Erik Hale Shares a Glimpse Into Our Company’s Past, How Far We’ve Come and Where We’re Headed Now
We started LOCALE Magazine with sketches on a napkin at a coffee shop in Costa Mesa. It was 2010; the economy was on the shoulder season of a recession (pulling slowly out of a very scary nosedive). Our love affair with screens was in its infancy (the iPhone 4 had only been released the previous month), and there was a prevailing theme on newsstands and also spoken by talking heads on screens of all sizes, “Print is dead.”
I was still selling Mercedes at Fletcher Jones and had met Ashley Hickson (now Smith) only weeks earlier. I had been pitched the idea of buying a publication where Ashley was employed. Ashley and I met for lunch, and we really clicked. Within a few days, we were meeting at the coffee shop, debating titles, sketching out logos and planning our launch. It was decided: we were going to make a magazine.
The very next morning, I left my job of seven years and did two things: I offered Ashley employment in our nearly non-existent company and leased 400 square feet of office space above Kean Coffee in Newport Beach. Now, we just had to figure out the easy stuff––like who would design the magazine, where magazines are printed, who would take the photos, who would write the stories, how we would make money, how we would be paid, how we would distribute the magazine and what it would be about. You know, the easy stuff!
In February 2010, Facebook had only taken over as social media king from MySpace a few years earlier, and the first LOCALE Magazine was only a three-ring, aqua-colored binder filled with 40 clear plastic page protectors where we had written ideas like “cover,” “table of contents,” “ads” and “stories” on lined paper. Now, it was time to tackle what the stories would be about, who our cover would feature and how many pages it would be. You know, more easy stuff.
If I tried to explain or understand what our founder, partner and COO Ashley did then (or does now), I would definitely muck it up. I asked Ashley to share what she did in those first few months, and this is what she said:
Erik and I only lived a couple of blocks apart, so we had a few meetings at his house to strategize before securing the office space on 17th Street. I was so happy to have a job, let alone what felt like my own office space, with Erik out in the field 90% of the day. I’ll never forget when he came in and needed to do something creative, so he painted the wall the brightest green I had ever seen. Everything we did continued to be to the max: an oversized magazine, oversized business cards and blow-out parties for every issue’s release.
I had graduated college not even a year prior and was now setting up a limited liability company, our bookkeeping software, creating contracts and designing ads for our new advertising partners. It was exciting and, at times, nerve-wracking, especially when I forgot to bill everyone after our first issue was released! We had a tiny crew, bringing people in as we went, and many times, we played every role at the company to make it work. There were long, fun days of pulling clothes and jewelry for photo shoots, visiting local businesses with a model (or being the model with friends) and laughing with Nancy Villere as she captured our first few years of beautiful covers and fashion spreads.
There were so many learning curves, but everything was vibrant and connective. We were cultivating a deep community of ambitious creators, helping tell local people’s and businesses’ stories. I’ll never forget the gratitude and sense of home I felt at our first launch party, seeing everyone who helped us get to that point come together to celebrate what we were doing.
I quickly realized that anything that needed to happen at this new company (that Ashley didn’t do), I would need to do. I started taking the Nikon camera I got for Christmas everywhere with me, taking photos of what I ate and taking photos for stories I was imagining. I would write down these ideas on printer paper and add them to the binder. We were making a magazine.
One of our first editorial concepts was titled “Vs.” This story challenged us to try a certain type of food (think burgers, tacos or noodles) at eight different restaurants to decide which was our favorite. The objective of our very first “Vs.” was to determine who had the best sushi roll in Orange County. Ashley and I ate sushi rolls at eight restaurants in two days. We sampled EVERYTHING the restaurants brought us (which was generally their entire menu) and wrote notes and scores on our pre-printed scorecards while I took photos. We ended up picking Mahe in Seal Beach over Thos and Erica’s newly opened Bear Flag in Newport. I could not even consider eating sushi for six months after that, but we finally had a story that we thought people would care about. This was by far the most fun I had ever had at work in my entire life.
I lived in Costa Mesa, and our office was in Newport. I started visiting every business on 17th Street a few times a week, pleading with them to buy an ad in LOCALE’s first issue (which was still a binder). A Restaurant agreed to advertise, then Warren Christopher Hardwood Floors, Lynn at The Quiet Woman agreed, and so did Wing at Wahoo’s. Jim at TK Burger said yes, and so did Dave at Almond Surfboards and Jack’s in Huntington. We got the old Ritz Restaurant in Fashion Island, 21 Oceanfront on the Balboa Peninsula and the Catalina Flyer, thanks to Arman. Kristi at Quiksilver also bought an ad, as did Duke at Surfside. There are too many to list, but we are so grateful for all of our first-issue (and first-year) advertising partners. We literally would not have any of this without you.
We were making progress. We had a few written and edited stories, sold a few pages of advertisements, found a designer and contracted with a printer. Now, we needed a cover feature and fashion spread. I had spent all of my professional life up until that point running through walls. There was no such thing as can’t, won’t or even “no.” At LOCALE, I decided to take a different philosophical approach: I would let things come to me. I would not fight. I would be like a stick on the shoulders of a mighty river.
I put LOCALE in the hands of kismet and fate; I took my hands off the wheel. –Erik Hale
I met Dave Allee at his newly opened Almond Surfboards shop on Old Newport Road one afternoon while I was looking for new advertising partners and story ideas. The aqua binder had now transformed into a 12-page color-copied mock-up of what we hoped LOCALE might look like. We had added our logo over a photo we found online of the quintessential Orange County surfer standing next to the river jetties staring out over the ocean, surfboard under arm. I showed the mock-up to Dave, and he casually said, “Oh, you have Erica on your cover.” I said, “Erica, who?” Dave told me that the woman we had picked for our dream cover was no other than local surfer Erica Hosseini. Dave gave me Erica’s number, and we had our cover feature. The new philosophy was paying immediate dividends.
We wanted to throw a big party to celebrate the launch of our first issue. Little did we know that the first party would lead to literally hundreds of parties in Oakland and La Quinta, Las Vegas and La Jolla, celebrating our issue releases and showing off our partner advertisers’ businesses. But we would not have been able to accomplish the sold-out events without social media. We took Facebook seriously from the beginning. Before our first magazine was released, we had already surpassed every other local print publication (there were a lot more in 2010) in number of Facebook fans (about 5,200). We used social media to attract new readers, sell out events (including the first event) and communicate digitally with our fans. We were a print magazine first but have always been fast to embrace emerging technologies. We were first to Instagram and now have 190,000 verified followers. We were first to TikTok among our peers and now have 180,000 followers. We have grown a website that receives 10,000 visits per day, and we continue to grow our massive email list. Print has been our bones, but digital was always in our blood.
It had only been 100 days since the coffee shop meeting. One hundred days since the aqua-colored binder was purchased. One hundred days since we decided on the name LOCALE. In those 100 days, we had made a 108-page magazine, sold 48 advertisers, written and edited dozens of stories, taken hundreds of photos and eaten dozens of sushi rolls. In that 100-day stretch, we gained over 5,000 Facebook fans, printed and mailed invitations, secured a location, rented a photo booth and booked a fashion show and live artist. It had only been 100 days! It was now July 1, and there were 20,000 magazines piled high on pallets in my two-car garage, 100 custom racks built and piled on top (thanks Doug Gastineau). The spotlights were on, the music was pumping and the fashion show was underway as 450 guests filed in to see what we had made. It had only been 100 days.
So much of our success is because of our people. Mike Smith, our VP of Sales, was our third employee and has been with LOCALE for 10 years; he’s also now married to Ashley. Mike was my roommate when we launched the magazine in San Diego and has become one of my best friends. We were lucky enough to hire Reilly Kavanaugh as our creative director nine years ago when she was also 22 and just out of school; every single beautiful part of LOCALE you see is because of her and her vision. Jason Kosky has been at LOCALE for nine years also and is our comic relief, not to mention a great salesperson. We are so thrilled to have our editorial team of Senior Editors Kaylin Waizinger and Taylor Gorski, plus Production Manager Lauren Lewellen (three years), Danielle Trotter taking care of our partners as Partnerships Manager (two years) and Social Media Manager Sam Perry, who just celebrated her first anniversary of posting happily on nights and weekends. They feel like family, and there is no LOCALE without them.
We have also had some amazing people on our team over the years that were instrumental in moving LOCALE forward to what it is today. Thank you to our first editor Kristal; thank you, Doug Gastineau for making our racks and Susie Gastineau for delivering our magazines. To Rick Ramirez and Robert Jones, our dependable delivery drivers who took on so much of the physical labor, to our long-standing accountant Valerie Kerr and to all of the editors, writers, photographers, stylists, artists and designers that helped us build 126 editions: thank you.
It has now been close to 5,000 days. We have printed 126 issues of LOCALE. We have distributed them in Santa Monica and Malibu, Newport and Laguna, Del Mar, the Gaslamp, La Quinta and Palm Springs. We have featured Steve Aoki, Tony Hawk, a handful of Housewives (Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle Richards), sports stars (Kelly Slater, Mike Trout, Antonio Gates, Christen Press and Shaun White) and YouTube and TikTok personalities. We had Laila Ali and Danny Trejo, The Chainsmokers and renowned chefs (Wolfgang Puck, Curtis Stone and Richard Blais). We featured reality stars (Brody Jenner, Lo Bosworth and Kristin Cavalari), a ring girl (Arianny Celeste), a playmate (Holly Madison) and a Jedi (Mark Hamill). We have featured thousands of local businesses and business owners in over 20,000 stories. We couldn’t have done this without the work of hundreds of wonderful contributing writers, photographers and stylists, MUAs and hair and food stylists.
We made some big changes, as most people did in March 2020. We had to say tearful goodbyes to half of our staff. We terminated the lease on our office and decided to work from home over Zoom. The pandemic was particularly tough on our partners and our business. We were not sure if we would ever print another magazine.
We only had 50 days. On December 10, 2020, Ashley and I once again broke out the napkin. We needed to scribble out ideas about what the future of LOCALE would look like. We decided that we wanted to change everything. We wanted to offer our partners a digital campaign strategy––one that would utilize our now 100,000,000 annual digital impressions into packages our partners could benefit from. We spent 15-hour days defining, implementing and training our staff on this new digital campaign strategy, and we launched this completed strategy in 50 days. Nearly two years later, we have now surpassed our best year in print. We have found a way to tell the community about our partners through iPhones and laptops, IG and TikTok and inboxes and DMs. And we are more successful than we have ever been.
Issue #126, delivered this December, will be the last print issue of LOCALE Magazine. I know there will be rumors, but that’s okay. I am writing to let you know that our last print issue is not a funeral march but a celebration! A celebration of a philosophy I adopted 5,000 days ago and one that has served me well.
We are going to stop fighting the current and take LOCALE wherever it was meant to go.
PRINT is dead! Long live LOCALE!
Erik Hale is the visionary and publisher behind LOCALE Magazine. He launched the magazine in 2010, wanting to give the community of OC a premiere lifestyle magazine that knew all the native knowledge behind OC. “Six years ago Ashley and I sat at a table scratching the name LOCALE (among some other names) onto a sheet of paper,” says Erik, “coming up with story ideas and basically dreaming. Everything we imagined has happened and we have been blessed with so much more. I am so grateful as we start another year for my family, my two wonderful children, my health, our amazing writers, designers and photographers, our advertising partners and you.”