Garden concepts in santa clarita jumped into the outdoor accessories business just as consumer demand took off Eight years ago, Rick Moat was struggling with his Santa Clarita auto body repair shop and in search of a hobby to keep busy, when one of his customers came in looking to sell $1,500 worth of garden fountain molds, mostly cracked and aging. Moat bought the molds and began repairing them during his downtime from fixing car bodies. He soon started mixing different concrete formulas and churned out several fountains that he sold to people driving past his Sierra Highway shop. In late 1992, Garden Concepts was born. The first year, the business was still a side project, taking in just $12,000 in revenues. The first fountains were simple frog figures, said Moat’s wife Melissa, who helps run the company. “They were ugly,” she said. “But people liked them.” Moat concentrated on expanding his product line, according to customer requests. He began making benches, garbage cans, stepping stones and other garden decorations. He also added to his line of fountains, even putting out a catalog that he sent to garden contractors and garden supply retailers throughout Southern California. Business slowly began to grow by word of mouth. Today, the company makes and sells a popular line of Koi ponds, along with more than 1,000 different kinds of fountains and a full line of garden accessories. Its revenues jumped to $1.2 million in 1999. Backyard boom Moat couldn’t have started his garden business at a better time. Nationwide, the amount spent on backyard ponds and decorations has doubled from $367 million in 1994 to $806 million in 1999, according to the National Gardening Association based in Burlington, Vt. “Water gardening is really growing, it provides a nice focal point and having a fountain along with a pond is a nice way to make white noise,” said Bruce Butterfield, research director at the association. Moat’s strategy at first was to seek out all the areas of gardening that most shops were reluctant to enter. He began selling Koi fish, making water ponds, cleaning the ponds and making such prosaic items as outdoor garbage cans. “Seven years ago I wasn’t making money, so I went off in eight different directions,” Moat said. “I figured I’d throw a bunch of ideas against the wall, some would stick and some would fall. That’s basically my philosophy.” About the time the Moats began their business, Feng Shui, the Chinese art of arranging furniture and decorations to achieve balance, was taking hold. The fad drove up business for the fledgling garden supply store after the Moats began carrying Eastern-style fountains, red bricks and other earth elements required to give a garden balance under Feng Shui principles. Playing Koi Koi ponds are a popular element in Asian gardens, and they have become particularly trendy in Los Angeles hence they have become a specialty for Garden Concepts. “For Southern Californians, it’s one way of denoting status,” Butterfield said. “If you have a Lexus and Mercedes Benz, then you’ve got to have a Koi pond.” The Moats have sold the ponds to everyone from owners of tract homes to apartments and business complexes. “For some reason it’s become very faddish,” Melissa Moat said. “A lot of customers are dual-income families who don’t have time for long vacations. Rather than going on expensive vacations, they turn their home into a vacation place.” Ponds start at $5,000 and take about one week to build. Along with the Koi phenomenon, another major coup last year helped kick Garden Concepts into high gear. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which spent $5 million to renovate its fountains and facilities, chose Garden Concepts to install the filtration system on the fountains. The company’s name is now listed on a plaque at the museum, which has in turn boosted business. “Our business went from a mom-and-pop type operation, and they boosted us into a different bracket,” Melissa Moat said. “People trust us because we did the museum.” The Moats are now preparing for even further expansion. Next month, they will begin carrying wind chimes and bird feeders for backyards. And for ponds, they are launching a series of videos to teach construction and maintenance. In the next year, the Moats expect to double their staff from the current eight, with plans to hire an artist and mold-maker to expand on the manufacturing side of the business.