Anyone who has been to a few recent promotional products trade shows has probably come across Parker, Colorado-based Leashables. Even distributors that have no interest in selling personal care or hygiene products find the Leashables booth mesmerizing. Perhaps it is the televisions playing a reel of skiing stunts or commercials made to look like 50s-era filmstrips, albeit more edgy, that attract show-goers. Though, the appeal could equally be the obvious excitement of the Leashables staff, most notably the company’s founding brothers, Jeff and Brady Anderton. Any reports of the promotional marketing business getting younger should cite the Andertons. But their youth does not cause a rift with industry veterans. In a five minute walk to the conference room for the interview, Jeff Anderton was greeted by and stopped to talk with no less than six smiling people.
In The Beginning
“My brother was in school. He was studying to be a civil engineer. We owned a concrete company in the summer and taught skiing in the winter, and life was good.
“We always wanted to make stuff. I had this little shop off the side of my garage and every night we’d go in there ... and design.
“During the ski season ... we were up [in the mountains] all the time, and lip balm, you’d always need it with you. ... We ripped a glove hook off and sewed up this little thing and clipped it to the ski pole, just so it would be out there all the time. It’s funny we didn’t make that to be a product.”
The Andertons taught skiing and their students started requesting the neoprene lip balm holders. Each night, the brothers and their friends and families would hand sew batches of the products.
“We started making more, and 10 turned to 20 a day, and pretty soon we [decided to] make a little display and put it in the pro shop of the resort. We were selling them empty at first because we didn’t make lip balm.”
The early business “just kept growing. We went from one ski resort to the next. I don’t remember the time frame, but it seemed like we just [realized] ‘hey, this is working.’ Everywhere we put them, they’d sell out and call us and want to buy more. So we’d make big batches of them, fill our trucks and drive to a destination like Jackson Hole, [Wyo.] and we wouldn’t leave until every single display was placed.”
The brothers were still concentrating on outdoor retail stores when they brought one display into a pharmacy. The business sold all the items and called back two days later (before the brothers had even returned home) requesting multiple displays. This prompted the fledgling company to research retail lip balm sellers and change their focus to the more common pharmacies and household items stores. This path would eventually lead to Albertsons and Wal-Mart.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into. We [thought] ‘We’re rich! It’s done!’”
Of course this was just the beginning.
“We had to sell our houses, everything, our concrete company, our trucks, to meet [Wal-Mart’s] first order, just to buy the raw materials.
“Once Wal-Mart has you, then everybody wants you. So Walgreens came in next. That’s when we bought this 34 foot motor home and we painted it up with our logos ... We lived in it for two years, traveling the country with all of our buddies because we sold everything we had.”
The Leashables team traveled from town to town, attending trade shows and conventions. They promoted their products everywhere they went.
“Our goal was just to get out and sample product. ... It was real grass roots marketing.”
“People would see our products in the Wal-Mart stores or Walgreens or somewhere and distributors would call us.”
The distributors wanted to know if the product could be imprinted with custom logos. This brought Leashables to its first promotional products trade shows.
“Oralabs was a competitor in the retail world. They’ve got a lot of their own brands. We saw them at trade shows and Gary Schlatter, the owner of Oralabs, was a competitor but he was more of a mentor to us.
“We really respected him from day one. He was really smart and genuine and you really felt like he had your best interest in mind.
“We had a lot of synergy and we respected Gary already. Because [Leashables] was our baby, we had put our lives into this for years and so it was really tough and scary to even think about merging with someone.”
The merger left Leashables as the promotional marketing arm of Oralabs, and left Jeff and Brady Anderton, to work in the way they felt would be most successful.
“We [decided] ‘let’s not change anything. Let’s just stay who we are.’ ... We just got out there and talked to people, were nice to people, and it’s amazing what that will do.
“We were known ... as the crazy, fun guys, but now, with Oralabs, we were those guys plus we could back it up. It was the best of both worlds, and we had resources that we never dreamed of for advertising and marketing.”
“We always have ideas, all the time. We can’t shut our brains off. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But, we’re really into media and marketing. ... We started with video. It got us into Wal-Mart and all these places and so we carried that along and always used it in our marketing. ... So we have all this content and we’re always trying to figure out ‘how do we use this?’”
With their new resources, the Andertons have been experimenting with streaming video and new ways of multi-media marketing integration.
“We’ve been doing this for 10 years and now it’s become popular, which is really cool because I think we’ve got a little bit of a jump [on video marketing].
“We’re developing tools with those media in mind to fit the promotional industry. ... In the next few months, you’re going to see the launch of some of these new ideas into Leashables.”
Living the Dream
“People say, ‘You’ve created a lifestyle around [Leashables]’ because when people come into the booth they know it’s not just a lip balm that we’re trying to hawk. We really get in and believe in our product and love what we do. I think people are drawn to that and we’re drawn to people.”
*Editor’s note: Consecutive quotes in this article were not necessarily consecutive in the original interview. To maintain brevity and conciseness, some sentences have been omitted.