Vance Publishing Corporation History
Lincolnshire, Illinois 60069
Telephone: (847) 634-2600
Toll Free: 800-255-5113
Fax: (847) 634-4350
Sales: $52 million (2000)
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers; 516110 Internet Publishing and Broadcasting; 541910 Marketing Research and Public Opinion Polling
We believe that we must produce quality business information products that meet the needs of the industries we serve. That means getting involved in those industries, being passionate about their growth and success. It means leading those industries, guiding them to new levels of profitability. And most of all it means caring about and investing in the future of the industries we serve.
- Herbert Vance buys the magazines Canning Age and, soon after, American Lumber.
- Vance founds Wood magazine.
- Wood Products, a competing magazine, is purchased and combined with Wood.
- The company acquires Modern Beauty and The Packer.
- Vance Publishing acquires a set of livestock papers and starts publishing The Drovers Journal.
- Pork magazine is founded; Modern Jeweler is purchased a year later.
- Vance Publishing has a total of 20 magazines.
- Custom Woodworking Business is founded; several agricultural publications are purchased this year and next.
- Home Improvement Center stops publication; Salon Today is acquired.
- Magazines covering pesticide use and cotton, soybean, and rice farming are purchased.
- Vance Publishing publishes 26 magazines.
Vance Publishing Corporation has been producing specialized trade magazines since 1937. Among its most widely circulated titles are Modern Salon, offering technical education for hairdressers, Drovers, which serves the beef industry, and Wood & Wood Products. Other publications target the home decor industry (Furniture Style), fresh produce traders (The Packer), and hog farmers (Pork). The company is not afraid to publish for small markets when it recognizes an unserved readership. For example, recent additions to its collection of 26 magazines include Process, for professional hair colorists, Closets, for builders of home organizing systems, Rice Farming, and Bovine Veterinarian. Each magazine has its own editorial and sales team, which ensures that the staff maintains expertise in the targeted industry. Vance Publishing has always been an independent, family-owned business and in 2004 was headed by William Vance, son of founder Herbert Vance. The company has gradually added to its array of publications over the decades either by using profits to acquire existing publications or by starting new titles in-house. Vance Publishing's salon, home decor, and woodworking magazines are produced at the company headquarters near Chicago, while most of its agricultural titles are based in a Lenexa, Kansas, office. In addition to magazines, the company produces some industry-related directories and annual references. Vance Publishing's research division gathers information on the industries the company covers in order to generate relevant editorial content and keep advertisers informed about magazine readership. The company also offers custom publishing for its advertisers and invests in Internet ventures related to the industries it serves.
Early Titles: 1937-57
Herbert A. Vance, founder of Vance Publishing, had a background in banking and the publishing of telephone directories. He started Vance Publishing in New York in 1937 when he bought Canning Age, a business magazine serving the food packing field. After a few years he added a second title, American Lumber, which became well known decades later under the title Home Center. During World War II, Vance joined the Navy and was in charge of the publications branch of the Navy's aeronautics bureau.
After the war, Herbert Vance moved his company's offices to Chicago and founded the firm's first start-up title, Wood. The centennial edition of Wood & Wood Products reports that Vance wrote to his company attorney in late 1945, "As you know, we have been thinking for a long time about starting a wood-use paper. ... The paper will cover production and technical developments and the process of wood. ... We have already discussed this proposition with an outstanding man in the lumber industry, who I think will make an excellent editor because of his background, knowledge and reputation in the field. This is something we have wanted to do for a long time. I think the time is right, and if we can get this individual, our chance of success will be very good." That individual was Robert Turner, who did in fact agree to act as editor for a salary of $600 a month. Turner drew on his industry contacts to gather contributors to the first issue of Wood, which appeared in September 1946.
Herbert Vance was never quite satisfied with the magazine's title. He had considered "Wood Age," but, as he wrote to his attorney in February 1946, "Actually talking about a wood age now may not be entirely accurate." "Wood Review" and "Wood Forum" were also possibilities, but Vance finally settled on "Wood" even though he worried the title was not distinctive enough for a trademark. That fear proved well-founded when, two weeks after the premiere issue, an English publication also called Wood claimed to have copyrighted the name in the United States before the war. The dispute was eventually worked out diplomatically when the two publications agreed to trade articles for reprint in each other's magazines and allow each other to freely sell advertising and subscriptions. Vance's upstart publication had to contend with several well-established competitors, including Wood Products and The Wood-Worker. In order to increase its credibility and visibility, Wood cultivated a relationship with the Forest Products Research Society, which was holding its second annual meeting in 1947. The society's monthly bulletin was published in Wood.
In 1951, Wood was still a young publication when it found itself in a position to buy one of its major competitors. M.B. Pendleton, owner of the Lumber Buyers Publishing Company, was moving on to other professional opportunities and sold his business to Vance that summer. The sale included the publications Wood Products, Venetian Blinds, and Barrels & Boxes & Packages. Wood Products was combined with Vance's existing magazine to form Wood & Wood Products, giving the magazine the new name Vance had desired. The combined magazine adopted the pedigree of Wood Products, which claimed to go back to a publication called The Stock List founded in 1896. Venetian Blinds was sold within the year; Barrels & Boxes & Packages appeared briefly as a department in Wood & Wood Products but was soon discontinued.
Adding to the Collection: 1957-70
In 1960, Herbert Vance turned over his duties as publisher of Wood & Wood Products to the magazine's editor Jack Koelisch and began devoting more attention to acquiring or starting new publications. In 1957, he had bought Modern Beauty, which eventually became known as Modern Salon. The magazine featured how-to's for hairdressers as well as reports on industry trends. After this acquisition, growth took off at Vance Publishing. Soon the company took over The Packer as well, a weekly newspaper reporting on prices and trends for the fresh produce industry. In 1963, Wood & Wood Products launched the Reference Data and Buying Guide, an annual guide for buyers in the woodworking industry. This publication became known as the Red Book Directory, named after its easily visible cover, in 1985.
A venerable addition to Vance Publishing's collection came in 1966 when the company acquired a set of livestock papers known as "The Corn Belt Farm Dailies." The oldest of these papers had been founded by Harvey Goodall in 1873 as the Chicago Daily Drovers Journal. The journal provided a daily report on the cattle trade in Chicago's stockyards. Similar papers were started over the next few years in other river cities that took part in the livestock trade. Eventually, several of these regional papers were bought by the Neff family in Kansas. The papers were a farmer's main source of up-to-date market information for many years, but the rise of radio and television eventually made them obsolete. Vance Publishing bought the papers from a Kansas City bank and revamped them into a weekly publication known as the Drovers Journal. Allan McGhee, who had been the paper's editor since the mid-1940s, continued in that position under Vance until 1982.
The company's next acquisition came in 1969 with the purchase of Industrial Woodworking, a trade magazine that had been published since 1949. Industrial Woodworking merged with Wood & Wood Products. At the time, Wood & Wood Products had a paid circulation of 11,000, while Industrial Woodworking was distributed free of charge. After the publications were combined, they were converted to controlled circulation, which meant that a subscription was free for qualified readers. The magazine's circulation reached 30,000 in 1972 and 50,000 in 1989.
By this time, Vance Publishing was also active as a sponsor of trade shows connected to the industries for which it published. The company's magazine American Lumber had evolved into Home Center, a publication targeted at retailers of do-it-yourself home products. When the new title was adopted, the industry was just emerging and no trade show yet existed, so Vance started one. It grew into the National Home Center Show, one of the largest such events in the country. Based on that experience, Vance started a special division for trade shows.
Continued Growth in the 1970s-80s
In the mid-1970s, Vance Publishing experimented with pooling the publishing operations of its several independently functioning publications so that salespeople could work in more concentrated areas. However, the company found that advertisers and readers expected sales representatives to have specialized knowledge of a given field, so it returned to a hands-off management style in which each magazine was run as a separate unit. Central management took care of long-range planning and budgets. John O'Neil, who had first joined Vance Publishing in 1957 after his consulting company was called in to work with them, was serving as president. Herbert Vance was chairman.
Vance Publishing's wood division launched Logging Management in 1977 under the motto "From Seedling through Sawmill." The magazine was intended to expand the division's coverage to the entire wood products industry. Logging Management was particularly strong in its coverage of environmental issues and options for coexisting with the environmental movement. The publication did well for a few years until the country was hit by a housing recession and a subsequent rash of sawmill closings. Logging Management stopped publication after October 1981.
A more successful magazine, Pork, was founded the same year as a spinoff of Drovers Journal. The latter had become focused exclusively on the vertical beef production industry, leaving Vance Publishing with no publication for hog farmers. However, the market was already served with well-established publications such as Hog Farm Management and National Hog Farmer. Vance would have to develop a new approach to win business from the competitors. The company found an enthusiastic editor in Bill Newham, who had worked with hogs all his life and had a genuine passion for the business. The magazine started out by devoting each issue to in-depth journalism on a single topic; later it responded to the consolidation and financial pressures of the hog industry by developing a more direct focus on profitable management. Pork became recognized for exceptionally interesting and well-written articles. In 1987, it became the first agricultural publication to win a Neal award, the Pulitzer Prize of the business press. Snickers broke out among the audience when the award was announced, but the laughs decreased when Pork also won awards the next two years.
Vance Publishing had also just started publishing Modern Jeweler, which it acquired and redesigned in 1982 despite reports that the industry was depressed. The company joked that its collection went from pigs to pearls. Modern Jeweler attained a circulation of about 36,000 by the end of the decade. It reported on everything from store security to sales of famous gems until Vance Publishing sold it in 1996. By 1983, the company had a total of 20 publications and expected annual sales of about $27 million. Vance Publishing's trade show and in-house research divisions were also doing well, and the company had offices in five cities. The diversity of the company's publications helped it weather recessions, since the industries it served were not all suffering at the same time.
In 1986, James Staudt, former executive vice-president, became president of Vance Publishing, and John O'Neil moved on to be vice-chairman. The former vice-chairman was William Vance, Herbert's son. He had been active in the company since the 1970s and now took over as chairman. The company's latest magazine was Supermarket Floral, a narrowly defined publication that nevertheless was published for over a decade. Company-wide sales in 1987 were about $38 million.
More Acquisitions and Start-Ups in the 1990s and Beyond
Vance Publishing carried out a number of acquisitions and start-ups in the early 1990s. Custom Woodworking Business was spun off of Wood & Wood Products in 1991 to target the formerly overlooked sector that manufactured wood products to customer specifications. The magazine started off as a quarterly and went to monthly production in 1996. Vance also acquired The Peanut Grower in 1991 from Agri-Publications Inc. In 1992, the company bought Hog Farm Management and Dairy Herd Management from Capital Cities/ABC's publishing group. The former was merged with Pork; the latter continued as an independent magazine with a controlled circulation of over 70,000.
In 1993, Vance Publishing bought Salon Today, which became a sister publication to Modern Salon. Salon Today had been founded about a decade earlier by Howard and Vicki Hafetz, salon products sellers who started the magazine to give their clients tips in running a business. The publication was so successful that it became hard to manage for the original founders, who sold it to Vance Publishing. Salon Today retained its focus on the aspects of running a business, while Modern Salon's strength was technical education. That same year, Home Improvement Center, one of Vance Publishing's booming publications during the 1980s, was shut down because of declining revenues and strong competition. The Building, Remodeling and Decor Products Expo, as the company's once highly profitable exposition had come to be known, was sold the following year. A new magazine in the Decor division was Residential Lighting. Furniture Style also became part of the Decor division by the end of the decade.
Vance Publishing acquired several agricultural publications in 1995 when it bought Little Publications Inc. of Memphis. The firm's titles included Cotton Farming, Rice Farming, Soybean South, and Custom Applicator, a magazine for the pesticide industry. Vance had a total of 27 publications in 1996. Plastics Machining & Fabricating was founded in 1997 to target the niche for value-added processing of plastic. However, the industry did not thrive as expected and the magazine ceased publication after December 2001. In 1998, Mike Ross was appointed president of Vance Publishing; he had been with the company since 1971. Jim Staudt became chairman of the board.
Vance Publishing became more involved in Internet-related activities by the late 1990s. Vance Internet LLC was founded in 2000 to fund Web-based initiatives in the industries served by Vance publications. For example, the company participated in funding MachineryLink.com, a site where farmers could buy and sell used agricultural equipment. Many of Vance Publishing's magazines made their content available online as well. Drovers, Pork, and Dairy Herd Management began contributing material to DirectAg.com, a website for the agricultural industry.
Several narrowly targeted magazines were founded around the start of the 21st century. Process, started in 2000, was a bimonthly for hair colorists. Closets was launched in 2003 to serve the closet and home organization industry, which was booming at the time. Renew, a new magazine in the salon division that targeted skin care therapists, started being published in 2004. That January, Vance also acquired a group of agricultural reference books published by C&P Press. The most well-known was the Crop Protection Reference, also known as the Greenbook, which offered annually updated information on the usage and specifications of chemicals in agriculture.
Meanwhile, many of Vance's longest-lasting publications were still going strong. Modern Salon was the title with the highest circulation (120,000) and the only magazine that required a paid subscription. The Packer had been joined by the magazines Produce Merchandising, for supermarket retailers, and Produce Concepts, for the foodservice industry. Wood & Wood Products had celebrated its centennial with a retrospective edition in 1996 and had a circulation of 50,000. Drovers continued to be a leader in the beef industry. Vance appeared likely to continue on the steady, specialized and profitable path it had followed for decades.
Principal Divisions: Salon Collection; Industrial Collection; Food Systems Group Collection; Crop Collection; Produce Collection; Decor Collection; Research Services.
Principal Competitors: Penton Media Inc.; Fairchild Publications Inc.; Farm Journal Media; Hanley-Wood LLC; Primedia Inc.
- Blankenhorn, Dana, "Vance Mines New Business Model," Business Marketing, December 1, 1998, p. 8.
- Christianson, Rich, "The Story of Wood, Wood Products and Wood & Wood Products," Wood & Wood Products (Centennial Edition), 1996, pp. 23-34.
- Conner, Charles, "Illinois Firm to Buy Little Publications," Commercial Appeal, July 20, 1995, p. B8.
- Cyr, Diane, "High on the Hog," Folio's Publishing News, June 15, 1992, p. 21.
- Heise, Kenan, "Herbert A. Vance, 89," Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1990, p. 20.
- Lazarus, George, "Publisher to Buy 2 Farm Magazines," Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1992, p. 4.
- Mayk, Gary, "Reading Salon Products Distributor Helps Turn Hairdressers into Managers--and Customers," Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal, June 27, 1994, p. 2.
- O'Donnell, Maureen, "The Whole Hog," Adweek's Marketing Week, May 22, 1989, p. BM34.
- Sweet, Neesa, "A Trio Cooks up Profits with the Spice of Life," Advertising Age, May 16, 1983, pp. 34-36.
- "Vance Adds C&P's Ag Chemical Desk References to Its Six-Title Crop Collection," MIN's B-to-B, February 2, 2004, p. 1.
- "Vance Internet Formed," Dairy Herd Management, October 2000, p. 32.
- "Vance Publishing to Launch Closets," Wood & Wood Products, July 2003, p. 16.
- "Vance Sells Troubled BRDP Expo," Chilton's Hardware Age, June 1994, p. 22.
- Warren, James, "William Vance Reaches for Narrow Audiences," Chicago Tribune, February 3, 1988, p. 3.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.64. St. James Press, 2004.