If you haven’t read Page 3 of our paper this week, it might help in the greater context of this week’s column. Of course, if you’re reading this online from Spokane, you’re a bit frustrated because The Leader doesn’t deliver anywhere outside the Beltway.
For the past couple of months, most of my professional attention has been on an acquisition that was announced last week. In case you haven’t heard, our company has entered an agreement to purchase The Greensheet. And if you’re from Houston and you know anything about The Greensheet, an image of the pasta aisle at Kroger just dashed through your mind because that’s the last place you heard the vaunted lyrics, “The Greensheet brings you buyers.”
If you didn’t just sing the song to yourself, then your other reaction was probably something along these lines: “What? Why?” Terry Burge, my dear friend and former owner of The Leader for more than four decades, called earlier this week with about the same reaction.
For those new to town, let me tell you a bit about The Greensheet. In 1970, a lady named Helen Gordon felt the city of Houston lacked a means for connecting people who wanted to sell things with people who wanted to buy things. Remember, this was 1970, when a computer looked like a cheap version of a Yugo. People weren’t hopping on these clunkers to post pictures of grilled pork chops.
In a stroke of brilliance, Gordon believed a mass circulation newspaper – called a shopper – could be successful if classified ads filled the pages with larger, service-type ads sprinkled around them. And wow was she right.
At one point, not so long ago, The Greensheet had 300 employees and delivered millions of copies to Houston, Dallas, Austin and Phoenix. If you wanted to sell a used bike, you called The Greensheet, placed an ad, and got a barrel of phone calls the next day.
This newspaper, since its inception, has been a family business and, 25 years ago, Gordon’s daughter, Kathy Douglass became president of the operation. Kathy, who lived in this area of the city for a long time, built on her mother’s success by modernizing the business, making the product even more targeted, and creating a digital portal that reached folks who would rather shop online than in print. Over the past month, as I’ve gotten to know Kathy, I’ve learned she’s a lovely woman who masterfully ran a targeted business in cities that are hard to target.
Like all things, though, there’s a time when the cycle ends and new opportunities await. More than six years ago, I had spent my professional life working for other newspaper owners and I had a chance to run my own company. In Kathy’s case, she has invested her soul in The Greensheet, and she’s ready to enjoy some time away from a company she has led for so many years.
And that’s where we, somehow, come into play. After meeting with Kathy and her team, I discovered there is still something very special about The Greensheet. It has a brand across all of Houston and Dallas that can be leveraged. It has a relationship with millions of readers that can be refined and reborn. Mostly, it has a customer base hungry for new avenues to reach buyers.
I’ll admit that, when our company was approached about this, my first reaction was a blunt: “No way.” Now, after investing 60 days in due diligence, I believe there is an incredible opportunity to transform The Greensheet’s business model into one that lasts for decades to come. And along the way, this acquisition has a chance to solidify The Leader, which is why I’m sharing this with you today.
For 36 years, The Leader has been in the same office just south of the train tracks on East T.C. Jester Boulevard. In September, we won’t be here anymore. Last year, The Greensheet moved its main office to the Preserve at the intersection of 610 and East T.C. Jester. We are literally moving our office .4 miles south, and that’s going to be a big change for a lot of people in this community.
Whether you’ve visited our office to place a garage sale ad, or if you’re one of the nearly 800 people who drives by the office at all times of the day to pick up a newspaper, we’re going to merge our two offices for the sake of efficiency and practicality.
While this might be viewed as a negative, I’m thrilled about what this will mean for The Leader. For starters, we’ll go from a relatively small office of about 10 people to one with floors full of sales people, accounting wizards and technology support. The employees who have been so loyal to our company will have new and better resources at their hands, and they’ll be part of a larger team that, ultimately, can provide a better product to our readers.
Most of you don’t care about that, and for those who have faithfully picked up a copy of The Leader for years, you only want to know one thing: How will this impact your community paper.
The Leader, for as long as I’m in this business and as long as I’m alive, will always be my first professional love. This is the first business I ever owned. It’s the first place that ever had my name on the door. It’s the place where I built a relationship with 34,000 homes each and every week by telling you about the travails of parenting and driving and shopping and, yes, running my own business.
My commitment to the readers and advertisers of The Leader is that this won’t change a single thing. Every week (or nearly every week), I’ll still carve out a couple of hours to peck a few words together for a column. I’ll still know what we’re putting on the front page each week. I’ll still live in this community, and I’ll still ensure you have a community newspaper that informs and entertains better than any other medium in this market.
Yes, we’re getting a little bigger. But nothing will ever be as big to me as the dear relationship we’ve built with people like you.