No decision is more important for a magazine editor than selecting a cover image issue after issue. The verdict rests in part on graphic appeal, but just as important is recognizing that every cover represents a value statement of what a publication’s staff holds to be important.
Almost continuously since this magazine’s inception in 1958, we have upheld a tradition of featuring the ASA president on the cover of the annual ASA Convention edition, coupled with an article derived from interviewing the subjects. In function these articles serve as an annual “State of the Industry” report. Just as decent citizens will show respect to the U.S. Presidency whether or not they agree with the policies of the office holder, it is not the individuals being honored as much as the constituency they represent. It is our way of showing support for the industry as a whole.
In days of old, it was customary for Supply House Times also to devote cover stories each year to the incoming presidents of the largest ASA regional affiliates. As consolidation took its toll, membership and participation in the regional associations lagged and the practice fell by the wayside. This occurred under previous ownership of Supply House Times, and we inherited the habit after purchasing the magazine in 2001.
Now we’re of a mind to resurrect the practice in the case of SWA, which remains the largest regional affiliate of ASA and the most active with educational programming and participation. SWA also has been reinvigorated in recent years under new staff leadership.
Nobody has blinders on concerning the blows delivered to ASA and its affiliates over the years from consolidation and other trends that have reduced membership and participation. Yet, we believe strong trade associations are crucial to a viable distribution channel. In particular, ASA, SWA and the other regionals offer industry-specific education that is available nowhere else. That is the main message of SWA’s incoming president, John Landrum, and by itself sufficient reason for us to publish his comments and feature him on our cover.
At the same time, we’d hate to give short shrift to this year’s Rep of the Year. Devoting an issue to the independent manufacturers reps of our industry was a tradition with this magazine throughout the 1970s and ’80s, but was discontinued under the previous ownership. We resurrected the practice after acquiring Supply House Times in 2001.
Independent reps occupy an unusual niche in the industry from the standpoint of a magazine publisher. They are neither our target audience nor a mainstream advertising base. We appreciate the support we get from some stalwarts who recognize the value of exposure in this magazine, but they represent a negligible percentage of our overall sales revenue. We suspect this is why the previous publishers decided to do away with the rep issue.
Our decision was based on recognition of the increasingly influential role played by strong rep agencies in our industry’s supply chain. Rep firms have become bigger and more sophisticated over the years, and - generally with the blessings of their channel partners - have taken on more and more duties that used to be the bailiwick of either vendors or distributors. AIM/R, the trade association representing PHCP independent reps, is pound for pound one of the most effective trade organizations we’ve ever encountered.
The best reps - such as this year’s Harry Warren Inc. and the previous firms selected as our Reps of the Year going back to 2001 - are industry treasures. Beyond the value provided to their principals, they epitomize professionalism and industry savvy. Supply House Times is determined to tell their stories.
Okay, so instead of back-to-back covers, why not run both of them on the same cover? The simple answer is for aesthetic reasons. Split covers are virtually impossible to make graphically pleasing, and we hate to give ulcers to our talented art director.
SWA President John Landrum gets the front spot because distributors remain our target audience and the people our advertisers most want to reach. At the same time, we wish to honor our Rep of the Year, and in so doing, pay tribute to all the manufacturers reps in this industry. They are a key link, though often unappreciated.
We’re not saying every rep does a great job; nor for that matter does every wholesaler deserve to be spotlighted. It’s just that we wish to make a statement, loudly and clearly, that we believe in the traditional PHCP distribution channel and all of its players for the value-added roles they play in getting goods to market.