After 23 years at the helm of TMB Publishing — parent company of The Wholesaler — Tom M. Brown Jr. retired in January 2013. He was succeeded in the business by a trio of new owners, all of whom are veterans of the TMB team:
Vice President of Operations: Cate Brown
Publisher & Sales Manager: Dave Schulte
Publisher & Sales Manager: Brad Burnside
With their knowledge of the company and marketplace and long-term industry relationships, they understand the needs of our readers and advertisers. And they bring a fresh perspective on how we can capitalize on new technologies and ways to communicate so The Wholesaler remains the best vehicle for timely and important information in the years to come.
In the following Q&A, Editorial Director Mary Jo Martin shares a closer look at the leadership team who ensure The Wholesaler is in very good hands for the future.
MJM: All three of you came from very diverse backgrounds and education prior to joining The Wholesaler. Please share a glimpse into your individual routes to the publication.
Cate: After graduating from Lake Forest College, I worked for a travel management company. It was a fabulous experience for someone in their carefree 20s. It was a fairly young company at the time, and I was tasked with a lot of responsibility early on. Over seven years with them, I was involved in both management and sales. Plus, at that age, it was a pretty sweet benefit to get to fly for free!
Dave: I’m a 1993 graduate of University of Missouri, where I majored in English and Political Science. I spent two years at Cahners Publishing in sales for Hotels Magazine; three years at CSC Publishing as Midwest Regional Manager for Powder & Bulk Engineering and Powder Coating magazines; and joined TMB Publishing in 2000.
Brad: I graduated from Elon University in 1991, and decided to follow my passion and take a crack at playing professional golf. I did that for two years and had a great time. But I wasn’t at the level you have to be to make it a career, so I decided to come back to my roots in Chicago and get a “real” job. I spent 10 years as the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for a company that manufactures industrial and health care supplies.
MJM: What piqued your interest in joining The Wholesaler?
Cate: Growing up, I had attended many industry events with my parents. And during college, I worked for [then-owned] Scott Periodicals. A few years later, my dad bought the company, and as he was growing the business he asked if I wanted to join him. I was flattered and excited by the opportunity.
Dave: I was flattered by the offer of my father-in-law [Tom Brown] to join the family at TMB Publishing.
Brad: I have known Cate and her sister Laura since we were in Junior High. We stayed in touch throughout the years and then Dave and I became friends after he married Laura. We’d occasionally talk about TMB’s business and they approached me about their interest in growing the Northeast sales territory. We also discussed the longer-term succession plan for the business, and that really interested me as well.
Even though publishing is different in many ways than manufacturing, much of it still comes down to relationships and selling. Coming from a manufacturing environment also gave me a unique perspective on my now-customers’ mindsets and needs. Building those bonds and interacting with people on a daily basis is huge to me. It’s what drives me every day.
Our relationships go beyond just the sale. It’s not a short-term deal. I want clients to be not only long-time loyal clients, it goes deeper. I spend a lot of time with them. In many cases I know their families. This industry has amazing people, so it makes it enjoyable and easy to develop those kinds of long-lasting friendships.
MJM: Talk about the growing responsibilities you’ve held at the company?
Cate: I started in production and was literally thrown to the dogs my first day. I had to learn the process quickly. As the company — and our product offerings — expanded, it presented an opportunity for me to move into more of a management role. Today I oversee operations of the company. I am constantly researching and keeping track of trends in the market. I work side by side with Dave and Brad on pivotal decisions that effect the direction of the company.
Dave: My first role was taking over the Midwest / Southeast territories for Tom, which I’m still responsible for today. I was named Publisher of PHC News in 2010 and then took over as Publisher of The Wholesaler when Tom transitioned the business a year ago. Today, along with my good pal and business partner Brad Burnside, we are responsible for our entire sales and marketing operation. Any decision which impacts the company’s future is handled by all three owners — Cate Brown, Brad Burnside and myself.
MJM: A year ago, you took a major step and acquired the magazine from Tom. What gave you the confidence and desire to do that?
Cate: Tom was a wonderful mentor. He was tough but fair. He gave us a lot of space to operate, but knew when to rein us in and create teaching moments. He is still always available to us for advice and consultation.
Brad: Tom built a very successful company with unbelievable people. It gave us a very solid foundation to take over and build on.
Dave: First and foremost, I will always be entirely grateful and humbled by the opportunity. It has meant great deal to me both personally and professionally. The confidence to move forward as an owner came from my experience in this great industry and from so many great customers who I now have the privilege to call friends who told me I was ready for the opportunity. The biggest reason was the continued support of my wife Laura, who behind the scenes masterfully facilitated the emotional transition of our family business. The desire comes from the opportunity to continue working with our incredible customers and our wonderful team at TMB Publishing.
MJM: Talk about Tom’s influence on the publication, and on you personally?
Cate: Well, he is my father first and foremost. He and my mom gave my sister and me a wonderful foundation. We learned to be competent and empathetic good citizens. They taught us how to strive for success but always remember the important things in life. Our mantra at TMB is “family first.”
Tom really drove the success of The Wholesaler and all of our publications from day one. When he took over The Wholesaler in 1993, we had 33% market share. Today we enjoy almost 70%. He put together a phenomenal staff. Mary Jo, Jim, Mark and Diane have been with The Wholesaler almost from the beginning. We have an extremely hard-working sales staff and a highly-respected magazine with the best market coverage and editorial. The foundation of that success was laid and driven by Tom.
Dave: Tom has enjoyed a storied career in the PHCP industry for over 40 years. His charm, energy and undeniable salesmanship are greatly respected by so many and have affected all in so many positive ways. They have contributed to the fabric of The Wholesaler and to me is what made the publication not only the best magazine in our industry but the most successful as well. Personally, I thank Tom for the chance to work in our great industry and achieving my goal of ownership. As his son-in-law, it’s not always easy to come into a family company, but Tom always made the opportunity my own and only stepped in when needed along the way. His greatest gifts to me are that we have become great friends, he is a wonderful grandfather and has strongly influenced my political views to the right.
Brad: One of the things I cherish most about Tom is that he is passionate about his relationships. Tom has a knack for making people feel special, wanted and that their needs were taken care of. The customer was always his main focus, and that’s what I’ve always believed in as well. We’ll do whatever is in our ability to take care of our clients.
The other thing I really admire is how he brought together an amazing group of people as the cornerstone of our staff. And he made them feel valued. That’s why our turnover rate is very low. We’ve had almost no turnover since he led the company, and that’s because of the culture he created.
MJM: You’re truly committed to reinvestment in this magazine for its future. Share some of the exciting things that have been happening at The Wholesaler, including new staff and technologies?
Cate: The publishing business is different than it was 20 years ago. We are now a content provider with many outlets in which to do this. We made a major capital investment in our content systems and web systems to better serve our readers. We have added staff to facilitate our growth as well as grow our social media.
Dave: The publishing landscape has changed so much in the last 20 years. We are now a multi-platform content provider meeting the ever-changing needs of our readers, however they choose to attain content. Cate has done a good job of driving recent capital investments to help support this goal. Mary Jo and her team are also doing an incredible job to support this as well with the best editorial product in the industry.
MJM: What are some of the things here that you are most proud of?
Cate: I am most proud of the dedication and tenure of our team. I truly believe we have the best people in the business. It is extremely rewarding when I go to meetings and receive numerous compliments about our team. We have empowered our staff to make quick decisions to serve our customers and readership base. Our answer to most any request is “yes, of course we can.” That is what we were taught by Tom and that is what we have passed to our team members.
Dave: From an industry standpoint, I’m most proud of The Wholesaler’s strong position in the industry. It is perceived by most as the leading resource for the wholesale/distribution market. Our success is driven by our incredible team of Mary Jo, Diane, Jim, Mark, Ashlei, Sarah and Danielle. They all do a fantastic job and it’s a total team effort!! As Cate said, it always so rewarding to hear so many great things out in the industry about the magazine and our staff.
Brad: I’m incredibly proud of the fact that the industry looks at The Wholesaler as the place to go to as their informational and educational resource. And trust us as the one to share their stories. The entire staff’s dedication and devotion to detail is very evident month after month.
MJM: We also have two sister publications. How does that package benefit The Wholesaler?
Cate: The benefit of having Plumbing Engineer and PHC News is that we can serve all aspects of the PHCP market.
Brad: From a sales perspective, it completes the chain. It’s key that we offer three important audiences to our clients — engineers, contractors and wholesalers. The three publications feed off of each other, and each elevate the others.
Dave: It’s the old “three legged stool” as Tom liked to say. We effectively serve each channel of the market for our advertising base.
MJM: What are the major challenges to being in publishing today?
Cate: Staying ahead of the changing climate. As I mentioned, it’s not just publishing magazines, it’s social media, e-newsletters, websites, webcasts, etc. You have to keep your eye on the ball all the time.
Brad: The print magazine is still our most popular outlet for information among our readers. But we are constantly talking to our readers and advertisers to determine what other types of resources are most valuable to them. While we are growing the digital platform, there is still a lot of unknown as to how best to utilize those opportunities, and what is best suited to our audience. We want to serve this industry in the best and most convenient way possible. It is important to us to stay ahead of the curve in both digital and print.
Dave: Exactly. And our team is 100% committed to this goal every day.
MJM: What are your short-term goals for the future?
Brad: Overall, our goal is to provide unique content across all the available platforms that we can bring to the marketplace. We want to be the one-stop shop in our industry and bring our audience the information they want to read in the format they want to receive it.
Dave: From a sales stand-point, to remain the dominant publication serving the PHCP market. This will be accomplished by our commitment to provide unique and exceptional content both in print and all digital offerings and Mary Jo’s incredible relationship with our readership.
MJM: What is the major message you’d like to send to our readers and advertisers on this very special anniversary?
Cate: We take our business very seriously. Like many of our readers and advertisers, our employees and their families count on the management team at TMB to make thoughtful decisions that will keep us at the top of our business for many, many years to come.
I would like to thank our readers and advertisers for their loyalty. We are so proud of the long relationships we have built. Our mission is to provide the absolute best coverage and content we can through all of our channels.
Dave: Thank you for your long-standing support and loyalty to The Wholesaler. It is the primary reason why the magazine has enjoyed such great success over the years. It is a true privilege to work in such a great industry with so many talented people and for the opportunity to make so many great friendships along the way.
Brad: I feel the same way. I can easily sum up that message in two words — thank you. We’re so grateful for all the people and companies that have supported us all these years. Thanks to you, our readers, for being loyal and always interested in reading the magazine. And to our advertisers for your loyalty and trust. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for both parties.