Travis and Me

 Turning Point

     “OK, let’s set the way-back machine to the year 2000,” young Sherman said to Mr. Peabody, and poof, they were there.*

    And so were many of us. I remember it as a sort of schizophrenic year because of confusion and argument over whether it was actually the millennium or millennium minus one. But for sure the world at large was mistakenly obsessed with Y2K fear.

    For most of us in metalworking it was simply year No. 8 of an amazing run of growth. We all knew the good times would end, but we didn’t know when. The end didn’t really happen until a tragic day in September of the next year. Then we knew.

    The year 2000 was also the year I teamed up with our young Chicago salesman, Travis Egan, to lay the plans for a new magazine, Production Machining. We both felt the market was ready for a trade publication that focused on the technology needed to more efficiently produce precision machined parts.

    From the start it was a good partnership. Both of us at the time were fully employed with Modern Machine Shop, but we felt strongly that there was a market for the idea we were trying to hatch.

    If we were able to sell the idea to our parent company, Gardner Publications, it would be our first magazine start-up since 1936. So, we rolled up our sleeves and started putting together a business plan for PM.

    The roots of PM go back much farther than 2000. When I started in 1992 as a newly minted editor for Modern Machine Shop, one of my “beats” was the screw machine industry. As MMS covered this segment annually in its July issue, I was usually the lead editor for that month’s feature emphasis.

    In short order, with much help from the members of the PMPA, whose tech conferences and meetings I was able to attend, I became the staff “screw machine expert.” After 8 years of involvement in the domestic “screw machine industry” coupled with numerous trips to Europe to see how they made parts, in 2000 it seemed clear the time was right for PM.

    But I needed help. As an editor I had industry knowledge and technical contacts, but that’s only one side of a trade magazine. The commercial side is equally vital. That’s what Travis brought to the party, and his expertise in marketing amazed me.

    Moreover, his vision for this new enterprise jibed with mine perfectly. In 2000, he put together a market analysis that we used to pitch to our board of directors. It was really good. It was so good that when I go back and re-read it today, I swear it was written yesterday. His assumptions and predictions came to pass with freaky accuracy.

    Part of our plan was to start slowly, six issues per year starting in January, 2001. Travis’ sales prowess and ability to motivate the rest of our sales force made PM a commercial success out of the gate. And it guided us well through the terrible days, weeks and months after 9/11 and has continued to the present.

    The measure of editorial success, which translates into readership, was in the form of annual subscription. PM received the highest renewal rate of any of Gardner’s magazines. We take that as market acceptance, but we never take it for granted.

    In time Travis was promoted to publisher first of PM and then MMS. He transferred to our headquarters in Cincinnati and has continued to steer both magazines to great success. I have enjoyed seeing this young man grow. Ours has been a partnership of mutual respect and exchange. Even though I’m the same age as his father—often mentioned, by the way—I’ve learned much from Travis.

    Travis is moving on to another venture within Gardner. He will bring his talents to bear on a new magazine for us in the product development arena.

    But before our competitors dance around the room, know this: The bench at this company is deep. Travis is handing the publisher’s roll for PM to Don Kline, a very smart, young and successful publisher. You’ll meet Don in the Last Word column next month. The staff of Production Machining wishes Travis success with his new book and thanks him for his contribution to ours. 

*The young people I work with consider my Sherman and Mr. Peabody reference too arcane. To find out more, visit www.waybackmachine.com.