Comag Marketing Group LLC has all the trappings of a New

York Company. Formed by a joint agreement between the

Hearst Corporation and Conde Nast Publications, it is

responsible for distributing one-fourth of the retail

magazines in North America – and many of the publishers

are in Manhattan.

Until recently Comag was renting space in the Hearst Tower

at 250 West 55th Street. Random House was across the

street and Time Warner was five blocks away. The thought

of leaving this publishing vortex was daunting. No one

knew how it would affect the staff. But its aging building

was undergoing renovation, and Comag had to move

somewhere. With Conde Nast among its owners, it didn’t

make sense to keep on bunking in with Hearst, and rents in

New York had skyrocketed.

So Comag moved last year from its old headquarters in

midtown Manhattan to Princeton Forrestal Village. The

story of this company’s move – and the changes it made in

employees’ lives – can provide insights for developers and

real estate brokers trying to lure other companies from

expensive digs in the Big Apple.

CoMag looked at seven different areas in New Jersey and

Westchester. The decision criteria: access to mass

transportation (airport, highway access to Route 1 and the

turnpike, and train), the types of companies and

buildings, the labor pool, cost, quality of life, timing

of the move-in, and the office park environment.

"We looked at the Carnegie Center and the Forrestal

Center, but we chose the one that had the village

environment," says John DeFrisco, vice president of

business planning and analysis, who worked with Glenn

Dawson of George Comfort & Sons to find the space. "This

had the things that clicked." Previously occupied by

Kemper Insurance, the property had been listed at $26

gross, or about $56,000 per month. So Comag moved from

three different floors in the 12-story tower to the top

floor of a three-story building. "We vacated an old, Class

C building that will be demolished in the coming months

and settled into beautiful space, which we reconfigured to

meet our needs for years to come," says Michael Sullivan,

Comag’s CEO.

With everyone on one floor, the departments can talk to

each other. "We installed up-to-date systems and

communications equipment, renovated throughout, and

decorated the walls with poster-size enlargements of our

clients’ magazine covers,"

Workers at the five-year old-firm were told of the

decision in January, 2005. Their computers were loaded up

on Friday, April 28, and everyone went back to work on

Monday, May 1. Even though building renovations were still

underway, and the new office had no landline phones, they

managed with cellphones. "We were wireless, and we didn’t

miss a beat," says Mike Herrington, vice president of

client services.

Each worker had a 60-day trial period to see whether they

wanted to make the reverse commute. Executives made

pickups and dropoffs at the Princeton Junction train

station. (Now the company van meets one train to pick up a

handful of reverse commuters.) The result: a 40 percent

turnover and 25 new employees.

"While we were challenged by losing some very good people,

the turnover on balance was a tremendous plus for our

organization," says CEO Sullivan. "The `Princeton Crew’

has brought new skills, new ideas, and a fresh energy that

is recognized and appreciated by the magazine industry

veterans who moved with us from New York. Members of both

groups have bought homes in the area, or plan to buy


Herrington regrets losing some of the good people in his

department, applauds those who are managing to do the

reverse commute, and celebrates his new hires – 70 percent

of his two-dozen person team is new.

His team serves the "outside" clients, the magazines that

don’t belong to either Hearst or Conde Nast. They include

TV Guide, OK magazine, National Geographic, Business Week,

and the crossword puzzle magazine, Pennypress. For these

clients, Comag helps boost single copy newsstand sales,

and it is known for having the lowest ratio of

publications per marketing manager in the business. "We

are able to be more responsive," says Herrington. "We look

at how the magazine is selling by store, by zip code, and

by market, and we have people calling on those retailers

and fighting for the best space at the front end."

"Every time you have a move of this magnitude," says

Herrington, "it is an opportunity to look at what do we do

well and where we want to be. Do we need the old

positions, do we create new positions, and what skills do

we need to fill them?"

"The move really allowed us to go out and look for people

who had the core competencies – who are more analytical

and more proactive in finding opportunities to grow the

newsstand business," he says. Of the 11 new hires, nine

were fresh to the business.

"The parent companies and our ownership are happy with our

decision. Their access to us has not been fettered," says

DeFrisco. A 1982 graduate of Lehigh University, he is one

of the those who declined to move his family, and now he

drives his Ford Expedition 2 1/2 hours from Nassau County

on Long Island to Princeton.

CEO Sullivan did not move; he lives in Newtown,

Pennsylvania. Herrington, who lives in Basking Ridge, also

stayed put.

What commuting decisions did other Comag employees make?

Jeff Burns: Stayed

Jeff Burns, human resources director, on the left in the

photo on page 60, was hired into a new position after the

Princeton office opened. A University of Delaware alumnus,

Class of 1987, he had previously commuted from Scotch

Plains to New York, switching trains in Newark. He

definitely prefers an hour’s drive (29 miles) to 75

minutes on the train.

"It’s a control issue. You can control your own pace."

With three children in schools in Scotch Plains, he did

not consider moving. "The commute is nothing for me," says

Burns, who takes back roads through Manville and along

Canal Road. "It is easier to work and live in New Jersey."

The 30-mile move extended the radius for attracting

employees by 90 miles, Burns says. "It’s a phenomenal

area, and we get people from really far away."

Comag has 340 employees overall, including 100 in a back

office in Charlotte, North Carolina, and 60 so far in

Princeton. Of the 60 people here, 39 were new to the

company. "It’s about culture building and involving

people; it’s been a great experience. I have never come to

a place where there is such positive energy," Burns says.

Turnover has been virtually zero, and he attributes this

to the company’s focus on getting people to interact and

doing team building." The quality of life committee set up

such programs as a softball team, toy collections, pumpkin

carving, a March Madness luncheon, birthday recognitions,

potluck lunches, and a team spirit day. "People love

working here, love the area, and love the company. We have

a lot of people who are very energetic here and a lot of

subject matter experts. It’s a unique industry."

Richard Lawton, Moved

Richard Lawton, senior vice president, in the middle on

page 60, is the son of a Marine Corps officer, so he

doesn’t mind moving, but he did mind commuting.

A 1981 graduate of Clemson (one of his two children is

there now), he had worked for Time Warner and/or Barnes &

Noble in Shreveport, Houston, Atlanta, Southern

California, and Seattle before moving to Jersey City. He

left Jersey City and bought a studio apartment on Palmer

Square, but he also has a weekend place in Woodstock, New


"I commuted to New York City for 15 years, and I had had

it with commuting in general," says Lawton.

Mike Herrington: Stayed

When Mike Herrington (far right on this page) moved to

Basking Ridge six years ago, it was the family’s 10th

move, and he and his wife were determined not to disturb

their three school-aged children again. Like several other

vice presidents – including Michael Gillen (far left on

the cover) who lives in Easton, Pennsylvania – he decided

to stay put.

Unlike a vice president who is commuting from Connecticut,

he found his commute to be a pleasant surprise. Door to

door, it had been 90 minutes, but he could choose whether

to drive, do park and ride, or take the train. Now his

31-mile drive is the same every day, 50 minutes each way.

"I thought it was going to be horrible. But now I don’t

mind it," he says. "It is not the same grind as going

through the tunnel, because it is more predictable. You

never know, with Manhattan."

A 1985 graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Stevens

Point, Herrington worked at Time Warner for 17 years,

moving through sales positions in Milwaukee, Chicago,

Tampa, New Hampshire, Houston, Seattle, and St. Louis. He

joined Comag five years ago and finds it very different

from Time Warner. "It’s very collegial, and it starts at

the top. Mike Sullivan is a great people person, and he

empowers people; he gives them an opportunity to step up

and shine."

Does he check out the magazines even on vacation? "Yes, no

matter where you are. It’s in your blood."

Maria Young, moved from the Bronx

Maria Young (second from right, standing, on the cover)

and her family took their chance to move out of the Bronx

to a safer environment, an area in Hamilton that borders

Trenton, so the children could have more freedom.

They vacated quickly, finding a house, closing in two

months, and moving in on April 1, 2005. Her husband’s

commute changed from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, but her

45-minute train ride decreased to 30 minutes by car.

Their daughter is at Crockett Middle School, and their son

is a freshman at Hamilton High West. "It was a difficult

transition for my son, leaving behind his friends, but he

has a lot more opportunities now," says Young. "Now he can

go bike riding freely, or to the movies with his friends.

Before he had to go with an adult."

Children moving from the Bronx are at a disadvantage when

it comes to playing on sports teams, but her son has

joined the gaming club and has transferred into the art

program. "Even the parks were not as nice as they are

here," says Young. "We have a lake three or four blocks

away and they can go fishing on their own. Great Adventure

is 20 minutes from our house, and we have season passes."

Nevertheless, some cultural opportunities are easier to

arrange in New York. Last summer her son did an internship

program at the Bronx Zoo (staying with his grandmother),

and for a similar program he would have to travel to the

aquarium in Camden.

Peter Ferrone: Moved

Peter Ferrone, second from left on the cover, prizes the

slower pace of Princeton. "I don’t mind the noise and the

craziness of the city, but in the late afternoon the peace

and quiet is nice. I never knew what it was like to sit at

your desk and not hear a car horn, an ambulance, a siren,

nothing. On average you hear that every 10 minutes in the


His current drive from his condo at Eagle’s Trace on

Franklin Corner Road, takes about a half hour. "But it

sure beats nearly two hours, door to door, coming on the

train from Lower Westchester," he says.

Ferrone, who is an IT analyst and is single, has print

marketing in his blood. He grew up on Long Island, where

his father was a field rep for the Herald Tribune and the

Daily News. A 1978 graduate of the University of Dayton,

Ferrone was a department store buyer before working for

Hearst and for the start-up team of USA Today. He joined

Comag in 1986.

He still has season tickets to Giants games, and he also

spends a lot of weekends visiting his family in New York.

But the time he would have spent commuting, he now spends

on his hobbies – woodcarving, genealogy research, and

listening to music.

Allison Flemming: Moved

Allison Flemming, marketing manager for Hearst client

services, seated on the left on the cover, moved her young

family from West Orange to Bordentown, where she and her

husband bought a new Toll Brothers home. "For us it was

very much a quality of life issue. I had been wanting to

get out of Manhattan," she says. Bordentown was "at the

high end of our price range, but at least doable. Our

expenses might be a little more, but we do have more


A 1992 graduate of the University of Scranton, she worked

with her father, who is also in publishing sales, during

the summers. Now she manages day to day newsstands sales

for four monthly publications and a couple of special

interest publications. She had a job with one of CoMag’s

clients, Disney Publishing, which could have been a sticky

situation, until she explained her "quality of life"

decision to her boss.

Her husband, who works for a bank, has just started a job

in Jersey City. She went from a 90-minute trip on public

transportation to a 20 or 30-minute drive.

Flemming loved having her toddler children attend Harmony

School just a block from her office. "I watched the

Halloween parade right in front the building; had I still

been in Manhattan I would have to take half a day off or

miss it."

Walter Verfenstein: Moved

Walter Verfenstein, director of corporate communications

and third from left on the cover, dramatically shortened

his commuting time by moving to Plainsboro. He had been

taking public transportation from Flushing to mid town

Manhattan and now drives just 10 minutes from a rented

place at Hunter’s Glen. He is looking for a place to buy.

The son of a public school administrator and a real estate

broker, Verfenstein graduated from Vassar in 1989 and has

been at Comag for more than five years. He had worked in

Minnesota for a television shopping network, in

Washington, D.C., for a nonprofit foundation, in Manhattan

for Publisher’s Clearing House, and with his own

video/marketing firm.

He misses the conveniences and the energy of the city.

"But there are compensatory benefits. I enjoy the

countryside, and at the season change the colors are

beautiful." And not having to commute on a daily basis, he

renewed his interest in golf; he plays twice a week.

"But I have not transferred my personal business down here

completely," says Verfenstein. He goes back and forth to

see his girlfriend in New York, his family on Long Island,

and, oh yes, his dentist.

Jerry Sullivan: Moved

Jerry Sullivan, marketing manager and fourth from left on

the cover, used to live in Upper Montclair, and he

exchanged a 90-minute commute on bus and subway for a

20-minute drive from the Village Grand adult community in

West Windsor.

He has good memories of his 20 to 25-minute walk from the

Port Authority bus station to West 55th Street, and at

lunch he could walk in Central Park. Now he walks along

the D&R Canal.

"I don’t really miss the city per se," says Sullivan. "The

commute is an added killer to your life, and this is a

very non-stressful drive. But Manhattan has its own

advantages. Once you are there, there are so many things

to do."

The son of an insurance executive and an executive

secretary, he grew up on Staten Island and went to St.

John’s University, Class of 1968. He worked for the New

York Stock Exchange and Curtis Publishing Company’s

circulation department before joining this company at its

inception six years ago.

His wife, he says, quickly made friends in her new

community. And they find the shops and shopping centers

much less crowded than those in northern New Jersey.

Jennifer Levenfus: Stayed

Jennifer Levenfus (far right, standing, on the cover)

lived in Monroe but worked in Manhattan, and she jumped at

the chance to give up her train trips to work in

Princeton. Door to door, it was a two-hour commute, and

now she drives for 20 minutes.

The daughter of a police officer and an office manager,

she graduated from South Brunswick High School and

Philadelphia University (Class of 2001). She started her

career in Manhattan at the corporate offices of New York

Sports Club, then moved to New York University, where she

was an inhouse graphic designer.

"I was looking for a company with the pace, speed, and

excitement of New York, but in New Jersey. Some days I

left at 5 a.m. and, if I was taking a course, did not get

home until 11 p.m., and I had no social life." She is

engaged to be married next September.

Alisa Seaton: Moved

Alisa Seaton, office manager, seated on the right on the

cover, misses the energy of the city, where the stores are

open late at night. "It’s the convenience of having

anything you want at any hour, and not having to drive

anywhere," she says. "In Brooklyn you could always get a

couple of friends over and start something going any time,

any day of the week, because the Asian market on Flatbush

Avenue would be open all night." She depends on the

ShopRite on Route 130 (open until 11 p.m.) and was

thrilled to learn that on University Place, next to

McCarter Theater, is a 24-hour Wawa store.

A graduate of the New York City Technical College, Seaton

acts as concierge, negotiating with hotels and restaurants

for the company’s business travelers. So she was perplexed

when the Village’s food court suddenly closed, to make way

for the construction of a spa, and she says that weeks

went by before alternatives opened in the Village. (Tre

Piani now serves a deli lunch and Subway has opened.)

Apple Spice Junction, which focused on corporate catering,

also closed, and she has turned to Wegman’s or Panera


Still, these former New Yorkers have not adjusted to the

pace of Princeton. In New York, you can place a lunch

order for 14 people at 11 a.m. for noon delivery. In

Princeton, says Seaton, they need four hours. She also

misses the "neighborly comfort" of close proximity to

family and friends. She lived a five-minute drive from her

family (a 10-minute bus ride or a 30-minute walk).

Princeton is "a hard singles town," she says, but her goal

for the fall is to spend more time here, to sit in on some

of the university lectures.

A native of Trinidad, she has had to learn how a different

way to cook. "Now I don’t have people running through my

house, so when I cook, I have to freeze my meals. What I

started doing down here, for staff, is go to my house,

cook a meal, and invite people over. People came from the

Charlotte office today – why go out when you can relax at

my apartment?"

CEO Mike Sullivan: Stayed

Michael L. Sullivan, president and CEO, grew up in

Massachusetts and his Florida, where his father had law

enforcement jobs. After graduating in 1972 from the

University of Florida, he worked for the FBI, but in 1983

he began working in the publishing industry with Select

Magazines in New York City. He has had senior executive

positions with the News Group, Murdock Magazines, TV Guide

and Globe Marketing Services. In 2000, when he took the

CEO’s job at Comag, he and his wife moved from Charlotte

(where he had been an executive vice president for Hearst)

to Newtown. They have three children.

"Our people are really starting to put down roots," says

Sullivan. "There is a near universal view among our senior

staff that the move has improved our operation as a

business and resulted in a better quality of life for our


"So, that being the case, I wish to extend our thanks to

the area businesses who helped us with our space

renovation and to others who provide us with services.

Thanks for welcoming us to town. We’re happy to be here!"

Comag Marketing Group LLC, 155 Village Boulevard, Suite

300, Princeton 08540; 609-524-1800; fax, 609-524-1629.

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