Back to the future

Let me introduce myself by telling you about the greatest guy I never met. Charlie Horton founded two trade magazines, and I had the pleasure to work for both publications for 20 years.

I never met Charlie because he passed away six months before I walked through the door of his company. (Interestingly thing about that door. I lived close to the offices of Horton Publishing as I started my career in the 1980s. One day, I slowed down long enough as I drove by to read the letters stenciled on the front door. I could figure out what “plumbing” was; less so with “mechanical” and I was clueless as to “supply house.” Anyway, back then I was in financial journalism and thought that was the place to stay for big stories. It was another decade before I answered a blind box ad in the Chicago Tribune and got lucky to know how wrong I was.)

I’ve kept a copy of a memo, dated Aug 4, 1983, Horton wrote as he prepared to launch his second magazine. The memo’s a bit torn-and-frayed and coffee-stained, but I keep it close since it clearly spells out what makes a successful B2B trade magazine, and reminds editors of what they need to do to make it so.

The memo’s peppered with plenty of chestnuts on what it takes to create and run a business – particularly one that’s relatively small and going up against bigger competition. There’s plenty of a good words throughout the four-page, typed and copied memo, but there the one I like the best:

“Maybe something else counts – like knowledge of the industry; like constant involvement in its affairs; like continuing face-to-face encounters with thousands of its people; like an intense commitment to the progress and well-being of the industry. One hundred percent of our loyalty, 100 percent of our interest, 100 percent of our commitment is right here – and it does make a difference.”

Charlie’s philosophy has been my philosophy ever since. The editors didn’t just serve as reporters, but as the best ambassadors and – we were never ashamed to admit – cheerleaders for a dedicated group of hard-working professionals that earned their pay doing strenuous jobs that would leave most of us bewildered for instruction and panting for breath.

Plumbers are underdogs – easily discounted and unrecognized until, of course, you need one. Not a single customer likes to pay the plumber’s bill to fix the water heater, but just try going five minutes without hot water.

And while he wrote those words long before any of us learned how to spell “www,” I know they apply just as much to what we do on the web.
This is the second time I’ve written a similar column like this as my introduction. In both those instances, I didn’t know a great deal about the particulars about the industries. But I’m a quick learner, and knew I could count on Charlie’s words as guide to get me through.

Here at TMB, I’m not coming in cold. (In fact, I worked here on Plumbing Engineer in the 1990s.) I don’t doubt one or two things have changed, however, since I last covered the plumbing and heating market some six years ago. But, I am a quick learner. And, I still have Charlie’s words. 

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