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Against the odds Featured

6:56am EDT June 29, 2006
Twenty-five years ago, Walter Nelson was in a tough place in his life. He was battling drug addiction, homeless and unemployable. But Nelson had a desire for success, and he worked against the odds — overcoming addiction and working full time while attending Cleveland State University — to start his own company, Captiva Direct Inc.

The idea for the company came when Nelson was working for an auto dealership in 1997. In order to increase sales, Nelson developed a direct mail campaign that targeted customers who leased cars. He would send letters to customers who were approaching the end of their leases, branding himself and the dealer as lease specialists. The letters were sent every 15 days for the last several months of customers’ leases.

“It was so successful, that I decided to start my own company doing it,” Nelson says.

With $300 and a computer, Nelson started the direct mail company in his basement and began pitching to dealerships. Although it was months before Nelson gained his first client, he never gave up. He knew that if he could get auto dealerships to sign a one-year contract, then he could show them the effect that his direct mail campaign would have on their sales.

He was right. About a year later, Nelson’s direct mail concept was so popular with dealerships that he and his wife opened a 2,500-square-foot facility and bought $150,000 worth of equipment so they could stop outsourcing.

“I was outsourcing all of the folding, ink-jetting, lasering and all of those types of things,” Nelson says. “Well, we only mailed twice a month, so the rest of the time I had a full-time employee to run the equipment, they sat around and read books and didn’t do a whole lot. I decided why don’t I fill their time by selling excess capacity on this equipment to people who are customers of the company I used to be a customer of.”

Today, the company deals with 3 million pieces of mail a month for a variety of industries and reached $4.5 million in sales for 2005 — a more than 1,300 percent increase since its founding.

HOW TO REACH: Captiva Direct, (440) 255-6000 or www.captivadirect.com