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About LD Products
Originally established by then 21-year-old USC undergrad and Southern California native Aaron Leon in 1999 as an ink and toner supplier, LD Products has quietly grown into one of the largest U.S. online retailers for all office supplies – and the absolute largest for after market ink and toner. Also the 20th largest private, minority-owned company in Los Angeles, LD ships more than 6 million cartridges nationwide every year. Its primary competitors are Staples and Amazon.com.
Priding itself as an environmentally conscious business, LD Products’ call center, 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 opened a Mountville, Pennsylvania-based fulfillment center in April and also operates a manufacturing plant in Tucson, Arizona, which employs political refugees from embattled countries such as Somalia, Nepal and Iraq. With the addition of the Pennsylvania facility, 80 percent of LD’s customers will now receive their shipments within two business days, and 40 percent will 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 Kansas.
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.
Now in its sixteenth 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 back up all of its products with a lifetime, 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. Additionally, the company offers live customer service from its California-based call center seven days a week.
Leadership: Aaron Leon / CEO
An entrepreneur from the age of 6, Aaron Leon established LD Products as an ink and toner supplier while still in college in 1999. Sixteen years later, the company is now one of the largest U.S. online retailers for aftermarket ink and toner and office supplies and employs an award-winning, in-house customer service team of more than 55 representatives.
Raised in Downey, California, Leon grew up as a good student, but not great. Rather, he really came alive as a youth working his self-actualized side businesses. At 6, he sold Snoopy snow cones in front of his apartment complex on hot summer days. By 14, he was making $400-500 a weekend selling baseball cards. But it wasn’t until he took an introduction to business class in college that he made the connection between his youthful pastimes and his future:
“I hadn’t realized I was a businessperson all along,” he said.
Once he’d identified his natural calling, Leon became a straight-A student and eventually transferred to the University of Southern California, where he earned his bachelor of business administration in finance. It was there, at USC in April of 1999, that LD Products took root.
Under Leon’s guidance, LD Products has achieved several milestones, including annual sales approaching $100 million and providing a diverse array of 165 jobs in Long Beach and another 70 in Arizona. Its Long Beach, California-based corporate headquarters/fulfillment center was the first Platinum LEED-certified building in the New Construction/Commercial category in the United States under the U.S. Green Building Council’s stricter 2009 guidelines. The company also has one of the largest custom Magento Enterprise implementations on record; and it has been awarded, certified, or otherwise recognized by Google, Yahoo!, BizRate, eBay, Reseller Ratings, Stella Service, Truste and the Better Business Bureau (A-plus).
For his work and innovation, Leon has been honored with numerous recognitions and awards, including: Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year semi-finalist, 2014; Top 20, Largest Minority Owned Business, LA Business Journal, 2013 and 2014; and Top 500, Internet Retailer Magazine, yearly since 2005. He is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization.
Married with a growing family, Leon enjoys coaching his oldest son’s baseball team and travelling with his family during his spare time.
LD Products manufactures quality alternatives to expensive name brands in the form of “remanufactured” and “compatible” ink and toner cartridges; however, the company also carries name brand cartridges.
As of last year, the company began offering all aspects of office supplies and now offers more than 50,000 SKUs. The company’s top products are:
- Brand name (OEM) and LD brand ink and toner cartridges
- Office supply basics (paper, pens, post-it notes, binders, file folders, etc.)
- Cleaning and break room supplies
- Technology (printers, cables, storage drives/media, 3D printing supplies, etc.)
- Office furniture
LD Products offers several service outlets to provide its customers with information the way they want to receive it. Additionally, all of the company’s more than 55 customer service reps are put through rigorous training, including an expectation that all customers are treated with empathy. If a mistake is made, the customer service reps are trained to apologize first and foremost; in a nutshell, they should speak to customers as if they’re speaking to the CEO’s mother. LD’s call center takes anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 calls a day and operates during business hours for both the East and West Coast during the week and weekends.
The company provides the following services:
- Custom ordering platform
- Same-day shipping
- Live training for corporate and government accounts
- Quick reorder
- Web-based training
- Video tutorials
- What is a remanufactured inkjet cartridge?
Remanufactured inkjet cartridges are original printer-brand cartridges that have been through one cycle of service before undergoing a professional remanufacturing process. These cartridges and their print heads are:
- thoroughly cleaned and filled with a high quality equivalent ink formulation,
- inspected for any possible shell leakages,
- tested to ensure that the electical circuitry is operational, and
- undergo and pass a lengthy print test.
Only cartridges that pass LD’s rigorous inspection process and meet their high standards become LD-brand remanufactured cartridges
- Remanufacturing is higher in the waste hierachy than recycling. Why?
Remanufactured ink and toner cartridges are also more environmentally friendly than recycling them, as many companies do. Recycling cartridges requires grinding them up to make new plastic and parts, which demands a lot of energy and resources. Recycled cartridges are the “reuse” in the reduce, reuse, recycle process.
- What is a new, compatible ink cartridge?
A compatible ink cartridge is created by a third-party company, like LD Products, for use in a name brand printer. They are reverse engineered to ensure no patents are violated and often less expensive than the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) cartridge.
- Will a printer warranty be voided if refilled cartridges are used in it?
Many customers express a legitimate concern as to whether the use of third-party ink or toner will void their printer’s warranty. The answer is no.
What follows is a partial quote from the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, which addresses this subjects.MAGNUSON-MOSS WARRANTY IMPROVEMENT ACT
United States Code Annotated
Title 15 Commerce and Trade
Chapter 50 Consumer Product Warranties
"No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection be waived by the commission if:
The warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and the Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest.
More simply put, a printer warranty cannot be voided just because a consumer chooses to use compatible, third-party products unless the manufacturer can prove that the compatible product caused direct damage to the consumer’s printer. No company, associate, salesperson, or service technician can deny service or a refund that would otherwise be covered under a warranty program simply because the customer used a compatible product.
- What is the shelf life of compatible brand ink cartridges?
Compatible, third-party print cartridges have a three-year shelf life.
Q&A with Aaron Leon, LD Products' CEO
- Q: What's important to look for when determining which remanufactured and compatible ink toners to buy?
A: The best way to tell the reputable, high quality products from the low quality products is to read product reviews. Other factors to take into consideration are: package design; Better Business Bureau ratings; their quality control methods; the components they’re using; and the kind of warranty they offer. (We offer a lifetime guarantee, which is unheard of in our industry. Customers can return product even if they don’t like the color of the box.)
- Q: Why should a company transition from buying products as they need them from a traditional retail outlet to a company such as LD Products, which takes a more holistic approach to working with its clients?
A: Improving our customers’ experience with us is a constant focus for us. Recently, we completely revamped our website to make it more user-friendly; this included optimizing the merchandising for our growing product catalog, which ensures accuracy for the merchants and relevancy for the customers. We rewrote all of our products’ attributes to describe them in ways our customers would, rather than in industry technical terms. We are also in the process of building a team whose main focus would be helping our business clients handle their orders in the most efficient way possible. This is especially relevant in light of the consolidation of industry big box retailers, which has led to a reduction in personalized customer service.
- Q: LD Products can save companies up to 70 percent on their office supply costs. Do you have any examples of ways in which LD Products has been able to save clients a significant amount of money each year?
A: We worked with a local government entity and reduced their toner costs by 73 percent - saving them $280,000 in a single year! (Savings were based on comparing annual LD brand remanufactured cartridge purchases over the same purchase of name brand cartridges at a big box store.)
- Q: How do you keep your ink and toner prices competitive without sacrificing quality?
A: Our prices are competitive, but they’re not the cheapest. We’re inexpensive compared to OEM (original equipment manufacturer) products, but there are other aftermarket options that are cheaper – both in price and quality.
That being said, we do many things to keep our prices as low as possible without sacrificing quality:
- We're a long-term company. We’ve always invested in quality and value; part of that is paying more for quality ink, which goes inside our cartridges. While we could save 25 cents per unit by using cheaper ink, doing so would create an inferior product, decrease our customer satisfaction rate and increase our return rate. There’s a reason that the shoddy aftermarket suppliers struggle to stay in business.
- We onshore production of our ink tanks to our own U.S. manufacturing plant.
- Global sourcing We do as much as we can at home, but we use contract manufacturing for the chips in the cartridges and for our custom/specified ink formulations that are up to LD standards (and not just the cheapest product to produce).
- Strict quality control We use some of the best ink sourced on the planet from a company with more than 100 years of printing experience. Additionally, our supply chain is backed by large factories.
- We benefit from the economies of scale, as we’re the largest online aftermarket retailer.
- We've invested heavily in warehouse automation.
- We don't manufacture printers. Printer companies spend a lot of money developing new printer platforms, but they have a perverse biz model. They sell printers at breakeven (or at a loss) and sell ink to make money. We, on the other hand, are in a great position where we can sell ink for a lot less because we don’t have to worry about making up the same costs.
LD Products' Origin Story
Aaron Leon’s path of entrepreneurship didn’t begin solely from a desire to make money, but also stemmed from an inner resolve to be successful at whatever he did. At the age of 6, he began his first business endeavor by selling Snoopy snow cones in his apartment complex on hot summer days. Later, at 14, he sold trading cards that he would buy from local card conventions. Before he’d graduated from high school, he had learned the sheer fun, excitement and challenge that goes into building a profitable business built on price-value and customer satisfaction.
Fast forward six years. Before transferring to the University of Southern California, Leon took an introduction to business class that reminded him of his days as a young entrepreneur and rekindled his love for business management. Shortly after transferring to USC as a business major, he was walking through the halls of his student housing complex and noticed a flyer posted to the communal billboard advertising aftermarket ink.
“It was a secure building, so I knew it had to have been posted by someone who lived there,” Leon said. “I found it odd someone was advertising a website on an actual bulletin board.”
Leon tracked down the poster and discovered he was working as an affiliate for an early e-commerce retailer. However, he had an archaic web site that was littered with tacky clip art and, worse yet, no online marketing strategy.
“I was blown away that anyone was giving him their credit card number,” Leon said.
Leon proposed a partnership and suggested that what the affiliate needed was online advertising and traffic – not flyers. He taught himself web marketing and html coding and got his friend’s site listed on search engines. Eventually, he broke off from his partner and became an affiliate himself. Soon, vendors started contacting him personally and he realized that, with hard work, he could become a supplier himself.
He began buying inventory and storing it in his bedroom at his parents’ house. He quickly outgrew the space and moved his operations to his friend, Patrick Devane’s, bedroom instead, which was within walking distance of the post office. Leon paid Devane $2 for every order he packed and shipped – about eight orders a day. By August 1999, Leon had acquired his own affiliates, and business had increased to 40 to 50 orders per day; they began driving to the post office, and Devane’s mom, seeing their success, began charging them rent. Leon determined he would hold off on renting office space until he reached the 100-order-per-day mark.
The financial and personal risks of starting a business at the age of 21 while attending a university cannot be understated. There was no guarantee of success, and the struggle of dividing time between school and the company was always present. Additionally, he was starting a company whose products were foreign to many people. Most consumers had never heard of remanufactured or compatible cartridges, but Leon knew that printer manufacturer’s mode of making money presented an opportunity for outside competition.
Initially, Leon’s main challenge was to successfully broadcast the economic and environmental benefits that third-party cartridges offer. The aftermarket ink and toner industry was unknown to most home-printer users in 1999, and those who did know about the industry were skeptical of the products. The apprehension on the part of consumers was mostly based on claims made by printer manufacturers that the use of third-party cartridges will damage the printer. Leon had to battle the negative connotations revolving around third-party cartridges and is partly responsible for the public’s change in opinion about the legitimacy of the industry.
Working in the aftermarket ink and toner industry, where competition is stiff, Leon was faced with challenges requiring unique solutions. He has had to contend with the relentless pursuit of printer manufacturers attempting to shut down aftermarket companies through various means, be it micro-chip encryptions to prevent printers from recognizing third-party cartridges, highly patented ink formulations and flooding the market with new SKUs every year so aftermarket vendors would have difficulty keeping up and competing.
Knowing the high demand for printer consumables, as well as the fact that printer manufacturers were offering their products at a price that did not match the materials and labor required to create a plastic shell containing some ink or toner, a particular and potentially profitable niche was realized. Printer manufacturers thrive off of the razor and blade business model – that is, selling consumables at a high price because customers are dependent on those consumables to use a product. Also, printer manufacturers look to cover the cost of their printers by charging more for ink and toner. By presenting the public with an alternative to highly expensive print cartridges that benefited them not only financially but also appealed to those wishing to reduce their carbon footprint, he slowly began to create a healthy customer base.
Leon graduated from USC in May 2000, and he began renting his first office – 600 square feet –in October. The years following included several firsts for the company: its first forklift, its first order management system, the creation of additional affiliate websites, a foray into importing and the acquisition of several competitors.
In 2006, the company moved to its current home of Long Beach, California.
“Every time we’ve moved, we’ve gone, ‘Wow! How are we going to fill this?’” Leon said. “Originally, we said we’ll have made it if we hit 500 orders a day. Now we do that in an hour or two.”
In 2008, LD Products acquired their largest competitor, almost doubling overnight.
“For eight years, we wanted to beat them,” Leon said. “Then we owned them.”
Leon’s focus has always been customer service. His brief but powerfully effective advice to customer service reps is simply to treat the customer as if they were his mother – an approach adopted from high school days working at a grocery store.
“I saw the man who worked in produce tossing a bunch of apples that looked fine to me,” he said. “I asked him why he was getting rid of them all, and he said he got rid of any apple he would not give his mom. That stuck with me.”
From day one, Leon’s always maintained that customers should be treated with patience, respect and dignity. He knew that not everyone was tech-savvy, not everyone would know about the differences between a compatible and remanufactured cartridge, or even know how to correctly pronounce colors such as “cyan and magenta.”
“Not just as customers, but as people, they deserve to be treated with compassion and patience,” Leon said.
Leon also recognized a cultural shift toward environmental awareness. By providing customers with remanufactured products, he wasn’t just offering a cost-effective solution to name-brand cartridges, but an environmentally conscious one was well. The use of remanufactured cartridges prevent millions of print cartridges from ending up in landfills each year, where they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. It is also more environmentally friendly than recycling, which requires many more resources. By seeking high-quality, remanufactured cartridges, he wasn’t just giving the customer the opportunity to save money, but to help save a little bit of the environment as well.
Unlike the remanufactured cartridges of the 1990s, Leon made sure that his were placed in presentable packaging and that the environmental benefits were understood by the customer. He also invested heavily in 2012 into a new Platinum LEED-certified building, which indicates that a building meets the highest eco-friendly and energy-saving standards possible.
“We had a 25,000-square-foot building with 85 employees, 32 parking spots and four bathrooms,” Leon said. “We were moving pallets into the parking lot during the day so people had room to work and then moving them back inside at night. It was time to move again.”
Leon’s new 110,000-square-foot building became the first Platinum LEED-certified building in the New Construction/Commercial category in the United States under the U.S. Green Building Council’s stricter 2009 guidelines.
“It’s our health,” he said. “The employee environment is a big part of the LEED certification. Since we spend so much time at the office, I want it to be clean and nice for our employees.”
By the end of 2012, everyone had moved in. Having spent much of his time over the previous two years working on the new building, Leon refocused his efforts once again on growing LD Products.
“We acted as though the building had burned down and we had to rebuild,” he said, adding that he knew their existing systems weren’t scalable. “You can put yourself out of business if you grow too fast and can’t scale. We analyzed everything we were doing to see how it could be improved.”
And improve he did – adding everything from a sophisticated enterprise resource planning system, to a 3-D cubing software that selects appropriately sized boxes for every package, to an A-frame automated dispensing system that can process up to 1,600 orders/hour, a pick-to-light system, hundreds of yards of automated conveyor and more. The changes have allowed the company to process 12,000 orders in an eight-hour day with 30 percent fewer people at an accuracy rate of 99.98 percent.
“We spent the first decade figuring everything out as we went along,” said Leon, who has seen the industry grow from a few dozen ink and toner SKUs to more than 10,000. “You wouldn’t think someone was hand-processing orders 10 years ago.”
In 2014, Leon added office supplies to his company’s product line. Always striving to make things as simple for the customer as possible, the addition of office supplies offer customers (many of whom are small- or mid-sized businesses) the opportunity to purchase all of their office needs from one convenient website.
To add further benefit to his customers, Leon in April 2015 opened a second fulfillment center in Pennsylvania to provide his East Coast customers with the same one- and two-day shipping his West Coast customers enjoyed. The addition has allowed LD to get its products to 80 percent of the United States within two business days – 40 percent overnight.
“Waiting four to five days for office supplies is ridiculous nowadays,” Leon said. He plans to open a third fulfillment center within the next year.
Leon has always made an effort to give back to those in need and raise funds for important causes. Just a few examples of company-wide philanthropic campaigns he initiated include an annual company-wide Thanksgiving food drive, sponsoring less-fortunate families in the City of Long Beach and supporting breast cancer awareness by including the company in Revlon’s yearly “Breast Cancer Walk for a Cure.”
An exciting and collaborative work environment is critical to LD’s success. Leon implemented an internal communications tool in 2012 to help the company communicate more effectively as well as get to know one another better on a personal level. This has proved to be an effective method of creating a working environment where people actually talk to one another.
It is also not out of the ordinary for Leon to buy his entire staff lunch, spend thousands on prizes raffled during the company Christmas party, and engage without discrimination those who work under him – from the call center employee who has been there for one week to the director of marketing – he strives to make everyone feel welcomed, at ease and motivated to do their very best.
LD Products' Environmentally Friendly Approach
An office supply company that specializes in ink and toner, LD Products is an environmentally conscious company. Its Long Beach, California-based corporate headquarters/fulfillment center was the first Platinum LEED-certified building in the New Construction/Commercial category in the United States under the U.S. Green Building Council’s stricter 2009 guidelines.
As such, the company’s Long Beach location uses reclaimed water for all irrigation and toilets (winning LD a water efficiency award from the U.S. Green Building Council); a sophisticated 3-D Cubing software program determines the most efficient packaging for every shipment; all boxes are made from recycled materials; motion sensors control and adjust fulfillment center lighting as needed; the air is filtered, with full exchange every hour; conveyor belts have sensors that turn on and off only when necessary; and more. The 110,000-square-foot building is so efficient that, despite an increase in on-site employees and computer servers, the building uses 66 percent less energy per square foot than their previous location.
The company helps to keep oil, plastics and waste out of landfills by remanufacturing them for re-use. LD’s website offers a business portal that allows customers to see how green they’ve been with their office supply shopping.Back to Top
LD Products employs 165 people in Long Beach, California a diverse array of positions, from customer service representatives, to fulfillment workers, to software engineers. For these employees, LD Products provides a number of company perks:
- Environmentally friendly atmosphere
- Clean, regularly circulated air, including in the fulfillmnt center
- On-site gym and group training sesssions
- Table tennis tables, foosball tournaments
- Bright, natural lighting
- Expansive break room with full kitchen
- A "no jerks" rule ("Life is too short to dislike your co-workers," Leon says.)
- Company bikes for group outings or to grab lunch down the road
- An on-site shower for those who want to bike to work
- Regular company-hosted outside get-togethers
- Charging stations for electric vehicles
LD Products can usually be found in the midst of supporting an organization. Some of the fundraising initiatives the company and its employees have supported or participated in in recent memory include:
- Walk for breast cancer
- Season of Giving for the needy (fundraising by way of paying $3 a day to wear pajamas to work, poker tournaments, pancake breakfasts, etc.)
- Collecting shoes for the homeless
- Serving to benefit Long Beach Rescue Mission
- Planting trees
Government Contracts Awarded
National Purchasing Partners, Government Division:National Purchasing Partners, Government Division.
BuyBoard:The BuyBoard National Purchasing Cooperative is a national online purchasing cooperative formed between the National School Boards Association and several state school boards associations to streamline the buying process for schools, municipalities and other public entities.
The Interlocal Purchasing System:The Interlocal Purchasing System (TIPS/TAPS) is sponsored by the Region VIII Education Service Center (ESC8) located at 4845 U.S. Highway 271 North, Pittsburg, Texas (Camp County) and is governed by the Region 8 ESC board of directors. The Interlocal Purchasing System is available for use by all public and private schools, colleges, universities, cities, countries and other government entities.
GSA Schedule 75 Contract:The GSA Schedule 75 Contract, Office Products and Supplies, provides federal agencies with the products and services they require to function efficiently. From paper clips to shredders, restroom products to imprinting services, this schedule is an online supply store for federal consumers.
The California Multiple Award Schedules (CMAS):The California Multiple Award Schedules offers a wide variety of commodities, non-IT services and information technology products and services at prices that have been assessed to be fair, reasonable and competitive. The use of this contract is available to state and local government agencies.
The Texas Mutiple Award Schedule Program (TXMAS):The Texas Multiple Award Schedule Program aadapts existing competitively awarded government contacts to the procurement needs of the State of Texas. Unlike some other purchasing methods, purchases made form TXMAS contracts do not require delegated authority from the CPA to make purchases over $25,000 for commodities and $100,000 for services.
National Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc.LDProducts.com is a Southern California Minority Owned Business. The company is certified by the Southern California Minority Business Development Council, the largest nonprofit minority business advocacy organization in the region. SCMBDC is one of 37 regional councils in the National Minority Supplier Development Council network.
Better Business Bureau A-plus rating.LDProducts.com has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau, as the company has a track record of delivering results in accordance with the BBB’s high standards of trust and customer satisfaction.
A "Google Trusted Store."Customers can shop with confidence on LDProducts.com, as the company has earned the “Google Trusted Store” badge. You can expect reliable shipping, great customer service and free purchase protection from LD Products.
Long Beach, CA
3700 Cover St, Long Beach, CA 90808 EAST COAST FULFILLMENT CENTER
The April 2015 opening of this facility has allowed LD to get its products to 80 percent of the United States within two business days – 40 percent overnight. “Waiting four to five days for office supplies is ridiculous nowadays,” Leon says.MANUFACTURING PLANT
Employing political refugees, this plant makes 200,000 cartridges per month.Back to Top