Inc. 5000 applicant The Campus Special, founded by Chau Nguyen, is growing fast by marketing coupons to college students the old-fashioned way.
Campus Special coupon books
The Campus Special founders: President Joe Jacobs (left) and CEO Chau Nguyen
decided to help college students save money back in 2005.
As applications for the 2012 Inc. 500|5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, click here). One that caught our eye was The Campus Special in Duluth, Georgia.
It’s no secret that college students spend money, lots of it. After all, pizza, tanning, and keeping up with the latest hairstyles doesn’t come cheap.
So back in 2005, Chau Nguyen and Joe Jacobs decided to lend a hand. Nguyen used his background in college marketing to give students something they actually needed and wanted: savings.
The Campus Special started off with one product, a coupon book with a realistic hundred-dollar bill image on the cover. They spread the books, containing coupons for local businesses on things such as haircuts and food at colleges nationwide.
Fast-forward seven years and The Campus Special is still providing savings for students, now at 342 colleges across the U.S. The company prints about six million coupon books on recycled paper with soy-based ink every year. Each book has 100 to 200 coupons.
But they didn’t stop there.
The Campus Special also has a website and mobile app with an online version of the coupon book, as well as a virtual food court where college students can order food at special online rates. The company’s Facebook app allows students to view menus and process their entire order without ever leaving the site.
The business specializes in print, mobile, and online advertising that’s targeted toward college students. They have 25 employees in the corporate office, over 10,000 clients, and a three-year growth rate just under 125 percent.
According to Nguyen, an iPad app is also in the works, but currently their print coupons are the most effective. In 2011 the company brought in over $8 million. They’ve stuck with their original goals and make all of their money off advertisers, not students.
But that’s not the only way The Campus Special helps out students. The two-time Inc. 5000 honoree also has a large paid internship program. According to Nguyen, it’s what they do best. The company takes about 400 college students during the summer months, trains them in Atlanta, and then sends them back to their respective college cities. “We teach them basically how to become young professionals,” Nguyen says. “They represent our company, meet with clients, and sell the advertisers. It’s real b-to-b experience.”
About 2,500 students have been through the summer internship. Many continue working with the company on a volunteer basis once the academic year comes around.
It’s because of the internship program that The Campus Special is able to use the slogan “made by students, for students.” The student edge also helps the national company provide coupons for local businesses the students will actually want to use—for things like pizza.
CAITLIN BERENS writes about business innovation and entrepreneurs. Before Inc., she worked at Billboard, SELF, and Better Homes and Gardens. She attended Drake University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York. @CaitlinBerens