DL native finds publishing success in Dallas
Rick Wamre worked his way from Detroit Lakes school newspaper writer to publisher of several successful magazines in Dallas. He claims "it's been pretty much of an accident all the way around."
Wamre co-founded Advocate Publishing in 1991, and now publishes several neighborhood magazines in Dallas, with a circulation of 98,700.
In a phone interview from his Dallas office, Wamre told the story of his rise in publishing.
His first journalism experience was at the Detroit Lakes newspaper when John Meyer, then owner of the paper, donated a page -- the Detronian -- a week to the high school for whatever they wanted to put on it.
Wamre said most kids back then weren't interested in writing, so there was one girl that was basically doing all the work. When he was a sophomore, she asked him to help.
"I wasn't really interested, but I said if she let me be editor next year, I'll do it," he said with a laugh. "It was just sort of off the cuff. 'If I can be in charge, I'll do it.' Because I had no reason to be in charge, and she was so desperate, she said yes."
He liked that not only was he able to get feedback from students, he received feedback from the general public, since it was in the newspaper. He said it'd be fun to look back, but he bets it would be pretty pathetic to look back and see what they were doing then.
"It was big stuff at the time," he said.
The high school newspaper stint got him warmed up to journalism, and he applied to University of Minnesota and Northwestern in Chicago for college.
"After whining and begging, it was just as cheap to go (to Northwestern)," he said. Plus, he had a buddy there, so he enrolled at Northwestern.
After his sophomore year, Wamre returned for an internship at The Forum in Fargo. After his junior year, he went to Dallas for an internship at the Morning News, and he also interned at the Miami Herald through a Northwestern program.
After his internships, he realized he really didn't enjoy writing all that much, so he decided to go for a business degree. He was put on waiting lists at three colleges. In the meantime, someone he knew had a job at the Morning News in Dallas and found Wamre had graduated and was in need of a job. They offered him a job for the summer again.
He did that while he waited to get into college, and eventually the paper offered him a full-time position.
"The next day, I go home and there's a message on my answering machine from the University of Illinois saying you're in, come up right now."
Instead, he decided to stay at the job he was just offered, and deferred enrollment. That lasted a few years, and every year, he would get pay increases that would make him stay with the newspaper. Still he wasn't completely happy with his profession.
"I like the business of journalism, but I just didn't get off on seeing my name over a story in the paper."
So, he pursued a degree in commercial real estate to make money and there figured out what he wanted to do.
After graduating, he applied for a job with a real estate company, run by a Chinese man who didn't speak very good English, working in Albuquerque and Phoenix building apartment complexes.
"They were looking for somebody who had an MBA with a real estate concentration who was also a good writer. Well, there was nobody else in the whole school that would have fit that qualification, maybe in the whole country at that point."
He got the job.
After a few years, the company started getting inquiries into how it was making so much money when real estate had taken a hit nationally. It turned out the owners "were not spending money the right way.
"All these people showed up in a black Suburban and suits, came in, took over the bank and closed everything down."
They kept some of the employees around to work out some of the problem assets the owners had been acquiring. They had about $6 billion of property around the world.
Wamre and the other employees were developers "only in title," then asset managers the next day. He worked for the company for 10 years.
Again, he started thinking he didn't like writing, but it would be fun to own something.
"Of course I had no money. So, that was kind of an impediment at the time."
In 1988, he got married, went on a honeymoon, and in November, he learned he had cancer.
"I had testicular cancer, back before it kind of got to be the cool thing to have. Way before Lance Armstrong had it and nobody knew anything about it."
Fortunately, it was not too serious, because doctors caught it early enough.
"It was traumatic, but not as traumatic as it could have been."
He was 30 at the time and working in real estate and still just really wanted to own something in journalism. He continued to work a couple more years in real estate, and in 1990, he decided it was time to make something happen.
"Thinking back, I always thought Minnesota in particular, and Detroit Lakes in particular also, had good papers. They were community minded.
"There was nothing like that here in Dallas."
He didn't have enough money to make it a weekly and not enough news either, so he and a friend made it a monthly tabloid newspaper. They delivered the first issues themselves.
"We printed 10,000 and went out one night after dark so nobody would see us. Threw them out the back of a truck in these target neighborhoods and said, 'well, let's see what happens.'
"We immediately learned the first lesson -- 16 pages of tabloid newsprint, you can't throw it anywhere because it doesn't weigh anything. So we would throw it out the back of a truck and it would float up in the air and fall down in the ditch or fall down on somebody's car.
"It's still dark and now we're really getting afraid that somebody's going to see us. It's 2 in the morning. Now, one's driving and one's walking up and down the street throwing them on the door steps."
Turns out, people liked the tabloid. Slowly but surely they grew from 10,000 to 20,000 circulation. They started a second paper in the fall of 1992, and circulation increased to 40,000 a month. Eventually, it got to 60,000 with a third publication, and is now 98,700 total distribution. The magazines cover the east and north Dallas neighborhoods.
Besides circulation increases and delivery improvements, the magazines have evolved from black and white tabloid newspapers to tabloid with color, to high-bright print, to magazine format with glossy cover, and finally to glossy pages -- a progression he never planned for.
Referring to his success, "I guess I was supposed to be doing it, because I sure didn't try to," he said with a laugh.
The magazines cover neighborhood news, a "sweet spot" no one else was covering. Up until a couple years ago, anyway.
"Now neighborhood news is kind of where everyone wants to be. We went from essentially no competitors to competitors up the whazoo."
He said he wakes up scared every day because not sure what people want, but his company is determined to stay with it.
"We've hit milestone after milestone over the years, and it never gets easier. I am never un-scared, I guess. I'm always still running. I still enjoy coming to work every day."
Wamre and his wife, Sally, and two sons, Jack, 15, and Clark, 13, live a block from his office, and his sons go to school nearby.
His parents still live a few miles north of Detroit Lakes, and he has three sisters -- one in Detroit Lakes, one in St. Cloud and one in Arizona.
Wamre said his family comes home to Detroit Lakes once a year. His kids don't see snow in Texas, obviously, so to them Minnesota is a winter wonderland, with snowmobiles and four-wheelers, everything they can't do in Dallas, he said.
Wamre continues to enjoy his business.
"My main goal is to stay in business and enjoy what I'm doing. I want to be successful and not have to worry about the next dollar, but I'm not playing the lottery trying to get rich."
To check out Wamre's company's site, visit www.advocatemag.com.