By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Charles “C.J.” Nasello’s career path to CEO may not have been routine, but he’s years ahead of most of his peers.
After all, he’s only 18.
The Alton area teen hopes someday to turn a delivery business he began in high school into a franchise concept.
Nasello created his business, “Nasello’s Errand and Delivery,” as part of coursework he completed in CEO — Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, the Effingham-based program that encourages leadership and business skills in high schools. Several Metro East schools have added the program in recent years.
Steve Thompson, regional president of Carrollton Bank, sees a business star on the rise.
“He has a bright future. He has a lot of passion and a lot of energy,” said Thompson, who served as Nasello’s mentor during the student’s senior year at Alton High School.
Nasello joined the CEO program at the suggestion of one of his former principals, Dr. Russell Tepin.
“He said, ‘This is you. It’s got your name all over it’.” Nasello recalled. “So, I did the whole application process and got in.”
The business, now a year old, grew at a level that even he could not have anticipated. All it took were a few messages on his Facebook page and things took off.
The first ad was in January 2017, right after an ice storm. He used the weather to his advantage, and requests for services began to come in, since no one wanted to go out.
“I think I got close to 30 calls that night,” he said. “They’d rather have an 18-year-old go risk their life on the ice than do it themselves. I don’t blame them, if I had the option to use something like this, I would, too.”
The following Monday, he went to Godfrey Village Hall for a business license so he could operate within the community where he lived.
The business he created led to an April trade show conducted as part of the CEO program. The show solidified his niche in the community — and gained him some local press.
“I thought (once I was graduated) that I would barely have any calls. When June and July came, I got a big surge, and it never slowed down after that,” he said. “The worst are Friday nights, when we’ve gotten as many as 50 to 60 calls. One day I handled 70 calls myself.”
That popularity caused him to enlist the assistance of others, although right now he handles most of the work himself, despite having a full course load at Lewis and Clark Community College, where he also plays on the soccer team.
Family is important to him and in pursuing his business he wanted to give back to the community much the way that his two grandfathers did. His paternal grandfather, Charlie Nasello, helped start the soccer program in 1970 in Alton. His maternal grandfather, Bob Rigdon, started Rigdon Sewer Service in Alton in 1967.
The son of Greg and Robin Nasello of Alton, Nasello said his business began with the idea that he wanted to do something where he could interact with people daily. Around the same time, his brother was a single father working to become a firefighter and he was constantly asking his sibling to run errands for him.
A business was born.
“I looked at the demographics and there was such a need for this, in the Alton area alone,” he said.
The CEO class calls for a mentor matchup. That’s where he met Thompson, the regional president of Carrollton Bank. They hit it off and still meet occasionally.
“We have the same views and values about the community,” Nasello said.
Thompson remembered their initial meeting as something like “speed dating,” with multiple students meeting multiple potential mentors. Each of the groups picked the ones they’d like to work with.
“Fortunately, C.J. and I happened to be a match,” Thompson said. “There was something about him. I liked his enthusiasm. His plan seemed well thought out. I really thought it had some potential.”
Rather than give a lot of advice, Thompson said he preferred to listen and ask questions “just to get him to think about certain things.” He also introduced him to a lot of people in town.
The initial name of the company was Errand Boys, but early on it was switched to Nasello’s Errand and Delivery in honor of the family name, which is well known to generations of Altonians.
“I didn’t want people thinking this was just some random person bringing things to their house. Alton’s not a smaller town, but it’s a tighter community,” Nasello said.
Word-of-mouth advertising has helped the most. It’s largely a one-person operation until things get really busy; Nasello hires helpers as needed.
The requests are as varied as his clientele. He drops off Jimmy John’s sandwiches at school, hits the hospitals, nursing homes, the local refinery and many other places where gatekeepers are starting to recognize him when he comes in the door. He’ll pick up mail, stop at the grocery store, and pick up and deliver orders for restaurants.
“I’ve even been asked to go to the DMV and pick up forms,” he said.
Nasello said it’s all part of a day’s work. And so is listening to his clients, who sometimes want to socialize a bit while he’s there. He doesn’t mind. The stories they share are sometimes touching.
“Before I got some extra help, there would be times I’d work until 4 in the morning,” he said.
Right now, his market area is what is known as the River Bend, the smattering of towns in and around Alton.
“It supports me pretty well. It pays the bills and gives me money to go out on the weekends,” he said.
More than keep him comfortable, though, is the growth potential of the business.
“I’m wanting to expand into several cities around (the region), and I’ve got people wanting to start one of their own. I look forward to seeing where it goes.”
He said lawyers would have to draw up any franchise agreement. As part of it they’d get Nasello’s direction and experiences on how to approach the concept.
Outside of Alton, some franchisers might opt to call their service Errand Boys or incorporate a family name like Nasello did “to keep it from sounding too corporate.”
Students now considering the CEO program have asked Nasello for his advice, and he strongly encourages them to get into it.
“But you have to remember,” he cautions them, “you have to go into the community and introduce yourself. Somewhere down the line, they’ll think of you. And when one door opens, others will, too.”
His own customers keep coming back because of customer service.
“I have a 99-point-5 customer return rate,” he said proudly.
Nasello had to draft a business plan as part of the CEO program, and he’s glad he remained flexible about it.
“I knew in my mind it would evolve. I came in having zero idea what would happen. The business will change to evolve with the times. But it stayed around the same focus points as when I wrote it. You work hard. You answer the phone. It’s about customer service.”
The delivery demographics change depending on the season.
“Now, I know, in the fall college students will start calling you. Or in the spring Alton High School students want you to bring lunch. Or the winter there are a massive amount of older citizens who just can’t get out. Or the summer when parents call you for (things involving) the kids.”
His mentor Thompson said CEO teaches young people some valuable lessons about the real world, by getting them out of the classroom. Nasello has benefited more than most by taking the next step in business.
“He has so much drive and enthusiasm. He’ll stub his toe but he’ll dust himself off and continue to move forward,” Thompson said.