Sixteen-year-old minority-owned LD Products began as ink, toner company; small business leverages resources to compete with conglomerates
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Most people have probably never heard of Los Angeles’ 20th largest private, minority-owned business: LD Products. Until recently, the company hadn’t done much in the way of public relations and marketing – instead, quietly approaching $100 million in annual sales.
“We’re a 16-year overnight success,” said company CEO Aaron Leon, who founded LD Products in 1999 as an aftermarket ink and toner supplier. At the time, Leon was a 21-year-old business undergrad at the University of Southern California. Raised in Downey, California, Leon was a born entrepreneur, earning good money in his teens selling baseball cards.
Today LD Products sells office supplies as well as ink and toner and ships more than 6 million cartridges throughout the United States and Canada every year. An almost entirely e-commerce business, its primary competitors are Staples and Amazon.com.
Priding itself as an environmentally conscious business, LD Products’ call center, first fulfillment center, retail store and headquarters operate from a 110,000-square-foot Platinum LEED-certified building in Long Beach, California — the first new construction commercial building in the United States to receive this certification.
The company employs 165 people in Long Beach and another 70 in Tucson, Arizona, where its manufacturing plant is located. The plant provides jobs for political refugees from embattled countries – currently, Bhutan, Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Previously, they’ve had refugees from such countries as Uzbekistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Cuba, Burma, Iran, Uganda, Nepal, Central African Republic, Bhutan and Iraq.
In April, LD opened in Pennsylvania its second fulfillment center to better serve its East Cost clients.
“Waiting four to five days for office supplies is ridiculous now,” Leon said.
With the addition of the Pennsylvania fulfillment center, 80 percent of LD Products’ customers receive their shipments within two business days, and 40 percent receive their orders overnight. Within the next year, the company will strive to deliver orders to 98 percent of customers within two days by adding a third fulfillment center, most likely in the Midwest.
While LD Products provides both name brand products as well as aftermarket (remanufactured and compatible) ink toners and cartridges these days, it remains true to its roots of keeping quality office supplies affordable without sacrifice. In fact, the company touts savings for customers of up to 70 percent over name brand printer supplies and earned the loyalty of many of its customers during the Great Recession, when more people were forced to seek out affordable alternatives such as house brand paper goods and kitchen essentials.
Still, many consumers hesitate to purchase remanufactured or compatible ink and toner, having heard horror stories of doing so. To this, Leon suggests consumers spend some time doing their research – reading online reviews and checking into companies’ guarantees. (LD Products offers a lifetime, no-questions-asked guarantee, which is unheard of in the industry. Customers can return product even if they don’t like the color of the box.)
Even though LD Products has expanded significantly over the past 16 years, there is always room for growth.
Cartridge industry revenues are $28 billion per year in the United States, and the aftermarket cartridges share is approximately $6 billion (or 21 percent of the market), according to Infotrends.com.
Ink and toner needs vary by business and industry. In one example, LD did isolated testing for a potential client, a local hotel, and calculated they were spending 48 percent of their office supply budget on ink and toner.
Considering there are an estimated 146 million business users/employees in the United States, according to U.S. Department of Labor stats from 2014, a good assumption – calculated by taking the total cartridge revenues ($28 billion) and dividing it by the total business users in the United States (146 million) – is that the average cost for ink/toner per user is approximately $190 per year.
“It’s loose math, for sure,” Leon said. “Obviously some businesses will spend more on ink and toner than others. What we really want to do is encourage businesses to look at their own costs and do their own math. When office budgets are tight, it’s a relief to find options for reducing costs. If we save businesses 50 percent, on average, compared to name brand ink and toner, that would equate to significant savings.”
Even in its 16th year, LD Products continues to maintain its start-up vibe, which allows the company to be flexible and responsive. Providing large business capabilities with small business dedication, LD Products has been recognized by Bizrate with its platinum circle of excellence award (for customer service and on-site experience) nine times since the awards began in 2000. This is no accident, as LD Products places a high priority on customer satisfaction – even going so far as to train all call center employees to treat customers as though they were Leon’s own mother. Additionally, the company offers live customer service from its California-based call center seven days a week.
For more information on LD Products, visit ldproducts.com or call 888-321-2552.