Clothing Never Quite Fit Mens Magazine

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It was billed as the first men’s lifestyle magazine in the state. Vertical Arkansas, that is, a bimonthly publication dedicated to red meat, Bourbon, tailored suits, duck hunting and technology.

And it was — until it wasn’t.

Launched in 2010 by Ryan Hughes, then a former pricing manager at J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. in Lowell, the magazine folded in October.

Hughes formed Vertical Publishing Inc. with his wife, Tara Hughes, and Richard Allensworth, a former J.B. Hunt executive fired over a 2007 hazing incident in Kansas City involving a subordinate, David Coombs.

After Vertical’s demise, Hughes went back to J.B. Hunt, where, according to his LinkedIn profile, he’s been a national sales manager since February.

The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal reached Hughes by phone July 25, and he agreed to do an interview July 29. Before the interview, however, Hughes canceled and did not respond to a second request for an interview.

Hughes might not ever reveal why Vertical died, but one thing is certain: In the short time he could call himself a publisher he managed to leave a few important people shaking their heads. And Donny Hubbard, Northwest Arkansas’ own men’s fashion mogul, was one such person.

“Ryan failed because he had an inability to recognize the people who were there to help him,” Hubbard said, when asked why Vertical tanked.

The owner of The Independent, a men’s luxury clothing store in Rogers, Hubbard met Hughes in 2010, when Vertical was being launched. As Vertical’s style editor, Hubbard watched as the magazine, and Hughes, rose and fell in the volatile world of journalism and advertising.

Hubbard said he wasn’t surprised that Vertical went under. He said he was surprised, however, when Hughes appeared at The Independent just a couple of months ago — this time as a salesman for J.B. Hunt and not as a publisher — asking Hubbard if he had connections in the logistics department of German clothier Hugo Boss.

Hubbard told Hughes he’d think about it, but once Hughes was out the door, Hubbard said he could remember thinking: “Do you really think I’m going to help you after you stabbed me in the back?”


Style Guide Runs Cold

In 2010, when Hubbard was a key partner in the Baumans franchise in Rogers, he was approached by Hughes. Vertical, Hubbard said, needed clothing donated for a photo shoot the magazine was doing with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals and a handful of its up-and-coming players. Hubbard sensed a good opportunity and agreed to donate the clothing — suits, shirts and ties with a value of about $8,000.

Hubbard agreed to write a style column for Vertical. He also entered into a trade agreement with Hughes whereby Baumans would exchange face-value clothing for face-value ad space in the magazine.

The partnership started off well enough. Hubbard wrote his column. Big names such as former University of Arkansas basketball coach John Pelphrey and country and western star Justin Moore appeared on the cover. Hughes even scored an interview with Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe. In the winter 2011 edition, golfer John Daly appeared in a standing feature titled “10 Texts.”

Hubbard said he thought Vertical had great potential. But just below the surface things weren’t so pretty. The trade relationship, Hubbard said, never really added up. It grew more and more difficult to reconcile the value of the clothing given to Vertical and the advertising given to Baumans.

To this day, Hubbard says, there’s a discrepancy on his books showing $5,000 in clothing that was never matched with an equivalent amount of advertising in Vertical.

“It is what it is,” Hubbard said. 

The partnership took an even nastier turn when Hubbard, dealing with turmoil within his Baumans partnership, flirted with the idea of moving to New York to work for Hugo Boss.

In the meantime, in early 2012 Hughes enlisted a Baumans salesperson, Fabian Pittman, to serve as the magazine’s style consultant. Hughes and Vertical ultimately ran an interview with Pittman and put him on the cover of the 2012 Summer Style Guide.

That didn’t sit well with Hubbard, who despite his problems at Baumans, still had a 25 percent stake in the company, and thus, a say in how the clothing store was represented.

Before the style guide went to print, Hubbard — as an advertiser and sponsor — asked that Hughes at least show him the photographs to make sure they accurately reflected the Baumans brand.

That didn’t happen, and when the interview and cover photo were published, Pittman was quoted as saying something to the effect that men needed to do their own shopping and that they shouldn’t rely on their wives, Hubbard said.

As some of his best clients were wives shopping for their husbands — and spending as much as $10,000 at a time — Hubbard said he came unglued.

Pittman was fired. Hubbard lashed out at Hughes in a June 30, 2012, text message imploring Hughes to run an insert in the next edition “stating that the views of Fabian Pittman do not necessarily reflect the views of our store and that we not only welcome but encourage wives to shop for their husbands.”

Hughes refused, and in a text message sent on July 2, 2012, said: “Donny, there is no way I can run something like that. That looks bad on the magazine. We did the interview and he answered the questions. As far as we’re concerned, he was running Baumans and had been in the fashion business and had the knowledge to answer our questions.”

Hubbard said at that point he was “done” with Hughes. But he really wasn’t. At the 9th Annual Bill Fleeman Gentleman of Distinction fundraiser for Hope Cancer Resources, of which Hubbard is the fashion sponsor, Hughes appeared with a familiar face.

“Who does he bring to my flagship event but Fabian Pittman, who is networking with my clients,” Hubbard said. “At that point, I’m done with that guy [Hughes].”


Brand Battle

The relationship with Hubbard wasn’t the only one that soured. During the time Vertical was in operation, at least two big partnerships were announced, and both of them ended quickly and poorly.

Appearing on the cover of the 2011 spring issue of Vertical were local disc jockeys Jon Williams and Derek “Deek” Kastner, who had partnered with Hughes to increase revenue and exposure for their show on KAKS-FM 99.5, and for Hughes’ magazine. That was in February 2011. By July, Williams and Kastner were gone, and the only thing remaining was bitter feelings.

“I knew it would fail when Hughes, with a straight face, said Vertical was a better-known brand than Jon and Deek,” Williams said. “I almost fell out of my chair laughing. We had a combined 35 years of experience, and he and others were trying to tell us how to do a radio show.”

In January 2012, Little Rock television station KARK-TV announced Vertical had partnered with VYPE High School Magazine, and that the two publications were “planning a statewide expansion.”

Nate Olson, who was then owner and publisher of the VYPE editions in Northwest and central Arkansas, was supposed to be the editor-in-chief of both publications while Hughes handled operations. Olson had high hopes for the merger.

“Expect more pages and more copies for both existing publications,” Olson said at the time, and referenced a future goal of “launching sister publications.”

In less than a year, Olson was out of the picture, and VYPE is no longer being published. Recently reached by phone, Olsen said: “I don’t have any comment on that. I don’t have any information on that.”

Later, by email, Olson was asked about the partnership with Hughes and Vertical.

“I worked with Ryan for five months, then took a job in a different industry,” Olson wrote in reply.