Partly Personal: OPE celebrates its 55th anniversary with a look back at its rich history

OPE celebrates its 55th anniversary with a look back at its rich history


By Bill Quinn


REMEMBER ME, BILL QUINN, the founder of Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) magazine? I’m now 102…and along with my son, Rix, we published OPE for 30 years before selling the magazine to ABC, the TV network people, in 1988.


Reason for resuming my column on a one-time basis is to help current editor, Steve Noe, celebrate OPE‘s 55th year of serving the independent outdoor power equipment dealer.


Steve said that I could write about anything I wanted to talk about, but be sure to mention how the magazine got started, and a bit about the early years. Here goes, in a series of short paragraphs — in very much the same style I bored you with during the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s.


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NEWSPAPER WORK — Before beginning his career in the magazine business, Bill Quinn edited weekly newspapers. BRIEFLY, may I tell you how I got into this business? For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a reporter and editor. I began as a weekly newspaper writer, then was promoted to an editor.


Because of this newspaper background, soon after I was sent overseas in the Army, I became editor-in-chief of The Beachhead News, a mobile daily newspaper, which started on Anzio in Italy, then followed the Sixth Corps through France and Germany, and ended with World War II in Austria.


After returning home, I served a short stint as editor of the Mineola (Texas) Monitor. Then, my 1946 bride Lennie (a.k.a. “Lynn”) and I moved to Fort Worth.


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ONCE in the big city, I joined an uncle and another partner to purchase The Ledger Printing Company. One of our regular printing jobs was a monthly called The Southern Bicycle Journal…but the owner wanted to sell it.


I didn’t want to lose that business, so I bought his bicycle store mailing list for $1,000 ($300 down, and the balance paid out in $60 segments).


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MY FIRST BICYCLE convention was in Miami Beach in 1948. First, I received a small loan from the bank to pay for the trip. Baggage included a $9.95 Montgomery Ward camera and a $2.98 flash attachment. It was harder-than-hard, but the scant 20-page book for bicycle retailers grew, in time, into a 100-page-plus magazine that was sent monthly to the nation’s independent bicycle stores that serviced what they sold.


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BILL QUINN (shown at right) started the Lawn Equipment Journal in 1959 after a bicycle dealer wrote him requesting a magazine for lawnmower dealers that was similar to his monthly for bicycle retailers, the Bicycle Journal.OPE started accidentally. Totally accidentally.


Back in 1959, I was up to my rear end in publishing two other magazines — the Bicycle Journal and the Fort Worther (a visitors’ guide to our city) — printed, by the way, in our own printing shop. I also should add here that running a printing plant was something we knew less-than-nothing about. Never profitable, and had it not been for our bicycle book’s dollar input, we would have gone under many times during the 14-1/2 years of ownership.


But finally, sell it we did…to longtime friend, Bob Carraway, for whom we used to work on country weekly newspapers before World War II, and for a while after the War.


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BACK TO the start of OPE:


We received a short note from a bicycle/lawnmower dealer from, as we recall, North or South Carolina. A one-paragraph letter that said the lawnmower industry needed a publication just like the Bicycle Journal…one strictly for lawnmower dealers who serviced what they sold.


We checked with local lawnmower dealers…and sure enough, there was no publication being published exclusively for power mower stores.


We researched the industry further, writing to some 200 manufacturers and distributors of lawn equipment and asking them if they would be interested in a magazine strictly for their industry.


Holy cow! About 75 percent of the responses we got were favorable.


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 AND THUS was born a book we called Lawn Equipment Journal (LEJ), which rolled off the press in September 1959.


An instant success?


A very loud NO!


The mower manufacturers we thought would be good advertisers preferred to wait around to see if we would be able to stay in business for a respectable period before venturing their dollars.


Our first full year’s gross — for 12 issues — was a mere $22,000. Second year was $28,000. Third full year was not much better: $33,000.


Had we not had our own printing plant, we could not have survived.


Finally, in our fourth year, our magazine caught the eye of Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh, Snapper and several other big names in the industry, and within a handful of years, our magazine more than doubled in size. And we increased circulation from 7,500 to 12,000, raised rates accordingly, and our gross sales increased more than 10-fold by the end of the 1960s.


Also in our favor was that we were still the only book in the field that catered to servicing dealers.


When we first started in 1959, Garden Supply Merchandiser (GSM) had most of the industry’s ad dollars. But within a year or so, that book sold to a group publisher that, fortunately, kept the same old name.


GSM lost much of its business to a magazine called Modern Garden Center (MGC), which was #1 in lawnmower advertising for several years.


But overnight, MGC decided to sell to the highest bidder so that the publisher could pursue other interests.


Then, this surprised former country weekly newspaper editor had the #1 book in the field!


Another “something” happened in that period of time that secured our place in the industry.


We received a mysterious call from a voice we could not identify, telling us that a large group publisher was looking at the outdoor power equipment field.


Our book’s name at that time was still Lawn Equipment Journal (LEJ). And when the unknown caller repeated “outdoor power equipment” a couple or three times, it dawned on us that this name might be the title of the front-page masthead of an unwanted competitor.


So the next issue of LEJ (September 1969) became Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) without our ever telling a single person.


The new name was immediately accepted, and we had the very good fortune of having the #1 book in the field for some 20 years.


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BILL QUINN WAS NAMED to the Garden Industry of America Hall of Fame at its national trade show in 1985. Pictured at left making the presentation to Bill is GIA Show Director Paul Anderson.ANOTHER BIG THING in the growth of OPE was how much the industry changed from our first year (1959).


At first, power mowers were pretty much the industry — cheapies for the most part.


Then, in 1960 or 1961, Wheel Horse came on big with a small garden tractor. It was matched, as we recall, by International Harvester’s Cub Cadet the next year.


Then…wow!


Consumer chain saws.


Larger garden tractors.


Snowthrowers.


Yard-size blowers.


And the list goes on and on.


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WHEN ABC/CHILTON Publications first approached us on buying our book, our first response was a loud NO!


But ABC kept increasing its offer to enough dollars that we would have been stupid not to sell.


When the sale was finally consummated, I was 76, and Rix, who’d been publisher, wanted to do other things in the communications field, which he is continuing to do today.


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WHAT’S THIS old cuss been doing since OPE was “shipped out”? Well, for one thing, we continued our Bicycle Journal until it was 50 years old in 1996, then quit cold for three reasons: 1) It was no longer fun; 2) American manufacturers had almost ceased to exist because of imports; even U.S.-made bikes’ components are about 90-percent imported; and 3) Our bike book was shrinking in size to the extent that we were losing pride in our product.


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AND WHAT have we been doing since we folded Bicycle Journal?


The thing we’re proudest of is that we have authored a book called “How Wal-Mart Is Destroying America (And the World): And What You Can Do About It.” It was culled, for the most part, from paragraphs that appeared in our OPE and Bicycle Journal “Partly Personal” column.


Publisher is Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif., which is now a part of Random House. The book can be had from (or through) your nearest book store, or Amazon.com.


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STEVE NOE ALSO mentioned in our phone conversation that any industry comments we wanted to make would be welcome.


Steve probably didn’t know that we’ve stepped on dozens (perhaps hundreds) of toes in our almost 76 years of publishing…so here we go again on observations that some might disagree with.


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WHEN STEVE contacted us requesting this column, he also sent us several industry-related books.


Our biggest disappointment was that some of our long-time business friends are no longer in the dealer books. The one thing we’re 100-percent sure of is that dealers DO read the trade books. At each trade show where we exhibited, we averaged more than 200 visitors to our booth.


Another disappointment was the drop in the distributors’ advertising sections. At one time, we averaged almost 40 pages in the “Key Distributors” section in each issue. Also makes us wonder: How many power equipment distributors and dealers have bitten the dust since we sold OPE?


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SPEAKING OF trade shows and conventions, our magazines have taken us to conventions at resort places that — in the Depression years — were unreachable dreams.


My favorites, in the order named: The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs; the Boca Raton Club in Boca Raton, Fla.; Sun Valley Lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho, in its Union Pacific days; the Greenbrier in West Virginia; and the Homestead in Virginia. Many others, but not up to the standards of these five places.


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DURING WORLD WAR II, Bill Quinn visits with his parents, and niece and nephew Jill and Jack Quinn, before heading for Europe.NEVER, EVER when I pledged my working years to the printed word did I dream I’d visit five continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. I’ve visited ‘em all. Touched down and toured some 25 countries.


Which cities and/or countries — and what hotels — have I enjoyed the most? First foreign country after World War II must be in a category of its own: Japan, in 1968. Tokyo. Osaka. Kyoto. Ten days of seeing the best the country had to offer.


Paris just has to be Europe’s most exciting city. Been there six times, and stayed in a different hotel each time. The Ritz and the George V were favorites of my wife and me.


London. We never tired of seeing the sights there. Five times in England’s capital city.


Austria. We made a special effort to see all of one of the most beautiful European countries several years ago. We went to Vienna first, staying at the grand old Sacher. On to visit Innsbruck and many of the beautiful towns surrounding.


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GERMANY. And Cologne. Three times there. Excelsior Hotel, next to the towering Cologne Cathedral, was our favorite.


Rome. We’d like to spend a month there. And always, we’d like to go back to the Hassler, which overlooks the Spanish Steps.


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STILL MORE fun places: Ireland, any place you stop. Madrid, to stay at the cleanest hotel in the world, the Villa Magna. Oslo’s Grand Hotel. Stockholm, and that city’s Grand. Amsterdam’s Amsteader Hotel. Copenhagen’s Angleterre. Lisbon’s Ritz. We loved ‘em all.


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ON THIS SIDE of the pond, conventions and trade shows have taken us to virtually every city in the United States. But our blood bubbled at its best when we headed for New York and the Plaza, and Chicago and the Drake.


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BILL QUINN (left) and his brother Marion in a photo taken about 1914.

 

NEWLYWEDS Bill and Lennie Quinn pictured shortly after their 1946 marriage.SO MANY MEMORIES of yesteryear:


My Dad was a railroad man, and at age 20 — still being a “dependent” — I climbed aboard a railroad chair car with $70 in my pockets to see the 1932 Olympics in L.A. A great aunt furnished a bed and most of the food.


The following year, off to the Chicago’s World’s Fair. Remembered damn little of the fair except for Sally Rand’s fan dance.


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CHASING “fire engines” has been so much a part of my life that I gotta put in a paragraph or two here about the stars of the entertainment world I’ve walked an extra mile to see:


First movie actor to see and talk to was in 1929, in the person of Charles Ray, star of the silent screen era. Next, meeting Anna May Wong while attending the 1932 L.A. Olympic Games. Same trip, going to a premiere of “Back Street,” starring Irene Dunne and John Boles.


Star after star passed by my vantage point that night of nights. Could hardly wait to get back to Grand Saline to tell my friends about how the stars looked up close. But nary a one seemed to care.


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THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS AS OPE rounds out an amazing 55 years of publication.


That $300 I paid down to Tom Murray for the rights to publish the Bicycle Journal — which later led to the creation of Outdoor Power Equipment — just has to be one of the best investments any publisher ever made for any magazine.


What a helluva ride we’ve had for that $300!


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I’LL END THIS BIT of columnizing on a personal note:


Yes, yes, yes. We still miss the outdoor power equipment industry. So many good friends through the years: the late Tony Malizia (Snapper), Cal Roll (Tecumseh), and Hahn-Eclipse’s Lloyd Hahn; OPEI’s Dennis Dix and Briggs & Stratton’s Fred Stratton Jr. … Whoops! Better stop naming names right now, for at least 20 other OPEIers come immediately to mind.


 

This 2004 holiday photo shows Bill and Lennie Quinn with, back row, left to right, Rix, Katie, and Erica. Lennie passed away in 2005 at age 92.

 

Bill welcomes a visit from his new great-granddaughter Aria Catherine Fultz in May 2014.The Quinn family? The old cuss, who turned 102 on May 15, 2014, still enjoys talking with both old friends and new ones, and getting out to dinner occasionally. Lynn Quinn, who passed away in 2005, is still the classiest lady I’ve ever known. We enjoyed 59 wonderful years of marriage.


Son Rix Quinn writes a weekly feature on his Baby Boomer generation — called “The Boomer Page” — for both daily and weekly newspapers.


Rix’s wife, Erica, is about the best daughter-in-law one could ask for, except that she refuses to laugh at my jokes.


Our one and only granddaughter, Katie, was a National Merit Scholar in high school, and in college was named to Phi Beta Kappa. She majored in English and history, and graduated in December 2006.


She married in 2007, then spent four years in Germany, where her husband, Tyler Fultz, was an Air Force officer. Now, she and Tyler are both back in Fort Worth, and their house is only five minutes away from mine. She works as an academic advisor for the M.J. Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University.


And last November, Aria Catherine, now 7 months old, was born. I can’t believe I’m old enough to be a great-grandfather!


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Enjoyed our little visit, folks. Just for the hell of it, why don’t you write me — Bill Quinn, 4345 Westdale Dr., Fort Worth, TX 76109 — and tell me what you’ve been doing since we last talked at the Louisville OPEI show? Was that REALLY 25 years ago?


Heck, I’ve even got an e-mail address, and one day I’ll figure out this computer. So, if you wish, you can e-mail me at rixquinn@charter.net.


I hope to hear from you soon.

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