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Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

A Beauty of an Idea

When she was about 19 years old, Deborah Carver took a job as a receptionist at a tiny trade publisher. Eight years later, the company had grown to 25 publications, and Carver, who by then had worked in every department of the growing firm, had conceived and developed most of them. So in 1971, Carver left her $932-a-month job, borrowed $12,000 and started her own company. She has since built Creative Age Publications into a powerhouse in the beauty trade publishing industry, with seven publications, international circulation and walls filled with prestigious Western Publications Association MAGGIE awards. Not bad for a girl who left her hometown in Philadelphia for a job on stage in Las Vegas. That job lasted three weeks, and when she quit, Carver decided to keep going west to L.A. Not all of her ideas have worked. There was, for example, the Vietnamese edition of NailPro and Electronic Retailing, both of which turned out to be too early for their time. But for the most part, Carver’s vision has resulted in a still-growing portfolio of magazines that place as No. 1 or No. 2 in the industries they serve. The largest, Nailpro, the first of the current beauty trade portfolio which launched in 1989, boasts a BPA-audited circulation of more than 60,000 and about 75 pages of ads an issue. DaySpa is close behind in ad pages, as is the newer Launchpad, a fashion and beauty magazine for upscale hair salons, Carver said. The company also publishes a German version of Nailpro, Medesthetics, a magazine for dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons and others involved with non-invasive cosmetic procedures and products, Beauty Store Business for distributors and Inspire, a book of hairstyles for salon use. Creative Age’s magazines look like few other trade books. The four-color, glossy publications appear to vie with the toniest fashion magazines on the newsstand, an emphasis that is both deliberate and expensive. Creative Age employs its own staff stylist, fashion directors and photographers. It maintains a photo studio on premises and it stages its own fashion shoots for much of its editorial content. Carver spoke to the Business Journal about her company, its growth and her very personal approach to publishing. Question: How did Creative Age evolve from essentially a medical industry publisher to a beauty industry publisher? Answer: The man who loaned me the money was in the medical industry and he gave me the idea for a magazine called Dialysis and Transplantation. I started three magazines including Emergency Medical Services, in a year and all three of them were very successful from the outset. Then my partner and I split up. She took Emergency Medical Services. I took Dialysis and Transplantation. But it was just two years ago that I sold Dialysis and Transplantation, which was a worldwide publication that reached 72 different countries. Q: What made you set your sights on the beauty industry as you began to develop new magazines? A: The rule of thumb I was taught is, if there’s one magazine there’s always room for another magazine. I came across a magazine called Nails, and it was very thick with advertising, but it was a really poorly done publication. It was black and white. They broke every editorial rule in the book. They wrote about their advertisers. They had no editorial integrity. And I started Nailpro. They have changed tremendously and their magazine (Nails) is much better. But it still doesn’t hold a candle to what we do. And we do about 20 to 25 percent more advertising business than they do. Q: What do you think you did that helped you to compete so effectively in the marketplace? A I’m the owner and I’m out there. I go to every show. I visit my clients. I eat, sleep and breathe it. I love the industry. What would you rather do? Ride on the back of an ambulance or see someone get dialysis or go to a beauty show and hear music and see people getting their hair done and guys walking around in chaps with their butts sticking out? Q: Why does Creative Age spend so much time and money on the look of the magazines? A: I’m not corporate minded where I watch every penny on the bottom line. I spend the money to make the magazines beautiful and if you look at any one of my magazines, I want our readers to feel that they’re important. I want to give them a gorgeous magazine. I’m a woman. I love the fashion and I love the magazines to be beautiful. And it’s not that important to me to take home another $100,000. My joy is seeing the magazines as beautiful as they can be. Q: Your magazines are so specific in their target markets and each is so easily communicated and understood. Does that help to build your advertising base? A: I’m sure in Nailpro if we went after some accessory companies or some fashion companies we would be able to get some advertising because we’re reaching 65,000 women, and a pass along readership whatever that might be. But I would not want to hurt the integrity of the magazine. I’ve turned away advertising that I thought was inappropriate for the magazine. Q: Isn’t it just good business sense to keep the focus so that you don’t dilute your message and your focus? A: Exactly. You sell nail products, you have to be in Nailpro. Although the beauty of what we’ve built here is crossover advertising. They do nails in day spas. They tweeze eyebrows in nail salons. There is an enormous crossover. Q: Has the proliferation of lower end nail salons had any effect on your business? A: About 12 years ago, I started a magazine called Nailpro Vietnamese Edition. It was all Vietnamese. It had a Vietnamese editor. I was a little too ahead of myself. These salons only bought from Vietnamese distributors at the time. But today, the Vietnamese salons are no longer happy making $15,000 or $20,000 a year. They want to live the American dream. So they are starting to use what I call mainstream products, the OPIs of the world and the Creative Nail Designs of the world. And they are starting to read Nailpro. Q: What other magazines did not fly? A: Fourteen years ago I started a magazine called Electronic Retailing. I envisioned that someday everything would be bought over the Internet. I envisioned that you could someday put your own body on the screen and try on a dress and see what it’s going to look like. So I started that magazine and we had it around for four or five years but again I was way ahead of my time. Q: What would you tell somebody who wanted to start a print publication today? A: I would say that the printed word will always be with us. I think e-commerce will go hand in hand with the printed word. I think there will be advantages like delivering to European countries. We can now deliver these publications electronically. We’re up on the Web and we’re going more extensively into it. We’ve hired consultants and we’re selling banner ads and we’re going to conferences to learn about it. They say the Web business will be about 15 percent of the revenues of publishers. Well that’s a nice chunk of money, and we’ll go after it, but there is no getting away from looking at something and seeing it and feeling it. So if someone wanted to start a magazine, I think they would have to have at least a half million dollars at their disposal. Q: What’s next for you? A: I’m not up to retiring yet. I’ve gone away for a year. I had a heart attack two years ago. The thought of selling out just doesn’t make any sense. I love what I do and my avocation is my vocation. I love the industry, and I love the people. My business friends are my friends. So I think it’s doing more of the same. We just had a meeting today about a new publication. We are trying to branch out a little, but my dream is to build a consumer magazine one day. Q: That’s a tougher arena to launch in isn’t it? A: Much tougher. But I could see one of these publications on the newsstand to promote professional products, because no matter how you cut it and slice it, every movie star, every singer, everyone who’s on stage is cared for by these people their hair, their skin, their makeup. So the consumer would probably love to know what is used in the professional industry, and the professional industry would love to be able to tell the consumer, but they can’t afford to advertise in Allure. SNAPSHOT:Deborah Carver Title: President, CEO Date of Birth, Birthplace: May 30, 1942; Philadelphia Education: High School Most Admired Person(s): My husband Jim and Isaac Asimov Favorite Saying: You can’t take back the last second of what you say, so you can’t worry about it. Personal: Married, one son, two stepchildren and two grandchildren.

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