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While you certainly don't have to be a rocket scientist to succeed in marketing, it sure didn't hurt Tony DeSio, founder and CEO of Mail Boxes Etc.

A onetime aerospace engineer, Mr. DeSio decided to start his own business in 1980, a single-store operation where consumers could buy stamps and rent mailboxes without having to deal with the U.S. Postal Service.

After finding that wasn't enough to keep going, says Mr. DeSio, "We realized there were a lot of people with small home-based businesses and we began to add a whole range of business-support services .*.*. There was a need for a retail outlet that dispensed a service as opposed to a product."

As the company expanded, Mr. DeSio, 65, began looking to corporate America, becoming Western Union's outlet when it closed its own network and becoming a drop-off point for United Parcel Service. He also added packaging, fax and voice-mail services to the mix.

By 1990, he had 1,000 franchisees; there are now more than 3,000 in 40 countries and Mr. DeSio expects to open No. 5,000 by the turn of the century. MBE is 10 times the size of its nearest competitor and practically owns the business services category.

Overall sales were $1.1 billion in the year ended April 30, 1995, up 23% from $925 million the previous year period.

Mr. DeSio attributes much of that growth to the creation of a media fund to support TV advertising and steady enhancement of the product mix.

MBE's aggressive advertising campaign, from Kenneth C. Smith Advertising, San Diego, is taglined, "It's not what we do, it's how we do it."

The "sporadic buys" of a few years back have turned into a national TV budget of about $12 million in 1996, including a spot in this year's Super Bowl.

That increased TV presence is being paid for by a voluntary 1.5% increase in royalty fees, showing Mr. DeSio isn't too bad at marketing to his own people, either.

William Spain

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