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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Small Business Spotlight: Sunbelt Publications Inc.

Authors Lowell and Diana Lindsay were frustrated over the problem of distribution for their natural history and guidebooks and decided to do something about it.

In 1984, the husband and wife, who have written seven books on regional history, founded Sunbelt Publications, Inc.

The company has grown into an established publishing house that has produced five to 10 new titles per year.

“We are pretty excited about our publishing house,” Lowell Lindsay said. “We published eight new titles in 2004 and some have really taken off.”

The El Cajon-based company specializes in publishing, marketing and distributing books on natural science, outdoor adventure, cultural heritage, regional history and travel, focusing on the southwestern United States and Baja California.

Its clients include Barnes & Noble, Borders, REI, Sports Chalet, and bookstores in museums and park visitor centers.

Resum & #233;

Name: Lowell Lindsay.

Title: Chief executive officer.

Company: Sunbelt Publications, Inc.

Address: 1256 Fayette St., El Cajon.

Phone: (619) 258-4911.

Founded: 1984.

Prior experience: Author and YMCA executive director in San Diego and Amarillo, Texas.

Average hours worked weekly: 55.

Source of startup capital: $10,000 in author royalties.

2004 revenue: $1.9 million.

2003 revenue: $1.6 million.

Number of employees: 11.

Web site:


Born: Sept. 30, 1941, in Hollywood.

Education: Bachelor of arts in political science from UCLA; master’s degree from West Texas A & M; University in environmental education.

Residence: El Cajon.

Family: Wife, Diana; son, Jon, 31; daughter, Jennifer, 26.

Hobbies: Bicycling, running, sailing, backpacking, outdoor photography and book writing.

Judgment Calls

Reason for getting into the business: Love of learning and love of outdoors equals publishing books on nature and adventure travel.

How I plan to grow the business: Continue to develop star authors and publishing partnerships with public and nonprofit organizations.

Biggest plus of business ownership: Independence of normal time constraints, freedom to develop in desired directions.

Biggest drawback: Time demands.

Biggest business strength: Market position, good will of customers, wholesale publishers, and author network.

Biggest business weakness: Cash flow.

Biggest risk: Wrong decision on a new publication or new line of publications.

Smartest business decision: Acquisition of certain high-performing books and publishers; for example, San Diego Mountain Biking Guide and popular Spanish language books.

Biggest business mistake: Venture into the national gift market with dated publications.

Toughest career decision: Departing from salaried positions into own business.

Biggest ongoing challenge: Developing sufficient capital for publishing opportunities.

The most important part of my business: Dedicated, long-term, low-turnover staff.

My business works best when: Publishing and marketing projects are spread more evenly year-round vs. seasonal peaks and valleys.

How your business has changed throughout the years: Early emphasis on developing regional wholesale marketing and distribution network and current emphasis on seeking and developing publications to feed into that network.

Best way to stay competitive: Identify star authors and projects before the competition.

How you measure success: Equal parts top line and bottom line. Top line is accomplishing our mission of creating projects in the public interest, emphasizing the natural history and cultural heritage of the Californias. Bottom line is setting and surpassing annual budget goals that are challenging but achievable, emphasizing profitability and growth.


Goals yet to be achieved: Higher profile as a publishing partner for public, nonprofit and private organizations where publishing could be instrumental to the accomplishment of their mission.

My five-year business plan: Develop fewer, but bigger, payoff projects on an annual basis. For example, 15 new or reprinted titles averaging $30,000 sales each are better than 25 titles averaging $10,000 each.


I would sell my business only if: We could be assured that it would continue to develop publishing projects in the public interest while increasing profit margin and growth.

Guiding principles: Care for others. Discipline of self and respect for wisdom, no matter the source.

Most admired entrepreneur: Malcolm Margolin, founder of Heyday Books in Berkeley, who has accomplished his 30-year mission of bringing into being a literature of California’s cultural, historical and natural terrain.

Important lessons learned: Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose, but reasonable risk is the price of progress, and get colleagues to vet your instincts, which can inspire or blind your organization.

Advice for those looking to go into business: Diversify into sufficient areas to guard against downside in one, but don’t diversify so much that in being all things to all people, you become nothing to nobody.


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