Read All About It

No Small Thing

The creative department clearly isn't the only one to have evolved over Levenger's nine-year history. Fulfillment, customer service, human resources and operations--Lori's bailiwick--also run like a large, well-oiled machine. In fact, with 230 employees year-round and another 100 to 150 seasonally, Levenger is a large, well-oiled machine.

The company has a whole new shape. After moving from the Leveen's Boston apartment to Delray Beach, Florida, in 1989, where commercial real estate was more affordable, Levenger topped the $1 million mark in 1990 and continued to post annual growth of 100 percent or more for the next three years. In 1994, the company moved to its current 130,000-square-foot location, which houses executive offices, telemarketing, a warehouse and two retail stores (one of which is an outlet).

Unstoppable growth has been a blessing, but also a challenge. In fact, jokes Lori, "There are many categories of challenges." Maintaining the company's high standards for innovation and quality is one. Another is "attracting and retaining the best people possible. There are so many advantages to being located in Florida, but we aren't in a real hub like New York or San Francisco. We're really lucky to have a great group of people we can trust to do a good job."

Becoming a real corporation does not happen overnight, and it does not happen automatically. Over the years, the Leveens have worked with various consultants to tweak management systems, boost creativity and cultivate leadership skills.

They've also had the good fortune to find mentors. In 1990, award-winning mail order entrepreneur Ric Leichtung, retired CEO of Leichtung Workshops, dropped in at Levenger's headquarters and began asking some questions about the business. When he offered to critique the company's catalog, Steve jumped at the chance.

"Two days later, I got his response in the mail," Steve recalls. "It was a single-spaced, typewritten thing where he ripped the catalog to shreds. But everything he said was right on the money. I called him back and said it was the best thing I'd ever read, and that started a friendship that was extremely helpful to us."

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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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