Obits

THE BUSINESS: Florida retirement magazine

FOUNDED: 1946

CLOSED: 1997

CAUSE OF DEATH: New owner's expansion strategy alienated advertisers

Your best move now!" exclaimed the cover of Florida Retirement Lifestyles magazine in July 1996. For the 50,000-circulation voice of the Sunshine State's retirement community, it was a banner issue: 86 pages, featuring a home-buying guide for retirees and brimming with real estate ads. And it yielded almost $100,000, a record for a single issue, according to then owners Dyeann and Richard Dummer.

The results apparently impressed William F. Campbell, 55, a financial adviser who had recently relocated to a shoreline home at Lighthouse Point near Fort Lauderdale. That same July, Campbell purchased the magazine from the Dummers for an undisclosed sum. Although Campbell had no publishing expertise, he had spotted a favorable demographic trend in the burgeoning retirement population.

In the 20 years since the Dummers had bought Mobile Home Living, which evolved into Florida Retirement Lifestyles, they had ridden the crest of that trend. Despite some lean times, the Dummers successfully converted a weekly tabloid into a glossy magazine that appeared 10 times a year. But Campbell had greater aspirations.

He envisioned Florida Retirement Lifestyles as the cornerstone of a regional media company--a "publishing empire of his own," Dyeann explains. "When we met, we sat for hours with Bill," she adds. "He had done his homework. He knew a lot about our magazine and our market. He was like a sponge. He wanted to absorb everything we knew about the business."

Campbell already had acquired two small trade publications-- Florida Builder (circulation 10,000), for residential and commercial developers, architects, and contractors; and Markee (circulation 20,000), for film-and-video production workers. All three operations he consolidated at Lighthouse Point, hoping to create economies of scale on expenses like circulation and accounting.

Phase two of Campbell's plan was to spend heavily on the graphics and the content of the magazines, reckoning that a better-quality product would jump-start ad sales, the primary source of revenues. The maneuver backfired. As expenses ballooned, advertising income declined sharply. The Dummers--ace salespeople--were no longer involved. Intent on revamping the magazines, Campbell had neither the time nor the Dummers' knack for selling ads. And the sales staff he hired didn't, either.

Moreover, advertisers had become accustomed to articles in Florida Retirement Lifestyles that showed their businesses in a favorable light. In upgrading the magazine's journalistic standards, Campbell disdained puff pieces. He was "so optimistic that you couldn't help liking him," says Kerry Smith, the Florida Retirement Lifestyles editor from 1994 to 1997, but "we lost a ton of advertisers in the first six months." One of them, Steve Wallschlaeger, general manager of Hacienda Del Rio, a retirement community in Edgewater, Fla., says: "We've known the Dummers for years. When they left, the magazine left with them."

Campbell's umbrella company for the three magazines, BC Holdings Ltd., entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July last year, declaring assets of $98,089 and liabilities of $557,712. Two months later Campbell filed for personal bankruptcy, owing more than $800,000 to 32 creditors, notably the Dummers, who had financed the sale of their magazine with a loan to Campbell. He didn't respond to requests for an interview, and his lawyer refused comment.

Now the Dummers say they may resurrect their magazine, since they believe that the market for it is still viable. The publisher of Florida Living, the state's largest general-interest magazine, concurs. To fill the void, it's launching a magazine with the strikingly reminiscent title of Florida Retirement Living.