LBM Journal’s Digital Transformation

Share this post …

LBM Journal is a B2B media company in the U.S. serving the lumber/building material (LBM) distribution channel. Founded in 2003 by Rick Schumacher, ad sales pro Jodie Cook and designer Rich Hart, the company’s mission is to deliver a mix of strategic, street-level business intelligence with a big-picture perspective of where the industry is and where it’s going.

Taking Digital Seriously

Like many traditional publishers, LBM Journal was print-centric for the first decade-plus of the business. But in 2017, the LBM Journal team realized that they needed to take the digital side of the business more seriously if they wanted to maximize growth.

“We were selling some web ads but just using what we knew from the print side of the business,” says Schumacher. “We knew we needed some expert help if we were going to get the most out of digital. Plus, we’re a small operation with just eight full-time employees but we compete against bigger publishers, so we need to look bigger than we are. This requires a robust digital presence.”

After colleague Michelle Fischer heard Eric Shanfelt, the Founding Partner of Nearview Media, speak at a conference, Schumacher arranged a meeting. “Eric shared some ideas with us and suggested some things we might try, and it all made sense to me,” he says. “We decided to hire Nearview Media for a year and see what kind of results we got.”

Three Areas of Focus

Nearview Media decided to focus on three main areas, starting with the publication’s website. For example, is the website a good reader experience? Is it optimized for search engines? And is it successfully converting visitors to followers and subscribers? LBM Journal’s website traffic is up five-fold since partnering with Nearview Media.

The second area of focus was the email and marketing automation platform. “LBM Journal was using Constant Contact as their e-newsletter management program, but this platform doesn’t provide everything a publisher really needs,” says Shanfelt. “So we migrated them to ActiveCampaign, which is a more robust platform that publishers can build on.”

The new platform handles not only LBM Journal’s e-newsletter, but also its print circulation management. “There were redundancies, inefficiencies and unnecessary expenses with the way we were doing circulation management before,” says Schumacher. “Bringing print and digital circulation together into one database has been much more cost-efficient and effective.”

The third area of focus was the advertising model. “We were selling print and digital ads piecemeal and we ended up giving away a lot of the digital as value-add,” says Schumacher. “We knew we needed to recapture this to maximize our digital advertising revenue.”

Nearview Media proposed a plan in which all inventory would be sold in a package to 12 advertisers per month at a strong price point. This gave advertisers amazing value that doesn’t even compare to Google or Facebook advertising. “It’s a package that is unique to LBM Journal,” says Shanfelt.

A Profitable Partnership

After one year of working together, Schumacher says the partnership with Nearview Media had more than paid for itself. “Continuing to work together was a no-brainer,” he says, noting that the companies have now partnered together for six years.

In 2017, the company’s digital advertising represented 7% of total revenue. Today it is 37% of total revenue. Annual digital advertising revenue for LBM Journal has risen from the low six-figures in 2017 to well into seven figures in 2023.

One of the keys to success was the buy-in and desire at the executive level to go all-in on a digital transformation. “If Rick, who is the owner and publisher, hadn’t been behind this 100%, it wouldn’t have worked,” says Shanfelt.

Another success factor was having key staff members whom Nearview Media could work with closely on execution at a tactical level. “LBM’s editor, sales team, and operations director were critical to every aspect of the digital transformation,” says Shanfelt. “We work closely together so I’m better able to turbocharge their efforts.”

LBM Journal is soon launching a native IOS/Android app that Schumacher says will help boost subscriber engagement and retention and drive more revenue. “This is leveraging all the digital transformation work we’ve done previously that made this step possible,” he says. “Our small team is stretched thin, so Nearview Media brought in a partner that was a good fit for us and minimized our involvement. This is a big part of the value Nearview Media brings to the table.”

Flipping the Print-Centric Model

Schumacher states that while print is far from dead, LBM Journal is that much stronger thanks to the robust digital strategy at its core. “After seeing how Eric and his team built out a digital infrastructure that complements and integrates our magazine and events,” he says, “I’m confident that LBM Journal is well-positioned to serve our audience and our advertisers for the foreseeable future.”

“Hiring Nearview Media was one of the smartest business decisions we’ve ever made,” says Schumacher.

Sign up for my newsletter

I send digital revenue, audience and technology tips for publishers once per week.