Humble Beginnings Pave Way for Evolution of National Trade Newspaper

Wed June 11, 2008 - National Edition
Pete Sigmund




Thanks for holding. The phones are ringing every minute. What a day this has been. We’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger. We’re so busy the paper hanger just quit. Ed handles all complaints. He’ll call you back in a week or so. He’s playing golf.

You might hear this tongue-in-cheek recorded message, with the music of “Stars and Stripes Forever” playing in the background, if you call Construction Equipment Guide today. It was different 50 years ago, when the publication began. Joan McKeon (founder Ed McKeon’s wife) might have answered the phone. There was no staff or real office. Things were busy, but on a small scale. One thing that hasn’t changed over half a century, though, is the power of an idea.

In 1957, Ed McKeon, a 27-year-old former Marine Corps captain was working for his father-in-law, Joe Gallagher, who owned Roxboro Cinder Co. in Philadelphia.

“The company needed to update their equipment and they put me in charge of the search,” Ed recalled. “I went around to equipment dealers trying to find new machines, but couldn’t locate any. President Eisenhower had just started the interstate highway program and all the new stuff was being prioritized for this. I started looking for used equipment because we couldn’t buy anything new.

“The Philadelphia Inquirer and Newark Star-Ledger published special sections on construction equipment on Sundays. But they didn’t come close to meeting the market’s need. I had an idea. I decided we needed some kind of a publication that circulated in the construction industry that would be a big motivator between buyer and seller.”

First Issue Published From Recreation Room

“I tried starting the publication in 1957 but didn’t get anywhere. It was very puzzling and I was new at all this. Then, in 1958, I found Gene DiMezza, who had worked for Metalweld. He knew enough to get us started and worked for me for two years. We started Construction Equipment Guide in the rec room of my home in Abington, Pa. The first issue was in May 1958,” Ed recalled.

Joe Gallagher had co-signed a note from Philadelphia National Bank, which provided $2,000 to start the new venture. That was a lot of money in those days.

“It was not a publication that some people would dance in the streets celebrating about,” Ed said. “Except me. I thought it was unbelievable. But then all of a sudden I realized we had to get the second issue out. That was a shock. The Guide was a lot of work for a neophyte like me.”

After laying out the pages and pasting them up in the rec room, that first issue was printed on both sides of a single black-and-white 11-in. by 17-in. flat, which folded to make four pages. It was then addressed and mailed from Ed’s house to about 10,000 dealers, contractors and other construction people in the Delaware Valley area. Names came from personal contacts, directories, telephone books and other sources.

“There were no zip codes in those days to aid distribution,” Ed said. “We just labeled issues with an addressing machine and tied them in bundles by towns for mailing. My wife, Joan, rapped out bills on a portable typewriter, which I bought from a neighbor who sold typewriters.”

CEG began in this humble setting — an addressing machine, a typewriter, and two mailbags, which hung on metal racks. Ed’s first child, Pam, four at the time, was an interested observer. She and her younger sister, Liz, later worked for the Guide (see Like Father, Like Daughters, page 143) and Ed’s three sons are now publishers of CEG regional editions.

Power of an Idea

In the middle of Page 1 of the first issue was a letter signed by Ed. It began:

Dear Sir: Nothing is as powerful as an idea. In circulating the Construction Equipment Guide, the idea is to reach the five-state market of 10,000 prime buyer prospects for used equipment and supplies that you have for sale … We have one and only one purpose, to sell your used equipment. May we serve you?

Ed said it seems like just yesterday. (Time passes fast when you’re having fun.)

“We did pretty well,” he said. “The publication was well received. People sold equipment. Our advertisers were very happy. The only thing we needed was more circulation because we started out in the Delaware Valley. By 1960, we met this need by expanding to cover the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. That was a big move. We also changed from three times a month to biweekly, which has been our cycle ever since. It makes a lot of sense for dealers and contractors to get two weeks between issues.”

Established Lasting Relationships

Ed was a graduate of St. Joseph’s Prep (1947), St. Joseph’s University (1953) in Philadelphia and the U.S. Marine Officers Candidate School in Quantico, Va. (1953).

Ed made friends easily and got a lot of encouragement from dealers.

“Ernie Ransome, the youngest son of Percy Ransome, was particularly helpful,” Ed recalled. “Ernie told me in 1957 that Giles & Ransome would advertise with us if we launched the paper. I took that as a green light. He said it again in 1958 when I really became serious about the whole thing.

“So we went ahead. Giles & Ransome Inc., the Caterpillar dealer now in Bensalem, Pa., became our first customer, quickly followed by Frantz Equipment Co. [now Elliott & Frantz Inc.] and C.C. & F.F. Keesler. Those companies have been with us every issue since 1958. This loyalty for 50 years is really exceptional, probably the greatest relationship you could have between advertisers and a publication. I don’t know of any publication that can make that statement.”

CEG began as a shopper-type publication. It was all ads and no editorial until Ed began adding news in 1964. A typical early issue included ads for all types of used equipment — from backhoes, barges and buckets to cement mixers, dozers, cranes, draglines, loaders, shovels, saws, tractors and trucks.

People Made the Difference

as CEG Expanded

As business picked up, the publication began its odyssey to a series of new locations, all providing more space.

In 1959, Ed moved CEG from his rec room to part of a building in Willow Grove, Pa., owned by Walter Blair, who had taken over the printing. In 1960, the year his second child, Ted, was born, he moved again, to half of a twin home on Davisville Road, also in Willow Grove. This provided about 2,000 sq. ft. of space.

The mainstay of the staff at that time, and for the next 28 years, was Loretta Compton. Tall, mild-mannered, able and unflappable, she was the backbone of the organization, handling everything from telephone calls on ads to invoices.

Ed Cullen, an experienced graphic arts designer, meticulously labored to produce clean layouts. His keen eye for balance and white space resulted in ads that pleased advertisers, helping build CEG’s reputation and profitability. Two women assisted in circulation.

The next big move was in 1966, when Ed purchased a three-story office building at 141 E. Glenside Ave. in Glenside. The publication would stay there for 20 years.

“I bought the building and a large house in Jenkintown that year,” Ed said. “Two mortgages; it wasn’t easy.”

Ed was supporting a larger family of five small children by this time. Joe was born in 1962, Richard in 1963 and Liz in 1964. All five went on to work for CEG.

Things moved fast (and sometimes frenetically) at the new digs.

The staff was still skeletal at first — Ed, Loretta, Ed Cullen, Mary “Boom Boom” McCloy and Terry Malozzi.

“Boom Boom was really dynamic,” Ed said. “She began by preparing coffee and emptying wastebaskets, and moved up to circulation and advertising, where she handled some really tough accounts. Boom Boom was in charge of collections when she retired in 1983. We joked that she could split a dish with a right-hand chop.”

A Building to Remember

CEG slowly moved forward on Glenside Avenue. Six or seven people worked in circulation on the first floor and five on the second. Ed occupied a large front office on the second floor. In it were Marine Corps photos, signed photos of Arnold Palmer and other golfing greats, scale models of equipment, and other memorabilia.

Before CEG began installing computers in 1984, the building was crammed with people working on or proofreading copy, typing invoices, calling prospects or readers, and resolving daily problems.

The office bulged with stacks of paper, mail, magazines, telephone books, and miscellaneous stuff. Adding to the activity, in the late 1970s, a woodworker made small winepresses in the warehouse behind the first floor, and a man gave drum lessons in a rented small front office near the entrance.

Ed Cullen laid out copy in a cramped cubbyhole at the rear of the second floor. The smell, or smoke, of cigarettes was occasionally mixed with a touch of sawdust, and the beat of a drum.

By the end of the ’60s, CEG had expanded from its original four pages to 30 pages. It wasn’t smooth sailing, however.

“The ’60s were rough,” Ed admitted. “We did very well in the early ’60s, but the middle and later ’60s were tough. One day I realized our financial situation was such that I couldn’t make the payroll. I had to tell the staff that I couldn’t pay them the next week. They worked for a couple of weeks without getting paid. I finally got enough money together to pay them.”

Adding to the financial strain, Ed, an avid golfer who usually shot in the ’70s, began publishing The Philadelphia Golfer in 1961. It was way ahead of its time but didn’t receive the support that he had expected from country clubs and golf pros. With bills skyrocketing from an obstreperous printer, Ed sold the publication in 1963. CEG, however survived and began to prosper in the 1970s.

Hit Stride in 1970s

“We were running 44 to 48 pages by 1973 and our Bicentennial issue in 1976 was 56 pages,” said Ed’s younger brother, Barry, who joined the newspaper as a sales representative in 1973. “Ed had very little help in the ’70s. He was the owner, president, sales manager, editor and jack-of-all-trades. He did 90 percent of the writing and 80 percent of the selling. He would put in a whole day and occasionally still play 18 holes the next morning.”

Circulation grew to 33,000 during the 20 years on Glenside Avenue. Deadline for ads in the 1970s and early 1980s was 3 p.m., Friday.

“We almost never made the deadline,” recalled Hal Ewing, reflecting on his 12 years as sales manager (from 1979 to 1991). “The real deadline was when Ed showed up with the last ads. We would be exhausted, at the office until 7 p.m., but we knew the ads represented our payroll. We would then have to drive 68 miles to our printer in Elkton, Md., with the flats.”

Ed had hired Ewing, the former ad manager of the Delaware County Daily Times, on the spot after meeting him for lunch.

“With only one edition, the Mid-Atlantic, and all those ads, I thought they must have a bunch of salesmen in the field,” Ewing said. “Instead I found that our whole staff was Ed McKeon, three women and Ed Cullen. My territory, I discovered, was the world, though I mainly covered the whole Philadelphia area, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. A lot was done by phone, but both Ed and I also spent a good deal of time in the field.

“Loretta [Compton] would write, in chalk on a big blackboard, the names of the companies that were advertising. Sometimes the blackboard got so crowded she was writing sideways.

“When I joined the paper in 1979, a typical issue was 48 to 56 pages,” Ewing said. “In 1982, we put out our first 72-page edition and everyone got a bonus of $72. Everyone in the business knows Ed. He is one of the most enterprising people I’ve ever known, and is honest to a fault.”

Another key staff member joined CEG around this time. George Barnett, an unforgettable personality, with twinkling eyes, a contagious humor, an unparalleled work ethic (and a lyrical tenor singing voice) joined circulation in 1977 and remained 21 years. A former owner of the Glenside Pub (where he first got to know Ed), he never lost his equanimity as he called thousands of key industry people over the years, adding many to the list of qualified readers.

Reaching the Right People

CEG moved ahead to hone its circulation — vital in its value to advertisers — to include the most qualified construction industry people with the authority and ability to purchase equipment.

“The mission of Construction Equipment Guide focuses on getting information to the right person,” Ed said. “And this is a continual process. We qualify between 35 percent and 50 percent of our circulation each year.”

“Ever since then we have been very dynamic in making sure our circulation is up to date. We began by installing some toll-free numbers, adding phones, assigning people to call for telephone numbers on all the companies in our circulation — at that time, telephone information was free — and having other people use these numbers to call and qualify. We have systems today that eliminate duplications and bad names. We are very much into 100 percent delivery.”

Began Covering Industry News

CEG’s news coverage has grown along with the number of ads, pages and qualified readers.

“Everything was working out as a shopper-type publication, but I felt we needed to be bigger and more interesting,” Ed said, “so I started running some news copy in 1964. Most of it was news that came over the transom, announcements from dealers and manufacturers, new appointments and things like that. Then heavy equipment auctions started becoming a big thing and we started covering the auctions, editorially. I was the first one to publish information on what equipment sold for, including make and model number.

“We kept expanding news copy and grew over the decades to include reporters and an editor, though I wrote almost all the copy myself until 1983. Our editorial content became very accepted by the trade and a very important part of our success.”

As business improved in the 1970s, Ed added an “Industry Roundup” of news briefs from throughout the construction industry. Written in a breezy style by experienced newsman Steve Stephenson, it began in the center of page one and ran in a single column through many pages, exposing readers to ads in the process.

While the top story ran on the right of Page 1, “Low Bidder Specials” — special low-price deals of used equipment — occupied the left two columns. To add humor, Ed put fictitious bylines on many news or feature stories. All crane stories, for instance, were under the byline of Henry Hernia or Bo Derrick. Legal stories were by Perry Mason. Landfill stories were written by Rat Smasher! Some readers, it turned out, thought they were real people.

By the mid-1980s, CEG was publishing articles describing the history, growth and products of equipment dealers and manufacturers. It focused especially on the people in construction and, of course, on the latest advances in equipment.

CEG has grown from one editor/writer (Ed) to a full-time news operation, including Editor in Chief Craig Mongeau, Senior Editor Jeff Cronin, Associate Editor Peter Suanlarm, Editorial Assistant/Typesetter Maura Bohart and experienced freelance correspondents. Editorial Consultant Pete Sigmund, a newsman since 1953, has handled a wide variety of assignments (including this article) since 1986.

“Our own writers cover industry news that people want to read,” Ed said. “Our news staff does a great job.”

Mongeau credits Ed McKeon for laying the foundation of what has become the publication of record in the construction industry.

“He [Ed McKeon] laid the groundwork. Sure, from an editorial standpoint, the publication has changed dramatically — we now cover all 50 states and the world through features on unique projects, timely legislative and economic stories, industry trend articles, event coverage, new equipment releases and much more — but it was he who set the standard that we still follow today. We simply reach our readers, as he did, with clear, well-written stories that affect their professional lives.”

Computers Vastly

Improved Entire Operation

Ted McKeon, now the publisher of CEG’s Northeast and Western editions, joined the paper as regional sales manager in 1983. The next year, the first computer was delivered to the publication.

“The first place we used a computer was in circulation,” Ted said. “George Barnett, Joan Haley and others used several terminals to plug away every day to update our qualified lists. Within three years, the entire company was being computerized, vastly benefiting our entire operation, from news copy to production and invoices.

“Although today with server technology, millions of names can be stored, at that time, our entire circulation was on 12 floppy disks, each holding 2,100 names. We sent these disks to ZIPCO in Delaware, which printed labels from them. ZIPCO was run by Atlee Harvey, Ed’s brother-in-law, who headed up our circulation department. The labels went to our printer in Elkton, Md., who did the production, printing and mailing.”

But those first years with sometimes-rebellious computers could be pretty hectic and frightening.

CEG at first relied on information technology (IT) consultants.

“One of our early IT guys was told to install a new server with a new, bigger, disk drive,” Ed said. “He said we didn’t need it, but we really did need it. One day, bingo, the computer went down and we lost almost everything. But we did retrieve quite a bit of it.”

The most critical was circulation data based on many years of painstaking phone calls by the circulation personnel. For a while, it looked as if they would have to start all over from scratch.

Success at New Location

Construction Equipment Guide literally outgrew Glenside Avenue, moving in 1988 to a more-spacious one-story former printing company building at 2627 Mt. Carmel Ave., Glenside, Pa. By now the staff had grown to approximately 30 people.

“The new site really gave us a lift and spruced up our image,” said Ted. “It was much more spacious.”

Ed Cullen now had lots of space — a long room with raised platforms for each page layout.

Standing in front of the building, a large red and white sign identified Construction Equipment Guide. A grey 1932 Caterpillar 15 tractor sat under it, a silent testimonial to the industry’s progress from the early days. The Stars and Stripes, and a Marine Corps flag, with its motto, “Semper Fi,” flew proudly there, too.

CEG moved its entire production to an in-house system at the Mt. Carmel office in 1988.

“Our printer sold his company and the new owners grew it rapidly,” Ted said. “Since we were their largest customer, we were told to find a new printer. We ended up doing everything ourselves, including layout and production. We also started doing small ads by desktop computer. As we got the latest computer equipment and software, we used computers in all our operations, including accounting, sales and mailing labels, which we send electronically to our printer.”

Important Advances

Construction Equipment Guide also became a controlled-circulation publication in 1988. This requires that at least 25 percent of the publication be editorial copy (either news or feature). Besides providing special postal rates, it resulted in much more prompt delivery.

“We would mail on Friday and CEG would be delivered Monday or Tuesday,” Ed said. “Previously, bulk rate delivery would take one week to 10 days.”

That same year, CEG also began its expansion to a nationwide publication when it published its Southeast Edition, which is now under publisher Richard McKeon. It then began publishing a Midwest Edition, under publisher Joe McKeon, in 1994, a Southwest Edition in 1999, and a Western Edition, which includes Alaska and Hawaii, in 2005.

Richard, the youngest of the three brothers, joined CEG in 1988 and has been publisher of the Southeast Edition since 1995, further building on the success of Bill Howell, the first publisher, who had been a major player in getting this edition off the ground.

“One of the keys to this edition’s future is that readers enjoy, and profit from, our editorial content, which often shows how contractors have overcome obstacles on projects,” Richard said at the edition’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. “I want to thank them for their faith that we can help them in their businesses.”

Joe, the middle son, joined CEG in 1990 after four very active years in the Marine Corps (Camp Lejeune, Okinawa, Korea and mountain-warfare and desert training in California).

“I came here from the Marines on a Friday, partied Saturday night, and started work for my father on Monday,” he recalled at the edition’s Chicago, Ill., headquarters. “After the first paycheck, I realized I had taken a pay cut and I considered going back!”

What’s the key to success of the Midwest Edition?

“We were the new kid on the block,” Joe replied, “but manufacturers and local distributors now recognize that we meet their needs in everything from being an excellent source of local and national industry news — including outstanding coverage of auctions — to attending local events like open houses and conventions, and reaching a quality circulation. We have gained advertisers’ trust; they know that we are in it for the long haul, just as they are.”

CEG also publishes separate editions for many states, including Alabama, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Georgia and California.

“We now cover the entire country,” Ted said. “In 1983, CEG only published a Northeast Edition with a circulation of 33,000. That was it. Following my dad’s principles of combining close personal relationships with advertising, promotional and editorial expertise, we’ve grown since then into national coverage. Our Western Edition, for instance, now has a circulation of 30,000. With plenty of growth opportunities, the upside for Construction Equipment Guide is very good.”

CEG purchased Superintendent’s Profile magazine in 2003. This successful monthly publication profiles a specific New York State highway superintendent or public works commissioner in each issue. It also offers timely news features and equipment information.

“Jim Cropper, who had worked for Tracey Road Equipment in Rochester, N.Y., left that company and bought the magazine, which he had then run for many years,” Ed said. “He called and offered to sell it to me; he didn’t want to sell it to anyone else. The way we are set up, we could publish it very efficiently without adding employees, so I took advantage of this growth opportunity. The magazine’s circulation grew 25 percent the first year and page counts increased by 23 percent and it has done well ever since.”

Superintendent’s Profile sponsors a trade show each October at the New York State Fair Grounds in Syracuse, N.Y. It has been sold out every year — even requiring additional space to be added to the exhibit hall.

Further strengthening the business, in March 2007, CEG purchased the assets of Contractors Equipment Guide. Previously a competitive publication in New England and New York, it’s now circulated to approximately 10,000 industry people in New England as a supplement to the Northeast Edition.

Trade Shows a Huge Success

CEG also has become a very successful player in the trade show business.

It all started when Ed saw a sign at a Fort Washington, Pa., turnpike toll booth, advertising a Construction Expo nearby.

“It was the first I heard about the expo, which was only five miles from our office,” he said. “I visited it and discovered it included several of our customers, who were really ticked off because the show was terrible and nobody was there. Some of our customers blamed me. When I told them it wasn’t advertised in CEG, they hit the roof! I thought, ’We have to protect our customer position in this area; we’re going into the trade show business.’ I got back to the office and told Ted we were going to expand into trade shows.”

CEG produced its first show at Philadelphia Park in 1998.

“It was an outstanding success,” Ed said. “We had 24 acres for digging and demos, plus three football fields in the parking lot for equipment. The entire clubhouse was filled with exhibits.

“We’ve had shows in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Syracuse. They have been very, very successful, with great attendance at each show, where they establish very valuable contacts.”

Special tradeshow editions support this business sector.

The Present

Today, CEG is published out of its 22,500-sq.-ft. office building on Maryland Drive in Fort Washington, Pa. (The company moved to this facility in 1997.)

The staff has grown to approximately 50 people, many with their own offices. Circulation is about 110,000.

A typical Northeast Edition now runs about 160 pages and has a circulation of approximately 28,000 firms. One edition a few years ago ran 260-plus pages.

“Counting all editions, we now put out close to 250 pages a week,” said Production Manager John Pinkerton, who joined CEG in 1988.

Moving into Second Half Century

After 50 years of challenges, problem solving, crises and innovation, CEG is now in the forefront of publishing technology.

Instead of Joan McKeon working on a portable typewriter, computers print invoices in seconds. Everything — from news and ad copy and layout to actual production of the final paper for printing — is aided by computers using QuarkXPress, Photoshop, Illustrator and layout software. There is no more pasting on boards. Nor does Ed McKeon have to rustle up ads far a field.

CEG staffers, advertisers and readers are benefiting greatly from the latest advances on the newest frontier — the Internet.

“The CEG Web site, www.constructionequipmentguide.com, along with the print version, offers a very strong package for our customers,” Ted said. “Whatever equipment is advertised in the paper also appears on the Web site as a value-added service.”

Web developer Stephen Collins pointed out a wide range of other advantages: “A dealer directory puts dealer information at your fingertips. An editorial archives section searches over 10,000 published stories, so a person can find virtually any article that has run in our four regional editions. A search engine allows people to quickly find any equipment they need. The Web site also offers electronic versions of coming auctions months ahead of the actual auction, and it provides for reading content in foreign languages. We’ll continue to grow as technology grows.”

The Internet also has dramatically changed research and fact-checking for stories.

“Instead of consulting encyclopedias or going to the library, we can receive information in minutes from the Internet,” said Editor in Chief Mongeau, but, he warned, “Computers and the Internet do not change how you write or edit. It is and always will be about clear, concise, and compelling copy produced by talented journalists and editors. The creative process remains the same; computers just integrate everything much more quickly.”

The completed paper, including ads and editorial in final format, is now sent electronically by special trunk line to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which prints it overnight. This is a dramatic advance compared to the ’60s and ’70s, when the pages were driven to Maryland or New Jersey for final production and printing.

The power of an idea is how it all began, and is what now propels Construction Equipment Guide into its second half-century.