In the world of toner cartridges, where new-builds and overseas competition continue to assert domination, one Illinois manufacturer has surfed against this tide for 23 years, providing imaging supplies that are 100 percent American made. And in a consumables landscape dominated by men, this same manufacturer is 100 percent woman owned and operated, with certifications from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Some may argue those points alone should motivate dealers to do business with Liberty Laser Solutions of Marseilles, IL. But company President Mindy Smith feels those aspects only touch the torch of the Lady Liberty statue, so to speak. While it is true that Liberty Laser Solutions proudly wears the American-made label, Smith notes her team of 77 employees boast a high level of tenure. The team’s product manager has logged 14 years with the company, while the CFO and sales manager each have nine years under their belts. Smith believes her crew has adapted and evolved in a market that has witnessed its share of changes over the years.
First and foremost, Liberty Laser Solutions is client-centric. “We’re truly a customer-based organization,” Smith remarked. “We listen to their needs and have strong relationships with our vendors and partners. We spend a lot of time travelling and meeting with our dealers, helping them to grow their businesses. We’ll even go on sales calls with them and help close deals. That’s something our competitors don’t do.”
In addition, Liberty Laser Solutions is not just woman owned—it’s a family-run business. Smith founded the company in 1996 with her husband, Troy, and both of their children, Jake and Madi, work in the sales department.
Still, there’s no denying the cachet afforded businesses that offer a 100 percent American-made product. “We’re a U.S.A. manufacturer, not just a distributor,” Smith noted. “We built our product in the U.S. starting in 1996 and we’ve stuck to that practice. We’ve stayed that course while many of our competitors moved their production overseas. We saw the value in it.”
Made in U.S.A.
The American-made label is not a case of surrendering to jingoistic marketing tactics. Smith notes that “U.S. product” is one of the most Googled searches because it remains—perhaps more now than ever in recent history—an important element to American businesses and consumers.
Liberty Laser Solutions partners with U.S.-based companies as well, including a long-life consumables company and an inkjet specialist. Smith points out that everything in the company’s product catalog is made in the U.S., and out of litigation concerns, Liberty only provides remanufactured cartridges, with no new-builds.
The company provides premium compatible toner cartridges for a wide array of printers, including HP, Dell, Canon, Xerox, Brother, Lexmark, Toshiba, Samsung and IBM. So how is Liberty Laser Solutions able to remain competitive against cheaper, imported products?
Smith credits producing a high-quality, consistent product that boasts a defect rate of less than 1 percent. The company invests heavily in research and development, and offers a competitive buyback program. Core recycling aids in the consistency of the remanufactured product, as it provides a better base from which to start. Liberty also obtains its cores at a rate that is more economical than if it sourced them from a broker.
“The biggest thing for us is the consistency,” she said. “I’ve been able to convert so many customers who have bought cheaper product from China in the past. They were fine with the Chinese product at first, but then they started to have issues with it. You’re not going to see those problems with Liberty, because we build it all. And we work really hard to make sure we’re as efficient as possible in our processes and core building. It all adds up to staying healthy and competitive in the market.”
In addition to product inconsistency, Smith notes many dealers have experienced product disruption with the imports, backorders and other issues dealing with fulfillment. The U.S. label is nice, but it’s the product consistency that keeps the customers coming back.
Also, Smith points out that the Chinese product is not recyclable, which goes against her grain. “Being environmentally responsible has always been important to me,” she said. “Our core collection not only keeps us on the cutting edge of new product development and controlling costs, it also is a great revenue stream for dealers. That’s important, especially when there’s such a decline in gross profits on OEM products.”
Value of Culture
Smith is quick to point out that one of the underlying strengths behind Liberty Laser Solutions is the corporate culture that’s been established. The longevity is a product of employees feeling as if they’re part of a team and play an integral role in the company’s development and growth. The longevity has bred a competitive wage-and-benefits program, and the company constantly invests in training and continuing education for its crew.
Simply put, when Liberty Laser Solutions acquires good people, keeping them for the long haul becomes priority one. “A lot of our employees started out at the ground level and have become important players in our organization,” Smith related. “I think that being appreciated and knowing that you’re part of a growing, thriving company is important to them.
“I’m proud of the fact that we have such a great team. It’s wonderful to have people that you’ve worked with for a long time and watch them grow professionally. I love having our children there. They work hard and are learning the business. They’ll be part of the future success at Liberty. There’s a pride in owning a family business and watching it grow.”
One area where Liberty Laser Solutions has grown its staff is in marketing. The company is using social media and an enhanced website to help spread the word, and Smith has also concentrated on becoming part of buying groups and doing trade/manufacturer shows to meet potential clients and partners in person. But one of the most-effective marketing tools for Liberty is word of mouth, including a customer-referral program. That has proven critical in getting the company’s name in front of the market.
As the market continues to evolve, Smith feels it is important for Liberty to keep close tabs on the needs of its clients, and to grow with them by expanding its MPS program. To do so, it offers more U.S.-made consumables and commits R&D investments to stay abreast of technology innovations. The website enhancements have been geared toward making it easier to do business with Liberty.
“One of the biggest things for us is continuing to stay true to our values and working hard in this category,” she said. “We’ve expanded our production and packaging units in the last month and we’ve added more employees. We’re looking to add more distribution across the country. We have a good two-day delivery program, so we’d like to add next-day service for more of the continental U.S.
“Being a good partner means growing along with them. We’ll keep reinvesting in future growth and remaining financially stable. A lot of our competitors weren’t able to adapt and change with the industry. Now they’re no longer here. We’re in it for the long haul.”