In 2010, the first issue of JerseyMan was released in New Jersey. Backed by a unique business model that includes an elite business club for high-profile local business people, the magazine quickly turned a profit that most publishers struggle for years to achieve. This year, JerseyMan’s founder, Ken Dunek, is taking the model to new cities with a brand new franchised publishing concept, USA MAN.
Dunek’s path to USA MAN was long. In 1979, he graduated from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) with a degree in journalism, but it would be three decades before he put that degree to work.
A knack for news and writing was just one of Dunek’s talents, and given his burgeoning football career, it was far from the most lucrative. A large-framed and quick-footed college football star, Dunek was offered a free-agent role with the Philadelphia Eagles after college. Dunek won an NFC Championship run with the Eagles before embarking on stints with the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. Dunek eventually transitioned to the USFL before retiring from football in 1987.
Dunek says he considered pursuing his journalistic aspirations after retiring from football, but his quickly growing family motivated him to find a more immediately profitable endeavor.
“I had one daughter, and then in 1989, my wife gave birth to three more — triplets. So, I decided to give up on journalism and make as much money as I could.”
Dunek decided to get into printing, the business in which his father had worked. He found success in that industry, supporting his family for years, but Dunek says his passion for journalism never subsided.
“Writing was always important to me, and I always wanted to get back into journalism,” he said.
20 years later, in 2010, Dunek got his chance. Years earlier, his wife was injured in a car accident, and while she was in the hospital, Dunek found himself unable to sleep. In an effort to relieve his stress and take advantage of his insomnia, he spent his nights writing essays and short stories.
“I had met all these interesting people throughout my life and career, and I had a million stories, so I just started putting them on paper,” Dunek said.
Before long, Dunek had written enough stories to fill a book, so he did just that, and in 2010 that book, “An Improbable Journey,” was published.
Later that same year, a local publisher, impressed with the style and focus of “An Improbable Journey,” reached out to Dunek to ask if he might be interested in putting together a magazine. Dunek eagerly accepted, and after a little brainstorming, JerseyMan was born.
To support JerseyMan, Dunek set out selling ad space in the magazine, a task he soon realized could be a major obstacle to the survival of the publication.
“I’d never sold an ad in my life before that, but we hustled and sold enough to get the first issue out,” Dunek said. “I found that advertisers were skeptical of print, and it became obvious that we were going to need more to keep this thing alive.”
To woo advertisers, Dunek began throwing parties, inviting his friends in the business world as well as potential advertisers. Though the parties weren’t pulling as many advertisements as he hoped, Dunek quickly found that the opportunity to rub shoulders with high-profile local business people was an attractive prospect in its own right. So attractive, he realized, that he could charge a fee for the opportunity.
And so the Legacy Club was born. Rather than rely solely on advertising for JerseyMan, Dunek started funding the magazine with the annual fees paid by hundreds of members of his new private networking club.
With JerseyMan positioned as its public face, the Legacy Club became a thriving business in its first year, and it wasn’t long before Dunek saw how the opportunity could be duplicated in cities across the country.
In 2014, Dunek launched PhillyMan, using the magazine to draw Philadelphia’s local business scene together and establishing a Legacy Club for that city.
With the model successfully duplicated, Dunek started thinking of franchising. That’s when his advisory board introduced him to Steve Beagelman, founder of SMB Franchise Advisors.
“I took several meetings with Steve, and he loved the idea of franchising our concept,” Dunek said.
Beagelman says he quickly saw the potential in Dunek’s model as a franchise concept.
“When I first met Ken and his team, I was immediately excited about launching his concept into the franchise industry,” Beagelman said. “The opportunity to publish local magazines like JerseyMan and PhillyMan combined with high-profile business networking events in local communities is a fantastic, unique opportunity, and we knew it would be a great success in the world of franchising.”
Dunek and Beagelman worked on the idea for over a year, refining the unique model and preparing Dunek for the operational shift.
“We looked at every aspect of the business with a magnifying glass,” Dunek said. “We wanted to be sure this was something we could scale effectively. None of us at the magazine had any experience in franchising, so we had to learn everything from Steve and his team, and they made everything easy for us. Marketing, infrastructure, the operations manual, legal advice — they laid everything out for us.”
The result was USA MAN, a franchise concept that offers Dunek’s entire business model, including both the magazine and networking club, to entrepreneurs across the country. The first franchisee-owned operation, BostonMan, is expected to launch in October, and Dunek sees that as the beginning of widespread expansion.
“We’re still small, so we might roll out one other franchise this year after BostonMan, then we hope to scale up to three to five per year, eventually reaching the top 30 to 50 markets in the country,” Dunek said.
To support that growth, Dunek says he’ll continue to rely on Beagelman and SMB for guidance.
“We’re still finding our feet as a franchise, and Steve continues to be a crucial resource for us,” he said. “The whole team has been great, and that relationship isn’t going to fade away.”
Likewise, Beagelman says USA MAN has been a valuable resource for SMB, which has seen first-hand the value of the franchise’s networking events.
“We have attended several events hosted by JerseyMan and PhillyMan, and they have been terrific networking opportunities for us,” Beagelman said.
As USA MAN begins to grow, Dunek sees the venture as a natural, if unexpected, next step in his career.
“In some ways, it makes perfect sense that my career would lead to this,” he said. “I’ve always loved journalism, and I’ve always been great at making connections with people. USA MAN is really the perfect combination of those talents, and I think it’s going to find a lot of traction from people with the same talents and interests in other cities.”