Friends Bethany Halford and Amanda Jerkins discovered in 2013 that they not only shared a passion for fashion, but had a knack for spotting stylish yet budget-friendly items at their favorite discount store.
Halford would sometimes feature these "surprisingly cute" finds on her blog under the tag: Whoa, wait. Walmart?. One day, she showed her friend a pair of leather sandals she'd just bought at Walmart for less than $15 and told the friend about the blog.
Jerkins suggested that they start an Instagram account to share their favorite Walmart discoveries with a wider audience. She also encouraged Halford to devote her blog solely to the Walmart-focused feature. And with that, a partnership -- and a brand -- were born.
Now social media stars with more than 316,000 Instagram followers, they're highlighting products they love from the Bentonville-based retailer in a quarterly magazine. Halford and Jerkins launched whoa, wait. in September with a fall/winter edition, and the spring issue hits Walmart store racks Feb. 2.
Whoa, wait. is produced independently of Walmart Inc., though the content ties in Walmart merchandise and the ads are for products sold at Walmart. It also incorporates QR-code technology on certain items, in articles and ads, that allows readers to scan and buy the products via their smartphones.
The friends' growing social media presence caught the attention of global publishing company Bauer Media, known for two best-selling magazines in the U.S. -- Women's World and First for Women.
Halford, who lives in Bentonville, and Jerkins, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., said in a joint emailed interview that they were thrilled when Bauer approached them with the magazine concept. "As lifelong magazine lovers, it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up," they said.
Although this was a new venture for them, and came at a time when many print publications are struggling financially, they trusted in Bauer's reputation and experience.
"They know print publication really well, and we know our world of social media and our following really well, so we lean on each other for the areas of expertise," the women said. "Their history, knowledge of the industry, and the fact that they were willing to take a chance on us gave us confidence to proceed."
Eric Szegda, Bauer Media USA's executive vice president of consumer revenue, said "we are ecstatic that they share our vision.
"Bauer saw an opportunity to develop and provide a unique product for a passionate audience in partnership with a spectacularly creative duo who have a track record of successfully engaging that same audience," Szegda said. "As publishers of the best-selling magazine at Walmart already, once the pieces came together, Bethany & Amanda + Bauer + Walmart was really a no-brainer opportunity for all of us."
While most publishers are shifting their sales strategy from newsstands to digital editions, Bauer is sticking with its successful print model. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, Woman's World outsold Hearst Communications and Conde Nast's combined portfolios in 2018, with more than 30 million single-copy sales.
Bauer Media USA Chief Executive Steven Kotok said in a November interview with publishing industry magazine Folio that he divested most of Bauer's titles to focus on those catering to a mainly female audience. "After looking at the market, we just felt that what we do in the women's space is so unique and we have a leadership position in it, that that was really where we wanted to make our big bet," Kotok said.
That bet includes Whoa, wait. Szegda and a colleague had been working with Jerkins and Halford for several years, he said, and as their following grew, "we saw more and more opportunities to work with them in order to engage with Walmart shoppers."
Halford and Jerkins said they work closely with Bauer's editorial team on the magazine's content, "from the conception to the final approval of proofs." Szegda confirmed that development of the magazine's content is a collaborative effort.
Walmart neither sponsors nor produces the magazine, a company spokeswoman said. However, Walmart stores are the only places where copies are sold.
Szegda added that while whoa, wait. is produced by Bauer with Halford and Jerkins, "we worked with Walmart's marketing team for their approval to use the Walmart logo to communicate to consumers that this product is available exclusively in Walmart stores."
Walmart's familiar "spark" logo is prominently placed on the cover of the premiere issue. At 104 pages, the magazine is priced at $9.99. And like that first issue, the forthcoming one will be "packed full of fashion, home decorating, beauty, mom hacks, tips on parenting, marriage, faith and more," Jerkins and Halford said.
Szegda said Bauer will be firming up a seasonal/quarterly publishing schedule "over time," but for 2020, they're planning spring, summer, fall and holiday editions. He said the second edition is coming five months after the September launch because they were waiting to see how that first offering performed. "Once we understood that the pilot was going to hit our benchmarks, we began planning the 2020 schedule and lineup," he said.
The company isn't ready to discuss circulation figures, Szegda said.
Magazines associated with retailers is not a new idea, according to Sid Holt, executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors. Woman's Day, published by Hearst, started as a circular for A&P grocery stores, Holt said. And Family Circle, which folded last year, was initially the magazine for the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, he said.
Walmart has previously had an exclusive magazine, titled All You, Holt pointed out. However, the terms of the business arrangement between the retailer and the magazine's publisher, now-defunct Time Inc., are unclear.
Stuffed with grocery coupons, All You was published from 2004-15. Its circulation topped 1.5 million in 2014, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
Holt also noted it's not uncommon for businesses to sponsor their own magazines. Sporting goods giant REI produces a quarterly print magazine in partnership with a Hearst subsidiary that also produces a magazine for Airbnb.
According to Ad Age, REI's publication, titled Uncommon Path, was created to replace its catalog. Ad Age said the magazine is staffed by a team of REI and Hearst employees, as well as freelancers.
And though the technology is fairly new, the "shoppable" magazine concept is not, Holt said. "Even the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, which dates to 1909, is a kind of buyer's guide."
Bauer chose to use QR codes in whoa, wait. because it believes "consumers want to consume content in whatever media format they desire at that moment in time," Szegda said. "The 'shoppable' aspect with our QR codes is one example of how we see our print content able to engage with an 'omni-channel' consumer."
Jerkins and Halford said they've gotten positive feedback regarding whoa, wait. "With the magazine, we are able to take a deeper dive into what we do on Instagram, and we think that is resonating with people," they said.
Along with the blog, Instagram account and magazine, both women are busy wives and mothers with young children -- Halford has two children and Jerkins has three. They said they couldn't do it all without "amazing husbands who help out and support us in all ways."
They hint at having a couple of ideas percolating for the future, but for now, they said, "Honestly, we are content, thankful and living in the moment.
"Basically we love our jobs, and we are so grateful we get to do what we do, together."
SundayMonday Business on 01/26/2020