RADIO PHOTO ©PATRICK DAXENBICHLER | ADOBE STOCK

When the local radio station approached Bloomers Home & Garden Center last year and asked owner Len Schroeder to host a weekly show, his initial response was, “No way. I don’t have time for this.”

But the more he thought about the other options for marketing his business against larger box stores with much bigger budgets, he realized that the airwaves could boost his brand in the local market.

“A lot of garden centers are struggling to survive against the competition,” says Schroeder, who started Bloomers with his wife more than 30 years ago. “We started thinking, well, we are the authority, so we might as well position ourselves as the authority.”

Schroeder launched his radio show, “Bloomers in the Garden,” last September, and although it’s a significant investment of time and money, he says it’s well worth it.

“It has put me back in touch with being a horticulturist rather than being a retailer,” Schroeder says. “Sometimes you get lost in that retail world and you’re worried about your average dollar per sale, when your first love is plants. This allows you to live in that world for at least a few hours each week.”

Wondering if the radio airwaves are the right place for your garden center? Here’s what you need to know.

Hosting a radio show can be a great addition to your IGC, but there’s a lot to consider before you start.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FLOWERLAND 

Talking talent

If you’ve ever reached for the dial to tune out a dull talk show or annoying commercial, you know it takes a special knack to succeed on air.

“Not everybody’s cut out for the radio. You have to have the right voice,” says Lee Ganim, the third-generation owner of Ganim’s Garden Center & Florist in Fairfield, Connecticut, who began hosting his radio show, “That Garden Guy,” eight years ago. “I’ve listened to a number of garden shows and some of them are boring. If you can entertain and educate, you can be successful.”

To hone his speaking skills, Ganim took a voiceover class — which he recommends to anyone considering radio. One of the best tips he learned was to put a mirror in front of him to encourage smiling while talking. “When you smile, your delivery is much better,” he says. “In fact, we insist that our cashiers smile when they answer the phone because you can tell by people’s voices what kind of mood they’re in.”

Adding a co-host or two can also promote friendly banter to keep your show upbeat. Choose sidekicks from your garden center staff who love people just as much as they love plants.

“You have to have personality and good communication skills. Obviously, you also have to have a knowledge of plants, and a sense of humor is important, too,” says Rick Vuyst, the owner of Flowerland in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has hosted “The Flowerland Show” on the local news talk station since 1993. “You have to be a people person, because what you talk about needs to be relevant to the everyday lives of your listeners.”

As his co-hosts, Vuyst pulled in Kristi Klaver, the pesticide and fertilizer buyer at Flowerland, and Doug Wieringa, the woody plants buyer. Before each show, he reminds them that: “Gardening is fun, and we have to exude that on air because the audience tunes in and out,” he says. “Not only are we representing our garden center, but we’re representing the IGC industry.”

Planning topics

As soon as Ganim leaves the radio station each week, he starts looking for ideas for next week’s show. From the weather to current events to new products in the store, potential topics are endless.

“I drive around and see what’s going on in town, where the azaleas are blooming or where somebody cut the grass [too short],” he says. “Plus, the knowledge of my business [provides] a timeline of topics.”

Frequently asked questions from garden center customers prompt themes for IGCs on the radio. “You figure, if 10 people come in asking about crabgrass, then everybody wants to know about crabgrass,” Ganim says. “So, you answer those questions.”

Vuyst, who oversees Flowerland’s marketing, finds inspiration online from social media feeds, news sites and industry related emails from university extension offices. “The news stories that have relevance to plants or gardening are never-ending,” says Vuyst, who uses his personal Facebook page to survey fans about potential topics.

Ganim estimates that he spends about an hour preparing for each show, and he walks into the studio with six or seven pages of notes to guide him. “I always prepare more information than I need,” he says, but once the broadcast begins, he rarely refers to this material because he doesn’t want to read a script.

Going live

Although preparation can help steer your radio content, when you engage call-in listeners in your show, “you never know which direction the calls are going to go,” Vuyst says — especially when you’re doing a live broadcast.

Vuyst and his co-hosts broadcast live from the radio studio in downtown Grand Rapids every Saturday. By contrast, although “Bloomers in the Garden” also airs on Saturday mornings in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Schroeder and his sidekick, Julio Zamora, prerecord their shows earlier in the week.

“We’re working at the garden center on Saturdays, so we actually record on Thursday,” Schroeder says. “It’s just easier for us without having that pressure; there’s less worry of screwing up.”

There are pros and cons either way, whether you decide to go live or prerecord. For example, listeners can call or text Bloomers’ hotline throughout the week to submit questions, which allows Schroeder to plan his responses in advance.

Obviously, live broadcasts allow you to discuss current events and weather. But the biggest benefit of live radio is being able to take calls from listeners in (nearly) real-time. “Live is very interactive,” Ganim says. “People like to be on the radio and everybody wants their five minutes of fame.”

Len Schroeder, left, and Julio Zamora from Bloomers in the Garden
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BLOOMERS HOME & GARDEN CENTER

The downside of live calls, however, is that some people ramble, without ever asking questions. Others might veer off topic or use inappropriate language. “You have to be very careful how you handle callers,” Ganim says. “Politely try to shoo them off; tell them you’ve got a commercial or a lot of calls and you have to move along.”

One way to preempt these issues is by screening calls or using seven-second delays, as Vuyst does. “Obviously, doing a live show, there are risks,” Vuyst says. “But I would far prefer to do live over recording because it’s current and interactive.”

Paying for airtime

Lee Ganim, top, Julio Zamora, middle, Rick Vuyst, bottom

Both Vuyst and Schroeder were approached by their local radio stations when a Saturday morning timeslot opened up, because of their long-standing presence in the community.

Ganim, however, solicited his station when he heard a competitor doing a five-minute blurb, and asked if he could do the same. It began as a free opportunity but before long, Ganim started paying for more time — first a half-hour, and now an hour.

“We’ve taken all of our print advertising budget and moved it over to radio,” Ganim says. “[Radio] shows can get very expensive; normally they get $600 an hour or so, but we’ve cut a deal so we do in-season and out-of-season rates, which helps defray the cost.”

To offset the cost even more, Ganim also solicits sponsors for the show by leveraging his relationships with vendors and suppliers. Ganim writes their commercials himself, bringing “a personal aspect” into the ads so he’s not just reading promotions.

“You have to be prepared to devote the time to not only find good content, but also to find sponsors,” says Schroeder, who pays for his one-hour timeslot. He tells potential sponsors that ads are an opportunity to speak directly to customers — but makes it clear that he has final editorial say, so he doesn’t feel obligated to personally promote products outside of commercials.

Although Flowerland pays separately to advertise on the station, Vuyst doesn’t pay for his two-hour weekly show. The station gets its own sponsors to support it

.

“In some cases, they’re competitors of ours, and that’s fine with me,” he says. “My opinion is that rising tides float all ships. As long as our content is good, entertaining and informative, the show should be able to stand on its own.”

Making an impact

Not only does strong content attract advertisers and listeners; when done right, Vuyst says, a radio show also draws people to your store. Flowerland employees regularly report that customers mention the show when shopping, and they notice upticks in sales of products that Vuyst recommends on air.

“The show has huge benefits to our marketing awareness. We are viewed as the garden answer people in the community,” says Vuyst, whose show has won six awards of excellence from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. “It sure beats a commercial, as it’s viewed as both entertainment and information. It keeps your brand out there on a weekly basis and differentiates you from all your competitors in the marketplace.”

But just because listeners hear your radio show, that doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly flock to your store. The biggest challenge, all three radio hosts agree, is the year-round commitment required to constantly promote your show and your store.

“It snowballs into being more than just going on the radio once a week,” Schroeder says. “You have to support it with all of these other [channels]. The radio station will supply the podcast, but it’s up to you to market it and get people to listen to it, so you have to be dedicated.”

If you can commit the time to share your expertise, a radio show can provide the boost your garden center needs to stand apart.

“We’ve lost a lot of our market in the garden center business, so it’s important to learn how to compete with the [big box stores] by offering more information,” Ganim says. “Sometimes you have to step out of the regular format of what you’ve been doing. You have to have an edge, and I think radio is our edge.”