History of Towing & Recovery Phootnotes

Reprinted from Towing & Recovery Phootnotes

January 2000, Vol. 10, No. 9

(Towing & Recovery Phootnotes was a 48-page tabloid-sized newspaper sent free to every towing company in every state every month – 46,000 every month.)

You need to have goals – both personal and business. Without them you just struggle along with no direction. Goals give you something to strive for, a means of bettering yourself, a way to become a better person and have a better company. When I started the paper, I set some goals for Phootnotes – some we’ve met, some weʼre still working on and some somebody else will work on. But more on that later.

The paper was started because there was a need in our industry for education. My competitors were showing pictures of pretty trucks, doing interviews with big companies, and doing recovery stories, and they were doing a good job of it.

But they werenʼt telling you how to afford the pretty trucks. They didnʼt tell you how to become a big company. They didnʼt cover the business management end of running your business. So Phootnotes did.

Phootnotes’ goals

While doing some office cleaning, I came across an old dusty folder containing our original set of goals:

• To educate the towing and recovery industry in all forms of business operations and management – an educated operator is a better customer and competitor.

• To keep the industry informed about new products and services.

• To help the industry become better and more profitable business operators.

• To help the operators become acquainted with the advertisers and their products.

• To provide articles of interest and entertainment with a mixture of humor.

• To have the largest circulation of all towing-related publications at no cost to the towing operator.

• To feature successful towing companies and explain how they became successful.

• To promote professionalism and pride in the towing and recovery industry.

• To eliminate the use of the “w” word in my lifetime.

• To be the best publication in the industry.

• To inspire high principles and achievement.

Guess weʼve done okay on those. There were some other goals we aspired to achieve along the way.

One has been to convince you that you arenʼt a tow truck driver who is in business. You are a business owner who happens to own tow trucks. Big, big difference. There is more to owning a towing business than driving a truck.

Being a business owner has its advantages. There are few rules and you keep score with money. But to be successful – to end up with a pile of money – you have to know all the intricacies of your company. You have to know what your expenses are. You must know how much profit you need to operate and grow. A good businessman doesnʼt need to lower his eyes and feel ashamed for charging for his services.

We arenʼt quite there yet with that goal, but weʼre definitely making progress.

Another goal has been to make towing people look like professionals. Weʼre seeing many more snazzy-looking trucks and sharply dressed drivers than we did 10 years ago. That just gives me the grins. Iʼm proud of you.

The editorial

Weʼve tried to give you editorial content that draws you to every page from the front right on to the back. Heck with the pretty truck pictures, you arenʼt going to find any of them in here. There are other sources for those. Phootnotes covers the meaty issues – the ones you want to learn about. Things that will make you a better business owner.

By offering excellent editorial, we have managed to attract fantastic and loyal advertisers – about 160 every month! Thatʼs about 120 more advertisers per month than our competitors.

One of my biggest fears when starting this publication was what articles to put in the second issue. However, editorial has ended up being the least of my problems. There have been so many wonderful people who have stepped up and shared their knowledge with you. It makes me feel humble when I think about our freelance writers. They are the tops! That was another goal – to share knowledge and profit from it.

The advertisers

Which brings up another of our goals. Phootnotes has attracted advertisers who previously didnʼt see the value in national advertising. By offering affordable rates, matchless editorial and a large audience, we lured many companies into the market. Previously, many of them only did regional promotions, but we proved to them that tow truck owners do indeed travel to purchase equipment. (I spoke with one company owner from Alaska who bought a new truck in New York and drove it home!)

Varied advertising is part of the educational process. It helps you learn about different products. It makes you smarter and a better consumer.

Because of the advertisers, you get the paper free! I researched the idea of Phootnotes for a year before printing the first issue. All other industries have multitudes of trade publications, and they are all free to the industry. For some reason, the towing industry was different. You had to pay to get industry information.

We changed that. Since we were providing business management ideas that were certainly needed, if we charged for the publication, the people who really needed it probably wouldnʼt buy it. Besides, itʼs always fun to get something free.

Dog biscuits

But weʼre not doing liver transplants here. It canʼt be serious and all work. We make you read these long and sometimes boring articles, then we give you a dog biscuit. The humor in Phootnotes is your dog biscuit. Thatʼs your reward for paying attention. Another one of our goals: to make you smile.

Towing is a tough business. After being in it for 22 years, Iʼd never want to do it again. Itʼs fun and challenging, but itʼs hard, hard work – dealing with people who are having a bad day, and you are the first one they see. They take out their frustrations on you, even though youʼre there to help them. You go through the same thing 10 to 20 times a day. Then you start the next day. You deserve a dog biscuit!

Other goals

Other goals we have achieved:

• Provide editorial that tweaks your nose and gets you to think and respond. Phootnotes averages 12 letters to the editor, while one competitor averages one letter and the other three letters per month.

• Create a forum were the average business owner can express his views and read the views of others. A place where you can get it off your chest.

• Educate you on subjects that donʼt pertain to towing but do have an affect on your life, which indirectly does influence your business. Things like skin cancer, going bald (that was my very favorite headline: Bald guys never get scalped…or you donʼt have to shave for a frontal lobotomy), and erectile disfunction (the Bob Dole disease), plus many others.

• Our involvement in the industry has even changed the content of the other towing publications. They are now offering business management articles to help you. Sometime itʼs good to copy the competition. Hats off to ʻem for that. Thatʼs good for the industry.

• Promoting towing associations. Itʼs such a benefit for you and your towing business to join and become involved in your local and national towing association. We strongly support all the associations and help them with promotions and news releases.

• We helped get towing companies to raise their rates. One survey we did indicated that over 51 percent of the companies receiving Phootnotes has raised their rates or changed their management style because of articles they read in this paper. Thatʼs enough to give me a swelled head.

• Lessened the use of the “w” word, but it probably wonʼt go away in my lifetime. The term “wrecker” is derogatory and degrading. It doesnʼt at all convey what we do. We havenʼt eliminated it entirely, but weʼre making progress.

• Clark thinks the real reason for me starting the paper was to have an outlet for my weird sense of humor. No denials here. When we started Humor from Princeville, we lowered the bar.

However, there have been times when it did get me in trouble. That was mostly when Joyce didnʼt proofread it first and edit the bad things out. And letʼs not get into another discussion about babies and bowling balls.

• If you were wondering why it is printed on newsprint instead of slick paper, there are several good reasons. We believe in recycling. Phootnotes is printed on 100 percent recycled newsprint with soy ink. It leaves smudges on your hands but no streaks, which makes it an excellent choice for cleaning windows. Itʼs just the right size for floor mats. (Please wipe your pheet first. And keep your eyes on the road. Friends donʼt let friends read and drive.) There are other reasons, like standing out from the other publications when it is laying in a pile in the restroom, but you get the idea.

Personal goals

You must also have personal goals. Like taking vacations, getting back in shape, and not picking your nose in traffic.

Weʼve stressed spending time with your family and away from the phone so you wonʼt be stressed. That should be a mandatory goal. And when you take time off, leave your cell phone at home. Donʼt call the shop to see if they are surviving without you – youʼll spoil their party. You canʼt recharge your batteries if you keep fooling with the plug.

This brings me up to one of my personal goals. During the last few years Iʼve been trying to get my own battery recharged.

Weʼve made lots of changes in this industry that Iʼm very proud of. It makes me feel good to know weʼve made a difference. But there comes a time when you run out of changes, the inside of your head turns to cotton, and you just canʼt think of what to do next.

Phootnotes has been an extremely popular project right from the get-go. Not too bad for a guy living on a former goat farm (motto: “watch where you step”). Itʼs been lots of fun and weʼve made so many good friends, but the stress of deadlines is getting to me. There is always something to worry about, and if there isnʼt, I worry about that.

The stress has had a visual showing on the top of my head. Iʼm starting to look like a 190 pound bullet. Everyone thinks I wear a helmet. My head looks like a door knob with lint. It looks like my neck is blowing a bubble. Since most of my hair has fallen out, I donʼt have to worry about that anymore.

But thank goodness I still have nose hairs to trim.

Since our first year in business, weʼve been approached by other companies who wanted to buy Phootnotes. Weʼve had lots of offers, which reinforces my thoughts that we were doing something right. Itʼs nice to have a vote of confidence.

But none of the companies were the right fit. They were capable, but not quite right, which could also be argued about me.

However, opportunity finally knocked. It only knocked once. I knew it was opportunity and not the engine in my pickup. Luckily, I wasnʼt out back looking for four leaf clovers. But Iʼm getting ahead of myself, and I never did like people cutting in line.

People who are lucky usually prepare for it and follow good advice. The result is luck. I took my own advice and put together a business plan for my publishing company. This wasnʼt recently, I did this many years ago when first starting the newspaper.

(I also had a business plan for my towing business that made it very easy to get truck loans and sell the business. A business plan is an extremely valuable tool.

During the last year, the stress has been worse than normal – deadlines, ads coming in a week or more late, editorial pressures, and telephones ringing from 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. with people wanting to discuss motor clubs, law enforcement agencies treating them unfairly and competitors with their heads up their butts. Along with that has been my cotton-stuffed head with a lack of direction on what to do next that will benefit everyone.

Joyce and I decided itʼs time in our lives to get in the car, turn on the left turn signal and promise not to go over 48 miles an hour. Itʼs our turn to get in the way and act like a towing customer – that guy who is always in front of you when you are in a hurry. We supplied a business broker with our business plan and wished him luck.

Luck had nothing to do with it. It was the business plan. There were quite a few companies arm wrestling over the paper. Like I said, most of them werenʼt the right fit – except for one.

If there is anything that rolls, floats or flies, Trader Publishing Company has a magazine about it. Youʼve probably seen Auto Trader® and Truck Trader®. They publish those national magazines and about 300 more. Now theyʼve acquired their best publication – about towing. With Traderʼs resources, you can expect the same quality articles, advertising and information, plus more!

We were looking for an offer something like, “get out, stay out and donʼt come back.” It didnʼt quite work out that way. We will still be involved. Your dog biscuits will not be cut back or rationed. Just donʼt try calling at 2 a.m. to talk about motor clubs.

The new people (they arenʼt brand new, otherwise they couldnʼt talk and theyʼd be wetting their pants) assured me they donʼt change things when they buy a new publication. If itʼs working, donʼt mess with success. They plan to continue on with the philosophy about sharing knowledge and success to gain profits. They plan to continue following my original list of goals. But since their heads arenʼt stuffed with cotton, they plan on expanding and giving you an eye-bulging newspaper that will help your business.

Iʼve always done lots of research on every project Iʼve taken on. Selling my company to the right buyer has been no different. Between you and me, Iʼm confident youʼre going to like this change.

Since they have purchased so many companies, there is one profession Trader has access to: lawyers. These guys have sent boxes upon boxes of legal documents to sign, date and return. Not small boxes. Not small documents. Whatever their other contributions to our society, lawyers could be an important source of protein.

Speaking of lawyers, do you know the difference between a lawyer and a buzzard? A buzzard canʼt take off its wingtips. (Another dog biscuit.)

They sent one eight page document entitled “Statement of Competency.” It was filled with heartoforeʼs, shallʼs and thereasʼs. Along with a couple willfort thouʼs. There was even a nowthenyou.

I had to certify before a notary public and in front of a witness that I was of sound mind and had no mental or psychological problems.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a sanity clause.

It has been my goal for many years to join a union. This was another reason I was looking for a buyer for the paper. Recently, an opening came up in the very exclusive I.W.W. union. The I.W.W. doesnʼt take just any member. Itʼs by invitation only.

Talk about strict rules. If you belong to the I.W.W., you canʼt talk about strict rules. They only have one basic thing that is mandatory: Nothing is mandatory.

I.W.W. stands for I Wonʼt Work. My membership card should be coming in the mail any day. As soon as I finish writing this, Iʼm going to go up by the hard road, stand by the mailbox and wait for it – ʻcause Iʼll have nothing else to do. I canʼt. Otherwise they will come and take my membership card away from me.

Iʼm going to turn over my newspaper carrierʼs sack to Head Guy Rick Porter. He is going to take over my shoes. Well, he is going to bring his own shoes. Wait until you meet Head Guy Rick. Head Guy Rick is a nice and capable guy and will do a great job. Treat him nicely. But if he needs help, let him know whatʼs what and when. Maybe even how. He already knows why and where.

Iʼve heard enough about motor clubs to last a lifetime. Everyone who complains about motor clubs could use a little cheese with their whine. Weʼre going to ignore all that and turn world headquarters back into a goat barn – without the goats, of course. Guess that just makes it a plain old barn.

Iʼm going to shirk all responsibilities. Iʼm going to malinger – Iʼve always wanted to do that but have been putting it off.

Iʼm going to go to McDonaldʼs, pretend itʼs a four star restaurant and try to pay them with M&Ms.

Iʼm going to to be oblivious to the hard things in life and be overly excited by the little things. Iʼm not going to worry about Y2K, computer crashes, or mud calls, although I still have towing dreams about twice a week.

Iʼm going to spend more time smiling, hugging and thinking happy thoughts. Because after working two years as a driver for a towing company, 22 years owning my own towing company and 10 years publishing a newspaper about towing, I deserve it.

Iʼm not completely leaving the building, but just humor me here and read this like Elvis was speaking: “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Iʼll sure miss you guys.