It was a homespun column written by the local grocer and published in his small hometown newspaper that got Don Magruder thinking about his marketing plan for the dealership.

Garland Mabry, who owned a grocery store in Moss Point, Miss., used his weekly column as a means of advertising, pointing out good buys and new items in the store, but he also used his bully pulpit to give advice. 

“I felt that [format] would translate well into the building supply business,” says Magruder, CEO of Lady Lake, Fla.-based Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply.

That line of thinking led to an epiphany: “I wanted to take charge of the sales process, and I needed to do a better job relating to the end-user and develop a trust with them.”

To that end, he realized that by offering advice to customers freely and from a variety of experts and sources, he could influence them to look at Ro-Mac as their go-to source for all things related to construction and remodeling. “We want the customer to tell the builder where they want to buy materials,” he says. “It’s marketing to the consumer.”

Magruder created a weekly radio show called “Around the House” that airs every Monday from noon to 1 p.m. on local station WLBE AM790. The hour-long call-in show, of which the Ro-Mac CEO is both scriptwriter and host, is produced at the station’s Leesburg, Fla., studio.

“All the content is me,” he says. “It’s usually what I do on the weekends. I work a lot of hours.”

Don Magruder both writes and hosts his weekly radio show, the corrnerstone of his marketing plan. 
Bob Croslin Don Magruder both writes and hosts his weekly radio show, the corrnerstone of his marketing plan. 

Magruder wants the show to be more than a springboard for talking about all things Ro-Mac. “If we just focused on the categories we sell, it would become boring pretty quickly, frankly. So to make our show attractive to a lot of people, why not include other businesses? We try to add real value for the consumer.”

The radio show, introduced five years ago, was the first segment of Magruder’s marketing plan. He says it averages 10,000 to 15,000 listeners.

The “Around the House” brand has grown to include weekly columns in two local newspapers (Wednesday in the South Lake Press and Saturday in the Daily Commercial)—“I’m told by the publisher that we are one of the most-read columns in the paper,” Magruder says—plus a monthly column in the regional magazine Focus.

Additionally, Magruder chooses two radio shows each month to film; those are aired on local cable channel LSTV to 218,000 potential viewers. The dealer has a strong social media presence via Facebook, which along with providing tips always boosts the upcoming shows and columns. The Ro-Mac website links to the radio show and column archives.

The radio show, the linchpin of the marketing plan, features local business owners and experts in various trades who come on to talk about anything from replacing windows to the hazards of dryer lint. The show has also featured experts talking about how to negotiate the process of a reverse mortgage or changes in home appraisals—“anything that is timely for our area,” says Magruder.

He emphasizes that no one is ever charged for appearing on the show. In fact, Magruder is looking to partner with other small businesses to build up a network of referrals. It’s a strategy that not only benefits his customers, but helps his own bottom line, as well as that of his partners. “Network marketing is very powerful,” he says.

All marketing segments share the advice-giving platform that first caught Magruder’s attention, and the results show that his instinct was dead-on. “Our traffic counts are skyrocketing. Ten years ago we rarely had a consumer walk through the door.” Now, he says, it happens regularly.

The ProSales Excellence Awards judges were similarly impressed. Says one: “Don Magruder produces a clinic in public relations. The brilliance of Don is that he’s getting huge bang for his buck, positioning himself as an expert.”

Notes another: “[It’s] nice to work with local businesses and promote companies they didn’t even handle.” In fact, the show on the hazards of dryer lint, which featured a local business owner of a dryer vent cleaning operation, earned that company $25,000 in sales, Magruder says.

By featuring local businesses and trade experts, Magruder establishes himself as a trusted source of advice to consumers on a range of residential operations.
Bob Croslin By featuring local businesses and trade experts, Magruder establishes himself as a trusted source of advice to consumers on a range of residential operations.

The dealer says he’s constantly fielding telephone calls from folks who have heard the show or seen it on LSTV and want to buy a product or locate a service that was featured on “Around the House.”

A somewhat less desirable feature of his marketing plan’s success is that he is so now well known around Lake and Sumter counties that it sometimes makes it hard for him and wife Darlene to go out for an uninterrupted meal. But he's glad to accept that problem for the the boost in business.

“I felt that we were more of a price- than a solution-based supplier. Most of the time when you get a big project, you lose money,” Magruder says. He prefers “to eat more out of the big boxes’ bowl,” because he feels the dealer can offer far better products and service than they can.

“Our margins are up two points this year. Cash business is now our No. 1 account at Ro-Mac, and we have been able to decrease our reliance on low-margin business.

“We really had not identified the campaign for margin increases, but that naturally occurred as end-users started coming more to us for the complicated orders that others struggled handling. Our first goal was always to take more control of the sales process by having end-users tell their builders to buy their materials at Ro-Mac Lumber,” Magruder says.

The marketing campaign costs Ro-Mac $30,000 a year, mainly in production costs. That more than doubles, up to $70,000, if he adds in the cost of the employee who handles online marketing, IT, and Facebook. Ro-Mac also does some conventional advertising, but all ads are created in-house.

The campaign’s favorable results have led Magruder to think about bringing this platform to a statewide level and perhaps further, harnessing the network of independent dealers, who, he says, “don’t have the means or capability of doing it themselves.”

But in the near future, he’s bracing himself for being the victim of his own success.

One of his recent radio shows featured local contractor Ted Waterman talking about pool design, construction, and maintenance. Magruder’s wife, who listens to the show, liked what she heard. “Ever since that show, she has been on me about getting the pool. I keep saying no, but to be honest with you, I think it’s coming. She has painted a picture of that pool in Technicolor in the grandkids’ minds. Every day, I hear about that pool.”

He lets out a sigh. “At least I have the comfort of knowing that Darlene knows what questions to ask.”