Jerry Lawson

The Inside Story

March 09, 2019

By Jerry M. Lawson, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief

Jerry Lawson headshotOur Golden Year: 2019

2019 is a magical year for these newspapers. I left corporate America in 1969 after being told one too many lies. I did straighten out the problems which I was hired to fix. Then I was told that the promise to move me back home to Texas was not going to happen.

The Southwest territory was added to the Southeast and I was to stay in Atlanta and live on airplanes.

I politely resigned and after a week off with my young family made the rounds of wholesale distributors in Georgia asking if they would support a local trade only newspaper for the home appliance and electronics retailers. Enough said yes.

It took 45 days to invent Retailing News, gather local news and sell enough ads to publish a paper. The day I had a newspaper in hand I was thrilled beyond belief. I could not mail this first edition, I didn’t have money for postage. My total cash was two bits and a dime; that’s thirty-five cents. I handwrote an invoice to the Chas.S.Martin Distributing Company and took it to Harry Higgins. He had placed a full page ad with me. When I gave him the bill he carried it to the company comptroller and asked for a check. When he was told that they didn’t pay like that, Harry told Mr. Brannen that this was an exception. Harry returned to his office and told me that they were sending out for lunch and would I like to join them. All the money that I had left wouldn’t buy a sandwich. I told him that I was going home for lunch. He saw through my fib and personally bought my lunch. He then walked by to the accounting office and brought me a check for the full amount.

I rushed to the bank to deposit their check and drew out enough money to go to the grocery store. I had three children to feed.

The balance was enough to pay postage for our first edition. Not all of my customers would pay so fast, but several did.

In January 1970 I asked the distributors in Alabama if they would support a paper similar to the Georgia edition. They said yes.

Retailing News was a success and one paper turned into four and a national. The industry then committed suicide. The forty-six customers I had started with in Georgia became six. Even when all ran ads with me it wasn’t enough to pay for printing and postage I closed the papers.

Before the shutdown my appliance distributors and factory branches asked me to publish a trade paper for builders. They had two divisions, retail and contractor, and wanted to communicate with the builder trade. BuilderFax was born and did well for a few years.

In the 1980s building hit a slump and the HVAC distributors who had been using us to sell their brands to builders had a meeting and decided they wanted a trade paper for HVAC only. They all cancelled their ads in BuilderFax and told me what they wanted. It sounded like a job offer to me. I had six names for their new paper and gave 24 of the top people a ballot to choose. HVAC Insider was a landslide winner.

Enough ads were ordered to begin publishing.

When I made my first call on Dealer’s Supply, Bill McNabb asked me, “What do you know about HVAC?” I looked him in the eye and said, “How to turn it on and off.” I then asked him what he knew about newspapers. He smiled back at me and said simply, “How to read one.” We made friends that day and Dealers Supply has owned page 2 of the Georgia edition ever since.

One paper became six, became fifteen. The national edition began as an ASHRAE show report, once a year. It was popular and I was asked to publish this national quarterly. It sounded like another great job offer.

Today we mail to 106,000 HVAC professionals across the nation. We would grow if we could find qualified people who wanted to work.

Before this great opportunity offered to me, I did have a background of honest work. I served three years in the US Army and was offered a double promotion if I would reenlist. The Army would also bring my wife and son to Germany where we would live off post. As tempting as this was, I had different plans for my future. My guardian angel must have guided me because I would have been a sergeant in VietNam. I managed to get a job with my hometown newspaper, the Tyler Courier Times Telegraph. For three years I worked and learned my trade. When my boss took a job with a big ad agency in Dallas, a co-worker was given his position. It was time for me to leave. I took a job with the Hart-Hanks newspapers at their Marshall, Texas paper. After a year of success in Marshall we had a staff meeting and were told that there would be no raises for a year because the company had instigated a new retirement policy. I was due a raise and was too young to even think about retirement. I began looking for a new job.

The new job was with the Dallas Morning News. Here I learned more in three years than a college degree could offer.

This brings me to Atlanta and the rest is history. Fifty years I have served industry in several different trade newspapers.

Thanks for the golden memories.