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  • William Horner

Digging Through the Archives: Chuck Runbeck

A ring at the doorbell more than a decade ago changed my life forever. A neighbor, who knew I enjoyed construction and vintage machines, brought over an old magazine he found at an estate sale. Arizona Builder & Contractor captivated me, and I became devoted to learning about the publication.

I traced the names on the magazine’s masthead and placed a phone call to a Martha Akers in Scottsdale. The lady who answered was skeptical as I inquired about the magazine and staff members. She almost hung up on me before saying that Martha was still alive but, in a home, and that she and her husband, Chuck Runbeck, were taking care of her.

Chuck and I later spoke on the phone. His deep voice gave me the impression of talking to Lurch from the Addams Family. We talked about the magazine and construction, and I learned he was recovering from throat surgery. Initially, we agreed to meet at his home. His wife, Kay, however, thought it best to get together at Runbeck Graphics, owned by his son, Kevin.

We hit it off, and I mustered the courage to tell him that Douglas Towne, a writer, and I wanted to start a publication. I thought he could give us some advice and possible assistance. “It all depends on how the market is and how good your product is,” he responded.

Chuck came on board and set goals to sell a certain number of ads. When he achieved that, he’d go out and sell more. Laura Horner, who later became my wife, stepped in to design the magazine. But we ran into problems a month before the publication’s launch. The magazine’s look didn’t satisfy Chuck. “I won’t have my name on anything that looks unprofessional,” he said. In a rush, Laura took a course in graphic design, which satisfied Chuck.

At this point, Chuck began mentoring me. I was petrified of selling ads and preferred operating my grader at work. Eventually, though, Chuck and I worked together enough to allow me to gain the experience to run the magazine confidently.

I learned that Chuck was firm and fair when it came to sales. He always looked for an angle to help the customer and frowned on computer sales and mass solicitations. "I never cared for the shotgun approach, and I'm no good on the phones,” he said. “It’s much better to visit in person as everyone is different and has a unique situation.”

Chuck’s approach for meeting customers in person, however, had to adapt to the times. The “secretary wall” didn’t exist 50 years ago, when visiting clients on a whim was possible. Chuck learned that you needed an appointment first, and it was often tough to get one. He discovered this the hard way by driving a long way only to find someone wouldn't see him, or they were out. We eventually compromised and would call first before seeing clients.

We developed some traditions in working together. In the East Valley, we would stop at Runbeck Graphics to visit with the staff and then eat lunch at the Rio Salado College cafeteria. In the West Valley, he enjoyed a meatball sub from Mr. Goodcents at our office. This meal came with a price, though, as he would sometimes end up sharing his sub with our dogs, Bobby and Mia.

Chuck and I had been working together for eight years when we decided that he would make his final sales visits on his 90th birthday in April 2018. Neither of us was happy about this though. Chuck wanted to continue working, but his health prevented him. I was nervous to quit construction, where I worked as a finish blade operator. We made one last grand tour, where Chuck introduced me to each of his clients at their offices. But, even after his retirement party, Chuck landed another account that November. I officially took over his position in 2019.

This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, May/June 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.3.

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