NEWS- Gimme shelter: <i>Progress</i> takes on new magazine

Albemarle resident Eric Lund thinks he's found a niche. And now that he's found it, he's also found a competitor.

Three months after he launched the area's first stand-alone "shelter magazine," a glossy monthly called Charlottesville House and Home and Garden, he finds himself bracing for the arrival of what he believes is an imitator.

On May 31, the Charlottesville Daily Progress and the Waynesboro News Virginian have teamed up to launch their own glossy-covered shelter mag called Homestyle.

"I thought it was kind of interesting, because it looks like what we do," says Lund. "The ad dimensions are very close to ours, and the ad rate's just a little less than our published rate."

Lund notes, however, that he's been told that while Homestyle will have a glossy cover, it will have newsprint inside.

While Progress publisher Lawrence McConnell did not return phone calls from the Hook, this would not be the first time the Progress showed the sincerest form of flattery.

In March, the Progress unveiled its second copy of Our Great Outdoors, an annual insert that some commentators found to bear a striking resemblance to the 12-year-old monthly Blue Ridge Outdoors. And in the early 1990s, before it was owned by Media General, the Progress launched not only Homes to compete with the then-new Real Estate Weekly, but also launched a lawsuit (ultimately tossed out) against the creators of that same Weekly.

Lund and his business partner, Ike Allen, launched their new publication March 1 with a 15-000-copy print run and a peek inside UVA football coach Al Groh's new house. They say they saw an "overabundance" of real estate magazines, with one glaring underabundance. "There was nothing," Lund says, "to help you out once you bought the house."

Conventional wisdom suggests that Charlottesville already has too much media. Who, for instance, thought that what was then the 186th-largest Nielsen television market could support four network affiliates when Gray Television arrived in 2004?

"The natural inclination is to see the pie as a finite size, and each slice gets smaller," says Lund. He doesn't believe that's necessarily true. He cites the growth of newspapers the Hook and C-ville Weekly as evidence a market can be expanded.

Real Estate Weekly publisher Dave Phillips isn't so sure. "I think there's room for one," says Phillips. "The Progress is coming out to kill this one. They have the deeper pockets."

Then there's Abode, an insert into C-ville Weekly that's been published since 2002.  "Abode has never really thrilled me," says Phillips. "I don't know how much it's picked up." Weekly publisher Frank Dubec declined to comment for this story.

One thing Phillips doesn't doubt is the willingness of home-buyers to open wallets. "The amount people spend in the first 18 months after buying a house is something ridiculous and almost unbelievable," says Phillips, listing carpet, furniture, and plantings as just a small sample, and he says some people spend as much as 25 percent of the cost of the house. 

The Homestyle advertising rate card promises 42,000 copies a month, 38,000 of which would be delivered inside the DP and News Virginian. "It's going to be tough to break into that market," says Phillips. "Maybe the Daily Progress can with its distribution."

"It's harder for smaller companies to spread their money around because advertising is so expensive," says CogswellStone co-owner Lisa Cogswell, who advertises in Abode as well as Lund's new House and Home and Garden.  She thinks there will be plenty of support from readers for both new shelter mags. "People want to get the best value for their money," she says. "They're researching before they buy."

Jill Mulligan at the Great Frame-up, which advertises in House and Home, says Lund's four-color magazine has an attractive look and interesting content. "It's not about open houses," she says. And, people are "always looking for ideas," she adds. "The articles have local interest and are a good source of information."

Over at the Noland Company, a plumbing wholesaler, manager Ron Fisher doubts there are enough advertising dollars to support the new pubs. He advertises in House and Home, and has no plans to switch to Homestyle. "We can support it because they're basically free to the customers," Fisher says.

"We target the middle and upper end," says Lund. H&H&G can be picked up at home-related retailers, home designers, real estate offices, and furniture stores. "We have a more selective audience."

This isn't Lund's first start-up. Before moving to Charlottesville in 2003 as the trail-along spouse to his UVA-recruited physician wife, Lund published lifestyle glossies Chesapeake Life, Lehigh Valley Style, and Susquehanna Style.

Now on its third issue, House and Home launched "in the black," says Lund. He sold all the advertising in the first two issues– and staffers work out of their homes for lower overhead. "We try to put all the money in the glossy paper and look," he says.

Lund thinks Homestyle's most direct competitor is Abode because both are newsprint and carried inside other papers. "We see ourselves as something different," he says. As for the notable similarities between House and Home and Homestyle, Lund has a response.

"I'm flattered," he says.

Eric Lund thought he'd found a local niche no one else had noticed– until the Daily Progress decided to launch its own shelter magazine.