Dana Powell’s career in publishing began in the early 1990s when her father, Gary, asked her to go magazine shopping before her senior prom. “At that time, my father — he’s a firefighter now, but he used to design clothes back in the day — sent me out to find samples of dresses that I wanted,” recalls Powell. “So I went to various bookstores for a bridal magazine featuring women of color because I wanted to see colors on skin tones like mine and I just couldn’t find it.”
After she returned empty-handed, Powell’s father recommended that she do something about it. So the 16-year-old Powell promised her father that she would start one herself should there be no black bridal magazine by the time she completed college.
Serious about her publishing ambitions, Powell immersed herself in the industry, majoring in mass communication at Illinois State University, where she met Shannon Bonner in 1996. At the time, Bonner held a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and was working toward a master’s degree in marketing communication, all the while learning everything possible about the magazine publishing business. Powell was impressed with Bonner’s business expertise, and the two would soon become partners.
Some six years later, Powell, 28, would keep her promise to her father when she and Bonner, 31, launched Brides Noir from their Chicago home office. Catering to an underserved black consumer group, Brides Noir officially debuted in 2002 throughout 43 states. The test copy even caught the eye of a CBS producer, who asked to use one as a set prop on the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. The 116-page premiere issue was distributed in over 40,000 retail stores nationwide.
The duo raised some $80,000 for startup costs by pooling personal savings, loans from family and friends, and a $20,000 award from the Miller Urban Entrepreneurs Series Business Grant Competition they won in 2001. “We were able to use that as seed money along with our personal assets and money from friends and family to launch our first issue,” recalls Powell. They spent 25% of their seed capital on promotions and total selling expenses, such as bridal expos throughout Chicago, sales commissions, and advertising through their Website; 32% on administrative costs such as utilities, legal fees, and editorial outsourcing; 35% on printing and distribution; and another 8% on miscellaneous expenses.
They also produced 15,000 test copies of the publication, but ran into a roadblock when they could not find a distributor. “We had all of this money and work on the line, but the book wasn’t going to be anywhere,” Powell says. Fortunately, Circulation Specialist West, a Colorado-based circulation consulting company, contacted Powell and Bonner after reading an article in The Wall Street Journal about their winning the business plan competition. Working with the firm, they were able to get a distribution company to deliver their test copies to several stores, including Barnes & Noble bookstores, in 2002. By the following year, the publishing duo would secure a contract with Anderson News Co. L.L.C. (ANCO),