Biz Talk with Steve Johnson of N2 Publishing

Steve Johnson of N2 Publishing joins our “WiFi Studio” to talk about the most widely-read, local publication you’ve probably never heard of.

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Read The Full Interview Below

Sarah: Good morning! It’s Friday. We’ve got a great guest today. Welcome to Biz Talk!

Glyna: Good morning. How is everybody doing today?

Steve Johnson: Good morning.

Sarah: Good.

Glyna: It’s an actual bright sunshiny day. I’m so happy.

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Glyna: Alrighty. We’ve got a great show today. I want to say hey to everybody. It’s a great day in the Fusion One lounge. I’m Glyna Humm. Over here we have the rest of our amazing marketing team, Sarah Gilliland and Kelsi Munn. At Fusion One Marketing, we specialize in helping companies get more calls and more business. We started Biz Talk to highlight the same businesses that we love, but also to have them share some of their tips that we all can use. Before we get started, Sarah, can you pop up where everybody can find us?

Sarah: All right.

Glyna: Okay. I’ll run through it real quick. We are always live on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter every Friday at eight, but you can also catch the replays on all the other channels and on our podcast Marketing in a Mic. All right. You basically can find us anywhere.

Sarah: Okay. Today we are so excited to have our special guest and friend, Steve Johnson, with N2 Publishing. Good morning, Steve.

Steve Johnson: Good morning, everybody.

Kelsi: Hello.

Steve Johnson: Hello.

Glyna: I liked that, Kelsi. What was that?

Kelsi: Hello!

Glyna: Well, Steve, we’ve got a lot to cover today, so we’re going to just go ahead and jump right on into it. If you’d just start and tell us a little bit about your background.

Steve Johnson: Well, people ask me all the time, how did you learn about publishing and advertising and things like that? I say, well, my background is I spent 35 years in the scuba diving industry. It has nothing to do with advertising or publishing or anything like that. So I’ve had to learn it by the seat of my pants. The last six years have been a lot of study and a lot of reading, and I still don’t know nearly as much as I need to.

Glyna: Well, you’re faking it really well.

Steve Johnson: Well, N2 Publishing makes it easy for me.

Sarah: So how did you make the connection with N2 Publishing, and how did you get involved with them?

Steve Johnson: Well, for a number of years I was Mr. Mom, taking care of my two kids. At some point, they both turned 16 and got their driver’s license and they didn’t need a taxi driver anymore and I got bored sitting around the house. There was a guy doing the publication before me called Greystone Living, and he decided to leave the company, move out of town, and somebody needed to take it over. So I went, well, let’s see, I know how to scuba dive and played baseball, so let’s just jump right into publishing.

Sarah: It makes sense. Perfect segue.

Steve Johnson: Oh, yeah. Absolutely!

Kelsi: So tell us what kind of content does your publication include?

Steve Johnson: What kind of content?

Kelsi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steve Johnson: Well, we only do stories about people that live in the neighborhoods. It’s stories about families and kids and pets and athletes and local events and things like that, strictly inside the gates of Greystone.

Kelsi: Okay.

Glyna: Perfect. Well, we already have some early risers here with us this morning, Steve. We have Elise Hearn, she’s saying hello.

Steve Johnson: Hi, Elise.

Glyna: We have Cindy Edmunds.

Steve Johnson: Hi, Cindy.

Glyna: And Lavon Chaney says, “Good morning, Steve and ladies”.

Steve Johnson: Good morning.

Glyna: Well, we noticed in your magazines, and they’re just such beautiful magazines, and every month you have a feature. How do you choose who is the feature each month in the magazine?

Steve Johnson: Well, one thing about our publications is that the people that live in our neighborhood sort of feel like it’s their publication. I’m just the guy that puts it together for them. So I get phone calls and emails and text messages all the time from the residents telling me about stories. For instance, this month, one that’s not even in the mailboxes yet, there’s a young lady that has an appointment to West Point. I never would have known about her, except one of the residents sent me a text message, said, you need to contact this lady. It’s a fascinating story. So that’s how I get things all the time, just from the residents.

Glyna: That’s awesome. So you’ve probably never run out of things to choose from, it sounds like.

Steve Johnson: Right. Usually, I’m running two or three months ahead of time that I’m working on articles.

Glyna: Awesome.

Steve Johnson: Most of the time the residents write the articles. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable doing it and they’ll just want me to come to interview them. But most of the time everything comes to me pre-done, I just have to edit it.

Kelsi: That’s awesome.

Sarah: Yeah.

Steve Johnson: It makes it easy.

 Sarah: I bet you there are a lot of amazing stories. People just come to you with all kinds of stuff. There’s this one, in particular, I wanted to see if you could touch on, see if you could expand on it and share a little bit more.

Glyna: I love that picture.

Steve Johnson: All right. Yeah, that is a Jack Rothman. He is one of our residents. He is 16 years old, or he was when this article came out. During the coronavirus, when everybody was staying at home all the time and there was no school, he decided to get all of his neighbors together every morning, five days a week, and they meet a one particular street corner and every morning is a different subject or a different theme. The day that I went over to interview was Taco Tuesday. So everybody dressed up in their Mexican outfits, and you could see Jack had on a hat that was shaped like a taco. They do the pledge of allegiance, and they have a prayer, and sometimes some of the kids will tell really bad jokes. Everybody just has a good time. It lasts about 10 minutes. The traffic usually stops while they’re there. They’re practicing social distancing because they’re on four different street corners. It was just a lot of fun. He did this on his own. He was 16 years old, I think he’s 17 now, and totally on his own. This was not something that an adult came up with. He just said, guess what I’m going to do? And he did.

Sarah: I love that. Boost the morale, you know? Especially times right now.

Steve Johnson: Yes.

Sarah: I’ve got another one I wanted to see if you could show, and I wanted to say that there’s a little story behind this of just that the show must go on no matter what. So I wanted you to tell us a little bit more how that applies to what we’re looking at right now.

Steve Johnson: Okay. Well, we have a deadline, and they’re very serious about the deadline. My deadline is on the 10th of the month at midnight. After that, all bets are off. You have to have it done. So I went on vacation last year to Las Vegas and to the Grand Canyon, and this picture was taken at Antelope Canyon. The family that I had featured that month, I had everything done except the cover shot, and I had a photographer that was going to go over there and do it. On the deadline day, they canceled out on my photographer, and I was many hours away from being home. So I went, what am I going to do? I just happened to look on my camera and I saw that great shot. We lived in Greystone, so we were residents, and I put it on there. That’s been probably the most talked-about cover that I’ve ever had on there.

Kelsi: It’s a really stunning photo.

Sarah: It’s stunning. I mean, it’s really eye-catching. So it all worked out, even last minute.

Steve Johnson: Yeah. I really enjoy what I do, and it’s a lot of fun, and it’s not really all that much work. But it is a job and there are deadlines.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. You also do an annual Veteran’s Day issue.

Steve Johnson: Yes.

Sarah: So tell us a little bit about this one.

Steve Johnson: This is a gentleman that lives in the neighborhood, obviously. He was with the JAG Corps, I believe. Even those people go on maneuvers. I believe this picture was taken in Georgia somewhere, or maybe one of the Carolinas, and they were just on maneuvers and practices. So instead of having a suit and tie and dress blues and things like that on being in court, he had to dress up like a real soldier and go out on maneuvers. That’s where I got this picture and the story from.

Kelsi: That’s amazing. So the content that you cover seems to be pretty intimate, because it’s specifically covering the lives of the people in your community. Right?

Steve Johnson: Yes. Yes.

Kelsi: So, who all has access to the publication?

Steve Johnson: The publication gets delivered every month to the mailbox, strictly to the people that live in the neighborhood, behind the gates in Greystone, in my case, and the advertisers get a copy of it. But outside of that, nobody sees it because it is such an intimate publication. We do stories and pictures about families and kids and pets and things that, and the residents really don’t want it going outside of that.

Kelsi: Understandable.

Glyna: That’s funny. That answers LaVon’s question. She was wondering if you don’t live in Greystone, how do you get a magazine? I guess you have to know somebody, huh, Steve?

Steve Johnson: Yeah. You have to know somebody. I think LaVon knows somebody pretty important in there.

Glyna: Lynn Ray is joining us this morning. She said, good morning.

Steve Johnson: Good morning, Lynn.

Sarah: Good morning.

Glyna: And Roxie says, “Good morning, Cuz.”

Steve Johnson: Hey, Cuz.

Glyna: I think it’s funny because when she was on, you said, good morning, Cuz, too. That’s another story for another time, right?

Glyna: We also have Andy Entrekin joining us this morning.

Steve Johnson: Hi, Andy.

Glyna: Yeah. LaVon’s like, okay. She’s like, yeah, I know people. LaVon knows a lot of people. Well, she had asked that question, then Melissa Vines Dixon had a quick question for you. She said, “How has the magazine been affected by coronageddon?

Sarah: Coronageddon. I love it.

Steve Johnson: Well, the magazine itself has not been affected, obviously, but the way that I get stories, this has been one of the blessings, is that a lot of the stories come directly from the residents, and so even though I’m quarantined like everybody else, I’m sitting here in my living room, I still get a lot of stories and pictures. Every once in a while, I’ll still have to go out and snap a picture or interview somebody. But for the most part, they’re coming to me by emails and text messages.

Glyna: Cool. So we know that you represent Greystone, what are some of the other affluent neighborhoods that N2 Publishing is in?

Steve Johnson: Well, currently we’ve got a publication in Liberty Park, in Ross Bridge, also in the Preserve, in Trace Crossings. I know there’s another one coming pretty soon. As soon as this coronageddon, isn’t that what she called it?

Glyna: We call it corona crap.

Steve Johnson: Yeah, as soon as that’s over with, there are probably going to be a few more publications.

Kelsi: Wonderful.

Sarah: So, I wanted to ask you a good kind of pro tip, if you would, and more specifically for business owners when it comes to print advertising. So what would be a good pro-tip when it would come to advertising in that sort of nature?

Steve Johnson: Well, one of the things that makes our publications a lot different is that we are very laser-focused on the more affluent neighborhoods. So a lot of publications will brag about how many mailboxes they go to, and that’s fine if that’s what they want to do. But what we do is go into the most affluent neighborhoods and we have content that is actually relevant to them and so they actually read it. We have well over 90% readership, which I don’t think any of the bigger publications can come anywhere close to, and the people actually read it cover to cover. We have real estate agents that’ll tell us they go into somebody’s house and it’s not unusual to see two or three issues sitting on the coffee table. If I featured, especially one of their children, but if I featured the family, it’s going to be framed and hanging up on the wall and they’ve got extra copies. I get phone calls for extra copies all the time.

Sarah: Yeah. That personalization, I just think, would really touch a lot of communities. It is giving that sense of community when you have that personalization with the stories and families and all that.

Steve Johnson: Well, our tagline is we’re turning neighborhoods into communities. They get to read about stories about people that live down the street from them or kids that go to school with their kids. So again, it actually gets read by the people that live in the neighborhoods.

Kelsi: Right. So you’re laser-focused, you’ve got a huge readership, and pretty much anybody that gets a copy of your publication is going to read it from front to back.

Steve Johnson: Yeah, especially right now during the coronageddon. I love that word. Especially during that, because people are at home all the time and everybody in the family’s reading it, where some magazines possibly get read by the lady of the house, is that politically incorrect? I didn’t mean it that way if it came out like that. But now everybody is reading it. Not that they weren’t before, but it’s just more so now than ever before.

Kelsi: Right. Well, I’m sure that because you’re focused on affluent neighborhoods and you have such high readership, I bet advertisers flock to you. But I know that you’re very selective about who you allow to advertise in your magazines, so can you kind of explain your vetting process?

Steve Johnson: Yeah. There are a number of things that make us different and that’s one of them. You can’t just call up one of our area directors and say, I want to buy an ad, here’s my credit card number. We want to know who that you are and make sure that you’re a good fit for the neighborhood. For instance, we don’t want some less than reputable landscaper to come in and mess up somebody’s yard, because somebody would be knocking on my door wanting to know why I let him into the neighborhood. So we insist on meeting with the owner or the manager of business and interview them and make sure that they’re a good fit for us. Of course, we want to make sure we’re a good fit for them too. We check them out on Better Business Bureau and sometimes we may ask for references, if it’s not a company that we know anything about. We’re very selective. Over the last six years, I’ve had two clients that didn’t live up to our standards and we asked them to leave.

Glyna: Oh, that’s so important. Yeah, I’d imagine you don’t want those phone calls or those knocks at your door.

Steve Johnson: No, I don’t want that.

Glyna: Blaming you for a bad yard job or lawn care job.

Steve Johnson: Yeah, or roofing leaks.

Glyna: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That’s not good.

Kelsi: Big problem.

Glyna: Roxie said, “Have you ever had to turn down a story before it was published?”

Steve Johnson: Well, I did have somebody call me one time, because we don’t do anything that’s controversial and we don’t do anything that’s political. One lady called me one day, I don’t know how she got my phone number, but she did, and she called me and talked to me for about an hour about why we didn’t have sidewalks in Greystone. I kept telling her, if you can convince them to put sidewalks in, I’ll do a story about that. But as far as getting involved in whether we need them or not, I can’t do that. Then she just totally ignored me and just kept right on going. I politely listened for an hour, but that’s the kind of thing that we just don’t do.

Glyna: For an hour. I’d say that’s more than polite.

Kelsi: You can’t use the publication for activism. You don’t want to use your publication for activism, but you definitely want to shine a light on the success of community members.

Steve Johnson: Yes. We only do positive stories.

Glyna: I know that, like Kelsi said, I’m sure a lot of people are interested in advertising in your magazine, but what type of ads tend to do better in your neighborhood?

Steve Johnson: Typically, anything to do with home improvement, painting, roofing, remodeling, flooring, furniture, all those kinds of things do really well. We do pretty good with anything to do with medical, whether it’s an orthodontist or a plastic surgeon, dentist, general practitioner. Any of those kinds of things do really well with us. Also high-end automobiles. Porsche’s and BMWs and Mercedes and Maserati’s, and things like that, do really well.

Steve Johnson: Bless you.

Kelsi: I thought I muted myself. I’m so sorry.

Sarah: It’s okay. We’ve all got some allergies going on right now.

Glyna: Yeah, very bad.

Steve Johnson: It better be just allergies.

Glyna: I know, Kelsi was talking about that earlier. She’s like, I try not to cough or anything when I go out because people are like.

Kelsi: Go away.

Sarah: Right. There’s like a little tickle in your throat, and people are like, oh, boy.

Kelsi: It never fails.

Sarah: Oh, goodness. So N2 Publishing, they provide a nationwide publication. About how many would you say there are on a national scale, and also a local scale?

Steve Johnson: Well, locally we have five here in Birmingham. We have them in Huntsville and Montgomery and down in South Alabama. I believe there’s one in Decatur. Nationwide, we have over a thousand different publications. When I started, it was around 500. So we’ve almost doubled in just those six years.

Kelsi: Wow. And you’re working on more now.

 Steve Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Kelsi: That’s amazing.

Steve Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelsi: If somebody is interested in having N2 Publishing come into their neighborhood and start a publication about their community, who do they need to reach out to you for that?

Steve Johnson: Reach out to me and I’ll take care of getting them introduced to the right people in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Kelsi: Wonderful. Perfect. Well, I’m sure that your publication helps foster and fortify that sense of community. You mentioned that before. You’re turning neighborhoods into communities, right?

Steve Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. Right.

Kelsi: So can you tell us what else N2 Publishing provides to its community other than the publication?

Steve Johnson: Yeah. We like to. In addition to doing stories strictly about the people that live in the neighborhood, we also do social events, and one of the more popular ones is we’ll do a restaurant review or a restaurant tasting. We’ll go to somewhere like Bellini’s or Carrabas or a Moray or a Fish Market and they’ll give us a certain number of meals, usually two to three dozen, and I’ll invite the residents to come in and they get to sit down and enjoy the food. We pay for our own drinks and a tip for the wait staff, so they’re not out that. I’m taking pictures and I’ll have the residents fill out a questionnaire when it’s over to tell me what they enjoyed about the evening and what their favorite part of the meal was. And I’ll go back and do a story that the restaurant gets a couple of pages in the magazine in exchange for those meals. But I’ll also invite a few of the advertisers to come along. It’s not a chance for them to sit down with a clipboard and take names for free estimates or anything like that, because I think the residents will be put off by that. So what it is is it’s a chance to meet face to face with the residents. Because you don’t need, for instance, a roof, but hopefully every 10 to 15 years, and when you get ready to have one, we hope they think, well, you know what? I met that really nice guy. It’s been two years ago, but he was a great guy. We sat down and talked to at that restaurant. Let’s give him a call.

Kelsi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steve Johnson: So the residents get to see people they haven’t seen in awhile, they get to meet other residents that they didn’t know existed, and we also get to meet some of the advertisers.

Kelsi: That’s awesome.

Glyna: Yeah. That has to help with the trust value. Again, you’re bringing everything, keeping it in the community, and people don’t have to worry about if it’s a good company to work with.

Steve Johnson: It’s all about forming relationships, and there’s not a better way to form a relationship than a face to face conversation.

Glyna: Well, we have somebody named Patti Stahlhut.

Steve Johnson: Yeah. She’s one of the residents here. Good friend of mine.

Glyna: She said she’s really enjoying this interview, and thank you, Steve, for what you do for our community.

Steve Johnson: Well, thank you. She helped out, I think she’s been on our cover also.

Glyna: Well, we’re glad to have you this morning, Patti. Then Cindy asks, “How are you able to connect the residents with the advertisers during this time with all these restrictions?”

Steve Johnson: Well, we’re still doing stories about one of our advertisers every month. We try to do that. With the coronageddon, we have not had any of our face to face restaurant reviews or wine tastings or anything. But that will start up again pretty soon, I would imagine. So again, we’re still doing stories about the residents, and we do stories about the advertisers. It’s only one per month. So it’s not like some publications where there might 15 different articles about advertisers that nobody’s reading. We only do one.

Glyna: Yeah, that’s so important. I hate when you get a magazine that that’s all it is, ad after ad after ad. I think it’s just such a great concept that you guys have going. It’s really neat, I’ve seen the magazines.

Steve Johnson: We try to keep it relevant.

Glyna: Yeah. They’re beautiful magazines, and you just recently went full color, didn’t you?

Steve Johnson: Yeah. March was my first issue to be in full color. It’s quite expensive to go from black and white to full color, but we managed to pull it off even during the coronageddon. I’m going to have to practice that word.

Glyna: I know we talked about this the other day, but how large can these magazines get? I mean, as far as if you have more and more advertisers, are you limited to the amount of pages that you use or can do?

Steve Johnson: No, we’re only limited, I think the largest one that they do is around 76 pages. But we just recently went to what’s called perfect binding, which is the flat edge rather than being stapled, and I think that can make them even larger than that. Most of them are going to be in the 28 to 40-page range.

Glyna: Okay.

Steve Johnson: But I can get as big as they want to get. So there’s an unlimited number of stories and everything that I can put in there.

Glyna: Perfect. Okay. Well, we’ve got a lot of people watching today, and of course we always want to know how we can help you. What are the best referral partners for you, or people that can help bring you advertisers?

Steve Johnson: I guess just about anybody. I hate to say it, it’s such a broad thing like that. But again, the best things that work in our publications are usually going to be home improvement. So anyone who is in contact with those type of businesses on a regular basis, like a plastic surgeon, or a dentist, or an orthodontist. We have a dance studio. We have also had boutiques, all of these kinds of things. So, anybody that’s in contact with especially local businesses, we like to do local businesses more so than national. Although we will do that, but we like to focus on the local businesses.

Glyna: Perfect.

Kelsi: I am going to show your contact information for everybody out there. If you need to contact Steve for a story or to try to get N2 Publishing into your neighborhood, or just to chat, because he’s a really nice guy.

Steve Johnson: Well, thank you. Or if you have somebody that would like to advertise, we’d really like to talk to them too.

Glyna: Yeah. Is there anybody right now, as far as advertisers, that you’re looking for specifically? Like if you would say, I wish we would have this type of person that the neighborhood needs right now?

Steve Johnson: Well, I’ve sort of dropped those hints a couple of times by saying an orthodontist, and a plastic surgeon, and somebody that does general contracting like bathroom and kitchen renovations. Those are the kinds of things. I would love to have the Maserati dealer, for instance. I would love to have them in the publication. I think it would be a perfect fit.

Glyna: Oh, I do, too. Yeah.

Kelsi: For everybody out there on the podcast, if you want to contact Steve Johnson with N2 Publishing, his phone number is (205) 902-7177. His email address is That’s S-T-E-V-E dot J-O-H-N-S-O-N-@-N-2-P-U-B dot com.

Glyna: Perfect.

Kelsi: I’m always worried I’m going to forget what letters and numbers are when I’m doing that.

Steve Johnson: Very good, Kelsi.

Glyna: At least you didn’t go in the echo and all of that.

Glyna: Well, Sarah, you want to wrap us up?

Sarah: Yes, I sure will. Okay, Steve. Well, is there anything that we did not mention that you wanted to cover today?

Steve Johnson: Well, just the fact that we go into the most affluent neighborhoods in the country, and we do that on purpose because that’s where the advertisers want to be. They’re the most affluent and influential residents in the country. We’re going into those types of neighborhoods, and they’re very difficult to reach because everybody’s trying to get in there. So we offer a very relevant content that they actually read rather than throwing it straight into the recycle bin.

Kelsi: Perfect.

Sarah: Very, very good. Good information. So we really appreciate your time. Before we go, we have our fun little series, the hot seat.

Steve Johnson: Oh, boy.

Sarah: So, you just hang on tight.

Sarah: Okay. These are really easy questions. You just tell us the first thing that jumps into your head in 60 seconds. We ready, Kelsi?

Kelsi: Ready.

Sarah: Alrighty. Okay. Would you rather have a constant supply of your favorite coffee or your favorite snacks?

Steve Johnson: Snacks.

Sarah: Are you a better dancer or a better singer?

Steve Johnson: No.

Sarah: What’s your favorite junk food?

Steve Johnson: My favorite what?

Sarah: Junk food.

Steve Johnson: Junk food? Potato chips and onion dip.

Kelsi: Yum.

Sarah: What’s your favorite sport or hobby?

Steve Johnson: Baseball.

Sarah: All right. Are you more spontaneous or do you plan everything?

Steve Johnson: Oh, spontaneous.

Sarah: Do you prefer podcasts or books?

Steve Johnson: Books.

Sarah: What happens more often, that you lose your keys, or you lose your iPhone or phone?

Steve Johnson: My keys.

Sarah: Would you rather always be tired or always be hungry?

Steve Johnson: Gosh. No.

Sarah: Okay. Are you better at math or spelling?

Steve Johnson: Math.

Sarah: Okay. What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Steve Johnson: I didn’t hear what you said.

Sarah: Biggest pet peeve.

Steve Johnson: People that don’t use the turn signal.

Glyna: Good.

Kelsi: Get out of here.

Glyna: See, you did it? That wasn’t too bad.

Sarah: And he wins. He wins.

Glyna: All right. Now I can’t help it, there are some comments over here we have to cover before we let you go that may be worse than the hot seat. No, I’m kidding. Trevor Collins said good morning, and he said, “I hear Steve can still get around on a 90 mile per hour fastball.”

Steve Johnson: I can’t even see a 90 mile an hour fastball.

Glyna: Then Cindy’s talking about, “But he lost his phone one time.”

Steve Johnson: All right, Cindy. All right. We’ll swap stories if you want to. Yes, I did. One time and I learned my lesson.

Glyna: I’ll end with this one. Roxie said, “Ask him who is his famous great-great-grandfather.”

Steve Johnson: Benjamin Dekalb Kelly. He was a private in the Confederate Army for the 4th Alabama Cavalry. He was not a slave owner, by the way, like most of the soldiers were not.

Kelsi: Good for him.

Glyna: Awesome. Well, this has been so fun, Steve. We just really appreciate you taking time out of your morning to come on with us, and it’s just been great.

Steve Johnson: Well, thank you. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.

Glyna: Well, I want to thank everybody else for joining us as well. We will be back for marketing… I can’t even talk this morning. We’ll try it again. We will be back Tuesday morning at eight for Marketing Mix, and then we will also be back next Friday at eight with our special guest, Kerri Bailey, from Child’s Play Therapy Center. So y’all have a great weekend, and thanks for coming!

Steve Johnson: Bye-bye!