For 15 years, Kathy Weaver has made a living assembling giant jigsaw puzzles.
Not literally, but that’s how she views the process of slotting advertisements and coupons for dozens of small retail and service businesses that rely on the annual Town Planner community calendar as a way to reach customers.
“I love it. It’s simple, basic and logical,” Weaver said. “It’s intended to be useful for everyone and anyone.”
Weaver includes herself in that group.
She was a single mother of two young boys at the time she began publishing the calendars in 2004. But the business allowed her to strike a better balance between her career and responsibilities at home. And she says she has enjoyed the experience of getting to know other business owners.
But 2019 will be her last year for the calendars.
After competing in an ultramarathon in South Africa last year and visiting Rwanda, where she saw how poor access to clean water can impact communities, the 53-year-old Annville resident said she began thinking about moving into a nonprofit role to close out her career.
Weaver started with the Town Planner in 2004, after leaving her job as vice president of sales for the Central Penn Business Journal’s former parent company.
Weaver’s calendars initially went to homeowners in Camp Hill, New Cumberland, Lemoyne, Mechanicsburg and Carlisle. But she quickly added East Pennsboro Township and split Mechanicsburg into two calendar territories.
Over time, the calendar spread to the East Shore, adding Hershey, Hummelstown, Lower Paxton and Susquehanna townships.
Nationally the Town Planner network has more than 40 publishing partners like Weaver who print more than 4 million calendars each year. The main franchise company is based in Ohio.
About three years ago, Weaver looked into hiring someone to help her juggle the business, which had grown to about 100,000 calendars per year, but she decided to pare down the workload. Her primary focus now is the West Shore and fast-growing Cumberland County, though she still has sales rights to the East Shore.
There are no franchisees in York and Lancaster counties. The next closest franchisee is in Pittsburgh.
This year, Weaver mailed out 71,500 calendars to homes on the West Shore and in parts of Perry and northern York counties.
As she searches for the right nonprofit opportunity, Weaver has listed her midstate for sale for $140,000 and is optimistic that someone in sales or publishing will buy her business and carry on the local Town Planner.
So are her longtime advertisers, who see the Town Planner as a solid source of sales. Several have been with her since the beginning.
Even though the Town Planner has been digital for years with a mobile app and website that posts weekly events and free online newsletters, the printed wall calendar remains at the core of the sales pitch because it offers full-year exposure for businesses and nonprofits. The calendar is what people see in their mailbox in December and it remains on their wall or refrigerator throughout the year.
“It’s usually the family calendar hanging up in the kitchen,” said Chris Rupp, office manager at Hartzell Rupp Ophthalmology in Silver Spring Township, an advertiser in several versions of the calendar.
A local focus
The Cumberland County eye-care practice doesn’t do much print advertising, but Rupp sees no reason to abandon the Town Planner.
He said it brings patients in the door.
For current patients, he said, the calendar is a nudge to make an appointment for an eye exam. For other residents, the ads might guide selection of a family eye doctor.
Kelly Zimmerman, one of the owners of Mechanicsburg-based Zimmerman Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, has someone track coupons every month and said the stack of redeemed Town Planner coupons is always much higher than those from other specials that the mechanical services company sends out.
“Part of the reason it is so successful is that it’s created for your town and it comes to your home,” Zimmerman said. “People look forward to it.”
So do businesses because it is a fairly inexpensive option to get their name out in the community.
Depending on the number of calendars a business wants to be in — some may only want to target Carlisle or Mechanicsburg — or how many months they want ads to be featured on, the cost to advertise in the Town Planner can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each year.
“You can pick anywhere you want to be and for how long,” Weaver said. “Some businesses are in one location on the calendar and others want to be on all of the pages.”
Weaver boasts a nearly 75 percent renewal rate, which she attributes to the product’s relatively low cost and its ability to be customized. For example, if a new business wants to test an ad or coupon offer before committing to the printed calendar, she said they could start online and see what kind of response they get.
Most of her advertisers do both print and online as part of free weekly email newsletters that go out to people who sign up to receive them. Newsletters also are customized to specific communities.
Zimmerman is on every page of the calendar and runs different monthly specials throughout the year across the West Shore calendars, hoping to stay top of mind for Cumberland County residents in need of heating, cooling and plumbing services.
“I wouldn’t say it is the least expensive form of advertising that we do, or that is offered to me, but it is quality advertising,” Zimmerman said. “That makes a difference.”
Jack Greenawalt Jr., a business broker with Murphy Business & Financial Corp. in East Pennsboro Township, is listing the business for Weaver. He sees the consumer-focused calendar as a fit for a printing company or another media publisher looking to diversify revenue.
Weaver hires vendors to design and print the calendars. He said a printer or publisher could move those jobs in-house and reduce costs.
Weaver said she believes an individual or team of sales professionals could plug in to take advantage of population growth in Cumberland County. Buyers could also restart the Dauphin County territories and potentially expand into surrounding counties.
“This would be the ideal time to sell,” she said. “It’s early enough in the season for someone to get renewals and roll with it.”