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 Why is it not a surprise that Duane it telling a fish story!
Texas does it BIG!

How to Sponsor a Fish Sale, Texas Style

by Duane Eaton, San Antonio, Texas

When it comes to sponsoring a special event like a fish sale, the Texas Koi & Fancy Goldfish Society (TK&FGS) knows how to put on an event -- and only as it can be done in Texas. The first Fish Sale was held ten years ago in humble beginnings of a club member's back yard. From there it moved to its current location at Water Garden Gems (WGG), located along Interstate 10 east of San Antonio, Texas. The two-day event has evolved into the largest of its kind in south Texas. And maybe even beyond.
TK&FGS invites two prominent Japanese koi breeders to accompany hundred of their prized show-quality koi for the exciting sale. They specially quarantine the selected koi before leaving Japan to guard against disease (including KHV--koi herpes virus) traveling with them. Months before the event, club members submit special orders that the breeders endeavor to match and bring for the pre-ordering members.
In addition, a koi breeder in Poteet, Texas, south of San Antonio, offers a great selection of long-fin koi at the sale, and a Louisiana goldfish breeder provides an amazing assortment of goldfish for water garden fans.
The week of the event, TK&FGS members gather at WGG to set up the necessary tanks. They install water and oxygen lines to all of the tanks to help keep the aquatic residents healthy. On Friday, the breeders and their fish arrive from Japan, Louisiana, and south Texas.
Sorted according to size and price, colorful koi swim happily in their temporary quarters. Prices range from $20 for small baby koi to many hundreds of dollars commanded by more mature fish. Goldfish reside in one large tank.
WGJ employees set up tents for an assortment of arts and crafts vendors and various food vendors, with home cooked bar-b-que being a favorite choice. Although everyone enjoys the open-sided tents, sometimes the weather requires the use of side panels. Talented local musicians entertain Saturday's crowd.
Besides the fish sale, informative seminars attract attendees all day Saturday and Sunday. Speakers, including the Japanese breeders, cover various topics benefiting beginners and experienced koi owners. The Japanese breeders even participate. This year's program included:
How to Select the Best Baby Koi for Your Budget--Ray Jordan of TK&FGS
Bead Filter Design--Ron Malone, PhD, of Louisiana State University
Pond Design/Construction--Raymond Longstreath of WGJ
Springtime Pond Maintenance--Chris Jilek of Krystal Klear Ponds
Koi Breeding Techniques and Judging Koi--Megumi Yoshida and Yohei Nagasaki
Traveling to Japan to Buy Koi and Other Stuff --Ray Jordan of TK&FGS
TK&FGS members coordinate the fish sale while WGG adds pizzazz to the event. An arts and crafts show, added two years ago, has quickly grown into a very popular side event. Vendors sell fused glass jewelry, stained glass items, pond-related ceramic items, home and garden décor, among many others. Crafts people bring handmade wood products such as bird houses, bird feeders, benches, water features, and much more. Small scale plant growers sell their specialty crops. From plants for the landscape to delicate indoor plants, garden enthusiasts find something to fit their needs. Lots of goodies!
Two years ago a blood drive became part of the event, and became so popular that the local blood bank sent two mobile blood collection buses to accommodate this year's donors. Other blood drives give a free t-shirt to the donors, but not this one. Oh no! Nothing so ordinary as that! Everybody who gives blood receives a free whiskey barrel water garden complete with a whiskey barrel, one waterlily, one bog plant, one oxygenating plant, and two goldfish. All the donor has to do is go home and add water.
Dedicated WGG employees spend an incredible amount of time preparing for this big weekend. From traveling all over south Texas in pursuit of arts and craft vendors to getting the two-acre property in perfect shape, this event requires a lot of hard work. The extra large crowds that turn out are always welcomed like it was a regular business day with a fraction of the customers in attendance.
For the last two festivals Japan-America Society of San Antonio members participated in the seminars, sold delicious Japanese food, and presented stage shows of various Japanese dance or drum performances. Last year they presented an incredibly impressive Japanese Tea Ceremony seminar and demonstration. Sadly, this year they only operated a tent featuring your name being written in Japanese and Origami--delicate hand-folded paper craft items.
The Twelfth Annual Fish Sale was held the first weekend of April. Plans are being developed for next year's event.

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Once upon a time, oh, say around 1998, some folks approached me about forming a water garden club for the San Antonio, Texas area. I declined the request, stating that the area had a koi/goldfish club (to which I belonged). I didn’t see the need for a competing club. But the person asking me was persistent, and kept urging me to form one.

Other things were happening to make me realize that there really was a need for a true water garden club, not just a fish club. So finally in mid-1999, I agreed to join the effort to form a water garden club. This is the story of the “behind the scenes” of how to form such a club. If you are thinking about forming such a club, hopefully this will help you in the all-critical planning stages.

As charter president, I have been asked many times how did we ever manage to form such a popular club. The saying, “If you build it, they will come,” while seemingly appropriate in our case, works only with a lot of preplanning. And did we ever do that! I hope that by writing this, anyone interested in forming a club finds several good ideas from the successful path that we enjoyed. But by all means, improve on what follows; life always presents room for improvement.

A group of us formed the Water Garden Club of South Texas because we felt that the area needed a true water garden club. While the "seed" had been first planted much earlier, planning began in earnest in the summer of 1999. Like that expression, "Plant an acorn and a tree will grow,” we planted the acorn with lots of tender loving care. We met for months thoroughly planning for all aspects of the new club. By the time we held our first public meeting, we wanted every little detail in place. We prepared aiming for people's first impression of our new club to be, "WOW!"

Our planning sessions covered such topics as meeting format, meeting location, bylaws, officers, events, newsletter, web site, etc. Most important was designing a membership brochure. We also sensed that it was important to present a full year’s program. For our first meeting we printed calendars showing the entire year’s schedule. We decided to take the easy way out and distribute only a quarterly newsletter.

We also talked with people involved in the business--from water garden store owners to garden radio talk show hosts. The more people who knew in advance about the club, the better it would be. And no matter to whom we talked, everyone expressed enthusiastic support for our concept. A common comment was, "Well, it's about time to form a club like this.”

One very important aspect we discussed was the importance of continuity. We received feedback to set a fixed meeting day of the month so people could easily know our meeting dates. We decided on the second Saturday of each month with the understanding that it would be changed if the needs of the speaker required a change.

The initial group assumed office for the first three months, after which we held elections. Meanwhile members had the opportunity to get to know each other and to feel comfortable about the possibility of advancing to leadership positions.

We decided to delay a public meeting until after New Year’s Day. We wanted to celebrate the New Year with a new club for water gardeners! We distributed news of the new club via flyers in the local water garden stores, one of their newsletters, a listing in the calendar section of the newspaper, and call-ins to the garden radio talk shows.

One of the founders wrote an article for our first newsletter using the phrase, “All who dream are welcome to our pond.” Her phrase makes a terrific motto, and I promptly put it on every piece of promotional material.

Twenty-five excited ponders attended our January 8, 2000, charter meeting. Thanks to those months of earlier work, we presented everyone a calendar showing 12 months of meetings, topics, speakers, and special events. We have since learned that the membership brochures and schedule for a full year made people quickly feel that we were a worthwhile club.

Interest in the club quickly exploded and we signed up over 35 dues-paid members within two months. The Water Garden Club of South Texas has been described as "one of the fastest growing horticulture based clubs ever seen in the San Antonio area.” What made this even more amazing is that we started in the middle of winter when nobody was thinking of water gardening. People often asked, "What in the world is going to happen to the club when the weather warms up and people start actually thinking about water gardening?" My reply would always be, "Grow even faster!"

During our first year we held all meetings at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, usually on the second Saturday of each month. Having the entire year's program scheduled really made things easy because we did not always have to think, "What's next?" And what a year it was for a brand new club; we found ourselves awfully busy right from the start.

In March the three-month temporary term of officers expired, and we held our first election. The same people remained in office, and new members did indeed step forward and take other key positions.

For our first club project we agreed to the rather intimidating task of splitting and repotting the plants in the Conservatory Pond at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. They had not been split in 10 years; the entire pond had become one overgrown jungle. It took two days of backbreaking work, but we did it.

Then in April we operated a booth at Viva Botanica, an annual SABG event. Also in April we gathered at a member's home for our first plant splitting and sharing party. Everybody brought plants and left with new plants. In addition, we made the event into a bar-b-que party. A few weeks later in May, we maintained a booth at the Festival of Flowers, a major local gardening trade show. Booths at these events included tables full of items for sale and a very attractive pond display with running water, complete with fish!

Charging full speed ahead, in June we sponsored the first Water Gardening Day at SABG. The Garden asked us to produce the new educational event for them. We featured two outstanding speakers, Dr. Clyde Ikins and Anita Nelson, and tables full of vendors. We enjoyed such incredible publicity for it that people were actually turned away! We attracted an overflowing crowd into the seminar room.

Dr. Ikins said that even though he had traveled all over the country to similar events, he had, "never seen such excitement and enthusiasm as at this one.” Officials from SABG stated that it was "one of the largest attended educational events in the history of the Gardens.” WOW - not bad for our first try at such an event!

During July and August we planned for our first pond tour, September’s Alamo Tour de Ponds. The tour involved the SABG as a beneficiary of some of the proceeds. We did make money to share with the Society and we surely learned a lot!

The first major thing that we learned is that your tour needs to follow some major public events. Use those events to promote your pond tour and to sell tickets. At such an event, you have a captive audience walking in front of you – an audience of potential ticket buyers. In our case, there was NO major event before the tour. Without events before our tour, we then sold tickets at most of the local nurseries in the area.

The second important thing we learned is that continuous 100°F + weather keeps people out of the area nurseries. We might love our yards, but such a heat wave can keep even the most ardent gardener indoors where it’s cool. The tour would have to be moved.

The next couple of months we took a well-deserved rest. We ended the year with a spectacular Christmas party at a member's house. We did so well at attracting all those people into that seminar room for Water Gardening Day that we decided to try cramming people into a house. We did very well again. Everybody brought a dish and all had a blast. We were even blessed with Dr. Ikins attending the party.

And there's even more! In addition to making our presence known in the local gardening community, we developed an extensive web site. It serves a two-fold purpose. First, it’s a marketing tool for information about our club. We give information on club events, promotions, pictures, etc. Second, it’s a resource tool on the entire range of water gardening. Its reference section got us listed as a link on one of the most heavily visited garden web sites in south Texas.

Broadcast emails give us another means of communication. Visitors to the web site “subscribe” to the service. We send out emails with information on upcoming club events. In addition, we send general water gardening news to all subscribers.

While web site visitors may request being added to the email list, club members automatically receive all such emails. For more publicity, we always send emails to area radio garden talk show hosts and the home/gardening people at the newspaper.

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Click HERE to view all - 170K


Promotional Material *

“You can build the world’s best mousetrap, but if you don’t do a good job marketing it, the world will not beat a path to your door.” As a business major I heard this phrase in more than one classroom. We wanted to build the best water garden club. We had to do the right marketing so that water gardeners would beat a path to our club.

Our membership brochure is available at area water garden stores and at every function we attended. I advise giving the brochure to everybody who inquires about the club. Our membership brochure is available at area water garden stores and I like to see it at every function we attend. (Click HERE to view our complete membership brochure - 170K.)

Some of us keep a supply of brochures in our cars because you never know when you might come across a potential member. In fact, I suggest taking a few whenever you visit Home Depot. If you see somebody near their pond supplies, give that person a quick introduction to the club!

We also produced two sizes of our annual calendar of activities. One measures 8 ½” x 11” for use as a handout at events and for promotional mailings. While the first year’s calendar file is lost, click HERE to view a PDF file of our second year’s calendar. The second one measures 13” x 19” and makes a great a wall poster. To make a poster like this I use a HP 5200 printer that prints from post card size up to 13” x 19”. It’s a great printer to have for promoting your club’s events.

For special events that we attend, I like to utilize a 13” x 19” poster for promoting the club. If a special event is coming up, we have posters promoting it, too. No space was off limits to us as we taped posters on walls and pillars alike!

If we wanted to get the word out to the public, we utilized press releases. These press releases would be sent to the local newspaper garden editor and all radio garden talk show hosts. Local garden stores would also receive the press release. From feedback from participants, the support of this group of people is absolutely critical for the success of your club and or project.

We use our club newsletter both as a benefit of club membership and as promotional material. I always recommend sending it to the same people who receive our press releases and to an assortment of other club friends. (Click HERE to view a PDF file of a newsletter - 463K.)

I was visiting a garden store when an employee stopped me, very excited about the recent newsletter that they had received. She said that the owner passes it around for everybody to read, and how much they all learn about water gardens by reading the newsletter.

You have a much better likelihood of success when you enlist the support of your local business community. Whether it is the garden editor for your newspaper, the hosts on radio garden shows, or nurseries/water garden stores, you need their support. Talk to them about your club, and I bet that you can get them on board.

At the beginning of our second year we presented certificates of appreciation to people who gave generous support to the club during our tremendously successful charter year. Awardees included charter members, business supporters, radio talk show hosts, and others. Customized by name, the certificates were printed on special paper that looked like marble, and were “suitable for framing.” (Click HERE for a PDF of the certificate.) 

While you can do all of the above items without artwork, it looks much more attractive if you put graphics on it. At times I tend to use graphics too much, but I like things to be jazzier looking! A page of full text with no graphics can get boring quickly and even worse, lose the interest of your reader. 


Your local computer store offers an excellent source of programs full of art files. The Internet has an absolute wealth of goodies. Some sites provide them for free while others require a minimal annual subscription fee. Microsoft Office has a bunch of graphics available that you can use.

No matter what source you use, simply utilize their search engine to search items like “ponds”, “frogs”, etc. But, be forewarned that you will find many more pictures that you may not use than you will of pictures that you may legally use. Just keep looking for those precious few.

Please keep in mind the illegality of using any copyright-protected image found on the Internet. Images on web sites, even though they are on the public Internet, are protected from unauthorized use by federal statute. Stealing images from a web site is against the law.

Well, I hope that you found a few helpful ideas while reading this article. At least one good idea, if nothing else.

I have always been a part of volunteer organizations, and I honestly say that nothing has ever been as rewarding as the work that I have performed with the Water Garden Club of South Texas. I hope that you, too, become involved in a club and have as much fun and enjoyment as I have had working with this one.

* The web address on promotional materials has been changed to

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