By Thomas A. Parmalee
The story of Nomis Publications all started in 1974 when a recently divorced mother with four children found herself looking for a job, so she could put food on her table and keep a roof over their heads.
Lucy McGuire, a resident of Youngstown, Ohio, where her ex-husband was a firefighter, heard about “a crazy guy” looking to compile a directory of funeral homes. “He wanted someone to type,” said Peggy Rouzzo, who was one of those four children, who at the time ranged in age from about 6 to 14.
Chester E. Simon, who had previously been a sales representative for the Red Book National Directory of Morticians, was determined to strike out on his own and launch a competing directory.
It was going to be a tough task, as in addition to the Red Book, there was also a Blue Book and a Green Book, which served New England.
“Mr. Simon (pictured in the top picture with Rouzzo’s mom) brought a typewriter down, and she was one of four people typing that first directory for him,” Rouzzo said. “And it blossomed from there.”
Starting out, the business consisted of a work area in McGuire’s dining room, which quickly blossomed to encompass the living room, where more desks were brought it. “It just became a passion of hers,” Rouzzo said.
With so many colors out there as directories, the one that Simon published became known as the Yellow Book. As for the company name itself, the name Simon spelled backward is Nomis, and before launching the company, he had several boats named Nomis 1, Nomis 2, Nomis 3, etc. Naming the company Nomis was always a given.
The business has been all that Rouzzo has ever known, as it was a fixture in her life – and in her house – ever since she was a teenager who didn’t know how to drive.
“We had eight employees working at my mother’s house on a daily basis,” Rouzzo said. “When the newspapers would arrive in a big truck, we would get dollies and go to the corner where it was parked, because it could not come down our small street. Monthly, we’d roll the newspapers to our house on dollies to our front porch, and we’d do it annually with the directory. We’d have to put self-adhesive labels on the newspapers, and we recruited our friends to help. They were paid by the sheet, based on how many label sheets they could put on newspapers.”
Right around the time she was 17, she got more serious about helping out along with her siblings, Kim McGuire, who is now the company’s president; her brother, Jerry McGuire, who died several years ago; and Kathy Duraney, who remains a shareholder of the company and teaches graphics at the local vocational school and acts as a consultant/adviser for the company’s Boardman Printing division.
“They emptied wastebaskets and got paid for helping when they were 6, 7, 8 and 9 years old,” Rouzzo said of her siblings.
As the business grew, Simon launched the Yellow Book News, also known as the YB News, which is a monthly newspaper sent out to funeral homes throughout the country. “He started the newspaper as a way to promote the directory, because we did not have a sales force,” Rouzzo said. “The newspaper started in just a few states.”
From the day the newspaper arrived in mailboxes in 1979, it was a hit.
Shortly after it was launched, Superior International Corp., a funeral supplies company based out of Cleveland that was eventually bought by Hepburn Industries, stepped up to support the venture. When it paid for its advertising for three years in advance, Nomis had the funding to expand the newspaper nationwide.
In 1981, the YB News began publishing a quarterly issue that it sent out to funeral homes nationwide before transitioning to monthly. “We are the only publication going to every funeral home that we are aware of,” Rouzzo said.
The directory that Nomis started is now called the Funeral Home and Cemetery Directory, and the newspaper is called Funeral Home and Cemetery News after a legal dispute with the phone directory company that had a Yellow Book of its own that served the general public.
Although Nomis Publications won the legal battle, the company did not like being confused with a national company that had no connection to funeral service, so it eventually rebranded itself – although some people still do call its directory the Yellow Book and some still do refer to the newspaper as the YB News.
Long after the Blue Book and Green Book directories have gone out of business, the Nomis directory remains in business, with the Red Book being its only serious competition.
A Family Mission
When Rouzzo graduated from high school, she took a secretarial job and moved out of the house. But it wasn’t long before she was on the phone, calling her mom and asking her if she could go back to work at Nomis Publications, where she had worked throughout high school.
“I wasn’t even 20 yet,” she said. “It wasn’t the pay … but I didn’t like the office atmosphere I was in. It was not what I wanted. I went back to work at Nomis, and Mr. Simon basically pushed the newspaper on me. It was 1981, and I was fighting him on it, but by 1986 or 1987, no one could take that away from me for anything. It grew, and we grew.”
Rouzzo learned about journalism and publishing the old-fashioned way – not at college but by rolling up her hard sleeves and actually doing some work.
“I have always tried to make the newspaper the niche place where funeral homes and cemeteries could share their news,” she said. “I wanted it to be a place where they could pat themselves on the back a little bit. Our front page has always had a funeral home on it.”
She also likes to make sure the newspaper includes a bevy of valuable content. “I want there to be at least one idea after reading the newspaper that they can take away,” she said. “Or maybe a column sparks them to think about something or teaches them something.”
The newspaper has had some legendary columnists over the years, including funeral director, educator, author and funeral service historian Todd W. Van Beck, who recently died.
In fact, readers will still be able to read Van Beck’s column for a few more months, as he had written a series of columns on presidential funeral trains, some of which remained unpublished at the time of his death, Rouzzo said.
“Mr. Van Beck was so amazing to listen to,” she said. “We spent a lot of time editing his work, but his mind was so amazing and his knowledge so extensive.”
One of Rouzzo’s favorite columnists is Steven Palmer, a funeral director from Arizona who shares thoughts and observations on the profession.
“His column has run a gamut of topics, from historical topics to current topics to just opinions on what he was thinking that day,” she said.
She also singled out lawyer Harvey Lapin, one of the first attorneys to specialize in death care who died in 2017. “I think he wrote for us for 25 or 30 years,” she said. “I loved my time working with him.”
In the spring of 1986, Nomis Publications moved into its first commercial location. It was a big move up from when the family was operating a printing press from the basement and had desks filling up the living room and dining room.
With the new and improved location, Simon – who was never short on ideas but needed to surround himself with people who could implement them – floated the idea of offering printing to the local community.
As a result, Boardman Printing opened its doors in the spring of 1986.
“It’s a quick print type shop with a digital press – we employ three people full time,” Rouzzo said. “We specialize in invitations, yard signs and business cards. It gives us a great local presence. It is also where our envelopes, letterhead, fliers and notepads are printed – it’s all done right here.”
Boardman Printing also serves the death-care profession.
“We do offer a standard discount to anyone in the funeral industry,” Rouzzo said. “Locally, we do the printing for a handful of funeral homes. But there are funeral homes nationwide for which we print contracts, envelopes and business cards. And for our newspaper advertisers, we offer the option of putting a tip-in service flier or brochure into the newspaper, and they can print it with us in-house and we also give them a discount. We tell them to price it out. They don’t have to worry about getting anything shipped to us if we print it in-house.”
In 2002, the company made another step up when it bought a piece of land and built its own building – one that did not require them to have a hodgepodge of space split over four levels in an old building like previously, she said.
“Once we were all on one floor, we became much more efficient,” she said. “We were spending a quarter of our day running up and own steps.”
Nomis Publications also ardently supports the profession. Whenever you go to a major convention, you are likely to see it among the platinum, gold and silver sponsors.
“We only go to national conventions – we don’t go to state shows,” Rouzzo said. “And we just believe in supporting those associations. We have done a lot, scholarship-wise, with foundations. Education is key to everything. We have also been a big promoter of the Professional Women’s Conference because we want to promote women within the industry – we want to be behind them.”
Even though staff may not attend state shows, Rouzzo noted that if a state association reaches out to the company directly and asks for a donation, the company will often contribute. It also sends Nomis golf towels to various industry tournaments. “It is a way to promote ourselves while helping the industry,” she said.
The Transition to Ownership
When it came time for Simon to retire, his family was not interested in taking over the business he’d worked so hard to launch and grow, Rouzzo said.
“His daughter had relocated to Oklahoma,” she explained.
McGuire, however, had always had her sights on one day taking over, and she worked out everything with Simon, becoming owner and president. Rouzzo and her sister, Kim, continued on in their respective roles after the deal was finalized – as secretary/treasurer and vice president.
The company is gearing up to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary with the arrival of 2024.
“We are really excited about that,” Rouzzo said. “And even though the year is 2023, this fall, the 2024 directory will be published, and the first directory was in 1974. So, we are actually going to begin our 50th year anniversary celebration at the National Funeral Directors Association convention, coinciding with the publication of our first directory. We are going to have a big booth with lots of promos and giveaways to celebrate – and we will continue the celebration into all the shows we do in 2024.”
The famous roulette wheel that Nomis had at past conventions will be center stage at the show, Rouzzo said. “Everyone will remember it – we took it to every Vegas show there was,” she said. “Kim’s son, T.J., who is now working with us, is going to take the part that Mr. Simon played previously, wearing a yellow vest, garter on his arm and a visor. He will run that wheel in our booth.”
A Tremendous Value for Advertisers
Through both its directory and newspaper, Nomis Publications offers a variety of options for advertisers – and an absolutely tremendous value. You can view its media kit here.
“We are not exclusive to the funeral profession,” Rouzzo said. “Libraries have our book. “Mortuary affairs divisions of all the armed forces bought our book to put on bases worldwide” – although now the government sector usually buys the digital version, she said.
“The digital directory is more like a PDF of the actual print directory,” she said. “We also have an online directory option, which you just have to be a registered user to our website to access. We are not here to be a resource to the general public, we are here to be a resource to the industry, and so by asking people to register online, it keeps people we don’t really want on our site out.”
Many funeral homes keep the digital version of the directory on their desktops and on their phones, so they don’t have to flip through the pages of a book – or search for who might have it on their desk.
“The PDF can be loaded onto a phone, tablet – it can be everywhere,” she said.
The online directory that is available to everyone is a database listing, with some upgraded listings. It’s updated in real time.
Asked whether cremation has affected business operations, Rouzzo said not so much.
“We haven’t really seen an effect from the rise of cremation, but we have seen an effect from consolidation,” she said. “The directory revolves around the taking care of the decedent. The body needs to be picked up, shipped and it may need to be embalmed – all of that is the trade aspect of what happens after a death, and even with cremation, it is all the same. There may not be as much shipping of fully casketed bodies, but people still die away from home – and there is still the need for these services of getting that loved one back home whether they will be cremated or casketed. So, the need for advertising in a directory didn’t really change with cremation.”
What has changed, however, is what those advertisements say.
“Instead of a firm just offering shipping, it may say we can do the cremation for you,” Rouzzo said. “And they may say they can then send the remains to you, so you can take care of your families.”
Consolidation has had a more pronounced effect, as a firm owned by a large corporation may not want to use an outside firm when someone dies away from home. “They want to stay in their own network,” she said. “Some of the smaller firms that might have still advertised with us, once they get acquired, they may stop advertising.”
Even larger firms, however, still want to provide services for firms outside their network, however, so they are not necessarily against advertising, Rouzzo said.
Suppliers throughout the profession also regularly advertise in the newspaper, which is sent to 22,500 funeral homes and cemeteries every month. Associations, standalone crematories and others allied to the profession also receive the publication, which is sent out for free but can also be purchased for $30 per year for those who want their own copy, or a copy sent directly to their homes.
“We almost try to talk them out of buying a subscription if they call on the phone,” Rouzzo said. “We tell them register on the website and read it online for free. But a lot of them want the newspaper in their hands and want to be able to carry it around and read it when they want to. All of our revenue really comes through advertising, which is the model we started with and have stuck with.”
Keeping Up with the Times
How is Nomis still thriving when so many publishers are struggling?
“The funeral homes continue to use that directory, and as long as they continue to do so, we will keep putting it out there for them,” Rouzzo said.
But the company has also adapted to how people get their information, Rouzzo said.
“We added the website and the online directory, giving our advertisers more options to promote their services,” she said.
Last year, the company made a bigger change – discontinuing the large 8.5 x 11 directory that it used to send out to every advertiser. Funeral homes still receive the pocket-sized, 5 x 7 version, which it started mailing to every funeral home on its mailing list in 1983. Every single advertiser also receives a link to access the digital version of the directory. “If you are an advertiser, you do not have to pay for the digital directory,” she said.
Firms that preferred the larger version of the directory can buy the digital version and zoom in to magnify the text to whatever size they want. A free pocket-sized version of the book still goes out to the main location of each funeral home.
“If someone owns five locations, they only get one free book,” Rouzzo explained. “Usually, most firms with more than five locations have a centralized mailing address.”
Conglomerates can be a bit tougher to figure out. “We don’t treat SCI in Houston as a main branch,” she said. “But if we know there are five SCI facilities in a given area operating under one umbrella, they will get one free book. We still have about 20,000 funeral homes listed in our directory, and of those, we will mail out about 14,000 directories. About 6,000 are considered branch locations.”
Funeral homes that want to buy additional copies of the pocket-sized directory can do so for $85. The digital directory costs $125.
Every funeral home and advertiser also receive a free Buyer’s Guide, which includes a listing of suppliers and other important information, such as a listing of daily newspapers, pet loss providers and state associations, Rouzzo said.
Additional copies of the Buyer’s Guide can be purchased for $40, but the price drops to $20 if you are buying it in tandem with one of the company’s other directories. The Buyer’s Guide is also available in a digital version for the same price.
The Business Today
Today, Nomis Publications is owned by Rouzzo, who is the secretary and treasurer; her sister, Kim, who serves as president; and her other sister, Duraney. Rouzzo’s daughter, Cindy, who mostly manages the Boardman Printing operations, has a small percentage of ownership and is the firm’s vice president. Kim’s son, T.J., recently started working at the business.
In addition to the family members, there are five more employees, all of whom have worked at the business longer than 10 years, Rouzzo said.
“But primarily, it is Kim, Cindy and I – and upon my mom’s death in July 2020, Kim became president and my daughter became vice president I remain secretary and treasurer.”
Rouzzo’s mother “never retired,” she said. “She kept her title, and we kept her in the loop on everything, even when she stopped coming into the offices for health reasons,” Rouzzo said.
She gives her mother all the credit in the world for teaching her amazing lessons about business and life – and for giving her the confidence to become a business owner in her own right.
“She taught us how to separate our business life from our personal life,” she said. “In terms of working together as a family, you could get in a disagreement outside the office, but she taught us that it should not affect what happens in the office.” She continued, “She also taught us that you could get in a disagreement inside the office, but it should not affect what happens when you go over to eat dinner as a family on Sunday. I give her 100% credit for teaching us that.”
Kim McGuire agreed with her sister’s assessment, noting, “Although throughout the years there have been a very small number of disagreements at work the one thing mom always insisted on is that work stayed at work, no matter what disagreement we might have at the office it did not go with us to family gatherings. And it never did. Mom loved her job and the company, but her family always came first!”
The entire operation has a family-like atmosphere, even for the employees who are not kin, Rouzzo said. “You can bring your kids to work if they are off school,” she said. “For the last nine years, my dog came with me to work. Part of the atmosphere in the office stems from the fact that the business started out in our house.”
The Freedom to Grow
McGuire always gave her children the freedom to grow.
“She didn’t tell me how to do the newspaper,” Rouzzo said. “She was open to whatever ideas I had, although I never did anything without passing it by her first.”
The biggest tug of war she ever got in with her children revolved around how much information to place on the website – especially information not behind a paywall – a question that has stymied many a publisher.
“It was a hard sell,” Rouzzo said of updating the website, noting that her mom was concerned about putting its hard-won data out there for all the world to see.
She finally relented and allowed the site to be updated as a result of the persistence of Michael Turkiewicz, the former president of FuneralNet.
“He is from a rival high school in Youngstown, and he just kept calling here,” Rouzzo said. “I finally agreed to meet with him in Cincinnati at the NFDA show in 1996, and he gave me a whole proposal of what he wanted to do and how he could see our newspaper and directories online. I was impressed by him and by how many people wandered by us saying, ‘Hey Turk, what’s up?’ He had a great reputation, and people really liked him. So, we brought him here for a meeting with Mom.”
What followed should be a lesson for anyone in sales.
“He brought in a laptop and gave a demonstration and told her what he thought,” Rouzzo said.
Rouzzo’s mom was intrigued but not quite ready to say yes – but that changed after her daughter Kim picked up her 5-year-old daughter, Megan.
“When Turk fired that laptop back up and put Nickelodeon on the computer, that is when he sold my mom,” Rouzzo said. “There was no reason for him to do that, but he used his internet prowess to give Megan something to play with. And Mom said, ‘Against my better judgment, I give you all my OK,’” Rouzzo said.
Several years later, she admitted to her children that they were right to push her on the website – that the business needed to do it, according to Rouzzo.
“I am glad we did it early, so we could go through a lot of learning phases,” Rouzzo said. “We went through a lot of redesigns and revisions, and we went through different companies who charged us a lot of money to get to where we are today – but we have that online presence. And unless you have an amazing and effective sales force, you have to have it.”
Facing COVID-19 and More
While Nomis added a digital option earlier than some other publishers, no one could prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the coronavirus did not have a severe effect on business operations, Rouzzo said it did take a toll on her father, Phil (Mickey) McGuire. “He and his wife, Rosemari, have attended many conventions with us,” Rouzzo said, noting that her dad never officially worked at the company but remained friends with his ex-wife and was always very involved in the lives of his children.
“Up until COVID hit, my dad was a frequent visitor to the office here,” Rouzzo said. “He retired as a firefighter on disability earlier in life, and he had lots of free time. I don’t remember a time when he was not stopping by. While he never had an ownership stake and never worked with us, we did take him to conventions, and sometimes he and my stepmom would work in the booth with us. So, he was a presence around the business, even though he was never actively involved.”
Rouzzo’s mom never remarried – Nomis Publications remained her passion throughout her life. Her father just turned 89.
COVID-19 really changed him, she said. “That time he had to spend at home and not being able to drive … right after COVID, he had some fender benders. He lost confidence in himself and gave up his driver’s license.”
Nomis, however, got along just fine, she said.
“The majority of our staff was sent home,” she said. “We gave one of our employees a full home office setup, where she did composition work on the newspaper. Our graphic artist was laid off, but she was available through an office setup if we needed her. Myself, my sister and my daughter continued to work every day as usual. Boardman Printing remained open, and we had people do contactless pickup and drop-off in our foyer area. We did a lot of printing for brides who had to cancel their weddings.”
The government’s Payroll Protection Plan “helped immensely,” Rouzzo said. “We used the money to give our employees extra funds, so they could come back to work but still be paid what they would have been paid by the government if they had stayed home,” Rouzzo said.
Boardman Printing also supported the community by producing yard signs with positive messages, such as “Ohio Strong” and other sayings.
“They were positive things and enlightening sayings,” Rouzzo said. “People could just take them. My daughter called them Signs of Positivity, and it was just huge. People were just so appreciative. We still drive around sometimes and see one of our weather-battered signs in someone’s yard.” The campaign even received local news coverage with a reporter interviewing Rouzzo’s daughter while standing 12 feet away, she laughed.
For a time, advertising revenue actually increased, simply because suppliers could no longer travel and exhibit at conventions – and they still wanted to connect with customers. “Getting news – that was harder,” Rouzzo said. “There were not many community events – and funeral directors were so busy, they could not think.”
Rouzzo is thankful the company weathered the pandemic as they were very uncertain times. She remains as confident as ever that Nomis Publications will stand with death-care professionals long into the future, keeping them informed and helping them navigate changes yet to come.