A table saw, his life savings, a little frustration, and a dream. That’s what it took for Donald Peschke to publish the first issue of Woodsmith magazine in 1979. Within ten years his entrepreneurial efforts paid off, as the publishing company he founded landed twice on Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing privately owned companies in America. Today, August Home Publishing Company publishes five national, award winning magazines: Woodsmith, ShopNotes, Garden Gate, Cuisine at home, and My Home My Style. In addition, it has expanded in many ways to meet its mission of “surrounding our customers with service.”
August Home provides home centers and woodworking stores around the country with Woodsmith Tools, plans, and hardware kits through its wholesale division, operates The Woodsmith Store in Clive, Iowa (a dream store for woodworkers), has a mail-order business that supplies woodworking and gardening products, and has a new media group devoted to producing an active commerce and information site on the Web (www.AugustHome.com). Of course, it didn’t all start out this way.
Born of Frustration
In 1978, Peschke was 30 years old — and a frustrated, beginning woodworker. He wanted plans and instructions to help him build furniture, but all he could find in magazines at the time were articles that showed a picture of the project, one large drawing, and a few details about building it. What he wanted was a magazine that showed how to build projects, step-by-step, down to the last detail, in down-to-earth language. That magazine didn’t exist. So he quit his job and set out to produce it on his own.
The first issue of Woodsmith magazine was only eight pages long, with no advertising. Peschke designed and built the projects in his basement shop, wrote the copy on a small desk in a spare bedroom, and learned how to draw the illustrations. Then he spent his life savings of $7,000 to print and promote the first issue.
His dream worked. There were thousands of frustrated woodworkers, like him, around the country. That was all it took for Woodsmith Publishing Company (as it was known then) to be born.
What started as a single magazine with only 300 subscribers has grown to five titles with more than a million subscribers. The little company that began with one employee now has more than 125 professionals working at five facilities in Des Moines.
Growth and Acquisition
For the first 14 years the company concentrated on woodworking. After launching Woodsmith in 1978, it opened The Woodsmith Store in 1985, and also began a tool and hardware mail-order business for its readers. Woodsmith’s popularity led to a second magazine. ShopNotes was launched in 1992 and expanded the company’s interest in publishing. At this point, things would make a major shift.
In 1995 Garden Gate, a magazine for home gardeners, was launched. This was followed in 1996 with the purchase of Workbench, a 40-year-old home improvement and woodworking magazine. And in the same year Cuisine, a magazine for those who love to cook, was launched. In 2009, Workbench transitioned to My Home My Style, completing the change in January 2010.
As the company began branching out to these other interests, Peschke renamed it to August Home Publishing to reflect its mission to publish guidance and inspiration in four core areas: woodworking, gardening, cooking and home improvement.
August Home has broken from traditional publishing wisdom and relies almost entirely on revenue from subscriptions rather than advertising. Indeed, none of the magazines accepts advertising. The secret is to produce top-quality magazines that readers find so compelling that a very high percentage will renew their subscriptions to each year.
Another unusual feature of these publications is a friendly, first-person writing style. This style makes the reader feel as though he/she is actually in the workshop, garden, or kitchen exchanging ideas with a fellow enthusiast.
From Entrepreneurship to Corporation
Like most entrepreneurs, Peschke was originally very active in every decision. To foster growth and creativity, the management style and organization have evolved. Today, group managers are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, as well as its future. Each manager works with her/his group of professionals (everyone has the title “professional” at August Home). The groups have the freedom of an independent business, while still receiving the support of the larger company. “The role of a manager is not to supervise other people,” Peschke says. “It’s to help other people, including our customers, be successful.”
August Home is in a strategic position to move into the future as the world moves into the “information age.” Whether it is through printed magazines, the Internet, or multimedia delivery, the company is committed to publishing the highest-quality information and services to customers who enjoy creative endeavors around their homes.
August Home’s Professionals work together in groups and teams to come up with creative products, publications, and the best customer service available.