The Mail Marketing Masters

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Valley Residents Secure Place in History with Induction into the Smithsonian National Postal Museum

The business plan was hatched around the kitchen table in 1974 and quickly grew into a powerhouse in the fast-growing direct mail marketing industry.

Forty-two years of hard work later, the founders of LEE Marketing have secured their place in history as pioneers in a business model that touches almost everyone in the country. On Sept. 13, Ruthie and Norbert Ewers were inducted into the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

A Solid Start

Now residents of Palm Valley, the Ewers launched the business in Grand Prairie, Texas, along with partner Liz Leonard. The Leonard-Ewers-Ewers partnership was the basis for the LEE DataMail name, later rebranded as LEE Marketing. They paved their road to success with good customer service and the dextrous management of changing trends.

“We provided a high level of customer service in meeting our customers’ needs through on-time mail delivery and future product expansion,” Ruthie Ewers said.

Providing quality service led to a big break from H. Ross Perot, the founder of Electronic Data Systems. LEE Marketing had completed a direct mail job for EDS and Perot was so impressed that he placed a personal call to Ruthie.

“He was very pleased with the job we had done,” she said. “He told me that he wanted LEE Marketing to handle all his mail business.”

Sons Joe and Ronnie Ewers joined LEE Marketing in 1984. Three years later Liz Leonard, one of the original partners, left the company and the family put the business on a fast revenue growth track through the next decade.

Exponential Growth

Joe Ewers became president, Ruthie and Ronnie concentrated on sales and marketing, and Norbert oversaw operations, employee relations, and banking. Ruthie was also a tireless supporter of the industry. She became a charter member of the Dallas Postal Customer Care Council and later was appointed as the first national chairperson of the Postal Customer Care Council by U.S. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon.

LEE Marketing built an impressive customer base, providing direct marketing services for companies that included Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, the Dallas Cowboys, Dell Computers, Universal Studios, General Motors, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, and Macy’s.

Ruthie traveled the country promoting the Postal Service and continued to help lead LEE Marketing on its track of success. Then in 1999, World Marketing, a division of the Omaha World Herald, made an offer to purchase the business.

“I was tired,” she said. “When someone backs up to your dock and offers you a wonderful amount of money, it makes you stop and think.”

At the time of the sale, LEE Marketing operated out of a 215,000-square-foot facility with 300 employees and revenues in excess of $25 million. Investor Warren Buffett, then a board member of World Marketing, was directly involved in the negotiations to purchase the Ewers’ company. Buffett went on to purchase the Omaha World Herald a few years later.

Change of Address

Ruthie and Norbert started looking toward the next phase of their lives, which led them to the Rio Grande Valley. Norbert’s brother was living at Fun and Sun RV Park in San Benito, and a longtime customer of LEE Marketing, John Topp of Topp Direct Marketing, had always made Harlingen sound appealing.

“‘Why don’t we go to the Valley and become Winter Texans?’” Ruthie remembered saying. They came down and had such a good time, they didn’t want winter to end. “We went back and sold our condo.”

The couple returned, buying a house in the Harlingen Country Club. Never ones to just sit back and relax, Ruthie started another business, Glory B’s in Harlingen.

“I was the Queen B,” she joked. Ruthie operated the gift shop with partner Gloria Boling for more than seven years before closing.

Norbert and Ruthie Ewers have been longtime embodiments of the entrepreneurial spirit, now memorialized with their inclusion in the National Postal Museum. The family has found a home in South Texas, and Ruthie throws her energies into helping the community by becoming involved with the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce and a host of other community activities, including serving as co-chair of Taste of Harlingen and directing a major fundraising campaign for the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum. Because of her community involvement, Ruthie will be recognized as the Texas State Technical College Gala Honoree in December.

To learn more about LEE Marketing, visit their page at the Smithsonian: http://postalmuseum.si.edu/americasmailingindustry/LEE-Marketing.html.