Kathy Douglass, CEO, The Greensheet: Following In An Entrepreneurial Mother's Footsteps
Kathy Douglass is CEO of The Greensheet, a Texas-based publication connecting local buyers and sellers, with nearly a million readers - the largest free weekly circulation in the state.
The Greensheet was founded in 1970 by Kathy Douglass’s mother Helen Gordon, a tough entrepreneur who faced incredible resistance from the male-dominated Texas business network. Ms. Gordon showed great resolve in getting the company off the ground and turned The Greensheet into a classified publication powerhouse By the time she retired, Ms. Gordon had grown the company to one of the most successful in the state.
Kathy picked up where her mother left off in 1994, continuing the strong performance of The Greensheet. In 2005, the company successfully entered the offset printing business at a time when the move was very difficult to make. That same year, Ms. Douglass managed to secure The New York Times as a client. The Greensheet has printed the Houston edition of the Times as well as several other major publications ever since.
Since 2007, The Greensheet has become more heavily involved in creating a digital product and presence. Given the company’s history as a print publication, this has been a challenge, but under Kathy’s leadership, revenues have remain steady, and the company’s presence in social media has boomed.
TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?
KD: The Greensheet has two great competitive advantages over our competitors. First, it works! For years, our slogan has said “The Greensheet Brings You Buyers”, and we only say that because over and over again our customers tell us the advertising works for them. It brings the results they are looking for. Our customers see excellent returns.
Our other major advantage is that The Greensheet is safe. Some classified publications push items that aren’t appropriate for everyone to bring in revenue. The Greensheet has a rigorous review process. We do our very best to stop scams or material that might be inappropriate from running.
A 13-year-old can pick up The Greensheet and browse its pages or look through our online classifieds.
TNW: What is your business model?
KD: In some ways, our model is simple. The Greensheet is known for its excellent results. We bring buyers and sellers together locally, we are affordable and effective.
But what goes into bringing those buyers to customers and getting the word out is a little more complex. We have a distribution program that is accurate and regimented to ensure response for advertisers and individuals placing classified ads. Our ads are both online and in print. We also are very detailed in how we arrange our paper throughout our distribution areas to create better, more efficient ways of connecting buyers and sellers.
The Greensheet is also very involved in providing a digital product for our customers. We want to provide full coverage of online and digital advertising in a way that boosts business.
Outside of our ads, The Greensheet offers commercial printing and offset printing. We print some of the largest publications and newspapers in Texas, and Texas editions of some of the world’s finest papers.
TNW: Who are your customers and partners now?
KD: Our customers are a very diverse group. Because we allow ads for so many different products and services, we have to consider a really broad arrangement of potential audiences and buyers. It can be challenging, but it’s also one of the real strengths of our business.
When it comes to printing, we are one of the top presses in our area. For example, we print the Houston edition of the New York Times and several other large publications.
So when it comes to those customers, we are usually talking to either small business owners or management in larger companies, to make sure they get the best offset printing or digital printing available.
As for partnerships, The Greensheet works with a great variety of non-profits. Most recently, we sponsored Earth Day Houston. We also have our own 501(c)(3) called The Greensheet Education Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting literacy in the schools.
TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?
KD: It’s hard to say what has been the most effective source of new customers. One thing we have really pushed is the effectiveness of our paper. We bring you people who are looking to buy. End users browse our publication and look to purchase, so companies and individuals alike have a higher likelihood of making a sale.
Since 1997, we have been running commercials that use our slogan as a jingle chorus, telling the world that The Greensheet Brings You Buyers. By reinforcing that message and continually pushing the strength of our papers, we have found and locked in our target market.
Recently, our marketing strategy has focused on a dual advertising angle that offers consumers the chance to advertise with a print-digital combination that finds buyers no matter where they are. Our whole company has worked very hard to promote this print-digital combination. We are very happy to be able to offer it.
TNW: What is next for your company?
KD: We have recently become very involved in social media. Over the next few months, we are rolling out an assortment of blogs that focus on different audiences. Topics will include cars, home improvement, pets, personal finance, commercial printing and HR. We want to keep our customers informed and use the blogs to show what we have to offer.
We may even eventually begin rolling out social media packages as an extension of our digital presence.
TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?
KD: The Greensheet has always been a traditional company, and we really benefit from that.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that you have to stick with what you’re good at. We know everything there is to know about our paper. All of our products are related to our core brand.
Another lesson: Always brand. The Greensheet is a household name in the Houston market. Through brand exposure and smart marketing, we have turned that into one of our best tools. Between our jingle, our distribution exposure and our other intelligent marketing initiatives, we put our brand in as many locations as possible.
TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?
KD: We have been through several severe storms that impacted the business. Katrina, (New Orleans) caused advertising in Houston to slow down. During Rita the city was shut down and this caused people to divert attention away from business for several weeks. Then, of course, there was Ike. Our building had the roof ripped off and we had water damage inside the building. But we were not alone. The entire city dealt with the destruction for weeks and months.
Every paper was delivered on time through each storm, yet we lost many advertisers. I realized the importance of having people who care for the company and the success of our customers, which we have. Everyone did whatever it took to get the paper on the street. No one needed to be told what to do: They knew. They communicated and worked together as a tight team, and it worked.
TNW: What leadership lessons did you learn from your mother, the previous CEO of The Greensheet?
KD: My mother taught me about a classic quality of successful business owners: resilience. She never gave up.
When my mother came to Houston, she was denied loans by three different banks for not having a husband to co-sign. Even when she finally did get going, the male-dominated Texas business network presented quite a challenge for her as a female entrepreneur.
But she never gave up. The Greensheet arose as the original classified publication because of her refusal to quit.
TNW: Tell us a little about how your business has adapted to embrace the digital age and how you plan to stay abreast of technological advancements in your industry.
KD: We have a great marketing team that really understands the new digital era. SEO, social media and electronic PR are all really important for the modern company. We always invest our resources in smart, proven methods so we get the best results. Our products are effective because we are dedicated to them. The Greensheet staff does its research. We develop great products.
TNW: How would you describe your leadership style today?
KD: My leadership style is people-focused and people-oriented. The Greensheet is a collection of great individual efforts from driven, talented people. We work hard every day and everyone does their part at the company. I think that really translates in our company culture. We strongly support a positive work-life balance so people can see their families and live their lives outside of the office, too.
When someone is having trouble, I try to help them on an individual level and see them as a person rather than a set of results.
TNW: What is one lesson you would like to pass on to other women leaders?
KD: Gender diversity is really essential to business. Men and women both bring different ideas and styles to the table, and you can’t neglect the impact of either one. Make sure to incorporate the positive impact and ideas of both men and women.
Good ideas and good results are gender neutral.
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