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THE LEED'S STORY

From Leather to Leader

Before Leed's grew into the second largest supplier in the $16 billion promotional products and advertising specialty industry, it began as an importer of leather business goods for the retail market. Originally called Leed's Leather Products, the company was founded by Pittsburgh entrepreneurs Bruce Weiner and Tom Bernstein in 1986. Mr. Weiner and Mr. Bernstein sold their wares through a variety of retail outlets—from luggage and specialty stores to large national chains. As the company grew, it diversified its products by adding durahyde, nylon and polycanvas into the mix. And towards the end of 1992, the founders decided to branch out into the promotional products industry.

Their strategy paid off. By 1995, promotional products generated 65% of the company's total sales. With a much larger inventory and focus beyond just retail, they recognized the need for a new company name. Out was Leed's Leather Products. In was Leed's Business Accessories.

At the end of 1998, it was clear that the company had shifted its focus away from retail. Annual sales from promotional products accounted for 99% of its total volume. Facing such success, the management team ceased its retail operations and concentrated all its energy on building one of the best promotional products suppliers in the industry.

Breaking the Top Ten

In less than two years, their vision became reality. By 2000, Leed's was recognized as one of the fastest growing suppliers in the industry. Investment company Global Promo Group bought the company later that year and named Michael Bernstein, son of Tom Bernstein, its new president. "Business Accessories" was dropped from the name, and a new logo and new Web site were unveiled. A new era had begun.

In 2001, Leed's cracked Counselor magazine's coveted Top Ten Suppliers list for the first time, debuting at #10. It added writing instruments to its offerings and new decorating services to help logos jump off the products such as Steel Threads, Photo Real and laser engraving. 2001 also marked the beginning of what has become a Leed's trademark—offering popular retail products exclusively to the promotional products industry. That year, for the first time ever, customers were able to have their logos branded on products from Littlearth, a Pittsburgh-based company known for its unique, eco-conscious designs, creative use of material, and concern for the environment. More licensed brands would follow.

When 2002 rolled around, Leed's began venturing into Canada for new business opportunities. This led to the company acquiring Toronto-based ICON Promotional Products a couple of years later, strengthening its reputation north of the border. Retail favorite Cutter & Buck also signed on to bring its popular designs to Leed's products (a relationship that continues today) and Leed's introduced two new services that quickly generated a buzz—WorldSource, a division in charge of customizing products to meet individual client's needs (it's since expanded into a global partner, also offering customers the lowest prices on the largest selection of imports); and SureShip(R), which offers1-day turnarounds on orders, the fastest shipping in the industry.

Sales topped the $100 million mark in 2003 for the first time in company history and Leed's continued to grow its workforce. Employees numbered 530 strong by the end of the year, up from 343 in 2000. Michael Bernstein was promoted into the CEO position and David Nicholson took over as president.

Going Global

Leed's impressive rise in the industry during the first half of the 2000s made it an attractive option for investors. Sales continued to rise each year, the workforce continued to grow, and as soon as it would expand its footprint, there was a need for more space. And in 2005, Leed's was acquired by Investcorp, an investment organization whose operation spans three continents. The new parent company brought Leed's under the same umbrella as its Dutch promotions business, Polyconcept.

Today, annual sales, now nearing $300 million, continue to rise for the New Kensington, Pennsylvania company. New employees join the Leed's team nearly every week. Operational space continues to grow at a breakneck pace. And Leed's continues to seek exciting new branded collections for the 25,000 distributors it's proud to call its customers. And what founders Bruce Weiner and Tom Bernstein started more than 25 years, continues to build on their legacy by offering relentless product innovation, energetic customer service, and dynamic client collaboration.

Timeline

  • 1986
    • Bruce Weiner and Tom Bernstein found Leed's Leather Products in Pittsburgh, PA, an importer of leather business accessories for retail outlets.
  • 1992
    • Leed's Leather Products branches into the promotional products industry
  • 1995
    • 65% of total sales comes from promotional products. The company renamed Leed's Business Accessories
  • 1998
    • With promotional products generating 99% of year-end sales, the company gets out of the retail business.
  • 2000
    • Name shortened to Leed's
    • Global Promo Group buys the company
    • Michael Bernstein, son of founder Tom Bernstein, is appointed president
    • New logo, website, and annual holiday gift catalog launched
    • Number of employees reaches 343
  • 2001
    • Leed's cracks The Counselor Top Ten list. (Counselor is the #1 industry trade publication.)
  • 2002
    • WorldSource launched to offer customers the opportunity to have orders customized.
    • 1-3-5 shipping is launched to allow customers to get orders turned around in one business day. It becomes the fastest shipping option in the industry.
  • 2003
    • Annual sales top $100 million
    • Leed's rises up The Counselor Top Ten list to #5
  • 2004
    • Leed's acquires Toronto-based ICON Promotional Products
    • Number of employees reaches 612
  • 2005
    • Investcorp, a global investment firm, acquires Leed's parent company GPG. Leed's is merged with its Netherlands-based promotional products company Polyconcept
    • Leed's is named #4 on The Counselor Top Ten
    • Annual sales top $200 million
  • 2006
    • Number of employees reaches over 1,000
 
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