Twenty-seven years: Thinking about a product’s life-cycle

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impact first newsletter
The first issue of the Impact! newsletter, published in August, 1991

Yesterday, I dug around our storage locker looking for a “needle in haystack” box with the early issues of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA) Impact newsletter. Finally, I uncovered it, but there still was a mystery — because I thought we had, in one move or another, lost the publication’s first issue, in 1991.

Then, as I looked through the files, I discovered it, on yellowing newsprint, from the summer that year. Although I had long forgotten the specifics, memories of that spring and summer returned. I had been publishing specialized local publications for three years, and my business was in the mist of its first fundamental survival crisis. (Old timers may remember that a major recession started in 1990-91 and lasted for several years through that decade.)

One day in April 1991, I thought the business was toast and I returned to my dumpy apartment thinking I would end up bankrupt, in part because I had an under the water rental property and negative net worth. Then, I had my second life-changing epiphany (the first had occurred about 11 years earlier in Rhodesia turning to Zimbabwe), when I realized that I truly was responsible for my own life decisions and that nothing good would happen by blaming myself or others for the business problems. I decided then to make the best of the situation, do whatever I could to make things right, and carry on.

I considered cancelling my membership in the then-named Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders’ Association (OCHBA). But I concluded the association was important, with its role in the community of readers for my publications including the relatively new Ottawa Construction News.

And, seemingly out of the blue, a few weeks after making that decision, I received a call from one of the OCHBA’s committee members. “Would you like to quote on producing a regular newsletter for the association,” the volunteer asked. I responded: “Is this a competition?” He replied: “No, as you are the only member with capacities in this category.” The association was living by its own motto: “Be a member, do business with a member.”

We then set out to produce a newsletter that was radical at the time. Instead of publishing it on stapled 8.5 x 11 paper (this was before the Internet became widely available), we would print it as a tabloid format newspaper. As well, we would seek to provide real news in it, written in a journalistic style.

The new publication was successful, though I bid the work at prices that precluded major profits. Nevertheless, the revenue helped through the touch-and-go months and led to much further business, including the continuing Ottawa Renovates magazine. We won several national association awards for the best newsletter in the industry.

The publication’s fundamentals continued unchanged for almost three decades. By this time last year, however, I knew that it was getting old in the tooth. Then, I switched most of our publications from printed to electronic format, and concluded that to produce the Impact, we would need to revert to a cash subsidy, increasing the association’s costs. I proposed an inexpensive electronic option, but received the subsidy go-ahead and instructions to continue printing as before.

Finally, in a decision this spring, the association’s board decided to replace its long-serving executive director, and a few weeks later I received the call that I should have expected. The association decided to take the Impact in-house and would end the contract. They said we could publish a final issue, and say goodbye with a thank you article.

That led me to the storage locker, to find the old issues, and prepare the story of a 27-year-long publishing project, the longest single continuous initiative in my business history. (Ottawa Construction News took a break for a few years in the mid 1990s when a competitor bought out that title; before he rescinded the agreement.)

In business, not everything is forever. New and exciting (in 1991) can become stale and outdated in 2018. I’m thankful we had 27 great years, however, and appreciate the enduring experiences in this beginning-to-end business life-cycle project.

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