Ponds and Water Features all have in common besides being water feature companies? They are all Certified Aquascape Contractors and they know their stuff! Here’s what’s important to you in knowing that and I will use us as an example to illustrate it. A few weeks back I wrote a blog Aquascape Does Not Negotiate with Terrorists! In that blog, I chronicled the untimely defection of the majority of our crew. Shit happens. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do about it! Faced with the prospect of not hitting our budget, and not to mention fulfilling our promise to install people’s dreams, we had to improvise (in other words, run an entrepreneurial business). We already had Shawn Cutroni, from New England Aquatic Landscape, in town helping us finish out the season. When Matt Boring, of Texas Ponds and Water Features, read about our predicament in my blog he volunteered to help out and jumped in his truck the next day for the long drive from Texas to Illinois. The next week those two companies led our two remaining laborers (combined work experience of three years) into the field and knocked out two ponds and a pondless. We couldn’t help them, we couldn’t even meet them at the jobs we designed and sold, we were fully engaged filming our reality TV show. THIS IS THE STUFF REALITY TV IS MADE OF! And it’s also the basic tenant of the CAC program in action.

 

These companies were trained in the Aquascape methodology of water feature construction. Because of that, and only because of that, when a major problem arose for our signature R&D department, Chicagoland construction, we were able to seamlessly plug in guys we had trained in our system. Do you know how frickin’ cool that is?! It’s also unheard of in the landscape trades, let alone the highly creative and artistic decorative water feature genre. And that folks is the proof positive end all, be all, evidence of why the Aquascape system works; shut the door and turn out the lights!

 

Now, you may not have almost your entire crew walk out on you where you need to bring in pinch hitters, but then again you might. If so, wouldn’t you want to be part of a team, a brotherhood, where you not only have people willing to jump up to the plate to help, but also competent enough to do so too?! If you’re like every other contracting company out there you will lose laborers year-to-year, and foremen every few years. But when you’re a Certified Aquascape Contractor, you are most certainly not every other contractor out there. You’re the best! You have decided to stand for something by agreeing to build water features one way, the Aquascape way. You install only one manufacturer’s components, and your trailer, garage and local Distributor has everything you need to do the next project. Your guesswork is taken out of the process, and when your new laborer shows up for work the first day you show him exactly what he has to do to succeed in his new job that just might lead to a new career as a foreman with your company. Follow the plan Stan; keep it simple stupid, twenty products, twenty steps. Creating this system created Aquascape, the largest, most successful, water feature design build firm in the world. And from that we shared with the world, at least the few of them who would listen, how they could do what we did too. And when we needed help guess who answered the call? George Janowiak, at GEM Ponds, did. While Shawn and Matt installed the jobs on our books, we called up George to the Majors to work on the builds for our reality TV show. He, his foreman, and a laborer, worked side-by-side with us on camera. George even got a cameo and a speaking part, while working on finishing a wetland filtration system for the Lincoln Park Zoo’s wolf exhibit, alongside his mentor and idol, Ed Beaulieu! How cool is that for George? For us? For the CAC network who provided it’s worth and what we’ve been preaching for years! Damn it, it pisses me off that everyone doesn’t see the value in being a CAC. It’s the best way to succeed in the water feature business period. Maybe the TV show will showcase that to the rest of the world. I sure hope so, because the world needs more Shawns, more Matts, more Georges, and more you’s!

What do Pondapalooza, INFO TANZA™ and N.A.P.P. have to do with Pondemonium®, Cabomonium and Chicagomonium? The first three were water feature industry events that are no more and the last three are Aquascape events that are still going. If there’s one thing that’s been reinforced to me again, and again, and again, in business it’s that there’s a thousand ways to skin a cat, but one best one. Period. Without a doubt, the most misunderstood, and polarizing, aspects of the Aquascape business model is our assembly line approach to water feature construction. It might be misunderstood but it’s also the most sound from a business perspective. Simply put, you will produce better results, as in low maintenance, beautiful, and profitable, water features by building them all the same way. Period. Aquascape is a franchise system, without the franchise fee. Before McDonald’s there were plenty of burger joints, the largest comprised of a couple of stores. Then Ray Kroc saw an opportunity to systemize the process and the fast food boom was born. Although by no means do I want to associate the building of a water feature with the making of a hamburger that’s exactly what I’m going to do here.

If you’re going to open up a hamburger joint, or put out a sign and declare you’re in the pond business, I feel the best choice is evident in both. You will sell more burgers by being a McDonald’s franchise than any other burger joint. Period. Burger King is the #2 player to McDonald’s and their average store sales are less than half an average McDonald’s location. You will sell more ponds by being a Certified Aquascape Contractor and building water features one way, then by building them all other ways. Period.

Over 23 years I’ve heard every argument against the Aquascape franchise model that a contractor, and certainly our competitors can make. All the arguments against the Aquascape approach are never business related. Whether stated, or implied, the naysayers always come back to the same philosophical argument that Aquascape (OK, me) is arrogant, or egotistical, for suggesting there’s one best way to skin a cat. To me, if it’s arrogant to say “the proof’s in the pudding” so be it.

I love the water feature industry very very much. It’s provided me, and many others, a chance to make a living. But every time, and without fail, every event sponsored by the industry itself has failed. First it was Pondapalooza, and then National Association of Pond Professionals (N.A.P.P.) that eventually merged with International Professional Pond Companies Association (IPPCA) whose annual conference was just cancelled after a total of three attendees signed up. THREE!

Look, at Aquascape this isn’t an us vs. them thing. But it is a “Hey, this is what we are doing, and here’s how it’s working for us and many others thing.” If you’re curious to see for yourself what I’m talking about then come see for yourself at one of our events. Pondemonium® is every August, Cabomonium is every winter except this winter as we are shooting a reality show, and we are putting on Chicagomonium in it’s place.

Lastly, if there is (and there always is) a philosophical argument that building water features the same way kills creativity and produces boring looking water features consider this: Aquascape, as previously stated, is filming a Reality TV show chronicling our exploits as water feature makers. No two settings are alike, every rock is different, no two designs are the same, but the process to build each one remains the same. Each water feature is a unique, one of a kind work of art, and we have a show that’s going to showcase us doing just that. In other words, the proof’s in more than just the pudding…it’s in the ponds!

Carpe Diem
The Pond Guy

When you’re a kid, you think the world is unicorns and rainbows. When life knocks you down a few times, you realize it isn’t, while wishing it was. But I do believe there’s a season, and a reason, for everything that happens, whether it’s apparent in the moment or not. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through all life’s trials and tribulations, it’s that you often don’t know what you’ve got until you’re tested.

Last week Aquascape was tested once again, and once again I was more than a little happy with the response. A long time teammate, and a very talented one to boot, chose to take advantage of an opportunity. Normally, I would applaud someone’s efforts for seizing the day. This time however their gain only would come at my loss. In essence, we have too much work to do, and not enough time to do it. That’s a golden opportunity for someone who’s paid hourly. Time and half is nothing to scoff at. That is unless you try and use a good problem, to create a bad one, for someone else, which is exactly what happened in this case. Believing he was in a power position to hold the company hostage, this “teammate” led a walk-out for himself and three of the people on the team I’ve entrusted him to lead. Lovely! It’s also a pattern having happened before, under similar circumstances, where the company had more work than it could handle. That time we gave him the benefit of the doubt, and increased pay while expressing extreme displeasure with the approach that was deployed. Last Friday it happened again, but this time we responded in kind. We accepted all four of their resignations. By doing so, we risked losing six figures in contracts. By not doing so, we risked far more. There’s a reason the United States government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. In what might be the only example ever of Aquascape and the United States government having the same policy, Aquascape as well does not negotiate with teammates. Nor do we negotiate with customers, suppliers, or any stake holders, who engage in tactics that would leave one party hostage.

I might not have a SEAL Team who can parachute in at night and shoot terrorists from a moving platform, but I have an equally deadly team behind me. I was notified in the field of the walk-out during filming for our Reality TV show. The last thing I needed was the distraction this would cause, and it was the last thing my team would burden me with. By the end of the same day that they had walked out, all four teammates had returned to the office, returned all of their company owned property, and signed letters releasing Aquascape of any liability. As for me, I built a gorgeous waterfall.

It’s when the shit hits the fan that you learn what you’re made of, or in this case what your team’s made of. The world is not unicorns and rainbows. And I’m grateful for that because once again I know who does and doesn’t have my back.

Carpe Diem,
The Pond Guy

P.S. Two of the teammates who walked out have returned asking for their jobs back. We hired one.

Colleen's Birthday

Today is the birthday of the third most important lady in my life. Without my mom, I wouldn’t be here, and without my wife, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. But if it weren’t for Birthday girl Colleen Heitzler, Aquascape’s President, I don’t know if my dream would still be alive.

Today I will be in the field building a pond and filming for our upcoming Reality TV series. Colleen will be in the office dealing with lawyers, bankers, and employees. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Every entrepreneur needs someone that cannot only stand beside them, but also stand up to them. Colleen fits that bill and so much more. I’m a bull in a china shop; she has tact and diplomacy. When grenades get thrown behind my back, she jumps on them. In other words, her being her, allows me to be me. Can you see why I love and respect her so much?!

Most entrepreneurs are good at doing what they want, which is often different than doing what they should. I’ve done what I’ve had to, in no small part because of what Colleen’s made me do. Money is not my motivator, even if it’s a barometer I’m constantly measuring. As my former Chief Financial Officer, it was Colleen’s job to share the numbers with me regularly so I could gauge our success. “Hope for the best; plan for the worst” was her motto I begrudgingly adapted as my own. And it’s because I took that approach, her approach, that Aquascape weathered the storm.

Colleen’s guidance through trying times earned her the position of President of Aquascape. She does her thing, I do mine, and we talk every day about what that looks like for us both. I’d say my job’s a lot more glamorous and she would be the first to agree! But by her doing her job, it allows the rest of us to do ours. And for that I say she’s the third most valuable lady in my life.

Happy Birthday Madame President!

With love and the utmost respect,
The Pond Guy

Each winter, we head south with the most passionate water feature Contractors, Retailers and Distributors in an event we’ve dubbed Cabomonium. It’s Pondemonium on Quaaludes. All the fun, more networking, a different level of learning, and at a much, much, more relaxed pace. This winter we aren’t going to Cabo, but to Chicago for the first ever Chicagomonium. Sounds nice and cold doesn’t it?! The weather’s not the draw but the Chicago Flower Show is. So is the fun, so is the networking, so is the learning. It’s just all at a pace in-between Pondemonium, and Cabomonium, something comparable to Shindemonium.
Last week Steve Shinholser, from Premier Ponds, in coordination with his Aquascape Distributor, Turf Equipment and Supply, put on what was affectionately dubbed as Shindemonium. Shindemonium was a two day hands on build and outside classroom presentation, networking, and fun filled event for the most passionate water feature people in the world. Over 60 people from across the country made the trek to Steve’s home to see, and experience for themselves, his pond and water feature selling mojo. Steve’s the first ever contractor to give a key note presentation at Pondemonium. His talk made quite a splash and created the momentum for the first ever Shindemonium. We want to continue that momentum.
Which leads me to Chicagomonium. If you made Pondemonium or not, if you’ve made Cabomonium before or not, if you made Shindemonium last week or not, Chicagomonium is the place to be next!

On March 17th and 18th starting in Chicago and ending in St. Charles, IL, the Water Garden Capital of the World, Aquascape will be hosting the first ever Chicagomonium. Steve will be here doing more of his thing. Brian Helfrich will be here doing his Flower & Garden show thing. And the rest of the Aquascape team, from Dave Kelly and Scott Rhodes, to Ed Beaulieu and yours truly, will be here doing our things. Sound exciting? If so, mark your calendars now. The cost, the details, and the agenda will follow. But know this: It’s going to be an event strong on networking, high on fun, learning on a deeper level, and worth every penny, and then some, for anyone super committed to taking their business to the next level in 2014.

Stay tuned for details, but you have now been warned!

It’s Chicagomonium time baby!

The Pond Guy

Steve and the gang at the Crow’s Nest having coffee. How each day started in Cabo.

How each day at Cabomonium ends

 

Chicagomonium is Pondemonium on Quaaludes

The Shindemonium Effect

Shindemonium

Those who sweat together, stick together

No More Dominican Republic

I hate not honoring my word, especially when it’s to myself. After all, if you can’t keep your word to yourself how can you keep it to others? I knew it was going to be a major sacrifice to move my family to live and serve abroad for eight months, but I was determined to let nothing stand in my way. I assumed correctly, the biggest hurdle to overcome would revolve around the business and my on-going role in it. But I trust my team explicitly and with the right planning I knew they could manage without my physical presence. In fact, if I interpreted correctly the glancing looks between them and the occasional jabs, (said in jest of course) you might even say they were a little happy I wouldn’t be here day-to-day. What’s up with that?!

But alas, I failed to live up to my commitment that I publically made in this blog this summer and the Wittstocks won’t be moving to the Dominican Republic after all. For all of you who offered overwhelming support of our family’s decision, I say thank you, it meant a lot! I’m sorry our dream didn’t materialize for everyone involved, but mostly for our kids. Ryan starts high school next year and the door seems to be closing on the opportunity to take such a radical family step.

Hopefully though, all of you believe as I do that when one door closes a window opens beside it. In this case that window is our very own reality TV show. Wouldn’t you know it; a process that began in December of 2011 came to fruition in August of 2013, a mere month before our highly anticipated family move. As I write this I am finalizing the scripts of the twelve water feature builds we will be filming in October, November, January, and February. Yes, in case you didn’t know it, reality TV is scripted! To say this situation is bittersweet is an understatement. We believe, and the track record is there to back it, that our own hour-long, weekly, reality show that will showcase what we do will be the best thing that’s ever happened for our business, our customers, and even this little pond industry we call home. Simply put, it’s too big an opportunity to pass up. But by saying yes to filming a TV show, I said no to our family plans. “Work” got in the way of family — no way around it on this one.

Life got in the way of my best laid plans, something that happens more often than not for most people. I’ve never wanted to be like most people. It’s why I build ponds. It’s why I’ve been my own boss since I was 21. Heck, it’s why I was the only dude in my fraternity who didn’t drink! If the world goes one way, I may go along with it but only if it’s on my terms. So in other words, I can be a shit and I have earned my fair share of critics for it. So be it.

I bet many of you reading this can relate to what I’m saying. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re different by nature. You make the rules but don’t always follow them. (Damn CACs!) But through all of this I’ve learned, once again the hard way, “Life isn’t all about me!” My plans aren’t His and my days, let alone my years, are subject to radical change from situations both in (as in this case) and out (like when you’re building falls down) of my control. For that I say thank God! Do you know how boring and stale life would be if it all went according to plan?! Like who in their right mind would plan a little, let alone a lot, of adversity into their world?! Yet the times I’ve grown the most, the experiences that I’ve had that have given me the most sense of accomplishment, have been situations I never would have written into the script of my life. But if they hadn’t happened I wouldn’t know for certain who my true friends were. How important is that life lesson, knowing who’s got your back when the chips are down?! There’s thousands, if not tens of thousands, of things that have happened to me that I never would have scripted. Yet I’m more appreciative today than I’ve ever been for what I’ve got and that’s only because of what I’ve learned during the unscripted parts of my life.

Today, as is every day, is a new chapter in my life and also in yours. I won’t be taking my family to the Dominican Republic for eight months, but I am scripting roles for them to travel with me in filming the show. Here’s to hoping a new door opens to them in the process. You never know, one of our boys might just end up being the next Steven Spielberg.

Carpe Diem,
The Pond Guy

Steve Shinholser at Pondemonium 2013Steve Shinholser, of Premier Ponds in Maryland, was awarded the “Businessman of the Year” award at Pondemonium last month. He also gave a keynote presentation that’s making quite the ripple with his fellow pond brethren. What Steve showcased was the phenomenal success he’s had implementing a business System. He stays busy, charges top dollar and is having fun running his business while not allowing his business to run him. Any questions on why he won the award and was the first ever customer keynote at Pondemonium?

What Steve has successfully done is to implement a System Based procedure for running his business. For guys who are either in a Hands-On or Working with Others business mode his message is spot on. There are four stages all businesses can be categorized into; Hands-On, Working with Others, Systems Based and Strategic. The majority of businesses operate in the Hands-On or Working with Others stages. Hands-On are usually owner operators along with a couple of guys that they tightly control. The majority of Aquascape customers fall in this category. Working with others is the next stage and it’s represented by an owner who has others he directs to do the work. Systems based is the next stage that typically occurs when a company grows to 20 or more employees. It usually only happens when an owner realizes he can’t manage everything and implements systems for others to follow to assure uniform results.

Steve implemented a Systems Based approach with only five guys. He’s now an inspiration for many others who realize they too could do the same. Aquascape revolutionized pond design and construction with our own Systems Based business model of building a pond with 20 products in 20 steps. We’ve preached for years that owners need to work “On their business, not in it.” Steve and his operation are now the poster child for doing just that which leads me to my final point.

Aquascape operates in the fourth stage of operations which is Strategic. It’s our job as the manufacturer to strategically create opportunities for our customers. It’s why we asked Steve to share his Systems Based approach at an event we strategically created to get you to the next level called Pondemonium. It’s why we have our own R & D construction, maintenance and retail operations to test best practices and products and pass along the results to you. WE ARE YOU! It’s why we continuously innovate our products for a changing world whether it’s rain water harvesting that turned threats into opportunities, or even our IonGen™ that eliminate consumer’s worst problem…algae! And, it’s why we are dedicating immense efforts to first land, and now create, a killer Reality TV Show to solve our customer’s biggest problem…LEADS!

In my first year of business I built every pond on my own. I hired my first foreman my second year and built every pond with him and a couple guys I played football with and employed seasonally. With Ed Beaulieu I was able to move to a System based approach, which just like Steve we continue to execute our R & D, construction, maintenance and retail operations with today. I strategically wrote this blog to inspire you to go through the same progressions. With Steve as living proof you’re back and pocketbook will appreciate it!

Brian being Brian inspired Ben to be a Ben!

Brian being Brian inspired Ben to be a Ben!

All it took was one conversation with Ben, a 24 year old kid, for me to know Pondemonium was a success. Last week was the biggest week of the year for me and Aquascape. Pondemonium is the signature training, entertaining, and networking event of the year in the entire water feature industry. We work really hard to plan a cornucopia of events for the almost 500 passionate Pond Guys and Gals who come from literally across the globe to Chicago each August. Their success is our success which brings me back to my conversation with Ben.

Ben was a first timer at Pondemonium, a foreman for a Certified Aquascape Contractor who had been employed for just under a year building water features. What he said to me Saturday night gave me goose bumps and made my Pondemonium. Ben told me “Brian Helfrich changed my life this week.” He went on to explain that watching how Brian Helfrich, Aquascape’ s fun-loving, water feature guru extraordinaire, worked with stones, changed his entire perspective on building water features! Ben said that before his hands-on Pondless Waterfall Class at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago that Brian led, he dreaded the hard labor associated with building a water feature and moving heavy rocks. But seeing the passion and love of a true artist getting into his work was an ah-hah moment for Ben. Ben wanted what Brian had, which was the indescribable pleasure that comes from doing what you truly love in life.

What Ben said, and just as importantly the way he said it, was music to my ears! Your attitude determines your altitude. Ben came to Pondemonium a kid with a job that involved hauling rocks, what he left with was a man with a career working with stones. Amen!

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the 23 years of running Aquascape it’s this: If you want the Benjamin’s, focus on the Bens. Ben’s going to be a changed man for his boss that invested in him. His new found attitude will create new found altitudes for both him and his employer. Too often it’s easy to forget that it’s the people who make the projects and not vice versa. Brian was a Ben for me many years ago now. My investment in him has paid off for me and now it’s paying off for others. Most investments in people fail because most people aren’t a Brian or a Ben. But to stop investing in others is to stop investing in yourself. Aquascape is Aquascape because of its people. So is, or isn’t, your company. If you don’t have a Brian or a Ben, you probably don’t have the Benjamin’s either! I learned a long time ago as well, you can only make so much money with your own two hands.

In the end though it’s not all about the Benjamin’s or even the projects the Bens and Brians create. You can’t measure success by dollars and projects alone. But the investment you make in people, is one measure of success that when it pays off, is immeasurable. I have a Brian, and now someone else has a Ben, that will prove that. And that makes Pondemonium 2013 a success in my book.

Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

My problems are bigger than yours. You know how I know that for certain, because everybody’s problems are bigger than everybody else’s. Regardless of the situation, or the number of zeros attached to your set of challenges, if they are more than you feel you can handle, you will feel overwhelmed. It’s easy for me to feel my problems are bigger than yours. In just the last few weeks I’ve had people steal from me, both externally (really hard) and internally (even harder), I’ve had to terminate teammates I like, and had people I like even more resign. My pool heater broke, for the third time in five years, and needed replacing yet again. I greeted a great customer walking into our retail store, only to have him tell me all his prized fish had been eaten by a predator. Personally I threw out my back (geez am I really getting old?) and at home we have extended family living with us, which actually I don’t mind, but most people would. I could go on and on but I know it wouldn’t matter, in the end I know your problems are bigger than mine.

But just when I felt things couldn’t get any worse, the Chicago Blackhawks unexpectedly scored two goals in 17 seconds to come from behind and win their second Stanley Cup in four years. Woohoo! The next day I awoke with a little more spring in my step. And then something truly amazing happened.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a man I had met for the first time a little over a year ago. When I met him, he was going through the hardest thing he had ever had to go through. I was in a position to help him, and I did. Last week he asked if I could meet him and hence the lunch date. Walking into it I had a sour grape attitude, some problems with a customer group that had been playing out all over social media. Lovely. That’s when he told me if it wasn’t for the help I was in a position to provide him; he doesn’t know where he would be today. “Wow, thanks for that, pretty cool to know I could help” I said. He then went on to explain his situation had turned 180 degrees and his business was booming! He proceeded to pull out a check made out to the Aquascape Foundation, for one of the largest amounts we’ve ever received! I was shocked, we both got choked-up, and my faith in humanity was restored. But something even greater happened too. I was reaffirmed, once again, that no problem is insurmountable. My problems, albeit as overwhelming as they are to me today, have answers that may come tomorrow, or the next. Think about that, when you like me are wallowing in self-pity, defeatism, or anger at the dilemmas life has cast upon you. And pray for big problems or better yet being bigger than the problems you have. If your prayers are answered you might just find you’re blessed with handling bigger and bigger problems, and also earning the satisfaction that comes from whipping them! Carpe Diem

I began discussions with a publicly traded company, with almost a billion dollars in sales, to acquire Aquascape. Although I have always said I had no desire to sell my baby, I felt I might as well hear what they were saying. They are loosely related to the water feature industry and told me straight out that their only interest of entering our market is if they could acquire us. Their roll-up strategy is to acquire the top player in an industry or no one at all. They had the cash and they wanted to know if I was interested. The year was 2006, I told them thanks, but no thanks. The next year our sales peaked. Had I sold at anywhere close to the numbers we had discussed, multiple managers could have become millionaires and I would have been set for life.

Mistakes happen and opportunities get missed. There is no such thing as a rewind button in life and we aren’t born with crystal balls. But if I could go back to the year 2005, the year we moved into Aqualand, with the hindsight that I now possess here is what I would tell myself. “That building you dreamed so much about and you have just moved into doesn’t have the right bracing. A big storm is going to come and knock Aqualand down in 2011 so you might want to fix that!” Then I would tell my wide-eyed naïve self that “the economy is going to collapse and everything you worked so hard to create would be on the verge of collapsing with it. Don’t wait so long to make the hard choices; you’re going to have to make them anyway so get to it!”

Finally I would say to myself “you made the right decision not to sell the company.” If I had heard my slightly older, much wiser self tell me those things back in 2006 here’s what I would have avoided. Seeing my roof collapse, complete bewilderment, along with a lot of other people regarding what was going on in the economy, and subsequently my business and most importantly validation that selling to a large, impersonal, corporation was not the best choice for me, our people, or the industry.

The last five years have been anything but easy. But it’s because they have been so hard that they have also been so rewarding. First and foremost I see a Senior Management team that’s been forged by fire. We are infinitely stronger today, from a leadership perspective, then when the waters were calm. And as for the rest of the teammates on the bus, they are in the right seats doing the right things even if that means doing more with less than they did before. Those rotten apples that we really didn’t know how rotten they were when skies were blue, have long ago been tossed out of the barrel. Finally, every single new hire, to a person, has been the right piece to the puzzle making our team stronger, closer, and more effective today with just over half the people we had when “things were good.” Simply put, had we not gone through what we went through, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Where we are at today is we are still in business, still the most innovative and certainly passionate company left in the water feature industry. Many competitors are gone and many more that are left aren’t “Fit for the Fight.” Aquascape came close to joining them. Had I cashed out I might be sitting bored on a boat somewhere but Aquascape, my baby, would exist no more. That large publically traded company that was on a buying spree in the mid-2000s was on a selling spree the last few years.

Maybe I could have bought it back for pennies on the dollar after the aftermath. But what I would have been buying was the tools, molds, and products, not the people I rely on so much today. Instead, I’d rather look at the rejection of a big buy-out in 2006 as an investment into the people, our company, and an industry that is going to pay far bigger dividends in the long haul. Take the money and run might be some people’s motto. As for me and my team, we are going to keep running to our big, hairy, audacious goals for Aquascape and the industry we love.

Hope you do the same!

People who have been to Pondemonium get it. Customers who have been doing business with Aquascape over the years have learned it too. But the rest of the industry doesn’t understand because it’s not who they are. In fact they refer to it as “drinking the Kool aid.” But Pondemonium is the manifestation of what Aquascape is all about. Pondemonium is a party of the most passionate pond guys and gals, retailers and contractors, distributors and teammates all coming together for a few days in August for one reason. All of us, despite working more or less as lone wolves 51 weeks a year are part of something bigger than ourselves. That’s easy to forget when you’re nose to the grindstone week after week, month after month, year after year.

Pondemonium 2012 - Reinvet Yourself To Win The Battle

Pondemonium 2012 – Reinvet Yourself To Win The Battle

Pondemonium has been described by those who come as a family reunion, a shot of adrenalin, a celebration and an acknowledgement that you aren’t the only one out there fighting the good fight. If you don’t think those things are valuable to your brain, your heart and your psyche. than you simply refer to it as “drinking the Kool aid” and place your face back firmly on the grindstone.

Sad. Life’s too short not to absolutely fricking love what you do! But if you’re doing it for you, you are missing out on what truly makes a successful life. Pondemonium isn’t about you or even Aquascape for that matter. Pondemonium is about others. It’s about the first-time attendee you can relate to and show them the ropes. It’s about the foreman or store manager you reward with a trip to Chicago and all of a sudden they can envision a career in an industry they didn’t know even existed when they answered the classified ad for your business. It’s about very real and genuine conversations about what you’re doing that’s working in NJ that someone in California is going to go home and implement. You know how gratifying that feels?! If you do than you probably have been to Pondemonium where those types of conversations make connections that don’t typically happen the other 51 weeks out of the year.

Pondemonium 2011 - Building the Future Together

Pondemonium 2011 – Building the Future Together

Life’s too short not to live it to the fullest. Every year I hear one of two things from people when it comes to whether or not they are going make it to Pondemonium. Nobody ever says they don’t want to come. Rather, they say “we can’t afford it” or “we can’t afford to miss it.” Guess what I see too, year after year? The people who believe they can’t afford it can’t find enough money to make it year after year, and the people who believe they can’t afford to miss it find a way to be here year after year. Hmmmm. Life happens when you’re making other plans.

Pondemonium 2010 - Back To Basics

Pondemonium 2010 – Back To Basics

Pondemonium 2008 - World's Most Extreme Pond Build

Pondemonium 2008 – World’s Most Extreme Pond Build

Aquascape exists because of Pondemonium. It also exists because of our seminars and YouTube, even Facebook and possibly a reality TV show. Aquascape exists to do anything and everything to help our customers succeed at building, selling and retailing water features. In essence, Aquascape exists for others’ success. If that makes us successful in the process we all win. But it doesn’t start with us even if it ends with us or you.

If your business is about you, you won’t be able to afford Pondemonium, year after year. But if your business is about your customers, your teammates, your fellow businessman or Certified Aquascape Contractor a thousand miles away or one town over. then you will be at Pondemonium. It won’t be about you even though it is. Because when you make it about others, it comes back to you ten fold. If you want to be successful therefore don’t make it about you. But do make it to Pondemonium.

See you there, there’s a guy in California or conversely New Jersey waiting to meet you!

The Pond Guy

In September we are taking our two boys, our dog, a few worldly possessions, and moving to an island for a year. You read that correctly! A few short months ago if you had told any of us we would be relocating our family for the better part of a year to live and serve in a third world country we would have thought you were nuts. But then Carla and I went to the Dominican in February to install a rainwater harvesting system with the Aquascape Foundation. Both of us fell in love with the place, the people, and most of all, the opportunities. When we returned we started to talk and found many reasons why we shouldn’t do it. We’ve never done something seemingly crazy like this before. We both grew up living, and playing, in the Chicagoland suburbs; having only really left the area while attending college. Our kids are in a great private school, playing sports, in clubs, and they have a good network of friends. We have a wonderful church, and even family, close by. My commute to work is less than ten minutes, and there’s a Panera on the way which I find myself stopping at sometimes multiple times a day. And living in Chicago we have our pick of a half dozen great, not good, pizza joints which all deliver. We speak the language. Life is good, and so are we. Those are all equally good reasons to stay or throw a monkey wrench in the whole equation and go! We choose the monkey route.

 

Here’s the charity we will be partnering up with www.kidsalive.org

We fear our kids are soft. It’s not their fault, or really even ours. They, as we, are a byproduct of our squishy environment. We find our biggest parenting battle is setting up, and enforcing, rules around their time playing video games. Really?! Soon we hope to think and act completely differently living in a third world country.

 

Video games? What video games?!

 

Almost ten million people live in the Dominican Republic. Half of them survive on less than $2.00 a day. Their struggles are far from electronic conveniences and revolve more around finding food, having access to clean drinking water, and shelter. Soft isn’t in their vocabulary! Neither unfortunately is opportunity. Maybe, just maybe, the Wittstocks could provide them something; and in the process learn a whole lot more about how the majority of the world lives, and our role in it. If we came back semi-fluent in Spanish, that wouldn’t be a half bad trade off either.

 

He can’t talk to them now, but if the boys want friends they will learn!

 

This is what gym class looks like in the Dominican.

 

Naturally history is an easy class to give when you live on a mountain!

 

We are under no illusions — this isn’t going to be an easy adjustment. For 23 years I’ve eaten, breathed, and slept Aquascape. I hate being away from my team and family the majority of the winter due to business travel, but I love seeing our customers and the mental stimulation of what I do. But next winter, not only will I be away from my team, but I won’t be on the road doing my dog and pony show either. My family will be my mental stimulation now. Homeschooling the kids will replace seminars for contractors and retailers. Instead of cheering my boys from the sidelines we all will be organizing, and coaching, sports camps for the local community. I won’t do Rosetta Stone on my own but I will do a daily Spanish tutor alongside my wife and kids. Why do I feel they are going to pick it up so much faster than us?! Bottom line life is going to be different very different. But what we want to install in our kids and hopefully ourselves for that matter is different isn’t better or worse it’s just different. Life is what you choose to make of it good or bad. That’s easy to say “living the dream” out in suburbia. We are all looking forward to putting that and ourselves to the test in the Dominican.

 

The next water garden capitol of the D.R.?

 

Finally I’d like to give a huge shout out to the Team at Aquascape. It’s because of them we can live out a dream (albeit one we hadn’t thought about living) and serving in a third world country. I can only imagine how much I’m going to miss being here fighting alongside them in the daily battles that occur in the war of business today. Thanks to technology, I will be connected with email, Skype and of course can fly home on a moment’s notice if need be. But, I also am not going to the Dominican to stay connected, but rather disconnect. And in doing so I plan on re-envisioning the business and my role in it. I plan on writing a book, or maybe even two, while I’m down there. And of course, I still will be blogging every week, only this time my kids will be doing it as well. Blogging will be part of their homework and so will be shooting and editing footage for their own documentary of our experiences and that of the community we will be serving. Watch out Sundance the Wittstock brothers are coming! So even though we will be gone we really won’t be at all. If you want to stay in touch with us we are only a click away … or an hour and a half plane ride from Miami. Feel free to come and visit us! The children and families of Jarabacoa would appreciate all the love and support you can give them! And thank you as well for your love and support that has emboldened us to make this life changing move.

 

We will not come home with a daughter. We will not come home with a daughter!

 

Carpe Dominican Republic!

 

Life is simpilier in the Dominican.

If there’s one creed I try to live by it’s being happy now. It’s easy to be happy when things are going great, or if you win the lottery. But most days you’re alive problems crop up and you only get two, or maybe three, of the circles matching (when you need four to win) on the scratch off game from the gas station. Alas, the secret to life is not just smiling when things are going great, but smiling even when they aren’t. If that wisdom seems a bit trite and simplistic I want you to know I’m in good company.

The single, largest, organization in North America is the American Association of Retired People (AARP). Growing up I was taught to respect my elders. So when I read that AARP conducted their largest survey ever of their member, a few years back I was interested. Probably the most significant question I felt researchers asked was “What one piece of advice would you offer future generations?” Now as you can imagine these people who have experienced so much in life have lots of advice to give. But the question wasn’t “give us your advice” it was “give us one piece of advice.” Trying to boil down an entire life into what one thing you could share, to theoretically inspire or simply inform future generations, is daunting by its very nature.But that’s exactly what these senior citizens (sorry Mom their definition not mine) did. Not surprisingly everyone didn’t have the same advice and opinions ran the gamut. But one opinion, one kernel of wisdom, one piece of advice surfaced more consistently than any other. “Be happy now.”

I interpret that as being happy despite not closing that big account or getting that promotion you were really, really hoping for (and desperately needed the money that would come along with it.) In fact, it pretty much says despite what happens to you, you need to remain positive. If you want to sulk in your own misfortune or bad luck for a week or two instead of being happy now it’s your prerogative. But what our elders have discovered and are simply pointing out to us whippersnappers is that’s just an extra week or two that you’re going be less likely to get good fortune and change your luck. When you decide to be happy now, you decide to put yourself in a place for better things to come. And if they don’t for whatever reason at least you’re not going home and kicking the dog. Being happy now, at least as I interpret it, is not about not pushing yourself and striving to be your best always. Quite the contrary is true. Being happy now means you’re tackling problems, and moving onto even greater ones, and feeling the sense of accomplishment that comes with self-respect.

So what are you waiting for to be happy about?And the bigger question to all of us who haven’t reached AARP status yet and certainly the happy ones in AARP is this. What are you going to do about it NOW to get happy? Answer that and you will find happiness. Because after all,success isn’t a destination, it’s the journey. You might as well be whistling as you undertake it.

Last week I wrote about when the season gets busy for my customers, (Spring), my travels subside. I’ve now been in the office for back-to-back days and will be every day, more or less, through Memorial Day. It feels like I’m on vacation! I woke up giddy to get to work, relieved I’d actually be around to“play” with my team. By play I mean work, which in an owner’s world means dealing with problems and also prevalent challenges that are part of the daily “grind.”

My favorite quote is the definition of Hell. “Hell is a life without problems.” By owning a company I choose not to check out, and work in atoll booth. With that choice comes consequences, like dealing with all the inherent challenges of not accepting the status quo at work. The problem is most people associate problems with hell. But in the end, all “work” is, is fixing problems. Instead of going on vacation to temporarily escape life’s challenges, why not look at work like the vacation it truly is! Besides, I’d rather vacation 51 weeks of the year anyway instead of one or two. The problem is most people let problems de-energize them instead of recharge them like a vacation, or work worth doing should. That is until they retire, and experience a life without problems (or purpose), and realize the hell that that truly is.Unchallenged and unfulfilled, those people often retire and die, figuratively and sometimes even physically.

Nope. For me, work truly is a vacation – even if I turn red for reasons other than the sun. Because a life without problems is the definition of hell. Life is all about enjoying the journey. I hope you find away to make work a vacation too!

Enjoying my Cabo “vacation” with crazy Pete.

Bon Voyage,

The Pond Guy

It’s April again, which means a lot of things, for all of us who work in the Green Industry. The weather’s warming (please!), the phones are ringing, people are stopping in the store, and everyone is chomping at the bit to get their ponds started. All of which means nobody has time for me anymore. When the landscape world gets busy, and with it the pond world, my world slows way down. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you might notice I’m on the road the majority of the time from November to March. When people have time to work on their businesses in the off-season, I work in my business helping them do just that. When our customers get busy, it’s time for me to switch from traveling, to working on the business, not in it. I love the dichotomy of my job and hope you do too. Unfortunately, I think a lot of Green Industry professionals don’t do a good job of balancing the two. They go 110% for,say nine months of the year, and dial it down to near zero the other three. The very months they could, or should, be working on the business they are either too exhausted, or still stuck working in it, by plowing or doing (last years) financials. Year, after year, after year. The rhetorical question every one needs to ask themselves is “If, as the owner, I don’t have time to work on the business, who is?!”

 

If there’s one common denominator I notice that cuts across contractors, retailers, and even Green Industry distributors, it’s in this seasonal industry people work way too much in, and way too little on, their business. I’ve heard, and will continue to hear, every justification on why it’s virtually impossible for these business owners to extrapolate themselves from this vicious cycle. “I don’t have the money to pay someone else, you can’t find good help these days, nobody can do it the way I want it done so I just end up doing it myself.” And year, after year, after year, the same scenario persists; owners stuck working in their businesses, not on them.

 

There was one question I asked myself, primarily in the formative years of Aquascape that freed me to work on, not in my business.Here’s the question all business owners need to ask themselves “Is this the job of a CEO?!” For example i asked myself early on should I be building ponds? No, I need a foreman for that i concluded. Paying bills? No way, I can’t even balance my personal checkbook; I need an office manager (who could also book all my design consultations too.) But is the job of a CEO to be designing and selling ponds? I need a pond salesman to do that I decided. And soon, and so on. Today I don’t work in the business, I work on it. Working on it,means working in it, to help others work on theirs. Hence the travel.

 

So now that the weathers warmed (please!) I’m busy working on all the new ideas, and opportunities, we have, which is the job, as I define it, for me, as Aquascape’s CEO. Only you can answer the question for yourself, and for your business, of “Is this the job of a CEO?” But know this, you’ll never have an Ed, or a Brian, or even a Colleen, if year after year, you’re the CEO who does everything…year, after year, after year.

I recently was in Maryland, talking to contractors, at the invite of our long-standing distributor, Turf Equipment. It was a great time and included hands-on demos, a social media class, given by Mike Gannon, “The Pond Hunter”, and even an impromptu CAC dinner at Steve Shinholser, of Premier Ponds, home. But it was Steve’s talk about his systems, and procedures, which has allowed him to successfully manage one of the top water feature businesses in the world that stole the show. You see, Steve is a rare breed in our industry, a businessman who happens to be running a water feature design, build, and maintenance firm. Do you know how rare that is?! Steve gets it, which is why it’s a pleasure to work with him. He owns no equipment, outside of his two pick-up trucks, couldn’t even tell you how to strap a boulder, let alone do it, and he works out of his garage. And year after year, he maintains and installs more water features than just about anybody else. Can you see why he stole the show?

 

Steve Shinhosler talking numbers. The top his sales, the bottom his profits. Any questions?!

 

Now if you read that and thought to yourself “well I’m not a businessman, I can’t do what he does” I’d say keep reading. As long as you believe being an “artist” prevents you from being a businessman you will find unprofitable projects to fill your days. Steve charges top dollar for Premier Ponds projects and makes top dollar when they are done. He would be the first to admit he’s not a top artist but his customers love his work. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?

 

Mike Gannon “The Pond Hunter” sharing his wisdom and some Grateful Dead trivia.

 

There are many differences between Steve’s business model and that of most other water feature contractors, and even many of the top Certified Aquascape Contractors. For starters, Steve understands how to price and value his work. He never associates “his value of a dollar with the customer’s value of a dollar” and instead views and prices his services accordingly. Steve also spends the majority of his time working on his business instead of in it. This also means he empowers his TEAM to do what their good at so he can spend the time doing what he is best at. And what Steve’s best at, is executing systems and procedures religiously in his marketing and selling. If there’s one weakness most contractors, and retailers, have with their business, it’s marketing and selling. Learn how to market, and sell and you will be amazed how everything else takes care of itself. Steve, like Aquascape, allows customers to get a discount for pre-paying their spring clean outs. He mails hundreds of Spring Clean out newsletters to customers, and gets tens of thousands of prepaid dollars coming in during the historically cash-strapped February and March. For the cost of a stamp, and a few days’ time in the offseason, Steve makes sure his in-season starts off strong year, after year, after year (consistency is the key with your marketing efforts.)

 

Want to know what else Steve and Premier Ponds do to run one of the most successful businesses in the industry? If you’re signed up for Pondemonium, August 22-24th in Chicago, you can hear for yourself as Steve will be a keynote speaker. Steve’s goal now, is to share with as many people as possible, what he does, while trying to inspire them to believe in themselves, and do it too. Sounds like anybody else you know? I know Steve is looking forward to Pondemonium. Are you?

 

Steve Shinholser showing the Mid Atlantic CAC’s some down home hospitality!

You’ve got nine days (and nights), a blank canvas, or in this case a barren concrete floor, and many tons of sand, rock, plastic, and rubber. A kid’s dream? Absolutely! That’s how Brian Helfrich approaches the Chicago Flower and Garden Show each year. And the results speak for themselves, filling Chicago’s historic Navy Pier with the tranquil tunes of waterfalls and streams.

 

Day one and than “Man Cave” is set!

 

Day four and we have a lot more to go!

 

Brian designs and the Team lead by master artisans brothers Cucco and Carlo Barrera.

 

Our first piano waterfalls in the making!

 

The inspiration for this year’s booth is the same as it’s been the for the previous eight shows; Inspire attendees to what’s possible in their suburban, or even urban, backyard or patio “Most people don’t even realize it’s possible to recreate a favorite piece of paradise where they live but we show them it is!” states Helfrich, head designer extraordinaire for St. Charles based Aquascape. Recreating paradise in someone’s backyard is one thing, doing it inside an assembly hall is quite another. Nothing can be done till you build everything up and only then can you carve it all out to create the foundation for all the water features, and hundreds of plants, and thousands of blooming flowers. It all needs to come together in a way that looks like it’s always been there. And be there it will be for a full ten days, and tens of thousands of visitors, we work to please before it all gets returned to its original blank slate. It’s the sad reality of doing a show like Chicago’s Flower and Garden Show. But it’s also part of the creative destruction as each year’s show fuels the next year’s design. Creating spaces people feel comfortable in, designing areas for kids, or senior citizens alike, to engage with the fish and turtles and doing it all in a way that encourages visitors to take time “to smell the flowers.” It’s a labor of love for all involved and one we look forward to doing and improving every year.

 

Playing with the finished masterpiece!

 

9 long days (and nights) it’s complete and inspiring 70,000 plus people to embrace the water feature lifestyle!

One of the more impressive things I’ve seen in recent years is the traveling Techo-Bloc seminar tour; 33 cities and 10,000 attendees. To average over 300 contractors per location, who sign up and actually attend an all day seminar, in this day and age is incredible. What’s their secret? This is the seventh year in a row that Techo-Bloc has done their winter seminar tour, and each year attendance grows by 20%. Bingo! Far, far, too often companies “try” something new for their marketing efforts, and they don’t get the desired results, so they try something else…again, and again. Very, very, few companies have developed successful marketing habits that build on themselves. That’s the question for you, what are your businesses marketing habits?

 

Last year I decided that Aquascape was going to start a new marketing habit of creating Facebook Notes. Knowing i needed to make it a habit I assigned a day of the week to four other teammates, and picked Wednesdays for myself (which is today — hence my note.) We’ve now done five notes a week, each week for a year – all of us! That’s a marketing habit right there. Whether it’s a daily Facebook picture, our third Saturday of each month pond tours, our Friday videos or our ninth annual Chicago Flower & Garden Show starting this week, Aquascape has developed consistent marketing habits. If you want to turn frustration with your marketing efforts into fun, then develop successful marketing habits that you tweak and improve year after year.

Every March we do the Flower & Garden Show and improv.

 

Every Friday Aquascape up loads a training or promotional video to YouTube.

 

Aquascape went from one large pond tour a year to 5 smaller ones May through Sept. We get them put to bed in the winter.

How many people do you know who own their own mountain? I know exactly one. Michael Ballantine was a neighbor of mine who thought his kids were growing soft with their posh suburban lifestyle (I concur.) His print business was doing well so when an opportunity presented itself to do a yearlong mission trip to the Dominican Republic he signed up the whole family! In 2001 Michael, his wife Lisa, and their four adolescent children headed to the second largest island in the Bahamas. The next fourteen months was everything Michael and Lisa had hoped for and more for their kids. Serving the poor, developing a church and living a far far less luxurious lifestyle that not only brought them closer than ever as a family but changed all of their life’s trajectories.

 

Lisa and our boys on our first trip to visit in 2006 one of her projects.

 

Returning to the states they all had a new appreciation for the advantages living in America provides. But Michael couldn’t shake what his entrepreneurial brain registered. Everywhere he had looked in the Dominican Republic he saw nothing but business opportunity after business opportunity. In his late 30s he enrolled in college to learn Spanish, setting his plan in motion. Lisa joined him, wanting to get a degree in art with an emphasis in working with ceramics.

 

When he announced to her in 2005 that he had decided to sell his business and invest all of their life savings to develop a tropical mountain in the Dominican, she was less than pleased. Moving there to serve a one year mission trip was a big commitment, moving there permanently was a huge one!

 

As a business owner Michael is a natural salesman. It took all his charm and persuasion to get Lisa on board. That’s when fate struck or to hear Lisa recall it “When God sent me a letter.” Reading Ceramics Monthly she was fascinated by an article describing how a combination of clay, sawdust and silver particles can be combined to filter unclean water and make it drinkable. At the end of the article she saw its author’s name, none other than her own jewelry professor! Lisa eagerly met with him and described her family’s plans to relocate to the D.R. Was it possible she asked to bring this ceramic technology to the Dominican and help provide clean water to the children she had served before? Her professor took her under his wing and she hatched her own plan to establish a ceramic factory in the D.R. Any hesitation that Lisa had about moving the family was now replaced with her new personal calling to provide clean drinking water with her newly established non for profit, FilterPure.

 

Lisa doing her thing!

 

Fill up unclean water, and drink pure!

 

In 2006 the family sold their home and sold or gave away many of their possessions and moved to the Dominican. Personally, we were sad to see them go but both excited and scared for them at the same time. Both of them were going full steam into a radically different world that few of us would ever dare venture. If that was the whole story there it would be motivating. The final piece of the puzzle at least as it relates to Aquascape however, is the influence Lisa had on my wife, Carla. Inspired by Lisa’s success with FilterPure, Carla had the model to establish her own not-for-profit, the Aquascape Foundation. If not for Lisa’s example and corresponding encouragement there might not even be an Aquascape Foundation. Because of that Lisa is officially a “Super Mentor” that is someone who helps another person gain the confidence they need to pursue their own dreams. For that I am eternally grateful seeing the purpose the Aquascape Foundation has provided for my wife. And the thousands of people who now have access to clean drinking water because of her foundation’s efforts is a testament to the worthiness of her cause.

 

Carla and Lisa, two movers and shakers!

 

Living the Dream!

 

As for Michael and I, we continue to support our wives’ efforts by working our own causes. Michael’s mountain now has 80 houses and a drop-dead gorgeous restaurant with plans for a luxury hotel and spa just getting under way. His entrepreneurial vision has created hundreds of jobs that wouldn’t exist if he didn’t cash in his posh job and lifestyle for one far more risky and challenging. I’m proud to call both Michael and Lisa our dear friends. And all of us are already brainstorming our future projects while hopefully inspiring others to do the same!

 

Michael in his “office”

 

Michael and Lisa Ballantine, at their restaurant on the side of the mountain.

Last week I wrote about the filming of the pilot for our new reality show, The Pond Guys. Animal Planet has purchased the rights to this show and provided the pilot does as anticipated it’s slated for production sometime this summer. They are looking to package it with their most popular show, Tanked! First season production is slated for a six to ten episodes. Here’s where you come in. Our pilot was filmed in Amelia Island, Florida because besides being February in Chicago we had a great story to shoot. William was a 14 year old boy who had the ambition and where-withal to build his own backyard pond. He reminded me of me at his age and I really wanted to help him with his hobby. Well, there are so, so many cool, fun and inspirational stories out there that involve water. I wanted to give you the chance to share your ideas with me that I could pass along to our agent, the producers and ultimately the execs at Animal Planet. We already have plenty of projects and ideas to film here in Chicago, but of course, we only want to shoot the best of the best. If you’re wondering what the best of the best looks like, think one thing…Reality TV! Lots of drama, bleeped out words and emotion. Hah! Seriously though, the number one thing we are looking for is a good story. Creating and installing a water feature for a returning Vet like some of our contractors do in Ponds for Vets. Or, rebuilding a pond for a community that’s fallen to disarray. If there’s one element every build needs to feature outside of being a dramatic transformation it’s being able to chronicle actual drama in the build. One of the shows on the option table for example is us rebuilding a water feature at a chapel right before a wedding. A worried bride and a tight time frame make for great reality TV or so I’ve been told. You get it?

 

Never before has our industry been so close to being relevant to the masses than the exposure a major network would provide. I want to do this right, I have to work in the parameters of what a viewing public demands, and I plan on leveraging our national network of Certified Aquascape Contractors to make that happen. So put your thinking caps on, watch some episodes of Tanked, the #1 show they want to pattern us off of, and send us your ideas for your projects to showcase. With only a six to ten episode series being featured in year one it will be like winning the lottery. But if you don’t play you can’t win. And I’m convinced, as I’m sure you are too that this concept has legs, and will become a standard twenty series program! I can picture us now reviving our waterfall building contests of the past with the accompanying wacky cast and crew. And don’t you think Pondemonium in August screams reality TV! Who’s going in the Gorilla cage to get the waterfalls flowing? The ideas are as endless as the designs for our water features. So submit away and let’s make a blow-your-socks-off Season One so we earn a season two and put water features smack dab in the minds of a reality TV viewing public!

 

Do you have a project you’d like to tackle with The Pond Guys?!

 

Please send a 300 word, or less, description of an upcoming project your company would be able to organize for one of your clients to [email protected]

Last week I wrote about our winter training, and networking, retreat Cabomonium. I expressed how the need for recharging at Pondemonium, and refueling at Cabomonium, should be a vital part of your business plan. In just a matter of weeks the season will hit and your 2013 business plan will be turned to implementation mode. So it begs the question, do you have August 22nd to 25th circled in red on your calendar? Do you have the expenses to attend accounted for in your training budget? Have you conveyed to your managers what sales will need to be at, for them to earn a pass to Chicago? If you answered yes to all three of those questions you will be amazed “having the time” and “having the money” to attend will probably take care of itself. If you’re simply hoping to “have the time” and “having the money” to make it this year you might as well start planning on 2014. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Use Pondemonium as a motivator, a carrot for your foreman, or manager, and an incentive for you to hit your plan, and reward yourself, with the best investment possible, an investment back into yourself!

 

Dr. Jack Groppel “The Corporate Athlete”

 

Have some fun while you learn to earn.

 

Speaking of yourself, this year’s theme might just hit you right in the gut “Fit for the Fight.” Where’s your fitness level at for running your business? Are you running it, or is it running you? There are so many analogies between fitness, and your business, and you’re going to get all of them at this year’s Pondemonium. You don’t just wake up and run a marathon. You put a plan in place that you execute daily, weekly, and monthly until you’re fully prepared to run the race. Do you have a plan in place for running your business daily, weekly and monthly? You can’t sprint a marathon either which is what many business owners wake up every day doing, and collapse at the end of every night because of it. And ironically it’s these “sprinters” who never have the time, or coincidentally the money, to attend the Pondemoniums and Cabomoniums. You can’t help people that can’t help themselves. But you can help those who are ready, and willing, to put in the work to help themselves. Pondemonium 2013 “Fit for the Fight” is for those who are ready to do just that. If you’re tired from sprinting a marathon, if you’re looking to set a goal that motivates you, and your key team members, and rewards you, and them, with an investment in yourself and them. If you’re looking for that energy boost to finish the fight you have been at since spring then be here, in Chicagoland, August 22nd to 25th!

 

So circle the calendar, put your budget plan in place, get your team accountable for hitting the goals, and work your ass off to succeed so you will be “Fit for the Fight!”

 

“Excuses” – The Pond Guy

 

“No Excuses” – Kyle Maynard

 

Set your goal NOW! Register on-line at pondemonium.com and work your plan! See you in August!

 

Everyone should be fit for this fight!

 

Who knows, you might just get to “show off” how fit you really are on stage in front of 500 of your newest friends!

With a name like Cabomonium, it’s gotta be good! (Eat your heart out Smuckers!) Pondemonium on Quaaludes is how I succinctly describe the Cabomonium experience. The Aquascape team and a small group of highly dedicated, and passionate, water feature professionals together in one of the coolest, most beautiful places on the planet! If that isn’t a recipe for fun and success I don’t know what is?!

 

The good times don’t end at sundown in Cabo!

 

I figured out a long time ago that life is short and you should “work” to live it to the fullest. Cabomonium is one of the ways I do that. Time with some of the most important people in the world to me, my Teammates, their spouses who support them, and our top customers. Every year I hear from people that say “This is the year they are going to make it to our winter retreat 900 miles south of the border.” Few do. But for the few who do, here’s what they find. One-on-one networking time a plenty. And best of all, it’s on a beach, by the pool, or at a Mexican bar. Like how often in your “work” life do you get to do just that? And that is, just the point, of Cabomonium.

 

Every morning starts with coffee, whale watching and good chats in “The Crows Nest”

 

CABOMONIUM is decidedly UnPondemonium

 

If there’s one thing I’ve become acutely aware of after being in business for 23 years, it’s this little thing called burnout. I’ve lost more once good customers, and friends, to this cause than any other. Life is hard on its own. Throw in being a small business owner having to perform day in and day out, while only getting to eat what you yourself kill and it gets significantly harder. Good! By being an entrepreneur you get to be the top dog in a universe of your own creation. But life can get lonely at the top. And the daily grind, and non-stop action, of running pedal to the metal can wear down the best of us. I see it all the time sadly enough. The fire in the belly, doused by the reality of mounting bills, the flicker in the eye dimmed by diminishing returns that come to all who toil at their trade long enough. And then it happens. Just when you need to stoke those fires that burned so hot in your belly when you started your venture, you dig down and find only fumes. If you’re lucky you close shop and hope you stumble onto something, anything that can fulfill you again. If you’re not so lucky you go into cruise control with your business and very often your life. Having lost purpose, bitterness and anger replace what once was drive and optimism. Depressing huh?! That’s why Aquascape puts so much emphasis on encouraging you to go to not only Cabomonium every winter, but Pondemonium every summer. Both events are your chance to fill your tank to start the year, and refill it, so you finish strong!

 

This is Ellen Beaulieu at Cabo Wabo…any questions?

 

Where else do you get an opportunity lot interact with a serial entrepreneur like Jerry Nelson. Life lessons indeed!

 

The best thing I ever heard from a Cabomonium attendee I was hounding to come was this: “I was all ready to come down to Cabomonium and get fired up like I do every year at Pondemonium. Instead I’ve never been more relaxed in my life!” AMEN! You can’t go through life full throttle, even the best of us will burnout. The truly best business owners get this. The best fathers, coaches, and top performers, in any field intuitively get this as well and structure their life accordingly. Are you structuring your life similarly? If so mark your calendars NOW for the third week of August and the second week of January. Those are your refueling stops that will allow you to run the rest of your race to the red line. After all you aren’t really living life if you’re running below the red line. Here’s to seeing you in Chicago in August and Cabo next January!

 

Endless hours of good, if not spirited competition. Wallyball Pondemonium rematches anyone?!

 

Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

I’ve been coming to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on the tip of the Baja peninsula since 2004. What brings most people to Cabo is the weather, the whales, the scenery, and even the nightlife to name just a few. For me, those are all perks. But what keeps bringing me back are the young men I have the privilege to work with, through the American Leadership Academy (www.americanla.org). In 1991, the son of ALA’s founder, Jerry Nelson, brought some fraternity brothers of his down to his father’s house in Cabo for some fun in the sun. Instead, these 18 to 20 year-old, young men spent the majority of their Spring break peppering Jerry with questions. At the time, Jerry was well on his way to building his empire of over 40 companies, including a few you might have even used yourself like Ticketmaster. Well, to say these men were interested in what Jerry was saying about business, and life, would be an understatement. Jerry found their interest “interesting” but didn’t give that much more thought to it. That is until the next year came, and even more guys showed up wanting to hear even more of what Jerry had to say. The idea for the American Leadership Academy to “Train tomorrow’s leaders today” was born, and 20 years later I find myself here in Cabo, in Jerry’s house, now part of what he created. Jerry’s fond of saying “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” At 83 years young, Jerry is still doing plenty of living!

Jerry Nelson giving the kind of wisdom that only comes from living!

2008 is the only year I’ve missed getting to Cabo in the last ten, and I missed it greatly. Aquascape was reeling at the beginning of the downturn. I was focused on saving what I built, not giving back what I had. Never again! I have Jerry to thank for that, and many other life lessons. The question for you is, are you focused on keeping what you get, or giving back what you learned getting it?! A lot has changed since 1991, the year the ALA and Aquascape both humbly began. But one thing has not. The next generation is equally as hungry for the knowledge, and wisdom, that can’t be found in textbooks, and only comes from real world experiences. I for one feel honored to have the ability to share what little I have learned, in hopes of helping someone else navigate the minefield of life.

What started out in a living room now occupies an entire hotel.

 

The young men of The American Leadership Academy. They are as hungry today as they were in 1991.

One thing I heard this week that succinctly stated the obvious was “you never find any self-centered jerks serving in the soup kitchen line.” I think it’s easy for any of us to get focused on our own problems, or our own needs, and desires. Yet we’ve got it in reverse when we do that. Putting others first puts our problems, and circumstances, in perspective. That perspective is the very perspective we need to have when life’s “problems” seem overwhelming.

So, the next time you’re focused on what’s overwhelming you at the time, think about all the overwhelming stuff you’ve already been through, and somehow overcome. Then go help someone else overcome what’s overwhelming them. Because “You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.”

Giving back by building a new home for a pastor in Cabo who has been giving back to the community for the last 7 years. When you give, you get (sometimes literally!)

It’s 2013 and this year marks Aquascapes 23rd year in business. What a ride it’s been! For the first sixteen years, we grew by double digits every year, and four times were even recognized as one of the top 500 fastest growing, privately held, companies in America. We’ve sold well over a half a billion dollars in goods, and services, over these years. But when 2008 hit we experienced four years of declining sales before again reaching double digit growth last year. To say I learned a few lessons over that period is an understatement. But one lesson I learned sticks out above all the rest.

Today, I can honestly say I have a deeper perspective I never would have had, had the business continued to perform.

 

The one perspective I’ve gained, more than any other, is the true love I have for my TEAM. For that I believe I am far better off having gone through the economic crisis that revealed the extent I’m reliant on my Teammates. At the end of the day, my Teammates are the ones I find myself honored to fight beside. Success is a journey, not a destination. My Teammates make the journey worth experiencing. I didn’t always have that perspective. It came from seeing how utterly reliant I was on them, and us on each other, as we fought together to remake our business from the ground up. Nothing, and that’s a big statement, is more important than the Aquascape Team to the Aquascape Company. Customers are a close second, and honestly I hesitated briefly before writing that as not to offend anyone. But at the end of the day without the Team I’m blessed to serve with, there would be no customers.

 

Here’s the perspective I’d hope you would take back to your business from my thoughts. Most business owners do not have a Team. Sure they have employees, but a true committed Team not so much. Aquascape was no different than most businesses in that regard during our double digit growth years. We had many more employees than we do today, but not nearly as many Teammates. If you’re on our Team today you’re pulling your own weight and that of someone else’s that used to be here. If you’re a manager you worked harder, but you had less to show for it in your paycheck. Everyone who was employed at Aquascape, sacrificed for Aquascape. And because of those sacrifices we survived years 18, 19, 20 and 21 to even allow year 22 to happen. But it was through that  process we became a Team.

 

Before most businesses experienced what Aquascape experienced, with declining sales, by far and away the number one thing I heard owners complain about was their employees. I wouldn’t call that a Team. Many owners can’t relinquish control. I wouldn’t call that a Team either. They say a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The economic crises, with a building collapse right in the middle of it, were the two events that cemented in my mind the value of our Team. Today I feel more pride in the Aquascape Team than in anything else we’ve created directly, or individually, as a company. (And that’s saying a lot considering how much I love the ponds we, and our customers, create!) I couldn’t always say that and for that I’m eternally grateful.

 

In conclusion I’d like to share with you a letter I received from Aquascape’s longest Teammate 13 amazing years and an eternity ago.  His words summarize, better than mine, why being part of something bigger than yourself, part of a Team is truly the most important thing a business creates.

 

 

Good luck creating your team with two, or the two hundred, lives you should be fortunate enough to fight beside. Carpe Diem!

Would you like the secret to marketing success that I learned years, and years, ago? In fact, when I learned this secret, and applied it, others even called me a marketing genius. And the funny thing is all it entailed doing was doing more of what other people already were doing. The secret I learned back in 1996 was the power of a methodical, and repeatable, approach to marketing. And when I learned that I went from mailing one catalog in the spring, like pretty much everyone else, to nine catalogs throughout the year. From one print run a year of 26,000 catalogs, to three print runs a year of 3. 1 million catalogs. And, I did it year after year after year, never missing a single mailing deadline. Can you say methodical, and repeatable?!

 

We became the largest catalog mailer in the entire Green Industry by following a methodical, and repeatable, marketing approach.

 

Today, I mail a fraction of what I mailed back then. Times change, and iPods, and smart phones, get invented. But the “secret” of methodical, and repeatable, marketing doesn’t. Can you say Friday videos? Today is Wednesday, which means I’m posting my Facebook Note blog…for the 29th consecutive week!

 

www.youtube.com/aquascape4

 

Is genius being unique, or doing things in a methodical and repeatable fashion, from building water features, to putting on Pond Tours (3rd Saturday of every month May through September)? When it comes to building ponds, marketing, or even your operations a methodical, and repeatable approach, can’t be beat. If doing that makes you a genius than what does not doing it make you!

 

We used to do one big Pond Tour a year, and now we do five smaller ones. The Key is doing them consistently like the 3rd Saturday each month.

Last week our construction crew upgraded a water feature at the home of an Aquascape manager. (Everyone wishes they made it bigger!) She marveled at how our crew worked through the organized chaos that is just another day at the office for them. “They never stop!” she exclaimed. Bingo, I replied!

 

Before: A pond in need of an upgrade

 

In my youth, and now again in my old age, I’m finding myself becoming more cantankerous. After 22 years of being in this water garden game and repeatedly seeing the failure of contractors who deviate from an iron clad methodology for water feature construction, I ‘m becoming more vocal again about the pitfalls of overcomplicating things. Simply put, you will not succeed in the water feature business if you don’t follow a regimented approach to water feature design and installation. Yet, very few contractors “Keep It Simple Stupid” day in, and day out. Whether they are enticed by the high dollar (and low profit) of large and unique water features, or the overcomplicated (and low profit) custom installs, requiring multiple product lines, and construction methodologies, the results are almost always the same…low, or no, profit!

 

During: “Organized Chaos”

 

I’m reading a terrific book, by Charles Duhigg, called The Power of Habit. In it he describes the coaching philosophy of the legendary Super Bowl winning coach, Tony Dungy. “Dungy doesn’t believe his teams need the thickest playbook. He doesn’t want them memorizing hundreds of formations. He just wants them to learn a few moves and get them right every time.” Duhigg writes. He explains the key to Dungy’s Super Bowl winning ways was to take all the decision making out of his player’s game and instead, have them perform flawlessly the game plan they practice day in and day out.

 

Bingo I thought as I read that! That’s pond building right there baby. I don’t want our crew thinking on game day and doing something different than what we practice, day in, and day out. Twenty products, twenty steps. From Raffie, to Cuco, to Carlos, and Rigo, those guys go through the same motions pond in, and pondless waterfall out. That’s why they never stop moving. Orchestrated chaos with a goal of flawless execution results in a one day pond, versus literally one week, for those crews who are doing it differently every time.” Simply put, when you’re on a large and unique project, or an intimate smaller one, everything slows down as you go through things for the first time, having to figure out what you’re doing.

 

In the NFL milliseconds matter Dungy goes on to explain. “You might not be able to coach speed, but you can coach execution which allows my guys to react quicker and that’s our advantage.” Dungy did it by limiting his player’s options, and maximizing their execution of those limited options, and because of that he’s regarded as one of the greatest coaches ever.

 

Aquascape is one of the greatest POND BUILDING TEAMS EVER. And we did it, and continue to do it, by executing our 20 step, 20 product  K.I.S.S. philosophy to water feature construction. And executing flawlessly, and keeping it Simple, doesn’t only apply to how we design and sell water features. It’s marketing, and operations, as well. My last two blogs of 2012 will cover how Aquascape applies Dungy’s strategy to our marketing, and operational efforts as well. Hopefully you can apply what I’m saying to your business, and in my old, old age I can become just a big softie again!

 

After: Jill’s new pond and one we’ve built “a thousand times” before.

 

Your Coach,

The Pond Guy

Today is my fifteenth Anniversary. If you don’t mind, I’m going to honor my wife in this week’s blog and still relate it to business (romantic huh?) I’d like to start with a confession. I’m a sucker when it comes to people! If you say black, I assume you believe it’s black, not gray, and certainly not white. But, I’ve learned the hard way, that not everyone is an Honest Abe. People often don’t tell you the truth for a myriad of reasons; from wanting to look good in front of the boss, to avoiding conflict (what’s that?), to simply they are just plain liars who lie for their own perceived gain. I know, I know, most people figure this out by high school, or certainly college, but it took me till I was almost 40 to figure it out. Truthfully, I still haven’t figured it out and I still bite on the pump fake more often than not. It took me being married a dozen years, and with many, many bodies along the path, for me to finally wake up to the simple truth that my wife has Spidey sense when it comes to people!

 

Before I learned just how much more wise my wife was than me on people, here’s how it often went down with us. Me, “Boy, so-and-so was a real cool guy, can you believe he’s accomplished all of that?! Her, “No, I can’t, I don’t trust him, something’s off.” Me, “Come on honey, he’s funny and he’s even got his MBA from Harvard.” Her, “I don’t like him. In fact, he makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.” Me, “Ahh come on, he’s a nice guy.” That conversation, or one like it, has happened many a time over the course of my marriage. And the repeated truth was, her counsel proved wise when it came to her initial perceptions of people. And I still bear the burn marks of not hearing her advice. Not anymore! When it comes to people, I don’t trust my way-too-trusting-gut, I trust my wife’s intuition.

 

It’s ok to have blind spots, or areas you’re weak in. It’s not ok to stay blind, or not surround yourself with people that are strong where you are weak. And often times, the people who know you the best, like your spouse, or when you’re an owner – your managers, are the very ones you should be listening to, but you can’t hear what they are trying to say. I’m guilty of that too; that is not listening to my own management team. They would argue I’d bring in “MBA’s” that would tell me the same things they would, but I couldn’t hear it when they said it. Again, with age, or listening to your spouse, or managers, comes wisdom.

 

So here’s the question for you: How good of a listener are you to the people who know you best? Can you hear what your spouse has been telling you for years…yet? Does what your trusted right hand guy you work with daily carry as much weight, or more, than your twice-a-year meeting with your accountant? Do the employees you employ even have a forum to have their voices heard or do you pay them not to think just to do? More often than not the sad truth is the people around us are the only ones who really can see what’s going on. And we have become numb to what they say to our own peril.

 

I can honestly say I have more love, and respect, for my wife today than I ever have. My biggest regret is not seeing what I now see, or knowing what I now know, a lot sooner in our relationship. Everyone who knew me well would always say “She’s perfect for you!” I was smart enough to hear them and now I see it too. Happy 15th Anniversary Carla, don’t ever stop making me better. I will do my best to keep hearing what you’re saying.

 

I would have been better off to start listening from the moment we got married!

I just spent the last few days in beautiful Cancun, Mexico. Before you think how lucky I am (I am) let me tell you about my experience there. This trip was sponsored by Smith Turf & Irrigation, a long-standing Aquascape Distributor, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. This was a reward trip for the top contractors, including pond guys, which is why I was there. Did I also mention it was in Cancun? I was looking forward to getting to know these top dogs better, and see what I could learn from them. So after meeting someone new, and exchanging pleasantries, I would always ask “does your company install water features?” The two most frequent answers to that question in Mexico, and unfortunately pretty much everywhere I go, summarizes up the biggest problem, and opportunity in my world. People reply to me with either a “No I don’t.” or “I have in the past, but not really.” When I ask why, on average, I get the same two replies “There’s no demand for water features from our clients.” Or “You can’t make money installing water features.” It’s at these moments that I wish I was a drinker!

 

Dave and Sally Blocksom Pond Contractors of the year for Smith Turf.

 

Here’s the cold, hard, truth I’ve come to accept as the reality, that every day I wake up I rack my brain on how to change. When a contractor tells me their customers don’t ask for water features I know they are telling me the truth. And when they say they have installed them, but failed to make money, I just shake my head. As a religious man I have faith. But man it gets old listening to this broken record when you know the truth. The truth is “Everybody wants a water feature; they just don’t know it yet!” And when you design, and sell custom art in people’s yards, but follow an assembly line mentality for the construction, you should make more money installing water features than any other form of landscaping. “Yada, yada, yada!” I’ve been preaching this message forever. Some ears will hear it, most won’t, but every day I try and find new ways to get that message out there. I’ve been called a marketing genius by others for this. But all I see is the masses who don’t know, yet, about the “Water Feature Lifestyle” and all the contractors, and retailers, who can’t see the forest for the trees.

 

You think this guy is ready to talk ponds with me?!

 

Here’s what I do believe that helps me keep my sanity. The definition of hell is life without problems. And in the end, the ultimate success, or failure, of any business comes down to how they solve problems. For me, that’s getting others to see what I see. Everyone needs what it is we do, and if you do it right you will make more money than doing the things everyone else already does and has commoditized. And for “them” they have to understand that water features aren’t bought but sold. Consumers just don’t know what they don’t know. It’s “our” job to tell ‘em! This is a problem I thank God for the opportunity it creates. My brain is never bored! And a hundred of my teammates are employed, and in one way or another, are working, or supporting, my vision that “Everybody wants a water feature; they just don’t know it yet.”

 

My Beach reading material.

 

Sitting at the beach, the pool, or a bar in Mexico is what I enjoy doing, as long as I’m talking to someone who despite my “best marketing efforts” hasn’t heard the truth…yet! In 2013 I’m doubling down on those efforts. Whether you’re a new customer, or old, I hope you appreciate where I’m coming from in my passion to get the message across. All I see is opportunity…but the only thing that matters is if you see it too?!

 

I’m never going to stop pushing for what I believe.

Ponds Done Right, Customers Served Right has been Aquascape and our Certified Aquascape Contractor motto forever. Unfortunately, not every contractor adheres to that motto, and worse yet, most consumers don’t know what lies ahead when they hire a typical contractor to build their “dream water feature.” We’ve been working to train contractors on the proper way to install water features for 20 years while educating consumers as well. We’ve done a better job at doing just that than anyone, but we are far from there and far from satisfied.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living through this election campaign it’s the power of negative advertising. For the last two decades Aquascape has been pumping out more beautiful pond photos, magazines, books, videos, and communication on “Living the Lifestyle” than literally the rest of the water feature industry combined. And yet, if you see what most contractors install, and consumers buy, it’s obvious the message still isn’t being heard. Do you agree?! That’s where we need your help. This winter we are creating a link on our website dedicated to the horrors of poorly designed and built water features. In many ways doing this is sacrilegious to me personally. But, hopefully by pointing out the negative in doing it wrong, people will see the positive in doing it right! What do you think?

Here’s what I do know for sure. What our website doesn’t need is the same thing our Facebook page, Friday videos, or catalog doesn’t need more of. Beautiful Ponds Done Right is not the problem. We’ve got a plethora of photos, videos, and text dedicated exclusively to the topic of doing it right. What we lack, thank you very much Obama and Romney, is a full frontal assault for consumers, contractors and retailers showing the pitfalls of doing it wrong! From over-complicated systems that don’t work with Mother Nature to illustrations of what happens when you don’t follow a step by step approach or cut corners we need to showcase what’s done wrong to get people to see what’s right in how Certified Aquascape Contractors are doing things. And, speaking of CACs if there’s one thing this site is going to scream it’s the Russian roulette consumers play when they don’t hire a CAC to do their water feature.

Now this is where you come in. If you agree with this new approach of “negative advertising” then help us build the site the right way and not the wrong way. This is a slippery slope we are on together here promoting the negative to accomplish the positive. The last thing Aquascape, you, or me want or need is to turn people off to an industry and hobby we love.  I have given my team the direction to create a campaign, and a site, that consumers will find (hopefully before they install their water feature) that graphically illustrates in picture text and video Ponds Done Wrong. We want your before and after pictures and the stories of how those water feature owners found nirvana with the water feature your company created for them. We want this site to be organic and not just postings of pictures of the pitfalls but also giving people the opportunity to know where to proceed next to get what they want by showing definitely what they don’t.

The majority of water features installed today, which in itself speaks volumes, are done wrong. And just so there is no confusion on how Aquascape defines a pond or water feature done right, here it is. A water feature “done right” is beautiful, low maintenance and profitable! And unfortunately for all of us, even those whose majority of their business comes from retrofitting and upgrading water features done wrong; most water features installed don’t fit that bill. They don’t pass the beauty and maintenance test for the consumer and/or the profitability for the contractor. And, that in a nutshell is the biggest reason less water features are being installed now, economy be damned.

If you agree with what I’m saying here we want to hear from you. Send us your pictures, your stories and ideas on how to make this site and our entire campaign on “Ponds Done Wrong, Consumers Done Wrong” succeed. We will be linking this site to aquascapeinc.com which is a good start as it is the number one site by ranking in the world for decorative water features. But, we plan on fully displaying our marketing resources with our YouTube channel (aquascape4), Facebook pages and even printed literature to promote the Ponds Done Right, Customers Served Right mantra.

 

In many ways what we are trying to do is a Herculean task to reach and impact the masses to reverse the negative perceptions by ironically promoting the negatives we all see every day. Aquascape is willing to do our part by reaching out as we have been to historically non-Aquascape dealers, associates and networks. We invite anyone to share ways with us, competitors or not, to add to this campaign. And finally for you, our acquaintances, customers and friends to share your photos, stories and ideas directly with us for the good of an industry and the consumers who rely on us to get it right.

 

Carpe Diem

Anyone who has grown tomatoes successfully has learned a principle all business owners would benefit from applying. If you want the largest, sweetest tomatoes you gotta’ pluck off the suckers. Only by doing that will you direct the plants limited energy to where it can produce the best fruit. Business is no different.

Last week my blog was titled “The Cost of Opportunity.” In it I chronicled the dilemma I see so many contractors, and retailers, have with allocating their limited resources. Retailers can’t be all things to all people with minimum inventory dollars, and contractors who take on every opportunity never get ahead. The key for businesses, and tomato growers alike, is to pluck off the suckers, and focus, your resources. I promised to give you the top three principles on how we, as contractors and retailers ourselves, do just that.

Keep it Simple Stupid: There’s a million ways to skin a cat, or build a pond, but we focus on our 20/20 rule. 20 products, in 20 steps is the methodology we use to design, and install, water features. Everything from training our crews, to estimating jobs, is made easier with better results by keeping K.I.S.S. at the forefront of all we do!

Do Not give customers what they ask for…Give them what they want! When customers ask you for something, what they are really asking for is your professional opinion. If you don’t stick to your guns because you are worried about losing a sale (as most people are) you very often will regret doing the funky stuff people ask for! Remember, when you’re done, not only is this a “Joneses” water feature, but also an “ABC companies” one as well. Don’t experiment with your customers, but instead stick to your guns of doing what you know will work.

If you want to be successful in life, find someone doing what you want to do AND DO WHAT THEY DID. If you find someone out there who builds water features differently every time and is successful please let me know. And, if a retailer wants to make their lives easier they will find a brand whose philosophies they agree with and who supports them with their policies.

Designing your business instead of having your business design you is the most important business decision you can make. To do that, you gotta’ prune the suckers! Keep It Simple, stick to your guns, and follow the business plan of someone who’s doing what you want to do.

 

That’s what we’ve done with Aquascape. Hope this helps you do it with your business too.

If there is one common denominator I hear amongst customers it’s this: I believe almost everyone longs for a simpler, less chaotic business, but then turns around and makes choices that prevent them from achieving it. In many ways it’s just the nature of the beast. Contractors are opportunists, and retailers want to make the sale. So when a potential customer asks a contractor to do something unusual, or (gulp) outside their skill level, they are often greeted with an eager “yes we can” when a “sorry we don’t do it that way because…” would be the correct response. And, if you’re like virtually every other contractor I’ve met you agree with that but then…well you do it anyway. Why? Because you’ve got bills to pay, and employees to keep busy. So you take that job you shouldn’t, or you do a project outside your comfort zone, and the cost of that “opportunity” costs you more than it’s worth…again, and again, and again. Retailers aren’t much different. When a customer comes into a store asking for a product they are looking for, and leaves when it’s not there, an eager retailer will soon have it on their shelves. Without incredible discipline by that retailer over time, in trying to capture those potential sales, their store looks like a Turkish bazaar.

The problem is opportunity cost. A contractor, who operates opportunistic, versus strategically, never gets ahead. And a retailer who has only so many dollars for inventory, can’t afford to stock product for every customer’s whim. Capice? It’s one thing to say the “The best job is the one you walk away from” and an entirely different thing to actively do it!

At times, I myself am guilty of over complicating things. But I’ve been bit in the butt enough, and seen enough others bit as well, to know this topic was blog worthy. Do you agree? I want this point to sink in this week, so think about it with your business. Is your business more complicated than it should be, and what do you do to make it that way? Next week I will address ways we have K.I.S.S. proofed our business.  My goal, as always, is to inspire you to get better.

 

Carpe Diem,

The Pond Guy

I was talking with a pretty serious business guy who happens to be in the pond business. I was asking him if this year was finally going to be the year he made Cabomonium, our winter customer event. He said “I have to be honest with you; I’m not into the whole party scene. I come to Pondemonium to talk to, and learn from, other business guys and see what you guys are doing in Chicago.” BINGO! I couldn’t have said it better myself! That’s what Cabomonium is all about. Networking on a much deeper level with people who are on a higher level with their businesses than what you get at Pondemonium. Pondemonium has 400 plus people, Cabomonium is more like 50. Everyone there is an owner, they all are primarily pond businesses and everyone wants to take their business to the next level. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good times to be had in Cabo too, but if you choose to do any of the optional excursions like fishing, or swimming, with the whale sharks you will be doing it while talking shop with other top professionals in the trade.

Where else but Cabomonium do you get to hear the wisdom of a man, Jerry Nelson, who started over 40 businesses?

Relaxing alongside the Sea of Cortez, there is something for everyone at Cabomonium!

Here’s how valuable I feel Cabomonium is. This year the entire Aquascape management team will be attending. Why? One word…YOU! If you’re an Aquascape customer who cares enough to invest a grand or two (depending on your flight costs and options) to be in Cabo I want our top brass there with you.

What’s one-on-one time with Ed, or Brian, or The Pond Guy worth to your business?

What happens in Cabo comes back to the states and Canada in spades! Not only will I have my iPhone camera ready to capture it all as always but the networking, the learning, and the bonding is second to none for any event we run. Why wouldn’t I want our top people at Aquascape exposed to that and why wouldn’t you want to be rubbing shoulders with other top people in our field as well?! Speaking of top people both the 2011 and 2012 Aquascape Businessmen of the Year will be there in Tony Sargeant and Mike Gannon.  They feel it’s worth their time and money to be there. They want to stay ahead and Cabomonium is one of the ways they plan on doing it.

From turtles to whales Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is a magical place where memories are made.

One final Cabomonium thought. There is a reason we host the event at the Marbella Suites. It’s a small boutique hotel on as beautiful a beach as exists anywhere. But besides eating and sleeping and our one day dedicated to our official meeting, we will be hanging together at an exclusive compound 300 yards down the beach. The key word is together as 90% of the value of Cabomonium is the time we spend together. Simply put, if you’re not staying at the host hotel you miss 90% of where the action is. It’s the one-on-one chats with the fellow attendees and all the Aquascape top brass that makes Cabomonium, Cabomonium. Of course hearing all this, the driven business man I was talking to signed up on the spot. And now I’ve just said the same thing to you that I’ve said to him. If you liked what you heard then what are you waiting for? Sign up today for Cabomonium and you just might find yourself the Aquascape Businessman of the Year in 2013.

This is Cabomonium! We’ve got a seat for you by the fire this year.

Last night I watched Jon Gruden do color commentary for the Bears-Green Bay game (Da Bears!) You can’t teach what he brings. Gruden’s punctuated, erratic, out-of-the-box, pure enthusiastic, commentary comes from on thing, his love of the game! If there’s one thing I must constantly remind myself of, because frankly I don’t get it, is that you can’t teach passion or love. Gruden gets it, he loves what he does and it shows. But Gruden’s passion is a byproduct of his love and when people no longer love what they do is it any wonder why they don’t have passion for doing it?!

Earlier this year we focused heavy resources on a multilocation garden center chain. We installed demo ponds, trained staff, and helped layout their water garden departments. When spring hit we watched to see what happened. And what happened next isn’t what we hoped for, but what we’ve grown to expect. Most of the stores went on cruise control going through the motions with the corresponding results. But, and it’s a big but (no pun intended), the stores with a singular person who got passionate about the water feature category did significantly better than the stores where nobody took any ownership of the department. One is better than none, but can you only imagine what it would be like if everyone got passionate about doing what they do?! It’s not rocket science, but if you looked at how few companies, and few people, out there actually had much more than a pulse you’d think it was!

Contrast that with Andy, a Landscape Contractor, from Michigan. If there’s one thing Andy and all of his fellow Certified Aquascape Contractors have in common, it’s their passion for water features. Andy rented a Greyhound bus, and brought all of his current, and future, pond customers on a six hour round-trip journey to Aqualand’s Fall Festival last weekend. Andy invested a couple thousand dollars in “marketing” for his current and potential future customers. I have no doubt his outside-the-box approach will pay off handsomely for his business. All Andy kept saying while he was here, and after he got home, was how much “FUN” his customers were having. Funny how helping other people have FUN is not only good business but also a lot of FUN too!

If you love what you do it shows and unfortunately if you don’t that shows too. Business has been anything but easy for most of us these last few years. It is easy therefore to let the world beat you down. But doing the easy thing and shrugging your shoulders, dis-empowered by the economy and factors beyond your control, will produce the hardest thing of all, certain failure or worse, a life of mediocrity.

So try falling in love all over again with your spouse or the business you’re married to. You just might see that passion meter for doing what you’re doing grow too.

Kids LOVE frogs!

When I was a 17 year old junior in High School, I went on an overnight trip to the Indiana Dunes State Park with my high school football team. We played two hand-touch football and tackle volleyball games and cooled off from both in Lake Michigan. We also pitched tents and stayed up most of the night talking and pulling pranks on each other around a campfire. Ahh the good old days! Last week we had our 7th annual “Lake Day” where each work day a different group of Aquascapers clock in at the office and head up to Wisconsin for fun and frolicking together while getting paid for it. Ahh the good old days! FUN is one of our four company values (along with CHARACTER, TEAM, and WINNING) because whether you’re trying to WIN a game on the gridiron or WIN in business having “FUN” doing it is a key component to succeeding at whatever you do. Unfortunately I see many coaches and bosses who miss this principle and more often than not their corresponding results speak for themselves. Not sure if you buy it? Answer me this then…Are most people happy or unhappy in their jobs?! Survey after survey shows very few people are even remotely happy in their job. You know why?…because they aren’t having FUN! “Oh” you say, “I’LL give you that but work isn’t supposed to be fun, it’s work after all!” According to Fortune magazine the #1 indicator of a company’s future success is not what the size of their research and development budgets, it’s not their current percent of market share or even their customer’s satisfaction with their goods or services. All those are important factors of course, but none of them are more important to a company’s future success than employee’s job satisfaction. Fortune’s research showed once employees become unsatisfied in their job their engagement goes down and that’s when the rest of the areas like customer service, product quality, innovation, etc. begin to decline. How satisfied, and energized, can you be if you’re not happy doing what you do?! Which begs the question, how happy with their jobs are your Teammates?!

Back to football that sport and in particular the TEAM that influenced me so positively many moons ago. My junior year, (the one where we went to the Dunes) we came from being unranked to going 13-1 and winning the State Title! Question, does the more talented team WIN or the one who comes together and plays as a TEAM? Well my senior year as defending State Champs and with 17 returning lettermen we were ranked #1 in the state. But for a variety of reasons (including losing our coach for the first three games) we didn’t come together as a TEAM and when we faced adversity, we cracked, finishing 5-4. My senior year was decidedly “unfun” and for that I am happy.

The lessons I learned having FUN my junior year and WINNING it all were contrasted with the extreme disappointment of my senior year. I saw what bad CHARACTER led to as my team splintered. Business and life is hard enough as it is. To not have FUN in the process not only makes for a miserable existence but a less successful outcome more often than not. If your TEAM isn’t having FUN it’s my job and your job as well, to change that.

P.S. I had more fun writing this, thanks to the Southwest Airlines flight attendant who sang and joked her way through the “monotonous” instructions they “have to” read. She had everyone on the plane smiling while clapping and laughing with her! I don’t see that on United or American flights or any other airline I fly. Is it any wonder that only one airline flying our “friendly” skies makes money year after year? Whether you take it from me or Southwest put FUN into your business routine and you just might find your bottom line improving with your smile lines!

It rained for one of the days at the lake. We broke out board games and had FUN! You can make FUN anywhere…just ask that Southwest Stewardess.

Nothing says FUN like Cabo!

 

One of my buddy’s is a law enforcement Chaplin who works with the state police department. If you ever thought your job was hard, consider his. He’s the first one called in to meet with families after the death of a loved one. Often I will get a prayer request texted to me as he’s walking into yet another tragic circumstance where the people’s lives he’s going to meet with, will never be the same. I can only imagine! However, a Chaplin’s role doesn’t stop in counseling those exposed to life changing circumstances. A police Chaplin counsels the officers who day in and day out are exposed to a world the rest of us only read about or see on the nightly news. Imagine that task!

To be a police officer nobody would argue you have to be one tough cookie to do your job. But what makes an effective police officer, makes a decidedly difficult counselee. Police officers need to be, or at least pretend to be, completely in control at all times. They’ve learned, often the hard way, not to trust the people they are dealing with.

But my friend too has learned something over the years that’s allowed him to crack through the protective veneer these officers display. “Greg” he says “They all want to same thing, to be discovered! They don’t or won’t lay out their problems to you. But if you discover them then they are still the ones in control, they just let you in to find out!”

Those officers, and many of the business owners I deal with, aren’t that much different when it comes to being, or more succinctly appearing to be, in control. They would rather keep their issues buried deep down and deal with them on their own. Coming forward and admitting they’re not in control, owning their weakness is seen as a weakness.

He knows, and I know, the truth. He gets a glimpse into their souls; I get a glimpse into the financial wellbeing of our customers from our Accounts Receivable Department. What’s most sad to me about that is those who pretend to be in control are not only not helping themselves but all the others who look up at them and say, “It must just be me, I’m the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out!” News flash; I don’t have it all figured out either!

But I also know if I want to figure it out, it starts with acknowledging I don’t have it all figured out! Aquascape has barely made it these last few years. But we’ve never hidden our financial challenges from anyone. People admit in questioning by me they don’t let their employees know their financials, not because they are worried they will see they are making too  much (ya right!) but because they are embarrassed to show them how little they keep! What?! Is it any wonder few of our customers have teammates that have been with them for years? Aquascape would not be here if we didn’t own up to everyone what was going on. I’m convinced because we did that, it allowed us to take the action necessary to survive a challenging period. We aren’t out of the woods yet, who knows what the future holds for any of us in these turbulent times. But what I do know is this; by admitting you’re weak you get stronger, by pretending you’re strong you get weaker. What I also know is whether you’re a police officer or a contractor, a boss or employee, pretending you’re all put together when you’re not is a recipe for failure.

I never know where my next blog inspiration will come from, but knowing I would be spending a couple days this week in the U.S. Virgin Islands I knew I would be in a good place to receive it. But the inspiration I received this week didn’t come from the turquoise waters, or the white sand beaches, but rather a conversation I had with one of my fellow attendees. There were five of us on this particular trip, a vendor sponsored one, where work was second to play. (Ya, I know, the rough life of The Pond Guy.) Googling up on the other invited guests, I was curious to see one listed as a professional race car driver, not the normal company you would expect on a trip like this. With a link to a YouTube clip showing a sensational crash that included launching his vehicle over a 20’ high guard rail fence, only to walk away unscathed, I knew this was one cat I was looking forward to chatting with.

 

I had a stereotype in mind when I met this fellow. I figured he grew up in a garage, and on a track, starting with Go Karts, and working his way up through the circuit, a life dedicated to racing, and speed. I was right too, as he explained he always loved cars, and driving fast, and he had the accompanying accidents, and tickets to show for it! But I was wrong as well, as he didn’t grow up in a garage, or come from racing family, but rather took an elongated, and pedestrian, approach before arriving at his said profession, surprisingly only in the last few years in his late 30s. Whatever interest in his story I had before significantly intensified in learning this. How does one exactly go from being a real estate developer to a sponsored, professional, race car driver traveling from race to race across the U.S.?! The interesting part of his story, for this blog anyway, was not how he ended up in his profession later in life, but rather how he answered my follow-up question about how successful he was at it. I asked him how he could compete against drivers who have been racing their whole lives. He said the advantage he has over many drivers, who have been racing their whole lives, is “his passion for the sport.” Unlike him, who’s been racing for three years, many of the guys who have been doing it for 30 years just don’t have the same level of passion that he does. It’s his passion that allows him to make up for his lack of experience, and compete, and ultimately beat, guys who have been at the game much longer than he. Way cool I thought, way cool.

 

The question for you in your career is; how passionate are you today? Do you have the same level of passion as you did when you were a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, high school kid pushing the mower around the neighborhood thrilled with the $100 bucks you racked in with your own sweat equity that day?!

 

Or has ten, twenty, or thirty years of being in the Green Industry sapped some of your passion for this game? If it has, it’s ok. After all, the world is full of people operating at something less than their optimal state, day-in, and day-out. But the world also has aspiring race car drivers and down-sized corporate execs that live life with an underlining passion just waiting for you to take the pedal off the gas.

 

Coasting through life is not an option for business owners, unless they don’t want to be business owners much longer. Continuously finding, or re-finding, your passion in what you do is the best elixir for a passionless career. So here’s to you keeping the pedal to the metal, flipping over the inevitable walls along the way, and walking away unscathed, and full of life because of it!

 

Here’s a link to my new friends infamous leap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9cuY8IRuww

Last week I introduced the term “Product Creep” to explain the phenomenon of retailers carrying multiple products that do the same thing in their water garden departments. Product Creep occurs because retailers are trying to service the requests of their customers, and therefore bring on many brands to do so. Question: If you go into McDonalds and ask for a salmon sandwich what will you get? Filet of FISH! Although probably not the best analogy in an article on pond departments the point is this: McDonald’s sells one kind of fish sandwich because they will sell more, or better yet, make more doing it that way. McDonalds most certainly has a strategy when it comes to fish sandwiches, and everything else it does for that matter, and so do all highly successful companies.

 In trying to define your stores product strategy here’s 3 factors all companies could use to help avoid Product Creep.

 Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.): Need I say more? Product Creep is the polar opposite of this approach – too many brands, and too many choices equals too much confusion, for not only your customers, but equally if not more so, for your staff. From the retail store staff, to your buyers, to ultimately your customers, a stream-lined good, better, best (or even a better, best scenario) helps keep inventory costs down, product turns up, and Product Creep out!

Logistics: Often the hidden costs of being in business are in the back end. Who you get your products from, and how, is vital to your store or business success. Multiple invoices, salesmen, catalogs, programs, suck something equal to money, your time! Logistics also include your store layout and shelf space. Walk into any national retail chain and what you will see is conformity from the merchandise to the colors to the lighting. Those decisions weren’t made willy-nilly, but rather after much time and study of how they affect sales. Uniformity in your merchandising, and displays, is a lot easier when you’re dealing with products from the same manufacturer, and not trying to accommodate Product Creep, and all the corresponding colors of the rainbow.

Philosophy: What do you believe, and does it come across in your product selection? If you’re preaching low maintenance water features, and you have five different types of bacterial products what message does that send to a consumer? Have you visited the websites of the company’s product lines you carry, and if so, is what you read in accordance with what you believe? Do the various manufacturers sing the same tune on their sites that you do in your store? What’s the cost to you, and your reputation, if the products you sell don’t line up with your philosophies?

One final thought, and analogy, on Product Creep: Ultimately you need to choose whatever products and brands you feel gives your store the best chances for long term success. However faced with the extreme of being one thing, or all things, I’d choose the one thing every time! To this day our most successful pond customer in annual sales installed only one size pond, 11×16. In his retail store he had two display ponds, one in the front window (his day pond) and one in the back beneath black underlayment (his night pond). When you bought a pond from this innovative entrepreneur he told you, you got two ponds for the price of one, a day pond a and  nighttime pond! And further simplifying (K.I.S.S.) he sold all his ponds, installed for the same price. 99.9% of retailers, or contractors, hearing this would assume it would limit their sales and never try it. And 100% of them didn’t sell as much as he did doing it every other way under the sun! Where they saw sales being lost by limiting choices, he saw sales being gained by eliminating ambiguity (and Product Creep with it!)

 He sold more ponds than anyone else. McDonalds buys more fish than Red Lobster or any other restaurant or even grocery chain in the world and they sell only one sandwich not two let alone ten!

 Keep It Simple Stupid; understand the back-end cost of multiple brands and multiple suppliers and work with a company or even companies you philosophically align with. Deploying those three simple criteria will help you avoid product creep, decrease your hassles and most of all increase your sales and profits.

When you Keep It Simple, avoid confusion in your message, and believe in what your selling you not only will avoid product creep but sell more as well. Trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for disaster.

In the last two weeks alone, I’ve visited over 20 water garden shops from literally New Jersey to California. I always enjoy what I learn, seeing how different retailers do things. There’s one thing however that I’m always particularly interested in. That is whether or not the retailer I’m visiting has experienced what I call “Product Creep.” That is, does their retail store have a good, better, best product selection or are they like Basking Robins with 31 choices for every category?!

Let’s start with defining Product Creep, which isn’t a bad situation in every case (but indeed most.) Simply put, Product Creep is what happens when a well-intentioned retailer tries to take care of their customers’ requests. It usually goes like this:

Retailer: Can I help you?

Customer: I was looking for XYZ product, do you have it?

Retailer: Well we don’t have that brand, but we do have this one.

Customer: I’ve never used that one before, I’ve always used brand XYZ and I know it works.

Retailer: Let me get that in for you.

Now on the surface there is nothing wrong with this exchange. It would have been great if the retailer could have rattled off all the features, and benefits, of the alternative product that was already in stock on the shelf, and its competitive selling points, but alas he’s a seasonal guy who’s only been on the job a few months, and already is overworked wearing 50 hats for his employer. So to earn the customers’ business, on a product they are already sold on, the retailer brings in product XYZ. That’s supply and demand at its finest. The problem is that there are a lot of XYZ products in the universe, and only so much shelf space in your store. So what started out with a basic good, better, best, product offering becomes Product Creep and turns your otherwise little pond shop into a grocery store for Pondaholics!

There is a sea of options with products but choosing wisely is the name of the game.

And then it happens, somewhere between years two and ten. Your pond champion leaves your pond for greener waters and the guy who knows everything about his favorite pond-geek brands on the shelf is no longer there with his encyclopedic knowledge of all things ponds and your seasonal staff is left to fend for themselves. Slow moving inventory is followed by deep discount sales, and that once high-margin pond department is relegated to the dusty, back corners, filled with mismatched products, and components that even a pond PhD couldn’t assemble a working system from. Sound familiar?!Discounting is the last result of Product Creep

Without an iron-clad strategy regarding Product Creep, retailers are playing Russian roulette with their pond departments. In next Wednesday’s Facebook Note I’d like to give you some strategies on how to avoid Product Creep for your water garden department or store. Between now and then, look at your product categories, and ask yourself how much it’s costing you in inventory dollars, shelf space, training time, and hassle factors to have multiple lines, doing basically the same thing for relatively the same cost. Then tune-in next week for some solutions for cleaning up the muddy waters of your pond shelves.

You can succeed with Product Creep. Just be ready to devote a lot of space to do it right!

Just like no two ponds are exactly alike either are pond shops and certainly pond people! One of the things that makes this business so fun is the unique pond people I’ve come to grow and love, and seeing how they express their individuality with their pond shops.

Each Pond company’s personality comes through in different ways!

From strip plazas to Farms the one common denominator of a Pond Shop is Passion!

Where Aqualand is a direct reflection of my personality, each store I visit is a reflection of its owner. And the one thing I’ve learned, no one style fits all, just as it should be!

Pond departments come in all shapes and sizes!

The pride each shop has in what they do comes through (some more than others)

 

As much as Aquascape is a franchise system without a franchise fee, and following that system for designing, selling, and building ponds will assure your success, each builder still has their own unique flair. As it is with water features, it is with retail stores. From merchandising to displays, signage to location, each place I visit has its own vibe, or lack thereof, unfortunately sometime.

I learn something new at every Pond Shop! Bamboo Heron deterrent…looks sharp!

 

Finding your style, and defining it, is one of the keys to whether ultimately you succeed or fail with your labor of love. And speaking of love when it comes to pond shops you can see and feel it. It comes through from a stores pores and that usually starts with your peoples. Knowledge is a good thing, warmth even better, and the combination is what matters.

Some demo ponds leave something to be desired!

 

So here’s a shout-out to all those one-of-a-kind mom and pop pond shops. I for one encourage your individuality. And Aquascape is going to do all it can to help you achieve “IT”.

Don’t you want to sit right down and watch a Create a Paradise video?!

Wow! That would be one word to describe my recent trip to our factory partners in China. So would excitement, perspective and ultimately appreciation. From my side of the desk, which resides in Chicago, what I see most often is the down side of what our team produces. That is the inherent challenges that come from innovation from pushing the envelope, from creating something cutting edge, or just plain new. But seeing how far we’ve come, how much we’ve been able to do in a fast four years, despite what the economy has thrown, is nothing short of inspirational if I do say so myself.

Testing, testing and more testing. Huge quality control systems in our factories.

Aquascape has a complicated business model with multiple product lines, catalogs and distribution models. Trust me; we are working to simplify this. It’s easy to lose perspective with so many parts and pieces. My China trip really solidified however just how much the Aquascape team has created and recreated when it comes to our offerings. From pumps to fish food, fertilizers to IonGens™, from a product stand point it’s fair to say that 75% of our line has been redesigned, modified, or created in just the last few years alone. Why, you might ask? Because if you want to be successful tomorrow, you have to do something different today. And frankly, after seventeen years of double-digit growth, we had grown complacent around innovation and improvement. Not anymore! Today’s Aquascape is a mean, lean, innovation machine. From game changers like the IonGen™ to hip features like variable speed pumps this is not your father’s Aquascape. But it’s not just the products that we’ve changed, it’s everything.

If you have the greatest product on the shelf but customers can’t tell it, does it really matter? Our packaging has been redesigned as well from the ground up to tell the story today’s new consumer needs to know. And if you want to succeed in the battle of business today your price needs to be right there to convey the best overall value for the customer’s hard earned buck. Hundreds of hours were spent looking at how to slot each and every product line, and individual product, to competitively compete with what’s currently on the market.

China cemented what I already knew. The Aquascape product development team, their support staff, the marketing department and business development have invested four years of labor to get us to the point we are today. It’s been a team effort and one I’m not sure has been recognized for the scope and magnitude of what it’s accomplished. I’m so excited to see the fruits of their labor coming to fruition. And I trust you will be more than happy as well.

 

The five parts of a beautiful pond recipe are the foundations of an Aquascape Ecosystem Pond. Not only are the five elements the cornerstone of an ecosystem pond, understanding how and why they go together is the basis for successful pondering.

(1) Rocks & Gravel:

Historically, water gardens were built with bare bottoms presumably to facilitate the removal of fish and plant waste. However, when used properly (as is true with all the components of an ecosystem pond), rocks and gravel lining the entire pond’s bottom is an essential element to a healthy water feature. Organic material that sinks to the bottom of a bare bottom pond without circulation becomes a dead zone and needs to be physically removed. In a rock and gravel filled pond, beneficial bacteria colonize on the surface of the stones and instead break down this waste, minimizing its accumulation. By adding bacteria periodically to your water feature you will help this process along by replenishing the bacteria that lives on the rock and gravel as well as the filters. By using rock and gravel on the pond’s floors and sides, and adding beneficial bacteria to supplement its growth, rocks and gravel become a vital part of lowering a pond’s maintenance.

Aquatic plants prove important to the health of an ecosystem pond, plus they help its looks.

(2 & 3) Plants & Fish:

The plants and animals you put in a water garden are also vital to its overall health and function. Besides greatly adding to the pleasure of owning a water feature, plants and fish have a symbiotic relationship that when kept in balance, are part of the beautiful pond recipe. Fish consume algae and insects that inhabit a pond, and your aquatic plants use fish waste as fertilizer to grow. Keeping the right amount of fish and feeding them properly will contribute to the lower maintenance of an ecosystem pond. Aquatic plants also absorb the nutrients from the water that contribute to algae growth. A pond filled with lush aquatic vegetation will be much less likely to accumulate algae than one void of plants or fish for that matter.

Fish are not just there for fun: they play important roles in the balance of an ecosystem pond.

(4) Filtration, Mechanical, & Biological:

Filtration is a vital and necessary piece of any ecosystem pond. A mechanical filter, like a pond skimmer, is necessary to capture wind blown debris before it sinks to the bottom of the pond and possibly overloads the system. Biological filtration, usually handled with an external source,  allows the pond’s water to flow through, creating additional biological capacity to that already in the pond, which will break down the harmful waste. By properly handling surface debris and having the right amount of biological filtration for the pond’s needs, your ecosystem pond will function at its optimal levels.

A BioFalls® Filter (left) and mechanical skimmer (right) work together to filter the water in your ecosystem pond.

(5) Recirculating System, Pump, & Plumbing:

Not only do you need the right sized pump, but you also need the proper sized pipe to handle an ecosystem pond’s recirculating needs. The entire body of water should be circulated a minimum of one time per hour to properly function. Not only does moving the water in an ecosystem pond draw surface debris to the catch area in the skimmer, it passes the water through the biological filtration material where the bacteria can do their job. Getting the water flow back into the pond over rocks aerates it, adding oxygen back into the water.

Aquascape’s line of energy-efficient pumps provide the necessary circulation to breathe life into an ecosystem pond.

Every pond and water feature performs differently because each one is in a different setting with different environmental factors and differing plant and fish loads. However, every water feature will perform better when all five parts–rocks and gravel, fish, plants, filtration, and recirculation–are properly sized and installed, creating an ecosystem pond for maximum function and enjoyment. To learn more, visit our website.

Ecosystem Pond

An Aquascape Ecosystem Pond with beautiful koi and a waterfalls is our signature feature at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Chicago was founded in 1835. In 1945 it hosted its first Flower & Garden Show. Today the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is still a way to inspire and motivate gardeners and nature lovers alike. For the sixth year in a row Aquascape has designed one of the shows primary gardens. As always, Aquascape has created a display that features water as its central theme. With a garden that covers a 170’ x 85’ area, Aquascape has the largest display at this year’s show. Featuring our Signature Ecosystem ponds that house everything from beautiful koi fish, to turtles, to bubbling urns, fountainscapes, pondless waterfalls, and even rainwater harvesting, this year’s garden has something for everyone. Come check out the show at Navy Pier March 10th through the 18th and get inspired for what you can create in your own yard!