How Dunn Lumber turns customer events into podcasts

Like many lumber dealers in search of new ways to reach an increasingly tech savvy audience, the marketing team at Dunn Lumber in Seattle knew they needed to try something different. But, like any business breaking into new territory, the directive was to keep costs to a minimum. With the help of a local advertising agency, Dunn Lumber’s VP of sales and marketing, Jim Coshow II, decided to take a leap into the growing trend of podcasts. Rather than take on the expense of generating new content for the company’s podcasts, Coshow’s team repurposed its customer appreciation breakfasts and dinners into live podcast events.

In doing so, something new comes from something old. “We started these breakfasts about 30 years ago,” Coshow said. That’s before some of his podcast listeners were born.

Getting into podcasting might not be top-of-mind for most lumber dealers. Coshow admits, it’s “definitely out there on the edge. Most people in our industry, if they have a marketing budget, it wouldn’t be on the top five of their list of things to do.”

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But the podcast has received a lot of traction for Dunn Lumber. Coshow says there is room for improvement as far as analytics are concerned, but in his mind, the goal wasn’t to get as many downloads as quickly as possible.

The podcasts are also helping to increase the knowledge base of Dunn Lumber employees, Coshow says. Like most dealers, turnover in recent years has been higher. Faced with staff with less tenure than years past, Dunn Lumber uses the podcasts to help try to augment longer-term institutional knowledge.

“My main goal, a bigger goal, is to be a resource for our own employees going forward. I’ve been in the business 40- plus years. It’s almost terrifying how many things there are to know and how much it’s changing. We take it seriously trying to get things right.”

Some of the topics, whether it’s building science, or a materials discussion (such as a recent podcast featuring Paul Mackie of the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, and Gary Katz of the Katz Roadshow) become essential resources to have on hand. Dunn Lumber also shares those recordings with builder customers and it helps them increase their learning.

Learning curve and investment

While the content side of the podcasts was already taken care of by event speakers, Coshow says he has also changed up his speaker selection process just a bit to make sure the presenter has a voice and topic that is podcast-ready. He says that now he has a fairly good idea of how well a speaker will translate to a podcast audience, but sometimes there are still the instances of “we’re taking a chance and recording it, hoping it will make a good podcast.”

The biggest learning curve in taking on the podcast has been hiring the right people to do the recordings, Coshow says. The customer appreciation breakfasts don’t take place in a studio environment. With anywhere from 40-90 attendees each time, there are plenty of background noises to contend with. The key has been hiring professionals to handle the recording and the editing process. Staff also takes pictures during the event and writers craft a written intro for the company’s website. Any reference materials provided by the speakers are also uploaded to the company’s blog that houses its podcasts and are available for download.

When the podcast is uploaded and the content including photos and editorial is created to support it, Dunn Lumber lets its website visitors know via Facebook that a new podcast is available. The announcement is also made on the company’s blog, Dunn Solutions, and in customer emails.

While it all sounds like a lot of work, Coshow says he is mainly the intermediary between his team and his marketing agency that helps produce the podcasts.

“I just bring them in to record it. They edit it, and we go back and forth on the content intro on the blog site,” he says.

Focus on best practices

Whether for blog posts or podcasts, Dunn Lumber creates content for DIY customers more so than trade professionals.

“I understand our marketing folks might not be thinking that way, but to me when it comes to installing a door or a weather-resistant barrier on the home, there’s usually one best practice. We’ve had some internal conversation on those, and we’ve decided to focus on best practices. The platforms they’re served up in might be different.”

When Dunn Lumber shares a blog post on its website, some topics garner more conversations than others. “Some commenters will weight in and say, ‘I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years’,” Coshow says. “We’re trying to help raise the bar and teach people how to avoid challenges.”

Getting started

For other dealers looking to get into the podcast arena, Coshow suggests making sure you are aware of the investment of time and resources it will take. While the investment may seem more significant up front, it can pay off as the podcasts and other blog content surrounding it live on at Dunn Lumber’s website in perpetuity.

“At the end of the day, I’m guessing we’re doing it in a professional looking and sounding environment,” he says. “There are probably more DIY ways to do that.”

His biggest recommendation is to be extra selective in your speaker choices, he says. Steer away from any topic that is just a sales rep talking about his product. If that’s the case, it has to be something really specialized or new, or something you can solve for customers, such as mistakes with the installation of a product.

“You want to plan and make sure that the content is relevant to whatever your intended audience is,” Coshow says. “You’re putting this in front of your best customers and your future customers.”

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