With a circulation of more than 44,000 and a territory base stretching from Flower Mound west to I-35W and beyond, you might think Max Miller sits in a high rise office tower leading a media empire.
Truth be told, he publishes The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper monthly from his Lantana home just like he’s done since 2006. The only difference is the paper is much larger and the number of homes and businesses to which it is mailed has grown dramatically since he bought the publication from its long-time owner.
“I’m the epitome of a mom and pop business,” Miller said recently.
Miller came into The Cross Timbers Gazette without any experience in the publishing industry. His background was radio broadcasting and dabbling in community websites. He moved here in 2002 to run the Dallas-Fort Worth office of Metro Networks (now known as Total Traffic) which provides traffic, news and sports reports to radio stations.
About a year after he and his wife plopped down in Lantana, he started a website for his neighbors called LantanaLinks.com and shortly thereafter connected with longtime Gazette owner LaRue Johnson after finding the Gazette in his mailbox.
“I thought ‘wow, this is an interesting little publication,’ ” he said.
The Gazette originally started in 1979 as The Double Oak Gazette newsletter put together by a group of volunteers living in one Double Oak neighborhood who wanted to keep fellow residents informed of what was happening in their town. It remained that way for a number of years when Johnson, who operated a home-based printing business, was recruited to help out. Eventually, she took over the publication and in 2002 expanded it to neighboring communities including Argyle, Bartonville and Copper Canyon, changed the name to The Cross Timbers Gazette and designed it more like a traditional newspaper.
“I noticed there was no Lantana news in the paper nor did it have a website so I called her up and said ‘I own this website called LantanaLinks.com that I need to promote and you could use some more news so maybe we could work something out.’ ”
They worked out an agreement where he provided her with Lantana-focused content while she promoted his website. Miller also began posting digital editions of each issue on his website.
“Then in October 2006 she calls me out of the blue and asks me if I’d like to buy The Cross Timbers Gazette,” he said, adding that it was a “God thing” with his wife expecting their first child and wanting to quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom.
He printed his first edition the next month.
“When I bought the paper it was only 16-20 pages, mostly black-and-white, and the circulation was only about 8,500,” Miller said. “It was barely getting into Flower Mound and wasn’t even mailed to Highland Village at the time.”
Johnson guided Miller through the print world including teaching him the production software basics and mailing the paper for him. Since Johnson wasn’t actively selling advertising, Miller joined area chambers of commerce to help build relationships with business owners and community leaders.
“We are basically embedded in the community.” he said. “We live here, work here and raise our kids here. As the paper has gotten a lot bigger in both circulation and page count (it averages 80 pages monthly), our philosophy hasn’t changed. We try to give back and help in any way we can. Our slogan is ‘Local Lives Here,’ and it really does.”
He took a buyout from Metro Networks in 2009 after 17 years with the company and has been working at the Gazette full-time ever since. He later switched his website to crosstimbersgazette.com which now receives 100,000 unique visitors and 1 million page views each month.
“Even though print is alive and well people want to know what’s happening now,” he said. “They don’t want to wait a month, so they can follow us online as well as Twitter and Facebook which we update every day.”
Miller said ad sales have been steadily growing since he acquired the newspaper 12 years ago and the potential for continued growth looks good as the area continues to blossom.
“When new businesses come into town they are looking for the most efficient way to connect with the community. We have that connection already,” he said. “By partnering with us they are able to reach the most people at the lowest cost in a publication that people actually read.”
Miller is able to keep advertising rates low by utilizing mostly freelance writers, photographers and a designer, Crystal Adams, who has worked for the company for more than 10 years. He only has two full-time staff – print editor and newspaper veteran Lyn Pry and digital editor Mark Smith. Miller handles all advertising sales by himself and his wife Susan helps design some advertising and manages the back office.
“Most of the businesses that advertise in the Gazette are small mom and pops so we can relate to their needs,” he said. “Southern Denton County is teeming with entrepreneurs and they want to work with other local businesses.”
He and his wife operate the publication while balancing parental duties of son Joshua, 10, and daughter Emily, 8.
“When you are working out of your home it is a unique experience since you can spend a lot of time with your family but you’re also trying to get your work done. It creates some interesting hours,” he said. “You work a lot more than if you were going to an office every day. What you gain in flexibility you make up for in overall hours worked.”
Miller said the secret to the Gazette’s success has been building strong relationships with an ever-growing number of loyal advertisers and readers. Plus, what he does is a true passion and not work.
“In a changing world, small business owners appreciate the consistency we bring to the table because they know we’ll always be there for them as they and our community continue to grow,” he said.
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