Iowa State University Alumni Association| online edition | winter 2009

Roy Reiman



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Roy Reiman, a self-made millionaire and publishing giant, has a knack for turning nearly every project he touches into gold.

As CEO of Reiman Publications, he produced 14 magazines with a combined circulation of 16 million readers. His top-selling magazine, Taste of Home, had more subscribers than Sports Illustrated or Time. One in every 10 homes subscribed to at least one of Reiman’s magazines.

After he left the company in 2005, Reiman found that there was one thing he wasn’t all that good at: retirement.

At age 74, his “to do” list has not gotten any shorter. Sure, he plays golf once or twice a week. But he pooh-poohs some of his friends who sleep late and do nothing but play golf every day.

Since “retirement,” Reiman has written a book (I Could Write a Book, now in its second printing), launched
a new magazine (Our Iowa, which after just six issues already has 40,000 subscribers), manages 27 tenants in downtown Greendale, Wis., oversees the Reiman Foundation, serves on seven or eight boards, and has just opened a new restaurant.

It’s no surprise, really. Reiman (’57 agricultural journalism) has been an idea guy since his days at Iowa State. Once, to cover college costs, he turned out a “Co-ed Catalog” and marketed it to the men on
campus – an early forerunner of online dating. It got him in trouble, but it also got him thinking: every group has a niche – a need to fill – and Reiman always had an idea that would fill that need.

Hard work pays off
Reiman grew up on a farm in west-central Iowa, where he learned the value of hard work. He thought he’d become a veterinarian, but his Iowa State professors saw that he had a talent for writing and encouraged him to go into journalism.

He earned money to pay for college by working at a creamery in Carroll, Iowa, on a construction crew, and later at the campus print shop. He waited tables for a sorority house, sold ads for a bowling alley, wrote news releases, reported agricultural market news, and was a spotter for the play-by-play announcer for ISU football. He even sold cookware for a while.

After graduating from Iowa State, he went to work for Capper’s Farmer, a magazine in Topeka, Kan. Within nine months, he was named managing editor of the magazine.

He was just 23 years old.

It was at Capper’s Farmer where he met the love of his life and partner for the next 47 years: Bobbi. (Reiman says the best thing he got out of Topeka was Bobbi.)
They married and started a family. Another publishing job lured the Reimans to Milwaukee, a city that’s been their home ever since. But it didn’t take long for Reiman-the-idea-guy to leave the security of working for someone else and launch his own publication. And he did it from his basement…on a manual typewriter.

A magazine empire
The first magazine, introduced in 1963, did not succeed. But Reiman continued to see opportunity around every corner. He saw a niche to start a magazine for farm building contractors, and Farm Building News was born.

The magazine was an immediate success. Reiman followed that with a series of publications on home, family, food, nostalgia, and a country lifestyle: Farm Wife News (now Country Woman), Farm & Ranch Living, Country Handcrafts, Country, Reminisce, Taste of Home, Birds & Blooms, Quick Cooking, Country Discoveries, Light & Tasty, Backyard Living, and Cooking for 2.

Despite conventional publishing wisdom, each of these magazines was published without advertising, deriving income solely from subscriptions. Another unique aspect of Reiman’s magazines: Articles and photos were provided almost entirely by readers.

Whatever the secret formula Reiman discovered, it worked. In 2000, Taste of Home, the company’s most popular title, had 5.3 million subscribers, making it the sixth largest magazine in America. When he sold the company, Reiman Publications, in 1998, it brought a staggering $640 million.

More than mags
Reiman’s fortune grew not only out of magazine publishing but from cookbook publishing, cooking schools, country travel, and a catalog division that sold calendars, T-shirts, posters, bird feeders, tomato boosters, mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and more.
The company’s most famous poster,“The Little Farmers,” which came from an amateur photo on the office door of an agronomy professor at Iowa State, sold more than 3 million copies. Since 1996, his company has sold 27 million cookbooks accounting for half a billion dollars in gross sales.

When the Reiman Publications headquarters became overrun with visitors demanding a tour, Reiman established a visitors’ center in downtown Greendale. Visitors flocked in by the busload. The second year the center was open, it tallied close to a quarter of a million people. When he saw the need for a restaurant in Greendale, he opened Taste of Home restaurant.

It takes a village
After Reiman sold the company in 1998 to Madison Dearborn Partners of Chicago, he stayed on as CEO. A few years later the company was sold again, this time to Reader’s Digest. Reiman gradually reduced his involve-ment, and he officially retired two years later.
He and Bobbi turned their energy – and some of their capital – to reviving the economy of their small community of Greendale, a historic town just south of Milwaukee. When a mega-mall was built nearby, the town’s business district had suffered greatly. In addition to locating the Reiman Publications visitors’ center there and opening a restaurant, the Reimans bought the buildings on both sides of Broad Street, the city’s main business district.

That area is now a thriving shopping destination, with gift shops, boutiques, a bookstore, coffee shop, jewelry store, kitchen wares, and other one-of-a-kind shops. The area attracts groups to its annual “Dickens
of a Christmas” and other events.

The Taste of Home restaurant has closed, but last fall Reiman was eagerly anticipating the opening of a new restaurant in its place: Harmony Inn the Village, a new restaurant with a barbershop quartet theme.

Roy’s Rome
Bobbi Reiman (’06 honorary alumna) fondly refers to Iowa State as “Roy’s Rome.” The campus in Ames, she says, is a place where Roy discovered talents that he didn’t know he had.

“Everything he’s done keeps coming back to Iowa State,” Bobbi said.

Roy and Bobbi Reiman’s generosity is legendary at Iowa State. The couple is best known for providing the funds to establish Reiman Gardens, a 14-acre botanical center located at the south entrance of campus. The Gardens were recently named the 2008 “Attraction of the Year” by the Iowa Tourism Office.

The Reimans have also supported business and journalism programs and scholarships, including entrepreneurship lectures in the College of Business, and they were the lead donors for the ISU Alumni Center.

The Reiman family has also supported the arts: The Roy and Bobbi Reiman Public Art Studio Gallery in the new Christian Petersen Art Museum in Morrill Hall bears their names.

Former ISU President Martin Jischke, under whose leadership the Reiman Gardens were started, said, “There are people – Roy Reiman is one that comes to mind – who just absolutely love the university and would do almost anything in their power to help. That’s actually pretty inspirational, when you find people like that, that care that deeply about the university, who believe in its purposes, and are so utterly grateful for what it has done.”

Our Iowa
Three years ago, Reiman went back to his roots and launched a new magazine: Our Iowa. The Ames-based magazine debuted in 2007 and is edited by Jerry Wiebel (’70 agricultural journalism).

“We’re just two men and a magazine,” Reiman said. “We have no staff. We draw on our part-time field editors – we have one in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“Our Iowa is basically written by Iowans.

I told Jerry when we started the magazine, ‘We won’t make a fortune, we won’t lose the farm, but we’ll have some fun.’ I just totally missed the creative environment. I missed editing. I missed the interaction with readers. I had ideas going to waste.”

Wiebel worked with Reiman in Greendale as editor of Country and Country Extra magazines. He says the environment Reiman creates for his staff is always fun.
“He has an incredible amount of energy and is just a wellspring of creativity,” Wiebel says. “His ideas keep coming all the time.”

Reiman was honored in 2008 by the Iowa Tourism Office as “Media Friend of the Year” for his work with Our Iowa.

And his retirement continues.

Bobbi Reiman

'A terrific sounding board'

Make no mistake: Roy and Bobbi Reiman are a team.

Together, they built a publishing empire. They raised six children together. And together they have generously supported their university and their community.

“Bobbi has been a terrific sounding board,” said Roy Reiman, her husband of 47 years. “She’s got a master’s degree in common sense.”

Bobbi said the two have always worked through
projects together, bouncing ideas off of each other, checking each other’s work.

“Many times, I’ll come up with a concept but she’ll come up with the idea that makes it click,” Roy said.
Bobbi went to Clark Business School in her home
state of Kansas.

“I went to a secretarial school because my three sisters before me did that,” she said. “I grew up in a very small town where you didn’t think about going to college.”

But she experienced Iowa State vicariously through Roy, even before they were married.

“It was a place he talked about all the time,” Bobbi said. “He tells stories so beautifully that I felt a part of it even though it was before we met. He just made that whole experience real.”

Bobbi was presented an Honorary Alumna Award from Iowa State in 2006.

“I was thrilled,” she said.

The Reimans have now given back ten-fold to the university, funding Reiman Gardens, the ISU Alumni Center, and many other programs and scholarships. When they agreed to fund the initial construction
cost of the Alumni Center, they reasoned that “it didn’t make sense to have a garden without a house.”
“The Alumni Center is just a completion of that
whole area,” Bobbi said of the south entrance of campus. “Now the alumni have a place to go and a garden to see.”

Bobbi said she hopes the projects her family has
supported will make a difference at Iowa State for years to come.

“I think it’s the generations to come that I hope [these gifts] will influence, that somebody came to Iowa State, learned a talent, learned how to make a success of that talent, and gave back to where it was received.”

Roy said that Bobbi’s influence on the family’s business and foundation has been a leveling device and gives her enormous credit for the success of Reiman Publications.

“I wouldn’t for a minute diminish her part in this.”

One-on-one with Roy Reiman

VISIONS sat down with Roy Reiman last fall and talked about everything from the value of rising early in the morning to writing a memoir. Here are just a few things he had to say:

Roy ReimanOn growing up on an Iowa farm:
“We grew up finding work very satisfying; I still get up early in the morning. Mornings are the best part
of the day. Our dad used to kick us out of bed at 5:30 in the morning even in the winter. Even if there wasn’t anything to do, you couldn’t waste daylight.”

On knowing your audience:
“As an editor I always told my staff, ‘Be the subscriber, be the reader.’ I’ve always had a composite subscriber. When I edited Farm Wife News, I had my three sisters-in-law in mind. It was Elayne, Margaret, and Marge. Elayne was a farm wife, Margaret was a farm wife, but Marge lived in town. I always asked myself, ‘Is this story going to be interesting to those three people? Not just one of them, but all three.’”

On keeping the workplace fun:
“You’ve gotta make it fun, not only for the readers but for the staff. I always said if we’re having fun writing it, it’s going to be fun reading it.”

On being accountable to the reader:
“After we got going with the magazines, there was a high expectation. To think all those subscribers, all those people, were supporting us on subscriptions alone instead of a few advertisers. We weren’t accountable to 20 advertisers; we were accountable to 16 million readers. Being from Iowa, I don’t mind spending money, but I want my money’s worth. And so do those readers. So you had to keep it fresh and interesting every time.”

On entrepreneurship:
“I always tell people, I’m from Iowa so I started out ‘in the manure,’ then I graduated to ‘entrepreneur.’ One time one of my daughters said, ‘Dad, aren’t you pleased with how much creativity God gave you?’ And I thought about it and I said, ‘No, I’m just disappointed at how little he gave others.’ Because it just seems common sense to me.”

On retirement:
“I totally flunked retirement. I think you need to get up each day with something interesting and worthwhile and challenging to do. I always told people that I always got to work early in the morning, not because I had so much to do but because I just couldn’t wait to do it.”

On Iowa State:
“You go there as a rough seed, and you get watered there and you bloom. In my case, I had no idea the talent I had.”

On writing I Could Write a Book:
“I didn’t write the book to be a best seller or to make a lot of money. I wrote it first for my kids and grandkids so they’d have the ‘whole story,’ and secondly to inspire young journalists and entrepreneurs to take risks, follow their dreams, and experience a life as fulfilling as mine.”

About the Writer | Carole Gieseke is the editor of VISIONS.