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A magazine's metamorphosis
By JEANNE MALMGREN, Times Staff Writer
Years ago Robin Hankins ran a coin, jewelry and antique shop in Port Richey. Every so often a customer would walk in and unintentionally insult her with one simple question: "Is the owner here?"
"I'm the owner," Hankins would answer.
How things change. Now Hankins is not only recognized as someone who could own a business. She's a successful publisher about to debut a third magazine.
Hankins, 42, has spent the last decade building her small business from scratch. When she started, she had no experience or contacts, only some cash from the liquidation of her store and a dream to produce a free publication focusing on things she herself was interested in: health, spirituality, women's issues.
Her marketing instincts were right on target.
That publication, a monthly called Pathways to Wellness, eventually turned into Intuition for Women, the longest-running magazine of its kind in the Tampa Bay area. Now 6 years old, it contains a mix of stories by and about local women, plus ads -- mostly for women-owned businesses.
By early this year Intuition had grown to 28 pages, with a circulation of 36,000 in two monthly editions, one for Hillsborough and one for Pinellas. It is available free at bookstores, libraries, health food stores, doctors' offices and gyms, as well as Blockbuster Video, Eckerd, Albertsons, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Sam's Club. It was entirely paid for -- and made a modest profit, according to Hankins -- by advertising revenue.
"That's what I'm really good at, selling ads," she said, grinning.
Now Hankins' baby is growing again.
Beginning with the June issue, Intuition will become Tampa Bay Woman. It will nearly double in number of pages and will be available at even more high-traffic businesses. Hankins plans to print between 36,000 and 40,000 copies of the first issue; by the end of summer, she hopes to have the monthly's circulation at 50,000.
The new name and higher visibility, Hankins said, are ways to expand her original goals.
"My primary focus is to include all women," she said. "To give the opportunity for women in Tampa Bay to get to know each other in a way that they perhaps wouldn't, if we weren't here."
Hankins talked about her goals recently, sitting behind a neat desk in a Pinellas Park office with unadorned, blindingly white walls. She wore a simple navy blazer and gray pants. She has a cap of short brown hair and small, rimless glasses.
Hankins speaks softly, with the quiet confidence of someone who no longer has to prove herself. She has a staff of six, a bulging appointment calendar and an assistant (the only male on her payroll) who is known affectionately around the office as "Testy." (Yes, it means what you think it means.)
Hankins has a knack for luring high-profile women into her fold of supporters. The first issue of Tampa Bay Woman will feature a back page of endorsements, including former state Sen. Helen Gordon Davis, director of the Center for Spouse Abuse Linda Osmundson, Equality Florida director Nadine Smith and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank vice president Linda Allen.
J.P. Morgan Chase is underwriting a portion of the costs for the magazine's expansion. Hankins said she also will need to sell about 15 percent more ads. Even so, she will continue her policy of refusing tobacco and liquor ads or ads for any business that, in her opinion, degrades women or promotes unhealthy practices, such as rapid weight-loss clinics.
The advertisers Hankins does approve of tend to stick around.
"This one's been with us for seven years," she said, flipping the pages of the May issue. "This one 10 years, going all the way back to Pathways. They just seem to enjoy being a part of what we do."
The magazine offers free marketing seminars for its advertisers. Once a year it hosts an expo open to the public to further showcase its advertisers.
Printed on newsprint in tabloid form, Intuition is edited by Robin Tuthill, a local writing instructor and editor who went to dinner with Hankins one night in 1996, then called the next morning and asked if she could work with her, just as Hankins was about to call and offer her a job.
The magazine features stories about local women, mostly written by local writers. (Intuition pays a little less than $100 per piece.) Regular columns cover relationships, parenting, pets, business strategies, career planning and health. Guest critics review movies, CDs and restaurants. There's an extensive monthly calendar, listing events from drumming circles to lunch meetings of the Association of Business and Professional Women.
Tampa Bay Woman will look much the same, but with some harder-hitting features. Its first cover story is a profile of Deborah McEnteggart, who went to prison in 1984 for accidentally killing her boyfriend, was granted clemency by Gov. Lawton Chiles and now works in the office of public defender Bob Dillinger and teaches therapeutic art at the Pinellas County Jail.
"I want to show ways women can face a challenge, whether it's divorce, the loss of a loved one or any other obstacle," Hankins said.
In a "Dear Reader" column each issue, Hankins often writes about her own problems: the loss of her mother; struggles with weight gain; the ongoing search for a self-image.
In early 2000 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and told readers about it. She had a mastectomy and two followup surgeries. She missed only a month of work. Now she takes herbal supplements and eats a diet of organic vegetables and free-range meat.
When Hankins launched her first magazine more than a decade ago, she noted, "People were just getting used to the idea of massage therapy." Now, of course, it's mainstream.
The first issue of Pathways cost between $2,000 and $3,000 to produce. Hankins didn't want to say exactly how much Tampa Bay Woman's inaugural issue will cost, but noted that her production costs are now "at least 10 times what they were initially."
How things change.
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