This year ‚ÄĒ 2017 ‚ÄĒ marks a milestone for i. It‚Äôs our silver jubilee ‚ÄĒ 25 years! ‚ÄĒ a quarter of a century since GEARS first appeared in the mailboxes for transmission businesses all across the country.
As always, a landmark event of this magnitude demands that we look back to the beginning‚Ä¶ to understand the reason for its inception, and to examine how we got from there to here.
The idea for an in-house magazine was the brainchild of ATRA‚Äôs Board of Directors, headed by then-president Gary Jennings, owner of Jim Jennings Transmissions in Essex, Maryland. In fact, Gary likes to think of himself as a father of GEARS, and most folk who were there seem to support that assessment.
The story goes back to the early to- mid-80s, when ATRA was partnered with MD Publications to put on an annual trade show: Transmission Expo. ATRA provided the technical programs and supporting materials and MD Publications handled the logistics and management seminars.
It seemed like a good idea, but over time, ATRA began to lose its identity. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôd walk onto the show floor, and there was nothing to indicate that ATRA was even part of the program,‚ÄĚ says Gary. ‚ÄúWe were fighting for our survival.‚ÄĚ
So ATRA‚Äôs Board made a momentous decision‚Ä¶ the effects of which would alter the future of the Association: They decided to create their own show‚Ä¶ a show that would become ATRA‚Äôs annual Powertrain Expo.
‚ÄúFrom there, we needed a way to market ATRA and its show. That‚Äôs when GEARS was born.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs a decision that Gary is very proud of to this day. ‚ÄúIn my opinion, GEARS Magazine saved ATRA. It gave us a way to publicize our Association.‚ÄĚ
And, 25 years later, that decision is still going strong, keeping ATRA and Powertrain Expo at the forefront of the automatic transmission repair industry.
Anyone can decide to put out a magazine. Actually doing it gets a little tougher, and every step in the process comes with its own unique set of challenges. That fell to the shoulders of Steve Gray, ATRA‚Äôs executive director back then, and Cheryl Nicholson.
Cheryl was ATRA‚Äôs special projects director. GEARS was a new project, so she handled the day-to-day production tasks of the magazine, even though she had no real experience in magazine publishing. As close as she‚Äôd ever gotten was producing ATRA‚Äôs newsletters and tech bulletins.
It was Cheryl‚Äôs idea to produce GEARS as a tabloid-sized publication, to help set it apart from the existing trade magazines. And she chose newsprint for the early issues to reduce printing costs.
Of course, publishing a magazine costs money. For that, you need advertising. That task fell to Frank Pasley, a man with absolutely no experience in advertising or automatic transmissions. So who better to take the reins for selling ad space in the fledgling GEARS?
Actually, it isn‚Äôt quite as crazy as it sounds: ‚ÄúSelling is selling,‚ÄĚ explains Frank. ‚ÄúI was selling insurance at the time. Selling insurance is a lot like selling magazine space: It‚Äôs an intangible product.
‚ÄúWhen it came time to sell ads, I just picked up a copy of other trade magazines, checked their advertisers‚Äô list, and started calling them, one at a time. And I told them, ‚ÄėWe have a better deal.‚Äô
‚ÄúOne of the advantages of running a tabloid-sized magazine is that someone buying a quarter-page ad would get an ad that was nearly the size of a half page in other magazines. And we were offering it for less.‚ÄĚ
Of course, you can‚Äôt have a magazine without articles‚Ä¶ something to fill the space between the ads. That first issue included an introduction from Steve and an article on pollution insurance from Frank. And, quite appropriately for a first issue, there was an article on the importance of creating a strong business plan from Thom Tschetter.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd just put on my first management seminar for ATRA,‚ÄĚ says Thom. ‚ÄúSteve told me that ATRA was planning its own trade show and publishing a new magazine, and asked if I‚Äôd be interested in writing management articles.‚ÄĚ It was the beginning of what‚Äôs proved to be a long and beneficial relationship.
But, from the very beginning, ATRA was and always will be about providing terrific tech: ‚ÄúBy technicians for technicians,‚ÄĚ as GEARS Managing Editor Rodger Bland so eloquently puts it.
Frank Pasley agrees: ‚ÄúThe one thing that always sold GEARS Magazine ‚ÄĒ and it‚Äôs still its best selling feature today ‚ÄĒ is ATRA‚Äôs tech. No one else comes close to the articles from ATRA‚Äôs technical department. They‚Äôve always stood head-and-shoulders above everyone else.‚ÄĚ
So naturally, any magazine from ATRA would have to have a powerful technical presence. Through all the changes and upheavals, that‚Äôs the one thing that hasn‚Äôt changed‚Ä¶ and it‚Äôs the one thing that never will.
That first issue had a technical insert called Techstop. It began with an introduction from then-Technical Director Rick Rickett. From there, the tech department stepped in, creating a series of columns that would grace the pages of GEARS for years to come: Electronically Speaking, Ask the Experts, Shop Talk, and more.
Back then, ATRA‚Äôs technical department consisted of such luminaries as Glenn Troub, Cliff McCormick, Paul Yaklin, and of course, Dennis Madden, now ATRA‚Äôs CEO. These were the guys who stepped up when the order came down for a new magazine.
Dennis‚Äôs first article for GEARS was Surviving the Ford 4EAT/Mazda G4A-EL, under his Shop Talk column heading. You might think he‚Äôd have found his new responsibility as a magazine writer intimidating. You‚Äôd be wrong.
‚ÄúI was excited about it,‚ÄĚ says Dennis. ‚ÄúBack then, I was deep in tech: I was writing things left and right, discovering new information for the guys in the field. I‚Äôd been writing articles for other magazines so, I saw this as a challenge and I was thrilled to face it.‚ÄĚ
That level of excitement and responsibility hasn‚Äôt diminished over the years, an attitude he now shares with Technical Director Lance Wiggins. Today, you can see their influence throughout the pages of GEARS . Both Dennis and Lance regularly write their own columns and constantly oversee other articles in the magazine, to make certain they live up to the standards that were set 25 years ago.
‚ÄúWe might have gotten a little silly with the names of some of our columns,‚ÄĚ says Dennis. ‚ÄúAsk the Experts, Tech Check, Parts Counter ‚Ä¶ we chose each column to have a specific focus. Parts Counter was about parts updates; Tech Check was where we corrected old wives‚Äô tales that kept popping up in the shop; Ask the Experts was where we presented answers to calls that came into the tech line.
‚ÄúWe were trying to be innovative; it was about making the information interesting. And it gave us the chance to reach out to the entire industry, instead of just speaking with one technician at a time.‚ÄĚ
Once they had all the articles and ads together, Frank would step in to help get the magazine assembled. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd get a stack of insertion orders, and I‚Äôd match them up with the ads. Cheryl would give me the articles, and I‚Äôd stack everything in my car and take it to the layout artists.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd tell them, ‚ÄėI want this ad there,‚Äô and ‚ÄėPut that one here,‚Äô and they‚Äôd lay it out. They‚Äôd ship it off to the printer, who‚Äôd send us a blue-line to evaluate and approve. Once we approved it, they‚Äôd go ahead and print it.‚ÄĚ
In 1995, Rodger Bland came on board as the GEARS production director. He took over many of the day-to-day operations that Frank was handling, leaving him free to focus on ad sales. Rodger became managing editor in 2001.
In 1997, ATRA hired Jeanette Troub away from a layout and design company, and she began laying out GEARS in house. That job became more than one person can handle, so a few years ago, Aurelio Pe√Īa came on board as a full-time artist and designer.
No doubt about it: Today‚Äôs GEARS is a far cry from those early issues. But the one thing that hasn‚Äôt changed‚Ä¶ the one thing that will always be our priority‚Ä¶ is that GEARS is, and will always be, the magazine you can depend on for the latest, most accurate information for your business.
In 1992, there were only two issues of GEARS: summer and fall. The first issue included several articles introducing the fledgling magazine to the industry and announcing the new trade show.
In its second year, GEARS became a quarterly, with winter, spring, summer, and fall issues. The following two years it increased to six issues a year. From 1996 through 2013, it jumped to nine, and for the last four years, GEARS has shown up in your mailbox 10 times a year.
The biggest change came in 2002: That was the year GEARS went from a tabloid to a standard-sized magazine. While the tabloid set it apart and provided larger images, it was difficult to store and advertisers had to create two different-sized ads: one for GEARS (tabloid) and one for standard size magazines.
So, in 2002, GEARS switched to a more familiar, more functional size. ‚ÄúWe used the magazine specs for ad sizes, which were the same for nearly every automotive trade magazine on the market,‚ÄĚ explains Rodger. ‚ÄúNow, instead of creating two separate ads, advertisers can use the same ad in each magazine.‚ÄĚ
Also in 2002, Rodger began to submit GEARS articles for consideration with the IAMA (International Automotive Media Award). Since then, GEARS has received over 60 awards for writing, style, and production. Last year, GEARS won a gold medal for the cover design of the October/November issue.
In the early issues, GEARS was primarily focused on tech. Management and business subjects were on a catch-as-catch-can basis, with contributors offering whatever they wanted, usually having at least something to do with whatever service they were selling.
Today, GEARS consists of two halves: the technical half and the management half. And management articles are based on what we‚Äôve learned from ATRA‚Äôs What‚Äôs Working program, with specific subjects leading to upcoming programs at Expo.
No doubt about it: GEARS has come a long way since its early days. Today GEARS has a full-time staff, plus a wide variety of outside authors and editors, providing articles on management and sales, business development, and of course, technical issues covering every aspect of the industry.
In addition to its familiar, print format, GEARS is also an online magazine ‚ÄĒ www.GEARSMagazine. com ‚ÄĒ with a new site that allows you to search for articles by keyword.
But, according to ATRA President Jim Rodd, probably the biggest surprise to come out of GEARS was that it became an unexpected source of revenue for ATRA. ‚ÄúThe additional income from GEARS has helped us keep membership dues as low as possible,‚ÄĚ says Jim, ‚Äúwhich is a benefit to all ATRA Members.‚ÄĚ
The GEARS of today is very different from what it was 25 years ago. And you can be sure that, by the time we reach our golden jubilee, there‚Äôll be even more dramatic changes.
To begin with, we‚Äôve only just begun to skim the surface of what‚Äôs possible on line. Pictures are great, but an online format allows for video, animation, and maybe even interactive presentations. The sky‚Äôs the limit, and we‚Äôre looking forward to taking full advantage of those boundaries. And, once we reach them, count on the GEARS staff to look for ways to push them to new heights.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôll continue to provide the very best this industry has to offer when it comes to technical information and training,‚ÄĚ says Rodger. ‚ÄúAnd we‚Äôre always on the lookout for fresh faces to grace our editorial and business pages.‚ÄĚ
When the industry sees new challenges, look for GEARS to step up to the plate and continue to hit it out of the park. ‚ÄúTransmission people are the folks who fix the impossible,‚ÄĚ says Dennis. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the spirit of this industry. GEARS is here to help make the impossible become possible. That‚Äôs how it‚Äôs been since our first issue, and it‚Äôs going to be our goal as we look to the future.‚ÄĚ
25 years of GEARS ‚Ä¶ for those of us who‚Äôve helped shape it over the years, that‚Äôs an amazing thought. But one thing you can be sure of: We won‚Äôt be resting on our laurels. The next 25 years starts tomorrow, and we‚Äôll be working on it with the same fervor that we‚Äôve dedicated to the last quarter century.
We‚Äôll be celebrating GEARS‚Äôs silver jubilee at this year‚Äôs Expo, October 19‚Äď22 in Las Vegas. Make sure you stop by and say hello to the folks who‚Äôve made GEARS an invaluable part of your business model for the last 25 years. We‚Äôll look for you there!