Fifteen years ago, Bernie Krzys came up with an idea that seemed simple enough. What if he created a publication that covered the trenchless technology market — a market on the verge of becoming the next big thing in underground construction that no one was talking about?
But would anyone read it? Subscribe to it? Buy advertising in it?
It was the right idea at the right time. What started as a bimonthly publication grew into a popular monthly and spawned six spinoff magazines and a slew of conferences — as well as the respect of an industry.
“When we started out, I remember people telling me, ‘It’s a great idea, but how are you going get enough to write about it,’” Krzys says. “I don’t know how many people told me that. It’s funny to hear that now, but it made me nervous in the beginning. In 15 years, we’ve never run out of ideas, people and stories to write about. Trenchless technology is as fresh and exciting today as it was back then.”
And all this has been done from the Benjamin Media offices in Peninsula, Ohio, just south of Cleveland.
Krzys is modest about his publication’s place in the industry, but Trenchless Technology has been a key component in its growth over the years. But industry insiders know its importance to their industry.
“Trenchless Technology magazine has been a very useful source of information on what is going on in the industry,” says Dr. Ray Sterling, director of the Trenchless Technology Center. “It also has helped attract undergraduate students to be interested in getting involved in the industry and the NASTT Student Chapters, and it has helped to promote a sense of cohesiveness among what can be quite different sets of technologies for trenchless installation, rehabilitation, replacement and inspection.”
Krzys was executive vice president and president at American Augers of Wooster, Ohio, from 1984-1991 as the trenchless industry was just starting to emerge. He was active within the fledgling industry, participating in the Equipment Manufacturers Institute (EMI). In recent years, EMI merged with the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association (CIMA) to become the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, or AEM, and he helped to launch the Trenchless Technology Center at Louisiana Tech. He forged many relationships with the industry’s key players and he knew that trenchless technology was on the rise when he left American Augers.
After he left American Augers, he set up a consulting office in the building of a personal friend, Richard Foster, whose company GIE Media in Cleveland publishes trade publications. Perhaps the publishing surroundings inspired him — by spring 1992, he developed an idea. Having a publishing background, as well as the recognition in the trenchless industry, Krzys realized what he wanted to do: create his own magazine that focused exclusively on an industry he knew so well and that was just starting to stretch its wings.
Krzys was not a novice to publishing. Before joining American Augers, he worked several years at a Cleveland publishing company, which published state farm and green industry magazines. Prior to leaving, he was president of the company. So with his publishing background and knowledge of and contacts within the fledgling trenchless industry, he believed he had a solid and unique publication to offer.
“There wasn’t anything out there just for trenchless technology,” Krzys remembers. “There were other construction books that had a twice-a-year focus on trenchless technology, but no one was even calling the industry trenchless technology back then. The areas that were getting attention were auger boring, horizontal boring, pipe jacking and directional drilling. Even our early issues focused on these areas more than the rehabilitation side of things.”
His next step that spring was to mock up a version of what the magazine would look like so he could pitch it to those in the trenchless industry who he respected to garner their opinion. “At the time, I used a four-color Xerox type facility to make the magazine, which amounted to 12 pages of potential stories to be featured,” Krzys says. “I put together a circulation plan and brought the mock up copy to the No-Dig Show in Washington, D.C., that May. I went around to the people I knew and asked, ‘What would you think if I started a magazine about the industry and called it Trenchless Technology?’ The reaction was 100 percent favorable.
“To some degree I was surprised,” he says. “I thought it was a great idea and through my role at American Augers, I had a good feel for the industry. But until you put your idea out there for others to judge and react to it, you never know for sure.”
Adding that enthusiasm to his own, Krzys went to work. He asked a former American Augers marketing manager, Paul J. Miller, to help launch Trenchless Technology with a July/August 1992 issue. Miller would handle the editorial duties, while Krzys tackled advertising and circulation. A graphic designer was also hired. Together, they mapped out the first three issues — without any advertising being sold.
With no offices of their own just yet, Miller and Krzys worked out of the GIE offices to create the first issue. The plan was to produce a bimonthly publication and Krzys envisioned his publication to be different from the construction magazines already in circulation. Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of the industry, he wanted to feature the people in the industry and their accomplishments through company and individual profiles, record-setting projects, and creating an interactive dialogue between the magazine and the readers. An avid runner, Krzys liked Runner’s World magazine and used that as a model.
“People like to read about what other people are doing,” Krzys says. “I always thought that people were more interesting to read about vs. just an outright job story or a piece of equipment. I still do.”
That line of thinking is how the concept for Trenchless Technology Person of the Year developed. Krzys attributes this idea from the popular Time magazine Person of the Year, which annually tabs a man, woman or idea that has most influenced events in the preceding year. “And that’s how the Trenchless Technology Person of the Year came about,” Krzys says. “We thought this would be a fantastic way to acknowledge who is leading our industry. Since Tom Iseley was named the first Person of the Year in 1993, this has become one of the most anticipated announcements of the year in the industry.”
Trenchless Technology Projects of the Year were also added to showcase the premier projects in North America. Krzys also included a take off on the traditional question and answer format through the Technical Forum. Here, industry experts took on questions readers had about certain aspects of the trenchless industry. Answers are generic in nature and not product specific. This format continues today and the Technical Forum has grown into one of the most read features in the magazine.
Another well-regarded idea Krzys introduced is the annual Top 50 Trenchless Technology Engineering Design Firms. This is a take-off of the Fortune 500.
The First Issue
Putting that first issue together wasn’t easy. They needed advertising support and paid subscribers. Krzys developed a list of potential subscribers through various lists and he incredibly received a tremendous initial response to the magazine, which made him a bit nervous. “We got an amazing amount of money in paid subscriptions,” he says. “But with any startup venture, you are nervous. Every week I looked into the mirror and asked, ‘Is this really going to happen?’ But we had received $20,000 in checks for paid subscriptions. I didn’t cash them right away in case the magazine didn’t take off.”
Those checks went into a shoebox for safe-keeping while Krzys worked the phones and his industry connections to garner advertising for the first issue. And then a huge break came. A call came in from an industry heavyweight: Ditch Witch wanted to hear more about the magazine and discuss possibly advertising in it. Krzys had known Ditch Witch president Ed Malzahn for some time through their work with EMI.
Krzys remembers the visit this way: “At that time Paul [Miller] wasn’t an official employee as I was still trying to get Trenchless Technology off the ground. I called and asked if he could come to the office ‘to work’ while I met with the Ditch Witch folks to give a more professional atmosphere. GIE had a conference room that looked like an office and when they arrived, I took them into that room as if it were my office. Paul had a work station set up outside the conference room and was ‘working’ at a computer. As we walked by him, I said ‘Hey Paul, why don’t you come join us?’
“We were putting on a bit of a show then,” Krzys remembers with a chuckle. “But by the end of the meeting, Ditch Witch agreed to put a four-page insert in that issue. That was huge for us. To this day, we are most grateful for what Ditch Witch did.”
Buoyed by that support, Krzys turned to his friends at Michels, TT Technologies and Bor-Mor, with the latter two taking half-page ads on the back cover of that first issue.
“For those first issues, selling advertising was a challenge. There was no lead list except the advertiser’s index in the latest issue,” Krzys says. “I’d go down through every advertiser to get them into the next issue. We sold issue to issue because being a startup publication, people didn’t know if we would be around.”
Another industry first developed from the creation of Trenchless Technology: trenchless conferences. While he was at American Augers, the company had organized weeklong seminars on its equipment. TT Technologies’ Chris Brahler reminded Krzys of that success and suggested that he should do the same but instead invite other companies as well to present the growing trenchless market to attendees. Krzys liked the idea and sought the advice on how to get started from Wally Huber (then with CUES) while at the WEFTEC show in fall 1992. Huber then introduced him to Allen Thomas (then NASSCO executive director), who helped Krzys launch what would be known as the Trenchless Field Seminars and later Trenchless Road Shows.
“We used to conduct two seminars a year, in the spring and fall,” Krzys says. “We brought in microtunneling, cured-in-place, auger boring, root control, utility tunneling, cleaning systems people — we covered it all. We later set up directional drilling seminars mostly in Las Vegas, which were tremendously popular as the HDD market started to take off. Everything we did was based on field demonstrations with some classroom instruction.”
Pretty soon, the conference department got too large for Krzys to handle himself and he turned to his brother, Dick, in 1994 to organize and run it — which he did until his retirement earlier this year. Dick Krzys also served as associate publisher of the magazines during that time. Krzys’ son, Rob — now associate publisher — joined the team in 1993, starting in circulation and later becoming the marketing director.
Things are a bit different today. Trenchless Technology started out with four employees that first year. Fifteen years later, the company has evolved into Benjamin Media Inc. (BMI). Krzys renamed the company at the suggestion of Rob to honor Krzys’ father, Ben. BMI has 33 employees to produce the six magazines that cover the trenchless, tunneling, broadband and compact equipment industries, as well as an expanding conference department and Internet operations.
The conference department today not only organizes the company’s trenchless education program, but also manages the industry’s largest and premier trenchless show, No-Dig, is a partner in the Colorado School of Mines Microtunneling Short Course, produces the Trenchless Road Show, Digital City EXPO and the UIM Conference Series. BMI also conducts Webinars on the Internet — the latest Internet innovation.
“We are always thinking of new ways to strengthen our company, as well as our position in the markets we cover,” Krzys says. “We’ve had three big launches in recent years with Underground Infrastructure Management (UIM), Last Mile and Compact Equipment magazines to broaden our base. We’ve added new conferences and will soon be publishing a book on asset management. We’re also making a huge push on the Internet by revamping our Web sites, adding online-exclusive material and videos.”
Krzys marvels at how far his startup company has come in 15 years. “Probably 80 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years and 80 percent of the remaining fail in the second five years,” he says. “And here we are 15 years later. We are an ideas and information company and we cannot lose sight of that. I’m proud of the relationships and respect our staff has forged within the industry, which remains exciting to this day. I like to kid people in the office and say ‘TGIM — Thank God It’s Monday — because we have all these exciting things to get done.”