The spirit of Dean Nelson might be best described through the words of Brazilian soccer great Pelé, who once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
Nelson is the owner of Nelson Plant Food, a Bellville-based company whose story began in the early 1980s. In 1982, Nelson was working toward a master’s degree when he realized he had to do more to support his young family of three. He left Texas A&M University to work for Cox-Nelson Seed Company in Katy. But after 11 months on the job, he was fired.
So, there he was—with a wife, daughter, and baby on the way and no income. Nelson thought back to a conversation a few months earlier about purchasing a then-closed custom fertilizer blending plant in downtown Houston.
“The next challenge was to find some money to build anew and open the business,” Nelson said. “I went from bank to bank looking for loans to get this business started and finally got our first loan, called a ‘character loan.’ ”
Nelson and his family lived off that first small loan while he developed a business plan to present to banks for bigger loans.
“I went to five banks in Katy, Bellville, Rosenberg, and Houston,” he said. “All the bankers would talk to me, take my booklet and ask me to come back in a week. After several failed attempts for a loan, I finally went to my dad, and he co-signed my line of credit notes.”
Once Nelson was trained by the previous owner of the fertilizer plant on the mathematics of mixing fertilizer for turf grass, he and his wife got busy writing and addressing letters to prospective customers. After about six weeks of trying to sell fertilizer, Nelson Plant Food made its first sale in 1984.
The couple of years after this first sale were good for the new company, which consisted only of Nelson and three employees. Nelson did the blending, selling and delivering, and the company had to earn just $50,000 per month to break even.
In 1986, however, sales dropped dramatically, and Nelson knew he had to do something or he would lose his business. He canceled all advertising, laid off part-time employees, and eliminated every source of additional spending.
“It was clear that the Texas economy was in a severe down-turn,” Nelson said. “The price of oil collapsed and so did the Texas real estate market. Our customers were going out of business left and right.”
Over the next five years, Nelson Plant Food’s bank notes were recalled. During that time, the company had only one employee and sold goods for cash just to keep the lights on.
Nelson realized he needed to sell more than turf grass fertilizer. That’s when he created what is today his No. 1-selling product: ColorStar.
His first customer for ColorStar was Mike Hugg, with Metro National of Houston, who needed a fertilizer to extend the flowering window of his pansies. After a month of using Nel- son’s new fertilizer, Hugg was sold.
Soon after, Nelson began to get calls from people all over Houston wanting ColorStar for their landscaping projects.
After Nelson Plant Food survived the late ’80s, the early ’90s seemed to be in their favor, particularly since Nelson had created two new fertilizers: ColorStar for blooming plants and NutriStar for trees and shrubs.
Nelson said he plans for Nelson Plant Food to continue on its current path. He sees the company expanding into the southeastern United States and hopes to bring his kids into the family business. He has expanded his ColorStar and NutriStar lines to include specialty blends for azaleas, plumeria, bougainvilleas, hibiscus, crape myrtles, roses, citrus, avocados, and other fruits and vegetables. Along with the plant food for blooming flowers, Nelson also has lines for palm trees, tropical trees, and other trees and shrubs.
“I love selling,” Nelson said. “I tell Julie when I need a vacation, I am going on a sales trip. It is fun, exciting—you get to meet people.”
Throughout all the ups and downs of his business venture, Nelson has poured his heart into the company he loves. He appreciates where the company now stands and says God had a bigger hand in it than he did. There are very few days he doesn’t work, and he sees himself working for his business until the very end.
Nelson Plant Food focuses on fertilizers for commercial nurseries, landscapers and homeowners. For more information or to find where to purchase Nelson Plant Food products, visit the company online at nelsonplantfood.com.
This post was originally featured in Texas Co-op Power, San Bernard edition, October 2018 issue, volume 75, Number 4.