Creation of Direct Mail Printing Empire Lands Data-Mail's Mandell in Hall of Fame
It is hard to tell whether Andy Mandell is a more accomplished businessman or philanthropist.
The chairman of Newington, Connecticut-based Data-Mail carved out a direct marketing empire that started with a $5,000 loan and 1.5 employees in 1971, and today those totals have blossomed to $150 million in annual sales and 900-plus employees. Equally as impressive is his philanthropic endeavors geared toward education, medicine, the arts, social and cultural interests—touching the lives of countless people who may have never even heard of Mandell or Data-Mail.
His body of work, in part or whole, makes Mandell a long-overdue inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’ve also had luck,” Mandell notes. “In all honesty, my wife (Joyce, executive vice president) has been the one to hold it together all these years; she’s been the one to make it happen.”
While Mandell may not have envisioned himself becoming a fixture in the printing and mailing theater, he seemed destined to become a success at any business endeavor he undertook. Growing up in the suburbs of Hartford, Mandell’s family was active in the community, where his dad served in political offices and his mother sat on the board of education. The Mandells, who were instrumental in founding the first synagogue in Newington, ran a grocery store where their son worked during high school.
Andy Mandell cut his business teeth at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts. The school embraced an entrepreneurial spirit and, prior to graduating with a BS in business administration, he ran several successful ventures, including bartending and tuxedo services.
Mandell’s first (and only) job came before the ink could dry on his diploma. The employer: Addressograph-Multigraph, an addressing and mailing equipment manufacturer in Euclid, Ohio. During his nine-year tenure with the firm, Mandell rose through the sales and sales management ranks.
“This was a large, well-known company in the mailing industry,” he notes. “Anyone who owned a lettershop in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s had their equipment.”
While Mandell enjoyed his time at Addressograph-Multigraph, the entrepreneurial voices were calling out to him. He wanted to take a chance and go into business for himself. And since he had nearly a decade of work in the mailing space under his belt, Mandell leveraged that experience. So instead of selling mailing and addressing equipment to universities or financial institutions, for example—which required the customers to maintain mailing lists and man the gear, among other things—why not offer it as a service?
With only a $5,000 loan and one full-time employee, the Mandells moved to Bristol, Connecticut, to form Data-Mail. The company was successful from the start, and Mandell credits a judicious approach that has largely been free of debt. He demonstrated a knack for making investments in equipment and technology ahead of the marketplace.
The aforementioned luck might be better characterized as fortuitous timing. Mandell pounced on the retail boon of the 1980s, producing direct mail pieces for department stores and other retail businesses. Another market that presented a golden opportunity was insurance; Hartford was known as the insurance capital of the United States, and Data-Mail provided mailings for clients and prospects.
Another pivotal point in Data-Mail’s growth progression was its acquisition of Readers Digest’s billing function, which amounted to sending roughly 70 million mail pieces per year to the venerable magazine’s 16 million subscribers. Mandell also seized on the balance transfer check craze of the 1990s, furnishing MICR-encoded checks for the financial services space.
Naturally, Data-Mail has evolved over time, entering web offset printing in the 1990s. Sheetfed printing was introduced five years ago (printing on paper and plastic substrates) and Data-Mail also ventured into envelope converting. Two Océ JetStream 2200 continuous-feed inkjet presses and a new Océ ColorStream 3900 from Canon Solutions America serve as the centerpiece for Data-Mail’s entry into high-speed inkjet printing. The company mails about six million pieces per day, which translates to 1.5 billion annually.
One of the challenges Mandell has encountered over the years is finding quality employees. “We’re in a very difficult labor market,” he says. “We want the best employees, so we try to emphasize that we’re a family business and that we care about our customers. But we’ve got great employees who are very dedicated, and they’ve helped us become the success we are today. A dedicated workforce is extremely hard to build but we’ve been successful.”
Data-Mail is poised to remain a family business for the long haul. Both of Mandell’s sons and his son-in-law are all company executives: President Bruce Mandell is a 24-year veteran; Senior Vice President Mark Mandell has served 13 years; and son-in-law Scott Braunstein, the senior vice president of operations, has logged 12. Andy’s daughter, Meryl, worked in sales after college and opened up the market in Boston. Bruce and Scott were practicing attorneys before joining Data-Mail, while Mark worked in investment banking.
“We have an unusual family business in that everybody gets along,” Mandell says. “We have meetings once a week. Each person serves a different function and contributes to the success of the enterprise. There’s a lot of respect for each other.”
What has enabled Data-Mail to avoid many of the pitfalls faced by similar companies? Primarily, he sees it as businesses not having a better understanding in regards to their costs.
Best to Know Your Costs
“Some companies don’t have any idea what their costs are and don’t know how to price out a mailing or printing program,” he notes. “They get themselves into financial stress because of it. Plus, you can’t be everything to everybody. We provide a lot of services within our business—different areas of the marketing and direct mail production business, but we don’t do everything.
“There are other factors. We haven’t bought any companies. We’ve started new divisions and ventures ourselves, so we’re responsible for what we do and we control our own growth. And some companies try to grow too fast, but they don’t have good, dedicated managers and employees.”
Mandell counts Paul Siegel, founder of major mailer ADVO Systems, as one of his biggest influences in the industry. He admired Siegel for his hands-on approach, honesty and integrity. Siegel was instrumental in providing Data-Mail with smaller jobs and extra work in the company’s formative years.
After 44 years at Data-Mail, and more than 50 in the industry, Mandell still gets a charge out of coming into the plant, hearing the fast-paced hum of the machines and seeing how new technologies make the firm more efficient. He’s confident in his knowledge, buffered by the notion that if he doesn’t have an answer, he knows where to turn.
And when things do go wrong, Mandell’s experience keeps him from stepping out on the ledge. “We all make mistakes. I’m pretty calm when it comes to that,” he says. “Correct it. Learn from it. Teach from it, so it doesn’t happen again. Be honest and upfront with the customer. It’s important to handle those types of situations so that you can still satisfy the needs of the client and retain the relationship.”
Mandell is described as a “shrewd businessman with a good heart” by Walter Bernheimer, an industry consultant from Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. The two men have known each other for upwards of 50 years.
“Andy is not one of those guys who is ruthless,” Bernheimer says. “He’s ethical and a really good guy. I’ve known a lot of people in the industry, and Andy is at the top of the list in terms of being both a good businessman and ethical.
“The man is tremendously generous, and even though he’s made it big, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.”
During his career, Mandell has served as a chairman for the former Mail Advertising Service Association (now Epicomm), the Direct Marketing Association, PostCom and the Printing Industries of America, and has received numerous awards from the U.S. Postal Service.
His philanthropic endeavors are staggering: the Mandell Center for Multiple Sclerosis, and neuroscience research at Mt. Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital in Hartford; the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford; Babson College now includes a residence hall for students that has been named Mandell Family Hall; the Connecticut Science Center is home to the Mandell Academy for Teachers, which provides educators with professional experiences to augment their ability to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford is another cause Mandell supports.
Many of the gifts that have made these enhancements possible were borne from The Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell Family Foundation. The family collectively contributes and decides which causes to support.
Apparently, the Mandells do many activities together, including travel. At least once a year, the entire family (16 in all, including eight grandchildren) head off to various global destinations.
Considering Bruce and Mark had careers prior to joining the family business, as did son-in-law Scott, the family dynamic at Data-Mail was obviously not planned. Not that its patriarch minds.
“We never discuss work while at home,” Mandell adds. “We enjoy family time together. We’re pleased that we have developed a succession plan and that our employees can look forward to dynamic leadership in the future.” PI