This issue marks the fifth anniversary of Snips under Business News Publishing Co.'s ownership that began with our July 1997 issue. _ With that, we also introduce a new look for our magazine, the first major redesign since that first issue, although there have been a few tweaks along the way. "SMACNA convention preview," "Hospital sports new atrium," and "Apprentices show off skills in annual contest" were among the main feature stories in that first issue.

Magazines like to do this sort of makeover every few years, more or less. It's an opportunity to keep the magazine looking fresh for our readers, and to incorporate some new and different ideas we've picked up along the way.

Most things haven't changed. We are still serving the same community of hvac contractors and sheet metal fabricators. We'll see you at the same trade shows and conventions. We still come out on time, every month, to 22,000-plus readers. We still welcome your input on ways we can make the magazine even better.

I had to laugh when the Wall Street Journal had its first makeover in decades, announcing it in April and getting the full attention of the national news media upon doing so. When I picked up the Journal to see for myself, the results were? let's say, less than overwhelming. A light shade of blue shadowing one of the front page stories. A pale (very!) shade of amber for another. Same old black and white masthead, same long columns of type with no color photos. This major redesign effort bowed, according to Advertising Age, only after "capping a lengthy and highly secretive process at the nation's second largest daily."

The Journal is a fine publication, certainly, well-known for its top-notch reporting as much as its conservative look. But in the magazine business, we do everything we can think of to make a page look attractive, to make it jump out at readers and get their attention.

With this issue we changed the look of the Snips logo, struggling just a bit internally with whether or not to retain our "snips" tool outline that graces the covers. I voted to keep it, and the publisher usually (but not always) wins. It's who we are, I said. We want people to know right away who we are and who we are writing for, and I don't know any better way to do that than to put that little picture of a tin snips right alongside our name. It's as important, to me, as our website and our computers and my digital camera.

Other changes won't be so apparent to you, perhaps. Art directors can speak at length about type faces and fonts. Maybe you won't notice some of these changes at all. Hopefully, the whole package rests just a little bit easier on your eyes, yet at the same time adds a little excitement to what can, after all, be some deadly dull pages if we aren't careful. Every magazine struggles to keep the attention of its readers, and we're no different. In 1997, we promised in an opening editorial "to be your eyes and ears on the industry, a friend you can count on and an ally when the going gets tough. Count on us to be there when you need us."

None of that has changed and I hope, at least to some extent, that we've succeeded.

One thing we never changed but instead borrowed from the "old" Snips: our mission statement. There it is on the cover: "A Journal of Constructive Help to the Sheet Metal, Air Conditioning, Warm Air Heating and Ventilating Contractors."

We can't improve on that.

Consumer spending

I read an article in the paper the other day about credit card abuse, and how so many people today are getting into trouble with debt.

There are more luxuries available to us, for one thing, things that people just can't seem to turn down although our parents and grandparents probably never would have dreamed of spending their hard-earned dollars on. Consumers are willing to go into debt to buy that $50,000 SUV that only would have appealed to a small niche market of buyers 10 or 20 years ago.

Coffee is a prime example. I remember Martin Crane on Frasier once grousing that he refused to pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But how many people are willing to do just that?

Yet how many hvac contractors continue to get beat up over price, lowering their prices and saying that people just aren't willing to pay more for a furnace or an air conditioner? Builders say this all the time, putting bare bones systems into even upscale houses, yet at the same time adding granite countertops, ceramic floors, gas fireplaces, etc.

This all came to mind in talking with Michael Kelley of Seal-Tite recently. His company is offering a new microbial-coated ductwork - at higher cost, of course. Will it be successful in the marketplace? I hope so.

Sometimes contractors believe what they're told, and run into trouble because of it. They try to be a few bucks lower than the competition, refusing to believe that you can sell a cup of coffee these days for $3.50.

Residential work

Let's hear it for residential¿ Some of our readers say we have too many articles on large commercial and/or public projects and few on residential.

I agree. But it's not because we don't like homes and light commercial projects. It's just that we tend to hear more about the "big jobs," like sports arenas, stadiums, convention centers, concert halls, etc. Those are the ones contractors seem to talk about the most, and come to mind when we ask them "What's new?" And they probably make for better pictures, too.

But residential work represents a lot of what our readers do, and I'm all for doing more feature articles, photos and how-to reports on homes, small stores, strip malls, etc. We need your help, though. Call us, give us a brief e-mail, etc. on any interesting residential work you've done lately, or how you handle that part of your business. We'll work with you or maybe even be able to drop by to see for ourselves, if we can.

Oh¿ we still like the other stuff, too.