Surf's Up-So Are Profits

By knowing their market and controlling their costs, three partners are on the crest of a mini publishing empire.

W

ipe clear any image you might have of the stereotypical beach­bum surfer, with little on his mind and even less in his pockets. Jacob Knight, 29, Mike Freihofer, 31 and Tracy Mikulec, 33, have turned their passion into cash by publishing magazines about the stuff they love: surfing, snowboarding, bodyboard­ing and wakeboarding. Started in 1993 with one 7,500-circulation surfing rag distributed free through surf shops, the trio's company San Clemente, Califor­nia-based World Oceans Media, now boasts four titles with a combined circu­lation of more than 300,000. The com­pany brought in $3.2 million in revenue last year, eking out a small profit: .

Some companies aim for success by pushing sales hard. These guys have another approach: minimize costs. They do all their production in-house, rely on no one from the outside-except for a steady influx of freelance writers and photographers-and stay within their niche.

The idea for World Oceans Media came about in 1993 with Freihofer and Knight bemoaning the lack of a decent surfing magazine. So Freihofer placed a call to his old college buddy, Mikulec, who was then art director working in large adverising agency in Florida .

"Do you know anything about how to put a magazine together?" he asked. "Well, that's what we do here," Mikulec responded. "Most of the surf magazines that were out at the time were so devoid of any creativity," Mikulec says. "The [surfing] industry was so flamboyant, so cutting edge-it was the trend­ setter of society. And I thought, Why aren't those publications like that?"

While Freihofer knew little about publishing, he was quite familiar with the surfing industry. For years he had lived and surfed in Huntington Beach, California, while working at a bike shop. The trio's first title, Wave Action, was specifically targeted at the "grommets"-young up-and ­ coming surfers, a demographic that the industry's advertisers are desperate to reach.

By using his ad agency's production equipment after working hours, Mikulec was able to eliminate the magazine's pre­press costs, and produced Wave Action for next to nothing. Working for the first few months between California and Florida via FedEx, the partners arranged to overnight stories, photographs and page layouts to Mikulec for production.

By the time the first issue of the magazine was ready, the partners had already managed to entice two major surfwear advertisers; others trickled in. "I'll never forget it;" says Freihofer, "I wish I would have framed one of those checks."

After projecting out ad sales, they were startled at the long-term potential. The next step was to form a publishing company-a move that would bring three new titles: Plow Snowboarding Magazine, Launch Wakeboard Magazine, Wide Open MX Magazine, and Pit Bodyboard Magazine.

From the beginning, the partners shared a similar philosophy about how to approach their business. "We take a real slow-growth approach to our magazines," Mikulec says. Until 1995 the partners were generating just enough revenue to pay the bills. Then came a long-awaited contract that got them onto newsstands, garnered them widespread success with Launch-their national wakeboarding title-and enticed a glut of new advertisers. "Suddenly we started getting phone calls from people outside of the industry," Freihofer says. "Calvin Klein wanted to do a scent-strip ad. It was like, `How did you ever hear about us?"'

"We keep this niche publishing idea," Mikulec says, "where we have the framework built: We own the production from start to finish and producing additional titles doesn't really cost anything."

"I mean, we can launch a magazine for just spit," Freihofer interjects.

This year, World Oceans Media's projected revenue is expected to exceed $4 million-and that's nothing to spit at.

P.O.V. OCTOBER 1997

Dave Carpenter is a former staffer at Hot Lava and Detour magazines.