2014 SEMA Hall Of Fame Inductee
Direct Communications Inc.
At the Forefront of the Future
Nile Cornelison grew up in Creston, Iowa, where his favorite class in high school was metalworking. Like most of us, tinkering on cars came early. His first vehicle was a 1954 Olds, which he was able to buy with money he made as a machinist at NAPA. Those late teen years also gave birth to a voracious appetite for racing cars, and he parlayed his love of the adrenaline rush to racing Top Fuel in the 1960s and 1970s.
Through racing, Nile found himself the person competitors were turning to for tips on how to build performance engines. That led to an engine-building side business outside of his NAPA job. He soon left to start his own speed shop, specializing in machine work for race cars. At that time, tractor-pulling was a fledgling motorsport, and again, Nile became the person competitors turned to. Only now, it was farmers; they wanted hot rod tractors.
The distribution of speed parts, from manufacturer to speed shops, was beginning to formalize. That would be a career-changing observation, and Nile launched National Custom Warehouse around 1970. “NCW was probably one of the first eight to ten warehouse distributors in the U.S. buying parts from manufacturers and selling to other speed shops. That operation ultimately sold parts in 48 states,” Nile explained.
But he also spotted flaws in the system. “Warehouse distributors did a fantastic job of buying and selling the parts, but they did an absolutely lousy job of moving printed catalogs and price sheets to the parts store front counters so the parts could be sold.”
“So my idea was, why not put together all the jobber/customer lists of all my competitors and create a database—although in those days the word ‘database’ hadn’t been born. The concept was a single file that got rid of all the duplications and facilitated the distribution of catalogs and price sheets, wall posters or anything paper and ink, to the 30-some-thousand outlets so we could cut the time from end of the press to the front counter. We took it from taking 6 months to a year to get catalog information out down to a matter of a couple weeks.”
As you might guess, competitors were reluctant to share their customer lists, so Nile sold NCW to start Direct Communications Inc. (DCi) in 1982. DCi became a direct mail clearinghouse for performance and accessory catalogs and price sheets. “He was an early pioneer in trying to get companies to mail new catalogs on a timely basis to the country’s jobbers and dealers. He did a lot in direct mail and that was in the early days of computers”, explained Chuck Blum of Chuck Blum & Associates, who has known Nile since 1981. “Communication was poor, especially in our growing industry. We didn’t yet have the sophistication of hard-parts distributors, who had been in business for years and years. Getting that information down the line was something our guys just weren’t used to.” In 1996, DCi added electronic cataloging data development and distribution services.
“He truly was a pioneer in the beginning of electronic cataloging,” explained Trina Wilson, an account specialist with DCi. “He helped the industry by getting data into the hands of those who needed the information to sell product. Without data, you’re unable to sell the product and accurately get the right part for the vehicle.” According to Nile, today, DCi facilitates $7 billion in performance and accessory parts sales through 60,000+ business outlets throughout the world.
Nile still made time to become an extremely active volunteer within SEMA, serving on the Board of Directors for eight years, during which time he chaired the Educational Services Committee. From that came SEMA Innovations Day, an effort to connect OEMs to the aftermarket for information-sharing, which was also Nile’s brainchild.
The first keynote speaker lined up got other OEMs to stand up and take notice of the SEMA Show: Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca. Nile also led SEMA’s initial entry into market research, introducing the annual SEMA Market Study. And while serving on the SEMA Show Committee in 1981, he created the show-within-a-show format-a display area for new products now known as the popular New Products Showcase.
Among his numerous accolades, Nile was named SEMA Person of the Year in 1982.
As Trina explained, “Without Nile’s vision, there wouldn’t be the same large number of businesses selling specialty parts today and our members wouldn’t have the success in the new internet marketplaces we have today.”