I’ve been working in horticulture since I was in the 8th grade, first mowing yards in my native College Station, then running my own backyard nursery and doing landscape contracting while I was in high school. I never questioned what field I wanted to enter.
My horticulture degrees are both from Ohio State. I met my wife Lynn there as she was finishing her music education degree. We both taught for several years before moving to Dallas where I served as Extension horticulturist, first for Dallas County and then for 17 counties from the TAMU Center on Coit Road.
In late 1977, radio station WFAA approached me about doing a weekly program, and I began commercial radio in January 1978. I was ready to forge my own business, and media horticulture had proven to be the most exciting part of what I had gotten to do.
That was also about the same time that my wife and our growing family had moved to McKinney and enrolled our oldest son in Webb Elementary.
Neil Sperry’s GARDENS umbrella, all originating from McKinney…
- Gardener’s Mailbag (weekly newspaper column to more than a dozen Texas papers statewide since 1971)
- The Weekend Gardener (weekly column to Fort Worth Star Telegram 1976-current)
- WFAA radio 1978-1980
- KRLD radio 1980-2010
- WBAP radio 2010-current
- KLIF radio 2018-current
- Texas Lawn and Garden Hour (statewide radio to approximately 30 stations Saturdays 1990-current)
- Plant Talk Texas (statewide daily radio to approximately 30 stations weekdays 1979-current)
- Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas Gardening (Taylor Publishing 1982 and 1991 – more than 1 million copies sold)
- Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening (self-published 2014 and sold only from neilsperry.com)
- All Texas All Garden Show at Arlington Convention Center annually 1991-2010
- Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine (glossy, paid-circulation publication that ran 1987-2014)
- Texas Gardening Calendar 1987-2013
- Neil Sperry’s e-gardens (weekly electronic newsletter distributed to 56,000 subscribers each Thursday evening for past 4 years)
- Facebook page that is currently reaching almost 69,000 followers. I post Garden Tips and answer friends’ questions.
What is unique about your business?
I have tried to walk the tightrope of providing honest editorial that is kept separate from commercial content of my programs and stories. My feelings have always been that you should not be able to tell who my advertisers are by the answers I give or the things that I write.
How does your business give back to the community?
My wife and I try to give back to our community.
Lynn ran for and was elected to the MISD board of trustees in 1984 and was just reelected to her 12th term last Saturday without opposition. That term will allow her to complete 39 years on the board. She has served in every leadership position. She is a Master Trustee for the Texas Association of School Boards.
Through the Chamber Education Committee, Lynn started the ball rolling for the McKinney Education Foundation almost 30 years ago. Tonight (May 10), hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarships earned from the endowments will be awarded to MISD graduating seniors. It is one night in the year when the entire city comes together to celebrate all of its finest students!
Lynn and I helped found Serenity High of McKinney, the nation’s first public recovery high school for youth who had been successful at rehab and who had been advised not to go back to their home schools. That was 1999, and to date, Serenity has impacted hundreds of youth and family lives.
We helped found The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney. I will have to admit that the idea was mine, but we all know that ideas go nowhere without a team of like-thinking people. Members of the Chamber joined ranks to help us. Our goal has been to have McKinney be recognized as “the place you go to see crape myrtles.” Our World Collection Park in Craig Ranch, when completed, will showcase all of the known varieties of crape myrtles growing side by side – the only such collection in the world! And just today we will be overseeing the distribution of more than 2,000 crape myrtles, one to each 5th grade student in MISD to give to his or her mother as a Mother’s Day gift. This project has been going on for 13 years.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today?
I surely wish I’d had a couple of basic business management classes in college. They probably would have served me better than that philosophy class I barely passed.
What is the secret to keeping happy customers?
Be friendly. Be honest. If you don’t know, tell them (don’t prove it by mumbling). Under-promise, but always over-deliver. Then be friendly again.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My dad. I was adopted, and he was my hero. He was 42 when he got little Neil, and he always made time for me. I never saw him angry, but I also got my rare spankings from him. I lost him almost 50 years ago and I can still feel his loving hand on my shoulder.
As for my personal life now, Lynn is my inspiration. I have watched her volunteer time and again. I have learned from the best as she has worked with all of McKinney’s fine leaders. I’m her cheerleader.
What is your least favorite thing about your business?
I do much of my work in my home radio studio. It’s frustrating to live slightly off the beaten path along a creek beneath a pecan forest where anything approaching high-speed Internet is out of the question. (Am I whining?)
To what do you attribute your success?
God’s blessings. Good training. Gretchen Drew in my office. Working 6-1/2 days a week. Great advertisers. Wonderful listeners and readers. Right place, right time.
What is the best advice you would give someone thinking of starting their own small business?
Do it!!! But do your homework. Don’t run on hunches. I have, and they don’t get you very far. Ask people you trust. I like to say that I’m an “idea person.” I have lots of ideas, and I bounce them off ‘smart’ people. A lot of my ideas are taken out behind the barn and put out of their misery.” And I’ll say it again: I wish I’d had more training in business planning and management. I’ve been open about turning 75 a week ago today. And I’m still working 6-1/2 days a week. So are you really sure you want to listen to that guy for advice? But as Lynn has said many times, “I don’t know what Neil would do if he weren’t working. He loves his work.”
I’ve had the joy for all of my career of molding my favorite hobby into my profession. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Neil and Lynn take a little rare time away for their anniversary