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Landoll Inc.--Never Give Up, No Matter What

March 1998
The competition said, "Dream on!" And that's exactly what he did—until his dream became a $100 million reality.

Relentlessly pursuing a vision—to create a niche market for brand-name children's books priced under $5—Jim Landoll, founder and CEO of Landoll Inc., not only developed a niche, he created an empire. He claims that, as of last year, his firm became the country's 10th largest book printer, ninth ranked book manufacturer and sixth leading publisher of children's books.

The company, located in Ashland, OH, recorded an outstanding 41-percent increase in sales, catapulting from $71 million in 1996 to an estimated $100 million in 1997 (final figures weren't available at press time). Pretty amazing statistics considering the company burned to the ground in 1992.

The competition thought Landoll was finished after the fire. But the printer/publisher was back in business 90 days later, operating in a four-story converted pump station.

From the ashes, Landoll has risen like a phoenix to garner more than 30 miles of retail space in nearly 160,000 outlets, including Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid and Revco, to name but a few. So great was the comeback that Landoll was cited in Success magazine's "Great Comebacks" of 1994.

Greater still is the fact that last year Landoll sold more than 500 million books, including 700 new releases, that contain some of the hottest cartoon characters on the market. Landoll has a bank of more than 2,500 licensing agreements (more than any other domestic publisher, Landoll President Marty Myers reports) with the likes of Warner Brothers, Universal Studios and Dreamworks. In addition, Landoll signed a recent agreement with Warner Brothers to sell its characters internationally.

Landoll's licenses include Looney Tunes, The Land Before Time, Peanuts, the Muppets, Animaniacs, Scooby-Doo, Batman and Robin, and Rugrats. (Ninety days after licensing "Rugrats," the line was placed in 75,000 retail outlets, including Kmart, where it sells 35,000 copies per week.)

Besides a cast of characters, Landoll products feature dozens of creative formats ranging from coloring books and card games to storybooks and stickers.

Landoll also publishes a line of educational products that offer traditional subjects such as reading and math, as well as a home-school curriculum.

"Reading is so important to a child's education and development, especially in the formative years. It's always been my dream to publish good books that parents can read to their children," Landoll says. "Reading brings families together in an old-fashioned way."

True to His Niche
Landoll's success has been earned in an old-fashioned way. He's been true to his dream of producing brand-name children's books priced under $5. In fact, many are value-priced at $1.99, based on a concept of "price points" for moms, who buy for quality, content and price.

Landoll is one of only two children's book publishers in the country that operates its own manufacturing plant. The other is Golden Books. And with its printed products priced approximately 30 percent less than its giant competitor, Landoll is giving Golden Books a run for its money.

Because it's a self-enclosed operation, Landoll can provide quality books at affordable prices, says Myers. "Customers are happy with a high-quality, low-cost product. Retailers are happy because they're making 50- to 60-percent margins."

Marry that with the fact that Landoll's top 10 mass-market accounts average an 87-percent sell-through, and it's easy to see why this home-grown corporation went from nearly nothing in 1992 to triple-million digits in 1997. Landoll has forged a family business that is now reaping what it's sown.

The latest "seed" is Landoll's partnership with Tribune Education. In November, Tribune purchased 80.5 percent of Landoll for approximately $80 million. Jim Landoll believes the alliance is a good one for both parties.

"We offer Tribune Education access to the mass market," he explains, "while Tribune Education has a rich library of content, as well as knowledge and experience that can enhance our performance."

Not that Landoll isn't performing already: A business that's worth about $1 million per share is the epitome of "performance plus." On the industry map, Landoll's "X" leads to a treasure trove of success.

A Midas Touch
With a Midas-like touch, Landoll has paved a yellow (gold) brick road to the top. But it's a road paved with kindness and good intentions—where a man who rose from rags to riches gives something back to those who give so much to him.

"You have to believe in yourself," says Landoll. "And you have to believe in your employees, as well. If you do, they'll never let you down. After all, they're the ones who got you where you are."

Trust and loyalty are two things Landoll says every business should offer its workers. If more companies did this, their businesses would be more successful. Considering his track record, this man should know.

Landoll, who started working at age 8 when his father died, served an Army tour after high school, then went to work for Ford Motor Co. as an assembly line worker. Recognized as an engineering whiz, Landoll was trained in-house as a Ford engineer.

Top Secret Design
Landoll later incorporated this experience into his print operation, often re-engineering the machinery to save on time, runs, etc. The redesign of one of his presses is so secret, it's housed in a vault to protect the company's competitive edge.

Part of that edge can be attributed to Landoll's innate engineering abilities. The other part is a result of the energy Landoll expends to develop new production methods. The company is using computer-to-plate technology, which Landoll says cuts costs, quickens delivery time and enhances product quality.

In addition, Landoll says Creo brought the company up to speed with the latest prepress methods, and a multitude of exciting new finishing techniques are constantly being developed.

In the equipment area, Landoll says the company is engineering new methods of production controls that are tailored to individual products—although he is reluctant to discuss details.

"For competitive reasons, I would never reveal my secrets to anyone," he says. "Because we make improvements on an ongoing basis, employees may not recognize the technological advances that have been implemented in the systems."

In the early years of the business, Landoll personally trained his employees to run the equipment. Now new generations of employees are teaching each other those skills.

Landoll initially honed his engineering skills on Ford's assembly line. But it was his true love—to publish children's books—that inspired him to quit Ford in 1971.

Landoll switched gears to a new career: He started his own print operation. With a $5 bill in his pocket, Landoll set up shop in an attic. His desk consisted of two 1-gallon paint cans turned upside down with a board across them. His chair was the wooden floor. Here his initial business plan was created.

In the Beginning...
Landoll began by brokering his artwork out to a printer who gave him a line of credit. The printer constantly delivered late, then Landoll found out why. The printer had created a competing line of products, then contacted Landoll's clients (after obtaining their names from Landoll's shipping bills) and started selling to them direct. The lost sales almost sank Landoll's business.

Believing in himself every step of the way, Landoll rededicated himself to a "once-and-for-all success with children's books." He bought a small printing operation in a 2,100-square-foot garage. The building had no heat or insulation, so Landoll rigged an old wood-burning stove to warm the frosted ink.

In 1981, Landoll married Marta Myers. Her brother, Marty Myers, became Landoll's best man, in more ways than one. Myers joined the business in 1982, took over sales and became company president.

For 10 years business flourished, often doubling profits each year. Then came the tragic fire in 1992, which destroyed 90 percent of the plant and all of Landoll's artwork. Banks across the region gave Landoll a 5-percent chance of survival.

But survive he did, working nonstop for nearly two years. Landoll personally designed the renovation plans to convert the dilapidated pump station into a print facility.

He had employees scour their homes looking for Landoll books that could be used to reproduce the art. He offered equipment as collateral for a loan. He dispatched press operators to cities across the region to prepare and finish work on presses from befriended printers.

Landoll has called upon the trustworthy relationships he's developed with fellow printers and print customers throughout his career. And these friends have called upon him as well. To this day, Landoll retains hundreds of his original accounts.

"I'm bullish on Landoll Inc.," he says. "Marty [Myers] and I have always had a steadfast determination to never give up, no matter what. I remember the day we hung a sign on the wall with that exact saying."

It was the day of the fateful fire. "I promised everyone that I would never quit on them," Landoll recalls. "After my statement, I saw faces with relief and a new determination to fight for our survival."

For Landoll, survival means having a clear, definable vision, taking each day one at a time and dealing with the issues at hand. "But to succeed in your vision," he says, "each decision must be dealt with in a way that keeps your ship on the course you set for it. If that vision is revenue, growth, margin, industry position, or possibly promises made but not yet fulfilled, you have to stay the course no matter what."

—Cheryl A. Adams


"Concern" Is Company Policy

As founder and CEO of Landoll Inc., Jim Landoll says his job is to not only employ people, but to make sure they're "happily employed." That means working for a company that truly cares about its employees. "Concern" is company policy for all of Landoll's 650 employees.

"We believe you have to treat people with dignity and fairness, and have an open ear to their problems," Landoll says. "These are often personal problems, but many can be solved by simply taking the time to try."

Landoll practices what he "preaches" by getting actively involved with his work force. During walks around the plant, Landoll talks with employees to find out how they are and how their work is going. Sometimes he even fixes the equipment.

Throughout the year, Landoll displays employee appreciation in a host of ways, all of which are paid in full by the company. For example, there's the monthly (hot) "Dog Day" lunch, an amusement park outing, and the fabulous company Christmas party, where workers receive big-ticket gifts like trail bikes and big-screen televisions. Employees' children are treated to a Christmas party in a rented movie theater, where Santa presents them with $35 toys (hand-picked by Landoll).

When Landoll says it's a "family" business, he means it. Each employee is a member of this caring, incorporated family.
 

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