Courier Corp.'s April 27 purchase of Creative Homeowner makes the printing company a significant player in publishing, with sales now topping $70 million. And while Courier CEO Jim Conway said book manufacturing will remain the company's largest business (sales in the last fiscal year: $193 million), Courier will continue to look to expand its publishing holdings. "We plan to grow carefully in publishing," Conway said.

Criteria for future acquisitions will adhere to the guidelines that Courier has followed since it entered book publishing in 2000 with its purchase of Dover Publications: a company that doesn't compete with its printing clients; a well-run house that owns most of its content; a publisher with a strong position in an attractive category. And while Creative's list of home improvement and do-it-yourself titles doesn't make it particularly glamorous, Conway said it is doubtful Courier will look to venture into more general trade areas. Creative "is about as far as we might go" into the trade market, he said.

Creative will remain based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., and there are no immediate plans to meld its operations with Dover or with Research & Education Associates. Synergy among the companies, Conway said, will come naturally. "There is no blueprint for these things," he said. Courier will not even print Creative's books, at least until its current contract expires.

For Creative, Courier's management style was an important consideration in doing a deal, said Brian Toolan, son of Henry Toolan, one of Creative's cofounders and now president of Creative. "We wanted to find a buyer that would keep the company intact and had the resources to help us grow," Toolan said. Toolan expects that the backing of Courier will help the company expand into new outlets and maybe make niche acquisitions.

Creative does not plan to deviate from a publishing program that does about 15—20 new titles per year plus an equal number of revisions. That approach has resulted in a 100-title list that backlists extremely well. Among the company's top-selling titles in recent years are Decorating with Architectural Trimwork, first released in 2001 and now in its second edition, which has 500,000 copies in print; Complete Home Landscaping, published in 2000 and also in its second edition, with 250,000 copies in print; and Ultimate Guide to Wiring, released in 2001 and now in its third edition, with 300,000 copies in print. In addition, two series—the Smart Approach and Regional Home Landscaping—have each sold more than one million copies.

Creative abandoned plans to get into the distribution business, but does manage the book program at some 415 Lowe's outlets.