Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Murphy's Law

Just a short note as I haven't posted in a bit...

Been hardly near a computer for the past few days, attending two day-long conferences on gardening and trying to digest that info. Also went to visit the Capital Home & Garden Show and talk to the show management about doing something together next year.

Then actually trying to 'have a life' by attending a few plays and other local events such as a political fundraiser.

But most absorbing of my time has been the current issue of the magazine now at the printer... Yesterday, instead of the call I was expecting saying blueline was on the way, I get a call saying "where is the slide?" These are the LAST words I want to hear! Back story: I had one slide with this print job. Everything else was saved and an electronic format on one disk. I pestered the source to get the image an any other format aside from a slide, but no go - only has it as slide. I cannot scan or convert slides. So I alerted the printer - a slide will be coming with this job and needs scanning. The first piece I placed in with job was the slide -affixed to a sheet of paper with a big note. That was end of last week.
The call yesterday was every publishers nightmare. A. They lost the sources slide & how can I explain that to them? That is complete breach of trust. B. Now there is a big hole in the layout and have to fill it at last second. C. WHY??? did this happen, when all details had been followed-thru, and what is their excuse? they offer none and try to blame me. Not cool.
In any case, will be dealt with this morning & glad to have the space to vent. May it not happen to you.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Small World

I was recently contacted by Bob Stewart. Turns out he is related to our staff photographer, Drena J. Galarza.

Bob says: "My wife Nicole and I started agardening based web page three years ago in conjunction with a gardening radio call-in show we were doing on WMAL Radio. We used the web site to go into more detail concerning questions we were asked on the air. The radio show ended in December 2004 and for the past year the web site lay dormant. I've decided to revive it as a personal garden web site. I was born in Washington, D.C. and have been gardening since I was 12 years old, that's 46 years ago. :-) I liked gardening so much I made it my career until I retired two years ago. Now I would just like to share my interest with others through the web site. The url is http://www.gardenright.info."

Bob's site is very nice - I especially like the Plant Clinic section which looks like a lot of the commonly asked questions I imagine many Master Gardeners run into. This is a great site to add to our arsenal of DC area gardening resources.

We're always seeking more local gardener web sites, so if you have one - please send it my way. When I get a chance I'll update my links list here as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Renewals & Guilt by Association?

We are coming up on the magazine's first anniversary so I have my first encounter with doing renewals. I'm afraid I sent the March/April (charter) subscriber notices out a bit late - but now I've got the process scheduled for the rest of the year, so I think I'm set on that. Once the subscriptions reach a certain figure - maybe 5,000 - I will turn the process over to a fulfillment company. I'm pretty reluctant to do that now as even with my loaded schedule I'm able to turn around almost all orders within a week and I know that these firms have more of a 4-6 week schedule. Further, adding more steps in the process and letting the list and such out of my control also leaves it open to errors and missing info, which is antithetical to my quality management aspirations. Well, I suppose dealing with that will be a "good" challenge to have. I guess it is true that success just brings a different class of problems.

On another issue - magazines that fold and don't return subscribers money or fulfill their subscription in some way. Three times just this week I've been slapped by this - as folks who expressed interest in the magazine, said they will not subscribe due to being burned by another regional gardening publication. I know exactly what publication they are referring to and it just galls me. Not only did they not fulfill their subs or return their funds, but they left a lot of people who work with them without their final payments. Shockingly this company is still in business - but not in our market.

IF we ever folded (NO plans for this), our first priority would be to return unused portion of our subs - even if it meant digging heavily into my own pocket. It is just the right thing to do. Period. But how do I deal now with the sour taste people have been left with by this other, unrelated publication? My reply is usually a "we are not them" - but really anything I say would just sound defensive and feeble. I can't blame folks for not wanting to get burned twice. On the other hand, I'd like to be treated as I treat others -- taking them as individuals and at face-value. We'd like not to be smeared with the same brush as the worst in our industry.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Washington Home & Garden Show Debrief

Still have to unpack and then total the money made versus what was invested in exhibiting at the show, but my early figures show we made a nice, small profit. We met our goal for new subscribers and sold a good number of the current plus back issues. Moreover, we got to meet a number of readers, collect new story leads, pursue advertising leads, and make new green industry contacts.

As per usual, when snow is forecast in the DC area, the local media likes to hype it to the hilt and scare people. This was a big problem for this event as the hall was pretty empty on Friday eve and Saturday morning (when snow was predicted, but none came). The crowds did come on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday (after the snow) we did get a decent turn-out. Since this was our first year doing this I can't really compare to past attendance - but I'd assume it was down overall.

The exhibits were 35% garden related (landscapers, stone masons, arborists, etc.), 55% home related (roofing, kitchen cabinets, furniture, etc.), and 20% neither (candy, jewelry, face cream, etc.). I'd have preferred it to be more garden-related exhibits and more stuff people could actually buy (houseplants, tools, seeds, etc.). Most of the garden stuff was of the big project variety like ponds, patio pavers, etc. that is more about gathering info and making post-show appointments rather than actual purchases.

We were very disappointed to see "The Virginia Gardener" exhibiting there as well. We had checked prior to exhibiting to ensure there were no potential competitors at the event - mostly to avoid being near each other or causing confusion among attendees. They were not on the exhibit list when we signed on and did not make the program listing that I saw. VA Gardener is published out of Louisiana by State-by-State Gardening and shares a lot of staff/articles with their other southern state magazines they publish (Tennessee Gardener, Oklahoma Gardener. etc.). I had a couple chats over the show days with their sales rep there, she was very nice and we discussed perhaps doing an ad exchange. Aside from the magazine, she also sold gardening books and mugs - I think the show was "okay" for her, but not as good as they'd expected.

We thought packing and getting out of there last night would be a nightmare as all 800 exhibitor booths tried to do the same, but it actually went smoothly and we were home about an hour after the show closed!

Will we do it next year? I'm leaning towards "yes," but right now is a "maybe" -- the cost of the booth, the timing, and the staffing hours are all the major factors we need to consider.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Snow and Garden Show

Just a quick note to say the past two days at the Washington Home & Garden Show have been good. What a treat to meet so many current subscribes and readers! We have back issues on sale and have been signing up many new subscriptions.

I've been around to talk to most of the exhibitors and to all of the garden landscapers. I had the privilege of being a garden display judge yesterday. Have to say there are three outstanding ones that I'd love to just pick up and plop down in my own backyard. Okay, I was going to leave it a mystery, but I'll tell you who they are: Melwood, Serene, & Surrounds. If you come to the show, let me know what you think.

It was a tough choice picking "best in show" and I've come to really appreciate the work that goes into these displays. The number of garden-related booths seem smaller than in previous years, but still some interesting stuff to buy and I've been really eyeing some of those orchids. The temptation may overcome me by the end of the weekend...

The oddest booth on the show floor has to be NASA. They are giving away posters, calendars, and educational materials. After talking with them, I learned this a public outreach program they are doing. Since they are nearby in Greenbelt, why not come out and talk about our "home planet" was their thinking.

Show management announced tonight that the show is definitely open tomorrow - snow or not - from 10 am - 9 pm and on Sunday from 11 am - 6 pm. More info at: http://www.washingtonhomeandgardenshow.com/. If you can get to a metro station, then it is easy to get to the show on the Green line at Mt. Vernon Square/Convention Center stop. Washington Gardener is in booth #868 - right next to the metal palm trees! ;-)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Booth Set-Up

Spent this morning packing for our booth at the Washington Home & Garden Show (www.washingtonhomeandgardenshow.com) and then early afternoon setting it up. Went fairly smoothly except having to wait half an hour in the loading dock area just to get onto the show floor, then being directed to set up in the wrong booth. We luckily realized after about 5 minutes of unloading, that they had put us in 668 - when actually our booth is 868. In any case, all worked out and pretty smooth. Our booth is on a main entrance aisle and we are directly across from some very large metal palm trees. I can just tell folks "look for the palm trees - you can't miss 'em!"

For show specials, we are offering a free seed pack with every subscription placed at the show. Not a big expense item, but a fun token to get them in the buying mood. Also, we are bundling our first 6 back issues - the whole first year of publication - as a set for $24. It would normally be $36 so I hope a few collectors and other interested folks take advantage of that one to round out their garden library.

With this being our first time, I'm not sure what a realistic show goal for new subscriptions is - obviously we want to make back our booth and direct costs, but more than that I want to get the word out about us and make a significant increase in our subscription base. Wish us luck! With our long show days, I'm not sure that I'll get a chance to blog again until next Monday, but I'll try to check in at least once.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Contest & News

Just a few short notes on what we've been up to:

Tomorrow, Sunday 2/5, Washington Gardener will be on WUSA Channel 9 at about 8:45 am. This is the 8-9am live news broadcast.

Next Thursday-Sunday, 2/9-2/12, Washington Gardener will have a booth (#868) at the Washington Home & Garden Show. Here is a link to more info on that event: http://www.washingtonhomeandgardenshow.com/. We will be selling subscriptions, gift subs, back issues, and the current issue. Please stop on by and say,"Hi!"

We have a contest for our Washington Gardener discussion list serv members. (Sign up for the email list at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WashingtonGardener/.) We are giving away two free passes to the Washington Home & Garden Show! We'll pick a winner at random and mail the 2 passes out in time for the event. No purchase necessary. Must be 21 years or older to enter. The passes are $10 each so the total prize value is $20.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Magazine Store Sales

We have recently contracted with Ingram Distributors to carry our magazine in local book stores. Currently, we are in Politics & Prose, and all area locations of B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

In addition, I'm working directly with two other stores to carry the current issue and see how that goes for them: Viette Nurseries (http://www.artandalchemy.com/) and a local store that showcases arts and crafts, Alchemy (http://www.artandalchemy.com/).

This week as I've been running around on errands and to various interviews for the upcoming issue, I've tried to stop in a few of the book stores to see if the magazine was in stock. I have a chart of how many magazines were sent to each location. Today I was at B. Dalton's in Union Station, where they had 8 copies of the current issue and all are sold out. A few days ago at the Bethesda Barnes & Noble store, they had 3 copies on the shelf of the 5 in their order. Certainly not a scientific study, but interesting to observe and nice to see the magazine is selling well this way.

I have started to get subscriptions from these store sales - which was really my goal - as between the service fees and extra efforts, store sales are generally just a break-even endeavor for us. We've also gotten some phone calls asking about ads from those who saw it at stores and even a couple back issue orders, all good news on that front.

What I'm really curious to see is how the magazine orders will adjust for the next issue - they have to place them in about a week or two - so I assume they will be based on the sales figures at that point for the current issue.