Watters Garden Center, in Prescott, Arizona, is in the central mountains area of the state. Deemed an essential business during these pandemic times, the 58 year old, second generation family owned business, continues to advertise with great results. Owner Ken Lain and his wife Lisa bought the business from her family in 2008. With about 25 employees the business is small compared to the chain stores. Lain tells Radio Ink that he has something ‘big box’ retailers can’t compete against.
“The strength that small business has is personality and community connection. We are doing well and even better this year, even with all this turmoil because of our relationships we have. We are really a marketing company that happens to market plants. That’s our thing.”
“We are strong believers in content marketing. That’s our main approach. We are competing against big box stores that have million dollar ad budgets. A small player cannot compete with that. There is no way you can take on those big national chain players, head to head, with shear advertising dollars.”
Radio Ink: So what is your formula for success against these heavy hitters?
Lain: I write two garden columns each week. Some go to magazines, some go to newspapers, some go on line. The columns are an outline for the “Mountain Gardner”, a pre-recorded, hour-long, radio show that I host weekly, Saturday and Sunday. The show, that I produce in my little office studio at the garden center, airs on the local talk radio station KQNA and other stations including the local NPR station in the area. That is a way to personalize what I write in the column.
My column only has 600 to 800 words, but through the radio program that I’ve been doing for about 15 years, on 7 different terrestrial antennas, plus podcasts; we are leveraging what I write about and reaching a lot of people.
Radio Ink: Two traditional mediums, radio and print. What is it about that combination you like?
Lain: For example, in a column I can talk about the best lilacs for the mountain climate of Arizona and then when I get on the radio I can expand on that. The beauty of radio it’s the only medium that crosses generations across multiple audio platforms where everyone is going to have a connection on the content.
Radio is the true magic medium that bridges all others. It’s the strongest medium for the long haul; I believe, for the influence and the money. I see that every weekend, when the show airs. People will come in and mention the radio station and what we were talking about.
It’s about creating content and then using that message throughout the week and then moving on to a new message the following week. That streamlining is an advantage to smaller companies in the local market, the big boxers don’t do that.
Radio Ink: What type of commitment have you made to radio?
Lain: We try to run three ads, everyday during prime time radio slots. We are on seven AZ Hometown Radio Group stations with the spots. So it works out to about 21 spots a week on each station, we are into a heavy mix.
It was tempting to cut back because of all the economic ramifications of what’s going on. To me that is the biggest mistake a small business can make. This is the opportunity for small businesses to gain market share and influence. If you want to be an influencer in your market you need to keep your ads at the present level, or as we have done, increase advertising – even though it’s scary.
This is a time to spend more and not less. Even if the rent is due or the mortgage payment is coming up or you have that payroll to meet. If you are going to keep business going to handle all these financial responsibilities and keep customers coming in; this is what you have to do.
Radio Ink: Do you use Social Media?
Lain: We use all of the platforms, we have all of the metrics you would want to cover. I still believe that the traditional mediums, radio and print, are where you really want to go, and pay for, to get prime spots. It all starts with that and then filters down to your social media message – not in reverse.
I think businesses rely too much on social media because its free. I don’t see it as free. I think it consumes the most labor dollars which is the most expensive of all of your marketing teams energy. So many times we put social media first because we think it’s free and then we forget to spend dollars on traditional advertising like radio.
Radio Ink: What does the future hold for Watters Garden Center?
Lain: It seems like we have a major event that impacts business every six years or so. We have survived the past thanks to our marketing, friendships, connections and long standing relationships in the community. I don’t know what the next event is going to be in about six years but it’s going to be something we need to be prepared for. I believe we will come out of this stronger than ever with more market share.
Let’s be honest. This is a market share grab opportunity and we want to be the most influential, knowledgeable garden center in our marketplace when this is all done. We were already there before this and now we are just anchoring this in place as the best, undisputed garden center in this part of Arizona. We are showing people that we know what we are doing and we have weathered the storm.
I don’t know what our gross sales will be or what our customer count will be; but I do know we will be stronger and as the markets come back on line and grow we will be larger than we were when we went into this. I truly believe that, because we are positioning our message, our company and our staff, accordingly.