When Cathy Yost and Becky Mangus learned their employer was considering selling her local business to an out-of-town buyer last year, the two members of the Business Monthly management team faced a tough decision: They could either watch their newspaper be taken over, or they could buy the paper and run it themselves.
Yost and Mangus decided on the latter, a move that could be viewed as a triumph for the local community, but it was also something of a leap of faith.
They have taken over a company that relies solely on the business community's support at a time when, County Executive James N. Robey noted in his state of the county address recently, some small businesses are seeing "a slowdown unlike any seen in recent years."
Yet the new owners are hoping to increase circulation by a third this year, expand the coverage area and increase revenue.
They also want to add to their five-person staff this year, and they expect that by next year they will be able to publish twice a month. And it will be this struggling business community that will support the paper's growth, they said.
"If the Business Monthly did not have a 10-year success rate, it'd have been a different thing," said Mangus, the new publisher. "The economy has affected [us, but] the advertisers seem to realize they're going to do advertisements, and they've gotten business from ads with us."
The Business Monthly covers business in Howard County and the Baltimore-Washington International Airport business district. The newspaper prints 27,000 copies monthly, which are distributed free in local office buildings.
In 1999, Carole Pickett, the paper's founder and publisher, began looking for someone to buy the paper as she prepared to retire. After two years of searching nationally, she found the purchasers among her staff.
Yost, the paper's new chief financial officer, had worked at the publication for three years as business manager. Mangus, who owns a marketing and consulting company, was a contributor and subcontractor doing layout for 10 years before becoming associate publisher last year. Both were members of the newspaper's executive team when they bought the paper for an undisclosed amount in November.
At the time, nearly every aspect of the local economy was steeped in a slowdown from which it has yet to recover. Nationally, daily newspapers posted their first losses in advertising revenue since 1991, according to Corzen Inc., a New York-based online provider of market data for the media industry. Robert Coen, director of forecasting for Universal McCann, a worldwide media agency, wrote in his year-end report that local newspapers in particular had a bad year, and that he expected "little, if any, growth in local newspaper advertising this year."
At the same time, Yost and Mangus are also taking on a company that has been closely identified with its founder - a factor that can sometimes hurt new owners. But Yost said they are continuing the tradition of the paper, and revenue is up. The paper even received the Small Business of the Year Award from the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber recently.
Their transition has been smooth, Yost said, and along the way, she and Mangus have developed as partners and friends.
"Carole had the utmost respect for Becky, and her intuition had a lot to do with it for us," she said. "We've developed things to allow us to trust each other."
Advertisers say it was a relief to find the paper had been purchased by insiders.
"We're fortunate it's been such a smooth transition," said Donna Richardson, chairwoman of the board of directors for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.
"I think it's important we have folks who already had established relationships [in the community]," she said. "People have a confidence level [with them], and to be able to work with people you already know is just a benefit."
The new owners have added color to the newspaper's front page and have hired a person to help with production. They hope to hire up to two more salespeople before the year is over, and Mangus said the company intends to do a reader focus group within six months to find other ways to improve the newspaper.
Both women said they think they will be out of the business in 10 years and plan to use proceeds from the sale of the paper to retire. In the meantime, they will continue to trust local businesses to keep them afloat in good economic times and bad.
"You can't play down the role the community plays. They want this paper to succeed," Yost said. "This is the only thing they have. This is like a hometown paper."