In Homes Coast to Coast
Starting at age 21, Danny Lipford leveraged a handyman shop into a multimedia enterprise reaching 97 percent of the TV markets in the U.S. Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford saw a 25 percent increase in audience share in 2014.
A real life “Wayne’s World” scenario, Danny Lipford started his multimedia home improvement empire as a frequent guest on local cable access programs.
Of the 210 television markets in the United States, Danny Lipford is in 204. His home repair and improvement TV show reaches every state; the radio version airs on 152 stations, and his website receives a million visitors per month. It all started with a big dream, grand ideas and an $11.41 mail-order jigsaw.
“At age nine, I made money around the house, sweeping sidewalks, raking and doing odd-jobs,” recalls Lipford, conjuring the 1960s while taking a break from an on-location TV shoot in Mobile. “I finally saved the money for a jigsaw from the Sears catalog.”
It changed his life.
“I made everything under the sun with that jigsaw,” he says. “With little scraps of wood and no directions, I turned out Mother’s Day gifts, towel holders, anything I could think of.”
The jigsaw sparked an interest in all things do-it-yourself. Lipford remembers, “It captivated me. Even today I love the instant gratification of doing work and having something to hold on to.”
In 1975, the Marianna, Florida teenager enrolled in Mobile’s University of South Alabama. He also worked part-time for a real estate company that bought rundown houses, renovated, re-sold and allowed the future TV host to polish unrealized talents.
Painting, carpet laying, carpentry, wiring and other skills were developed from shingle to sheetrock. “It was instinctive,” recalls Lipford, “and I was pretty good at it.” Good enough for a career.
In 1978 at age 21, he opened a small handyman business in Mobile, doing anything and everything from performing minor repairs to building mansions, and eventually becoming Lipford
But his passion was and is remodeling and helping homeowners with dreams. “I’m a good listener,” he says, “And I like to think I give good solutions.”
His personal solution has always been to be in business for himself and think outside the toolbox. And so he did. In September 1988, Mobile’s businessman-handyman-builder-remodeler added a new idea to his toolbox: television.
Because of his empathy with homeowners, Lipford was a frequent guest on local cable access programs. One such venue featured a host who suddenly quit. To fill the void left from an on-air personality fading to black, producers offered the show to Lipford. A star was born — sort of.
He had one week to prepare. “I still have that first tape,” he remembers. “If you need a good laugh, I can put it on. It’s quite hilarious.”
The format was a live 30-minute TV talk show without a call screener. Friends found amusement in having girlfriends and wives call the show’s host and say things, let us say, inappropriate. “I could turn red just like that,” says Lipford, snapping his fingers. “Also, 30 minutes in a studio seemed like eternity.”
The show started featuring short segments on home repairs, room remodeling and similar topics — introduced in studio. Gradually the entire program was done from the field. It worked. His construction business tripled overnight. But so did growing pains.
In 1990, Lipford launched his own show, Remodeling Today, which he regionally syndicated. But from an advertising base, it was too big for local sponsors and too small for those wanting a bigger program. “For example, Mobile businesses had little interest in paying for commercials seen in Birmingham,” said Lipford. “And my business suffered for that.”
In 1998, Lipford partnered with Today’s Homeowner magazine, eventually renaming the TV show, Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford. Presently it has approximately 500 episodes in the can, maybe 501, counting the one filmed during this interview.
Hays Holmes owns a late-1800s Victorian style house in Mobile — beautiful, but in need of exterior repairs. With cameras rolling, co-host Allen Lyle and Holmes tape an impromptu “How to Hammer Siding Board” segment. Lipford and producer Scott Gardner stand off-camera, comparing notes from a schedule often cast in Jell-O.
“It can change by the minute,” says Gardner, about the schedule. “It depends on what we find. Typically, taping begins on a Monday morning, wrapping up by Friday.” Generally, eight hours of digital footage are edited down to a 30-minute show. Within a year, 26 shows will be produced from locations throughout America.
“We usually shoot what we see as we see it,” adds Lipford, as he and Lyle discuss a lumber measurement issue. “We often learn with our viewers,” he adds, watching 100-year-old boards stripped from the structure.
Almost everything is done in-house, 18 employees, most in Mobile, producing a national product. They are the producers, photographers, researchers, webmasters and sales force of Danny Lipford Media.
“I surround myself with, not just good people, but the best,” says Lipford. “I am here if they need me.”
Running Danny Lipford Media is beyond fulltime. And the namesake CEO constantly moves between roles — producer, on-air talent, construction worker and driving force. “I’m busy all the time,” he adds. “But I’m a good time manager. I keep my fingers in the business. I work a lot and enjoy it.”
He credits the Emmy-nominated show’s success with his broadcast and screen presence training – zero. “What sets us apart from other home improvement type shows is I am not an actor,” says Lipford. “I do this for a living in my construction business. I don’t put on a suit and assume a TV role for a show.”
And he adds, “People crave good, straightforward information for their home. It never goes out of style.”
Lyle agrees. “Give people something they can use, something they can relate to. We try to do that.” Their goal is to help the handyman and the clueless.
Crewmembers point out that Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford does not travel the road of tele-drama so often seen in the Do-it-Yourself TV world. “We’ve been at this for 17 years,” says Lipford. “Only two others do it like us, Hometime and This Old House. None of us have gone down the road of sensationalism, in that ‘Build a house in a week,’ whimsical crazy stuff.”
In 2014, the audience for Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford increased 25 percent. “No television show does that, but we did,” says Lipford. Radio gives them something to smile about, too.
Adding the audio medium to the media mix almost seemed predestined. About six years ago, during the Christmas holidays, Lipford planned his New Year’s goals. One was radio. And then his phone rang.
Word came of the death of an out-of-state friend. Before dying, the friend had told associates that only Danny Lipford could do his radio show. Lipford accepted the offer and once again, thought outside the box.
“Home improvement radio can be so boring and dry,” he says. “I knew if we had fun with it, kept it lighthearted, but packed the show with content, it would work.” Launched in 2007, Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford, radio version, presently is heard nationwide and in Canada.
Future plans call for more website development including expanding “Checking in with Chelsea,” hosted by Chelsea Lipford Wolf (Lipford’s daughter). How-to e-books, digital magazines and online marketing also are on Danny Lipford Media’s horizon.
Juggling TV, radio and a contracting-constructing business can be a daunting task, unless you love it. Lipford does.
“I never realized I’d be in a position where most of my time is in the media business,” he says. “I never set out to be an entertainer, but I love marketing and separating myself from the pack. TV and other media have worked well for me in reaching people.” Just as decades ago a $12 dollar jigsaw, which today is in his office, once reached him.
Emmett Burnett and Matthew Coughlin are freelancers for Business Alabama. Burnett is based in Satsuma and Coughlin in Pensacola.