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
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
“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. Read More
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
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
“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
“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.