Many of today's readers of Concrete Construction have never heard of Bill Avery—but his ghost hovers over every word we publish, every booth at the World of Concrete, and even lingers on our Web sites. As the founder of Concrete Construction magazine, Avery changed the concrete industry in profound ways and helped it become the dynamic force it is today.
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1933 with an engineering degree and holding various engineering jobs, Avery joined the editorial staff of Pit & Quarry magazine in 1944. In 1954 he left Pit & Quarry to become editor of Concrete magazine. He soon realized that concrete construction, to be done successfully, required a detailed knowledge of the material and the process. He reasoned that concrete constructors needed and wanted more information, despite the prevailing wisdom of the day that contractors wouldn't read a magazine. He took his idea for a magazine on concrete construction to the publishers of both Pit & Quarry and Concrete. Neither thought it was viable.
He disagreed and felt that ready-mixed concrete producers really wanted informed customers. In early 1956, Avery produced a pilot issue of Concrete Construction and sent two copies to each member of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association with each company's name imprinted on the cover. His accompanying letter asked recipients to become subscription sponsors and provide this new magazine to their customers—concrete contractors. It was an incredibly successful campaign; 250 said yes. This created a highly predictable revenue stream, since he could invoice the ready mix producers each month and because the invoice was small, around 10 cents for each copy sent to a customer, it was easily absorbed.
In September 1956, Concrete Construction officially launched with Avery as editor and publisher and John Engle as his partner (for the first few years). Avery re-mortgaged his home to provide financing for the new company, Concrete Construction Publications Inc. (CCPI), which was housed in a small office in downtown Chicago. His initial investment was $10,000—a lot of money in 1956.
In 1957 Concrete Construction moved to a converted bungalow in Elmhurst, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago, where it stayed for 14 years. Dan Anderson, Avery's son-in-law, began working for the company in 1969 as manager of the subscription sponsorship program. The offices were near a quarry so the building shook with every blast. Anderson's office was in the basement, right below the toilet, resulting in him having to cover the mouthpiece of the phone whenever anyone flushed. He also had to be careful not to bang his head on the sewer pipes when he stood up. Not a lofty beginning.
In 1973, the American Society of Concrete Constructors fell on hard times and asked Avery to take over its operations. From the previous director, ASCC had a contract to hold its annual convention in January 1974 at the Playboy Hotel in Miami Beach. Avery was looking for additional responsibilities for his son-in-law, so he put Dan in charge of the ASCC meeting. The turnout was big—they sold out the hotel with 150 to 175 registrants. Rinker was a big subscription sponsor for CC in Florida, so Anderson arranged to use Rinker's parking lot for exhibits, busing people from the hotel to the parking lot. The attendees saw the first demonstration of a riding trowel, ridden by Chicago distributor Dick McCann. The first vibrating screed was also demonstrated at the Miami Beach exhibition. This small meeting was the genesis of what became the World of Concrete.