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Best of the Small Business Web: Pens and Tellers

WaterMark Group, a small vendor of automatic-teller supplies, didn't bank on becoming a profitable online publisher, but now its Web magazine brings in 40% of revenues.
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Company: WaterMark Group Inc.
Revenues: Under $100,000
Web address: www.atmmagazine.com
Site launch cost: $14,000
Current technology profile: Microsoft Windows NT Server, O'Reilly WebSite Professional Web Server, O'Reilly WebBoard Message Board, Microsoft SQL Server, Inline iHTML Enterprise, Red Hat Linux, Apache HTTP Server, T.c.X MySQL
Why we love it: This small vendor of automatic-teller supplies didn't bank on becoming a profitable on-line publisher, but now its Web magazine brings in 40% of revenues
Category of success: Innovation

Tom Harper joined Watermark Group in 1996 as a salesman. Three years later Harper still works for WaterMark, but now he's the senior VP and a magazine publisher. For a guy who had long harbored literary aspirations, it's an unexpected but welcome turn of events -- and one brought about entirely by the Web.

Alan Fryrear started WaterMark in 1994 as a business-forms and graphics company. A year and a half later, he hired Harper to head up a spanking-new ATM-supplies division, which sold things like receipt paper and printer ribbons to local banks and private ATM owners. Fryrear and his new vice-president soon concluded that WaterMark was missing out on a national market: it needed a catalog. The job of creating one devolved on Harper, the author of (unpublished) fiction and a former writer for radio trade publications.

That was in 1997, when Web pages were spreading like kudzu, and Harper figured that WaterMark should have an electronic catalog as well as a paper one. So he threw up a site listing WaterMark's products. To keep customers coming back, he added ATM-related stories lifted from a free industry news wire. The hit count spiked, and Harper -- trying to figure out why -- went out on the Web to see what WaterMark was offering that no one else was. No other site, it turned out, was dedicated to the ATM industry -- indeed, there was precious little information on teller machines anywhere on-line. "The publishing community obviously did not see in the ATM industry a large enough market to be worth servicing," says Harper. "What I saw was a small market that I could dominate. And the cost would be so low doing it on-line. I said, 'Boy, this is an opportunity!"

And so ATMmagazine.com was born, a production of WaterMark Group but with its own identity and advertising-based revenue stream. For the first six months Harper lone-wolfed it, updating the content weekly with rewritten press releases and stories plucked from news services. He sold ads to vendors like NCR, Triton Systems, and Diebold, all of whose products WaterMark distributes.

Last updated: Nov 15, 1999

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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