Richard Hendler, owner of Saxony Ice Co. in Mamaroneck, N.Y., had always been impressed when such humdrum products as water, bananas, and chicken suddenly became big sellers after they were promoted under brand names like Perrier, Chiquita, and Perdue.

Why, he wondered, couldn't the same marketing strategy work for his own product? All he had to do was come up with a brand name that the public would automatically associate with clear refreshing bags of ice.

Saxony Ice needed just such a boost. The company was founded in 1963 and, by 1975, sales were only $485,000. Hendler's customer base hadn't expanded much beyond the small set of stores that had been with him since the beginning.

Hendler realized early that a company the size of his couldn't afford to singlehandedly launch a widespread and effective marketing campaign. But there was nothing to stop him from joining forces with one or more ice companies to form a trade association, which would promote the member companies' product under a single brand name.

In 1975 Hendler and Harold Reynolds of A. T. Reynolds & Sons in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., formed a two-man trade association under the name "Leisure Time Ice."

The name Leisure Time was chosen to convey the convenience of packaged ice over homemade ice. The logo -- a snow-capped mountain backed by blue sky and surrounded by green forests -- suggested a clean and refreshing product different from traditional ice packaging, which featured scenes from the North Pole -- igloos, Eskimos, and polar bears. Hendler and Reynolds had the logo printed on their bags, 10 trucks, and company stationery. Total cost was approximately $5,000.

At first, other ice manufacturers were skeptical of Hendler's idea to give ice new status. "When it's hot, people buy ice," said the owners. "In the meantime, let's continue to advertise in the Yellow Pages."

But several months after the trade association was formed, another manufacturer, Richard Feingold of Bacu Ice Co., in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., began to think better of the idea and said he and some of his friends wanted to join the association.

During the next three years, Hendler, now president of Leisure Time Ice, made presentations at regional and national trade association meetings, gathering new members from Maine to Colorado. "The more people we have, the more exposure we get, and the bigger we appear," Hendler explained to each group.

Under the association's licensing agreement, a member company used the name and logo of Leisure Time Ice and contributed advertising dollars. In all other respects, however, a member company continued to operate as a separate entity, with its own buyers, suppliers, and pricing strategy. To join the association, each company paid a membership fee based on the number of bags of ice it sold annually.

By 1978, the Leisure Time Ice association boasted 15 members and 60 trucks. Annually, it was selling about 13 million bags of ice with the new name and logo, along with the packager's name printed discreetly at the bottom of each bag. The next step was to hire a public relations firm to tell consumers about the advantages of packaged ice. The firm chosen -- Creamer, Dickson, Basford Inc. of New York City -- sent out fact sheets and news releases touting the association's message: Packaged ice is taste- and odorfree and is clearer and longer lasting than homemade ice.

The hearts of business writers and food editors from Boston to Los Angeles melted. Serious, lengthy articles were written on ice etiquette, including how many cubes to use with different drinks and how much ice to plan on per person. Hendler himself was interviewed by at least 25 editors and appeared on 15 radio and TV talk shows, holding a glass of clear, pure Leisure Time Ice cubes in one hand and a glass of cloudy, homemade cubes in the other. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, UPI, and Associated Press have all featured items on Leisure Time Ice.

Meanwhile, association members' sales increased by at least 10% a year. Hendler's own company went from $458,000 in sales in 1975 to $1,700,000 in 1981. His new business increased by 40%, and his business with existing customers expanded by 60%. "We were the only ice manufacturers doing any advertising, and this gave us a considerable stature with buyers," Hendler says.

The association spent $50,000 for public relations in 1978, $75,000 in 1979, and $95,000 in 1980. In 1981, ads were placed in regional editions of such magazines as Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and Time. One ad -- a joint effort by seven members of the association -- cost $24,000 to place. "It's very impressive to walk into the office of a buyer and say, 'Did you see our ad in Newsweek?" remarks Hendler.

This summer the 27-member association will spend $100,000 to produce and air 30-second TV spots in areas where it has membership -- the Northeast, much of the Midwest, and some of the West and Southwest. The commercial's voice-over explains why Leisure Time Ice cubes are nicer than homemade cubes. Visuals show two beverage glasses -- one with cloudy cubes and one with clear cubes.

Like Perrier water, Chiquita bananas, and Perdue chickens, Leisure Time Ice may or may not have something special to offer that sets it apart from competitors. But by banding together and using their imagination, a handful of small ice manufacturers with average sales of no more than $500,000 a year have given their product something that the individual ice companies never had -- national exposure and a touch of class.