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A century of printing

Leech Group celebrates almost 100 years of success

June 14, 2024  By Nithya Caleb


Gillian, Michael, and Meredyth Leech. Photos © Leech Group

Late last year, Leech Group, a family-owned mid-size commercial print and digital communications provider donated $100,000 to the Assiniboine Community College’s Centre for Creative Media, Man., to commemorate their upcoming 100th year in business.

Founded in 1927 by Cecil Leech as Leech Letter Co., the company transitioned into its fourth generation of family ownership in 2021. While Michael Leech is the company’s president, his daughters Gillian Leech and Meredyth Leech mainly manage daily operations.

Gillian is the company’s general manager and Meredyth is the sales and marketing director.

Leech offers offset, digital, and large-format printing, in-house binding and finishing as well as digital communication services such as email marketing and search engine optimization through a dedicated web department in their 16,000-sf facility in Brandon, Man. Leech does a lot of publication work as well as promotional products.

“We also have a full-service graphic design department. We do a lot of mail services. We’re proud to be a one-stop solution for our customers in the area,” added Meredyth.

Over the years

The company started out with a single letterpress machine in the late 1920s. It evolved from Leech Letter Co. to Brandon Publishing, Leech Printing and Office Supply, Leech Printing Ltd. and now to its most recent rebranding in 2021 as Leech Group.

“Each name really represents an evolution of the company and a necessity to rebrand and reintroduce us to the community with the new and innovative services that we have. Printing on paper is still the core of our business, but we’ve evolved to offer many other supplementary services. The most recent ones being large-format printing and graphic installation, digital and online advertising, promotional products, and mail services,” explained Gillian.

To ensure the company was meeting the needs of their client, its owners made technological investments a priority.

In the 1950s, they bought one of the first offset presses in western Manitoba. That was also the time when company ownership transitioned from Cecil to his children, Don Leech and Bud Leech.

In the 80s, Leech Group was one of the early adopters of Postscript technology, which changed the way work was being produced back then. This coincides with the third generation of family ownership in the hands of Michael Leech and David Leech, Don’s sons. In 2008, they bought a 10-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster 74, which is sort of their workhorse. The company also owns two Xerox Iridesses and two HP large-format printers. In 2023, they completed an extensive office renovation.

The sisters are now planning the next phase, which could potentially be the expansion of their production floor.

Leech Group offers offset, digital, and large-format printing, in-house binding and finishing as well as digital communication services.

Fourth generation

It was never assumed that Gillian and Meredyth would join the family business. Gillian was a volleyball player in her university days. She did a few summer jobs at Leech Group, which translated into a formal position in the sales department.

“I soon realized that taking over ownership and really diving into the business would marry my passion for art, creativity and technology with my passion for leadership and teamwork,” shared Gillian.

An esthetically driven person, Meredyth studied interior design in college. She credits her dad for recognizing that her creativity and consultative approach would be an asset to Leech Group.

“I enjoy listening to my clients and their stories, and being able to translate those ideas and needs into print specifically. As director of sales and marketing, I’m always keeping an eye out for emerging trends and all the innovative ideas that we can apply here. I guess now with nearly a decade of experience in the print industry, I’ve learned the significance of print and its role within multi-channel marketing strategies. I take pride in providing my clients with versatile solutions,” said Meredyth.

Both the sisters have also become adept at separating work from home.

“My dad always refers to the two suitcases, one for home and one for work. So we like to separate the two. I think Gill and I have just sort of naturally kept on with that mindset. We’re very mindful of keeping them separate and just being respectful of each other’s boundaries,” expressed Meredyth.

“It also helps that we are both taking on responsibilities in different areas… we feel like experts in our own lanes and we’re not stepping into each other’s projects too much,” added Gillian.

The pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest challenge thus far for Gillian and Meredyth.

“I hope it’s our biggest challenge for the foreseeable future too. The loss of print work combined with paper supply chain issues made for a difficult couple of years. It required a lot of creative solutions and on-the-fly thinking and constant communication with our paper vendors and customers,” recalled Gillian.

On the bright side, they also viewed the crisis as an opportunity. Leech developed and launched online ordering portals for clients during the pandemic, which has now automated around 20 per cent of the company’s onboarding and pre-flighting processes.

Talent management

Another issue has been staffing. Leech Group has around 40 employees. Many of the veteran staff are retiring. They’re looking into creative recruitment strategies to attract a new generation of workers, detailed training plans including investing in third-party training from suppliers and vendors as well as investing in automation to get through this transition period.

Apart from bringing in new talent, Gillian and Meredyth are keen on investing in new equipment, as they’re pretty much at capacity. They’re also looking into upgrading or changing their MIS.

They’re passionate about offering creative and innovative solutions.

“We don’t want to be seen like a traditional printer, although we’re proud of it. We want to be seen as a consultative advisor and problem solver. We encourage all our staff, especially within our sales department, to go above and beyond to achieve this,” said Meredyth.

Gillian was emphatic about supporting the Brandon community.

“Brandon is a pretty small town, all things considered. We’ve been born and raised in Brandon, so we have a lot of roots here. The community has supported this company for almost 100 years. We recognize we wouldn’t be here today without that support. Our Grandpa Don said that you are only as good as the community in which you live and work in. We really agree with that wholeheartedly. Therefore we give back to our community as much as we possibly can,” she said.

Leech Group marches ahead to its 100th anniversary with two female owners who cherish the lessons passed down from one generation to another. They understand success requires agility.

“In the print industry, there’s always going to be something new, innovative, disruptive, or threatening on the horizon. Identifying and understanding these things early and tackling them head on is how Leech Group has made it this far, and this is how we will continue to operate in the future,” concluded Gillian.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of PrintAction.

 


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