1990’s Employees in front of the Lee DataMail building. All this started from our kitchen table.
LEE DataMail was formed as a woman owned minority business in May of 1974. LEE started on the kitchen table with one employee, Angie Garrison, until three weeks later we secured a 10,000 sq. ft. facility in the Trinity Industrial business district. The three original partners were Liz Leonard, Ruthie Ewers and Norbert Ewers. This was the origin of the LEE name. There were two divisions in the beginning (1) Door to Door Circular Distribution (Hand Delivery) and (2) Direct Mail services. The company philosophy driven by Ruthie’s passion was to put the customer first in all decisions. We provided a high level of customer service in meeting our customers’ needs through on-time mail delivery and future product expansion.
In 1980, LEE came to a crossroads of where it needed to drive the business. ADVO (now known as Valasis) developed a new marriage mail product (now known as Red Plum) that allowed multi customers to be inserted into one outside wrapper at the price of one mail piece postage rate. Overnight, Hand Delivery grocery store customers abandoned hand delivery to become the core customers of the Marriage Mail product. LEE needed to refocus its attention exclusively into the Direct Mail industry. LEE was performing mailing services only and it needed to diversify its product offerings to expand its share of the customers direct mail spend.
In 1984, the two sons, Joe and Ronnie, joined the company to help expand its product offerings. In 1984, LEE bought its first computer to compile and maintain customer databases. LEE maintained a resident address file of every address in Texas and Louisiana. The Data Processing division was run by Joe Ewers. In 1985, we began to sell mailing lists to outside buyers and procured mailing lists for our customers. This was driven by Ronnie Ewers and saw significant growth through the next 10 years. In 1987, Liz Leonard left LEE DataMail (approximately $5 million in revenue), which allowed the Ewers family to put the business on a fast revenue growth track through the next 10 years. Joe Ewers was appointed president of the organization, which allowed Ruthie and Ronnie to focus exclusively on Sales and Marketing. Norbert was responsible for operations, employee relations and banking. Ruthie’s philosophy to give back to the industry was instrumental to driving the national LEE brand. Ruthie was the charter member of the Dallas Postal Customer Council (PCC). Then Marvin Runyon (USPS PMG) appointed Ruthie as the first national PCC Chairperson which positioned LEE as a national mail services provider. Ruthie and Joe both served on the national board of MASA (Mail Advertising Services Association known today as Epicomm).
LEE’s customer focused philosophy drove rapid expansion growth. Company strategy decisions were normally made by the Ewers family at lunch which provided each family member the opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions. In 1989, we started up LEE Fulfillment providing order processing services by shipping both literature and product packages. Tom Souther, Ruthie’s Brother, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Air Force was appointed a President of this operation and instrumental to its success and strategy. In 1993, LEE acquired Fort Worth Presort in order to get into the First Class Commingling business. We changed the name to LEE Presort. The two presort partners – Rick Mixon and Janis Rader stayed with the organization and drove the strategy of this company. They started to brand our company as LEE Marketing Services with three different operating business units supporting the mail industry (LEE DataMail, LEE Fulfillment & LEE Presort).
In 1997, the Omaha World Herald (OWH) purchased LEE Marketing Services, and affiliated LEE companies, from the Ewers family. OWH made an offer that the Ewers family couldn’t turn down. Ruthie and Norbert were ready to retire and Joe and Ron stayed on to run the business for the next 9 years. At the time of sale, LEE operated out of 215,000 sg ft. facility employing 300 people with revenues in excess of $25 million. LEE was fortunate to provide direct marketing services for companies like Kroeger, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Dallas Cowboys, Dell Computer, Universal Studios, Universal Music, General Motors, EDS, Neiman Marcus, Tuesday Morning, Dillard’s, Macy’s and many more.