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200412BVB0By Brian Van Bower

“To succeed in business or in life, I don’t think you need fancy schooling or highly technical experience.  What I think you need is common sense, a commitment to hard work and the courage to go your own way.”
-- Robert Mondavi

That statement from Robert Mondavi’s autobiography truly inspires me.  Since I first read those words, I’ve become keenly aware of how this and other things he says about his career in the wine industry apply not only to

200411DT0By David Tisherman

Recently, I’ve been involved in the early stages of a project that has lent new meaning to the phrase, “seeing is believing.”  It came up as a result of a call from an agent for a well-heeled client who was interested in having me design and build a residential swimming pool in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.   

When I arrived in Texas, I was met by the owner’s agent, David, and by Marcus Bowen, a landscape architect who was part of the large project team, which, I would learn, included architects, a landscape architect, an interior designer, a lighting designer, various engineers, numerous

200411BVB0By Brian Van Bower

I operate under the hopeful assumption that all professional watershapers know that detailed, quality construction plans are crucial to the success of any project.  Too often, however, I get the unsettling feeling that some contractors in the watershaping trades see plan documents mainly as a means of securing a construction permit.

Such a bare-minimum approach can lead to an endless array of problems that can be summed up simply:  Plans lacking in detail leave way too many issues to chance and inevitably lead to mistakes.  And because we all work in a field where things are quite literally

200410BVB0By Brian Van Bower

What do you really want to know about the arts and crafts of landscaping and watershaping?  That’s an important question for each and every one of us in the trades to ask of ourselves, because without knowing what you want to know (or at least what you think you should know), all of the talk about the value and power of education is just so much rhetoric.

I bring this up because, for a long time now, leaders and regular folks from all walks of the watershaping trades have been beating the educational drum.  You read about it in every trade magazine, hear it in the vast majority of seminars and see it in the promotional messages of those who stage trade shows and conferences.  Indeed, the

200409DT0By David Tisherman

On several occasions during the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with talented professionals who have made it possible for me to operate comfortably far from my home base on what have often been extremely ambitious projects.  In fact, I’ve found some of my most exciting and rewarding recent jobs have been the result of these collaborations with other watershapers.

Although working with them is different from

200409BVB0By Brian Van Bower

No doubt about it:  More and more quality projects are being designed and built by the various segments of the watershaping trades these days.

That pleases me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it tends to reinforce my observation and belief that great work is done mostly by people who take genuine pride in what they do.  Indeed, I see such a consistent correlation between pride and quality that I’ve come to see the former characteristic as a prerequisite for performance at the highest level.

That may seem an obvious point, but when you scratch the surface of the subject as it relates to the watershaping industry, it takes on

200408DT0By David Tisherman

To my way of thinking, professional design work requires a professional workspace in which all of the necessary professional tools are available.

In fact, for the designer creating custom watershapes, I see the space in which the work actually unfolds as being critical and cutting to the very heart of what it really means to be a “designer.”  I know that term is a loaded one, which is why I put it in quotation marks.  After all, anyone can say that he or she is a designer, even if all they do is sit at a coffee table

200408BVB0By Brian Van Bower

It’s amazing how many people I meet in the course of my day-to-day life who do not embrace the basic idea that the single most important part of doing business is how they interact with current and prospective clients.  Way too often, I’ll run into someone – usually an employee, but sometimes (and shockingly) a manager or owner – who just doesn’t have a clue or really doesn’t seem to care.

This happens so often, in fact, that I find my patience growing shorter with the laziness, incompetence or downright rudeness I encounter.  It’s gotten to the point where I’m

200406SR0By Stephanie Rose

I never really thought much about the plants and trees surrounding me until I started edging my way toward the landscape-design business.

Growing up, I’d look out my bedroom window and into our backyard and see plants and trees, but I didn’t know that they were called Junipers or Giant Birds of Paradise or Ficus trees.  They all looked pretty much the same to me – a generic veil of greenery.

My path of discovery began when I bought my first house on Long Island.  All of a sudden, there were rules about

200404BVB0By Brian Van Bower

Over and over at seminars and trade shows, watershapers ask me three distinct but interrelated questions:  “How do you get into the high-end market?” and “How do you deal with wealthy customers?” and “How do you handle those kinds of jobs?”

The short answer to all of them is that I’ve set myself up for it and am prepared to tackle these projects and clients as they come.  To me, it’s as natural as breathing.  

The deeper answer is much more complicated, obviously, and has to do with my understanding that working with upper echelon clients means accommodating an entire range of issues that

200403BVB0By Brian Van Bower

Many have asked me how it is that my work is published so often.  I’m not talking about this column, which is about what I do and occasionally depicts my work to illustrate a point I’m making about what we do as watershapers.  Rather, the question’s about my projects making their ways into books and consumer magazines and other media beyond WaterShapes.  

The short answer is that I focus on garnering this sort of exposure and have actively cultivated it through the years.  As is the case with anything else you do to draw positive attention to your business, seeking to have your work published in a book or magazine takes time and effort and an understanding of what working with writers and editors is all about.

The benefits of

200402BVB0By Brian Van Bower

Last month, I jumped into the New Year with a discussion of how the trends we face these days are influencing our recent experiences in business, society and life in general.  

In doing so, we navigated our through a mixed bag of factors – advancing technology, interesting economic times and complex legal conditions on the grand scale up alongside local, narrower issues having to do with the emergence of the watershaping business, the wayward nature of trade associations and the state of relevant education for our trades.  

All that was intended to set up this column’s discussion of where we, as the watershaping industry, might be going in the months and years to come.  Pure prognostication, however, is an imperfect process in which I won’t indulge.  Rather than get into the aimless game of offering predictions, I’ll delve instead into

200401BVB0By Brian Van Bower

Some might say we’re enduring the curse of living in interesting times; others might opine that the planet’s just plain gone crazy.  However you look at it, when you stop to consider what’s been going on in the world, in our country and in the economy and how all of that relates to our watershaping corner of the universe, it’s easy to see that important trends and even greater forces are constantly sweeping around us.

So much is happening that it’s often difficult to figure things out, but the most important observation I can make is that not all the news is gloomy – far from it.  For a great many watershapers, in fact, business has thrived in recent times and expanded in new and exciting directions.  That’s so true for some that it’s fair to say that there’s been little or no time left for reflection.

But I would argue that finding time to

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