HOME - INTERVIEW
Friday, June 22, 2018
Bruce Baker, Founder and CEO of Radius Garden
HOME - INTERVIEW
by Mehmet Kaplan
Radius Garden is an innovative brand that develops gardening tools in new designs to solve the health problems that older people are suffering due to their use of non-ergonomic gardening tools in their gardens. I talked to Radius Garden founder and CEO Bruce Baker, about the beginning of the Radius Garden brand, its first steps, products, and future plans.
Bruce, could you start by telling us about your background and gardening experience?
I grew up around plants. Both of my grandmothers were avid and accomplished gardeners who often referred to plants by their botanical names. I was often recruited for gardening and landscaping, which led to a lifelong passion for both. My professional experience took a different path in the beginning. I received a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan School of Law, but went on to a first career in executive management in the software industry. After selling a networking software company I ended up co-founding a toy business that took me offshore to China where I learned manufacturing and product design. It was a small step then to start my own gardening tools company meant to address the needs serious and often older gardeners.
Why did you decide to establish Radius Garden? What inspired you to create these tools?
Many years ago I went on a trip to China with a product manager who was herself an avid gardener. I noticed she had blisters and bruising on her hands and learned they were caused by normal use of poorly designed garden tools. At that time my wife was just beginning to experience problems with carpal tunnel syndrome and everyone I knew was getting older and more prone to stress and injuries in the garden. Within weeks of that trip, I had read dozens of articles and studies on tool design, gardening injuries, and the like. The next step was to develop a series of concept drawings, followed by models, followed by tooling and production. This was the birth of the patented “Natural Radius Grip” hand tools.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in the beginning period? How did you solve?
Probably the biggest single challenge I faced was getting the products to market. Because these tools were very high quality they had to be priced above the kind of tools you find in big box stores. Amazon didn't have much of a foothold at that time. So, I had to find a way to sell my products to thousands of independent garden centers. Before I had a single customer I took a booth at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, the biggest annual industry event. Two great things happened at that show. First, Robin Lee of Lee Valley Tools insisted on buying a set of the hand tools. So, he became my first customer, after which he began selling them in his highly respected catalog. Second, I met a couple of representatives from lawn and garden distribution companies, who explained to me how their businesses worked and how I could reach the independent market through them. Even armed with this knowledge it was still a struggle to open doors with distributors. When I finally got through to the buyer for the largest lawn and garden distributor he gave me an emphatic no when I asked to exhibit at his show. He said garden hand tools were a dime a dozen. Thinking quickly, I asked him if he was married. He said yes and I said “OK, let me send a set to your wife. If she like them, then I'm in your show.” It worked!
Please tell us about your collection. What kind of tools do you offer to garden lovers? Do you have all required tools for gardeners?
We began by selling ergonomic hand tools targeting older home gardeners who were willing to pay a bit more for higher quality and better product design. We built our business with this demographic, but found that all age groups benefited from ergonomically designed tools. We've always had a somewhat more limited offering of products than some of the larger companies, but we think of it as a collection of gardening essentials. We have several types of hand tools, long handled digging tools, watering wands and nozzles, rakes, and cutting tools. We pride ourselves on quality and offer a lifetime warranty on everything we make.
Your Award Winning tools are Root Slayers. What are their roles in the garden? What are their features?
When a job is too tough for other digging tools, that's when it's just perfect for a Root Slayer. These are crossover tools with equal appeal to hard-working professionals and home gardeners. I designed the original Root Slayer Shovel after transplanting 16 small Douglas fir trees. I had to use a nursery spade, long handled loppers, a curved pruning saw, a hatchet, and a pry bar to accomplish that task. It was incredibly hard work, it was tough on the trees, and it was even tougher on me. It struck me that thousands of people faced the same daunting challenges and I became obsessed with building a better digging tool. The principal feature of every Root Slayer product is the “Inverted V” cutting tip that centers your gravity on roots rather bouncing off. This alone makes the Root Slayer different than every other tool. Specially designed ripsaw teeth along the blade edges serve as a backup for cutting even larger roots. We intentionally use materials that are stronger than other shovels. We certify them past international standards strength with independent testing labs. Add our signature ergonomic designs and you have the best digging tools you can ever buy.
How many types of products do you offer? Could you briefly describe your main categories and products?
I'll start with our hand tools. We offer three distinct types of hand tools for landscaping and gardening. The Natural Radius Grip hand tools are our original product line. Sold through fine independents, these are ergonomically designed and will last a lifetime. We also offer our DIG hand tools, more conventionally designed tools that also have ergonomic benefits and can be sold at lower prices. Finally, we have designed Root Slayer hand tools; a Trowel and a Soil Knife. These are serious tools for power gardeners and landscapers. In the long handled tools category, we offer the stainless steel PRO line of digging tools, the Pro-Lite line of carbon steel tools, and the Root Slayer family. Our Transformers line of watering wands and nozzles that convert instantly to sprinklers is highly innovative and useful. Finally, we sell what we call “Mini” tools for use in raised beds, and for older and younger gardeners.
Could you tell us about your team?
We are a small company with a great group of hard working professionals, many of whom have extensive experience with this type of business model. We operate mostly in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but also have an office in Guangzhou, China.
Social media is one of the most efficient ways to promote your products to new customers. How do you use social media for your brand marketing? Which social media platform do you prefer the most?
I'll take what is probably an unusual position on social media. I think it's important, but it's not really a core focus of ours. We see platforms like Amazon, with their millions of daily visitors and huge numbers of unbiased reviewers as being perhaps more important to sales than other social media platforms. On Amazon you can read what over 300 independent reviewers think of the Root Slayer. On other social media platforms, you can get likes, postings, etc., but they are one step removed from the point of sale. We do encourage people and offer special perks on social media. We share information when we can and repost others.
How can our readers buy Radius Garden products? Do you have a solution for international buyers?
Check your local independent garden center for Radius Garden products. Our entire catalog is also available at www.radiusgarden.com, www.amazon.com/radiusgarden, and many other online retailers. We do not have a lot of international distribution at this time, but we are working on it. QVC carries some of our products in the UK and Germany. Amazon makes some of our products available in most of Europe.
What are your future plans for Radius Garden? Should we wait for new concepts and models?
We plan to continue to focus on innovation and on keeping our customers happy.
Thank you Bruce.