Nick Federoff: Taking the industry to the airwaves
|By Kristin Smith-Ely|
One of our biggest green industry advocates has a big on-air personality and an unmistakable beard.
Nick Federoff is a man of many talents. Not only can he create a beautiful garden, but his storytelling skills will captivate you. Best of all is his infectious enthusiasm as he obviously enjoys every minute of what he does.
If you were in a crowded room, he’d be hard to overlook; that long beard makes him stick out. He proudly states, his chin “hasn’t seen the light of day since 1979.” If you couldn’t spot him from his trademark facial hair, you for sure wouldn’t be able to miss his resonating voice. He’s probably giving out gardening advice or talking about one of his recent television segments as you’re reading this article.
Old or young, it’s hard not to be captivated when you talk to this self-proclaimed “OHOAG.” Federoff is One Heck of a Guy, all right. And he would say that he’s in One Heck of a Profession. “It is a fascinating world to work with plants and people. I just enjoy it immensely.”
Stumbling upon success
Like many in our industry, Federoff ’s interest in grass and plants all began when he was just a kid, mowing neighborhood yards, hauling the mower in his little red Radio Flyer wagon that he had painted blue.
When he turned 14, his father helped him take his hobby to the next level.
His father, a general contractor by trade, was re modeling a building in East Los Angeles and noticed the lawn looked a wreck. He found out that the owner’s kids were the ones doing the lawn work. So he said to the man, “I’ll make you a deal: if my kid can cut the lawn and make it look better than your kids did, would you allow him to keep doing it?” He agreed.
Federoff didn’t know his father made that deal; he just handed him a mower, a rake and a broom and told him to go mow the lawn. “Next thing you know, I’ve got my first commercial account, and I started mowing that lawn regularly,” he says.
He learned very quickly the do’s and don’ts of lawn care: things like, “be careful around cars and wear long pants and safety glasses.” As well as, “If you hit a piece of steel with a $1,000 lawnmower, that piece of steel is going to win.”
Federoff learned one of his biggest lessons when he witnessed someone stealing his edger. The thief sped away before he could catch him. “He threw that edger in his car, and was dust. I learned that a chain and a lock are a gardener’s best friends.”
His next career step happened either by accident or luck, depending on how you look at it. One day, with a truck full of plywood and lawn equipment, he hit his brakes hard at a stop light. The load flew everywhere. He had forgotten to tie it down.
The embarrassing mishap occurred right in front of a nursery. The owner came running out and helped Federoff load everything back up. Then he told him, despite not having tied down his load, he seemed like a very conscientious young man. “If you ever want a job, I’ve got one for you,” he said.
Two weeks later, Federoff was working at that nursery. He soaked up all sorts of information there, from how to do weed control and proper planting methods to the basics of plant care. In two years, he was managing the place.
Finding his calling
After graduating from high school, Federoff started looking for a new job. He remembers walking into an upscale retail nursery where someone had just quit. The owner hired him on the spot. He was going to be the new “carry-out.” He had no clue what that was. It turned out to be the person who carried out customers’ purchases and loaded them into their cars.
His very first carry-out was for a woman wearing a fancy coat and carrying a white poodle. She had bought some plants and steer manure, and told him, “Just throw the bags in the back” — of her brand-new Mercedes Benz.
Federoff knew he needed to be careful, but, almost like a curse, the first bag of steer manure got caught on the door latch, which ripped the bag open. The aromatic contents spilled out all over the inside of the car.
“I was so devastated, I was trembling,” he recalls.
But what happened next was almost out of this world. To his sheer surprise, the woman was actually understanding. She said not to worry about it, and before she left, she handed him a $5 bill — a lot of money for a kid in 1978.
“I looked at that $5 bill and said, ‘I just broke a bag of manure in someone’s $35,000 car and she tipped me? This is beautiful! I want in this business, and I want to stay in it,’” he thought to himself.
Following his stint as a carry-out, Federoff went off to Fullerton College in Orange County, California. After graduation, he and his father obtained landscape contracting licenses and went into business together. The business took off like gangbusters.
“We blink, and we have 60 people on our payroll doing city and county contracts,” he says. The firm became one of the largest weed abatement contractors in the country with 28 government contracts in San Bernardino County, California, alone.
Things were already going well for Federoff when he found himself in the right place at the right time once again. He was 27-years-old, and one of his clients was the Federal Reserve Bank of Los Angeles.
The bank had hired a landscape consultant, one that happened to host a radio show on Los Angeles’ KFI AM 640 on the subject.
One day, that consultant had to take the day off from his show. The station’s management and the consultant asked Federoff to fill in.
“So I filled in for him, and then two weeks later, I get called into the office,” Federoff says. He remembers thinking he must have said something wrong on the air and was in trouble. But that was not the case.
Federoff arrived, and the program director handed him a big box with a bunch of letters inside. He told him, “You generated more mail in one two-hour radio show than the other guy has in the two years he’s been here. We want you to do the radio show instead.”
Federoff called the other host and told him about the conversation he’d just had with the program director. “I was upfront with him. I told him that if he didn’t want me to take the job, I wouldn’t.” He also confessed how much he really wanted the job. To Federoff ’s great relief, the man said, “Knock their socks off.”
Taking it to the airwaves
Taking that job launched a new career for Federoff, and before he knew it, his show was syndicated to radio stations all across the U.S.
Federoff also dabbled in television, making short appearances on local news channels and many variety programs like The Donny & Marie Show and ABC’s Carol & Marilyn, with weekly jaunts on PAX TV’s Great Day America. After a short sabbatical from TV, one of his clients asked him for a favor — make an appearance on Los Angeles CBS affiliate KCAL 9’s news show.
Afterwards, “[the TV station people] asked me, ‘Can you do more of this stuff?’ I said, ‘Sure. It’s easy for me.’” And it still is. Federoff ’s been at it for eight years now, and is the station’s resident gardening expert. His “In the Garden” segment airs every Saturday morning at 7:50 a.m.
A few years back, Federoff was contacted by the local PBS station, KLCS, to do a television show. He’s now the only garden expert in Southern California that is on television six days a week. He appears Mondays through Fridays on KLCS’ Create Channel at 1:30 p.m. and Saturdays on KLCS TV, at 9 a.m. “We’ve now done about 150 30-minute television shows,” he says.
Federoff ’s talent at growing things — including facial hair — has really helped brand him as a broadcaster. He’s known as “the gardening guy with the big beard.”
“I’ve done a lot of specials, how-tos, interviews — whatever we feel like doing, as long as they’re about environmental, sustainable, landscaping and garden-related indoor and outdoor living ideas,” Federoff says.
His favorite part of the job is being a teacher, so much that, even while working at his demanding broadcasting career, he’s taken the time to obtain teaching credentials in horticulture, agriculture and broadcasting.
In addition, he gives keynote addresses at conferences and holds tailgate meetings and sales talks regularly. “I enjoy people so much, and I enjoy sharing the information that I have; and I love when they share information back with me.”
Federoff ’s website displays much of the content that he and his staff create out of his Whittier, California, offices. The property houses a radio studio and areas for filming and editing video. There’s also a workshop, which serves as a set for showcasing some of his creations for the TV show. On a recent episode, he and his staff created an urban garden on-site to demonstrate the benefits of workplace gardens. They even invited neighborhood children to paint flowers on the old doors they salvaged to make a fence.
Federoff’s ultimate goal is to promote his Things Green brand beyond his persona, and he’s already making progress. The company has a Spanish-speaking counterpart: Patty Menjivar, host of Temes Verdes.
If you ask him about achieving success, Federoff ’s biggest piece of advice is, “Focus on the things you are good at. Others can do the rest.” On a more basic level, simply walking in a straight line is what differentiated his mowing skills all those years ago back in East Los Angeles. Even more important, though, is finding something you love to do, as he has.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” says Federoff of his career. “I enjoy what I do to the nth degree. I cannot put it into words. I meet the most fascinating people in this industry. I am truly, truly blessed.”
WAYS TO WATCH
If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can catch Nick Federoff, owner of Things Green, Whittier, California, six days a week on television.
“In the Garden” 7:50 a.m. on KCAL 9 News
“Things Green” 9 a.m. on KLCS TV
“Things Green” 1:30 p.m. on KLCS Create Channel
ELSEWHERE? Check out the website.
Online Exclusive: Pioneering Podcasts
Nick Federoff, owner of Things Green was creating podcasts before anyone even knew what the word meant. In those days, in the mid-1990s, it was so expensive to have your own URL, so you used your internet provider’s name and put your name after it, he recalls. His first URL was www.linkline.com/thingsgreen.
“It was hard because people didn’t know you could use your computer as a radio,” he says of those early days. “There were no laptops, there were only desktops, and you had to buy a separate sound card to tell your computer to get sounds out of it. And the speakers were extra.”
He remembers going to the Orange County Fair and setting up a booth. “We were doing live broadcasts on side of the fair and people could go to the other part of the fair and hear what we were broadcasting.”
He says it would take a half hour to convince people that you could use your computer as a radio. After receiveing a blue ribbon at the fair for Best Radio Station, “I decided I was going to do something just for the industry.”
That was when Adrenaline Radio was born.
“I was the first person ever to do an online radio program for the industry called the Green Industry Talk Show,” Federoff says. Denne Goldstein, founder of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine was one of his first guests.
The show at first aired pre-recorded interviews from tradeshows. Then he and his team figured out how to do live radio shows from tradeshows.
“We were the first in the world of radio on the internet for the industry,” Federoff says.
The team tried to broadcast video over the internet back then, but he likened it to an Asian movie with English voiced over it. The lips and the voices didn’t match up.
“We took down until the technology caught up with it all,” says Federoff. It finally did.