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Read All About It

Levenger Style

The Leveens resolved to provide Nordstrom-level service, even when their business was operating on a Kmart budget. Like many new firms, Levenger encountered its share of product defects early on. Although it hurt to cut into profits, "we would send [customers] replacements or pick up their returns for free or do whatever it took [to make them happy]," says Steve. "Even if we lost money on the transaction, we wanted a customer who loved us at the end of the day."

Naturally, it's not just royal treatment that keeps customers calling. Levenger's product mix is unparalleled. Exclusive products are a Levenger hallmark, and many are created in-house by the company's designers.

Originality is clearly what differentiates Levenger from other catalogs. You can find note pads anywhere, but only in Levenger will you uncover the Pocket Briefcase, an ingenious leather case that holds business cards, a pen and 3 x 5 cards for note-taking on the fly. Chairs may be commonplace, but Levenger's exclusive New Dream Chair, with its "butter-soft aniline-dyed leather" and "lower back support engineered to perfection," sounds more like something you'd want to marry than merely a place to sit. Everywhere in the Levenger catalog are products you never imagined before but suddenly can't live without, especially if you love to read and write.

Exclusive products were an obvious choice for Levenger since the company set out to pioneer a new market. The Levenger staff comes up with hundreds of new product ideas every year. Some are developed during brainstorming sessions; others come from what the Leveens call "industrial archaeology"--culling new ideas from old products and modifying them for modern use. "We're constantly trying to find the thing that will delight people," says Lori. "You've got to keep developing and growing, or the business isn't alive."

Their creative process is serious but offbeat, the domain of an extraordinary staff. "Many of them are curator-types; they have a background in museum fields," says Steve. "One requirement for our latest merchant position was that the candidate have an advanced degree in a useless subject." This offbeat job requirement feeds the unique creative atmosphere. "We're a wacky group of people," he laughs, "but we inspire each other."

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This article was originally published in the January 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Read All About It.

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