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(Springfield, OR)--- It was a $16 inkjet cartridge. But when Dan P. White got a call from an unhappy customer whose printer wouldn’t print, he didn’t think twice about sending his vice president of production on a 100-mile drive to the customer’s home to rectify the problem.

After all, this was a remanufactured cartridge. Surely, the customer was thinking if she had just bought an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) cartridge, she wouldn’t be having a problem. But the disgruntled customer also could have
thought about first removing the sealing tape covering the print heads before making her call!

The good-natured story makes a strong point. White, the president and founder of Rapid Refill Ink, is coupling the ideals of business integrity with exacting technical standards to re-shape the oft-maligned remanufactured inkjet and laser toner cartridge industry. At the same time, this former biologist is hoping to impact the 1.8 billion plastic printer cartridges that end up in the world’s landfills each year, according to Recharger Magazine.

“I became interested in this industry because as a biologist it was time for me to do a little something for the world,” White said. “I don’t know how much I can impact the world by recycling cartridges, but at least I’m trying. I also saw this as a very viable business.”

Headquartered in Springfield, Ore., Rapid Refill Ink specializes in remanufacturing and selling inkjet and laser toner cartridges for printers, copiers, fax machines and all-in-one machines at prices 30 to 70 percent below those of OEMs.

White wanted to create a “Disneyland of cartridges” and that’s what customers find when they visit Rapid Refill Ink’s storefront locations or mall kiosks, which typically carry 1,100 different inkjet cartridges and 200 models of laser toner cartridges. Rapid Refill Ink also stocks compatible and OEM cartridges.

“A customer can look around and all they see are cartridges,” White said. “They know where they are at and why they are there.”

Rapid Refill Ink also innovatively uses drop boxes, where customers can drop off empty cartridges and return for a refilled one within 24-48 hours, similar to what they would do when dropping off film to be developed. The drop boxes are located in a variety of retail outlets including drug stores, supermarkets, video stores and dry cleaners. Rapid Refill Ink pays a commission to the outlets on the revenues generated by the boxes.

“The whole concept behind the drop boxes is that it brings Rapid Refill Ink closer to the customer,” said Jared Siegel, the company’s marketing manager. “We’re trying to provide convenience.”

After opening its first store in Eugene, Ore., in November 2002, Rapid Refill Ink began franchising in January 2004 and within two months had gained commitments for 240 locations to be opened within 36 months. Currently there are 50 locations open with 90 more under development. By the end of 2009, Rapid Refill Ink expects to have over 1,000 locations open throughout the United States.

The market is ripe for growth. Sales of remanufactured cartridges are growing at 12 percent a year, compared to 6.5 percent for OEMs, according to The Wall Street Journal. Remanufacturers hold a 13 percent market share that’s expected to increase to 22 percent by 2005, according to Lyra Research.

At the same time, some in the industry still adhere to the rudimentary “drill and fill” method of remanufacturing inkjet cartridges, in which a nail punch is used to bore a hole into a cartridge. A hypodermic needle is used to inject ink into the cartridge before it is re-sealed. On a good day, an individual might be able to remanufacture 30 to 50 cartridges using this method.

Conversely, each Rapid Refill Ink production facility is able to produce 10,000 remanufactured inkjet cartridges each month using state-of-the-art equipment costing between $20,000 and $25,000. The equipment is manufactured by R-JetTek, recognized as one of the inket refilling industry’s pioneers. A single Rapid Refill Ink location also is able to remanufacture 1,000 laser toner cartridges each month.

Rapid Refill Ink’s standards meet or exceed those of OEMs, White said. Five key components are replaced in each laser toner cartridge and every inkjet cartridge undergoes a 30-point process of remanufacturing. The result is a failure rate of less than two percent for inkjet cartridges.

“No one in the remanufacturing business today goes through such a process,” White said.

Under its business model, each region that Rapid Refill Ink enters will include an “A” store that will be between 1,000 to 1,500 square feet and include the production facilities to service between two and five “B” stores and potentially hundreds of drop boxes. Examples of “B” stores are mall kiosks that average between 400 and 700 square feet.

Who are Rapid Refill Ink’s customers? They are everyday consumers and companies from small to large looking for a dependable, cost-saving alternative to OEM products. One of the most popular OEM black inkjet cartridges costing $29.99 at office supply stores, costs only $16.50 remanufactured. Rapid Refill Ink will introduce its own brand of remanufactured cartridges in September.

Business-to-business revenue makes up 35 percent of Rapid Refill Ink’s sales. In Eugene, Rapid Refill Ink makes pick-ups and deliveries to between 150 and 200 businesses each day, utilizing bicycle couriers and fuel-efficient Ford Focus automobiles in keeping with its commitment to the environment. Business customers simply call or fax when supplies are needed, something they’ll soon be able to do online.

As for potential business customers who harp about the purported inadequacies of remanufactured cartridges or point to critical consumer reports, White offers a simple guarantee. If a Rapid Refill Ink remanufactured cartridge causes a printer to fail, it will deliver a new printer on-site within two hours. “We decided to put our money where our mouth is,” White said.

Remanufactured cartridges are readily available from office supply stores or online, a fact White readily admits. But that’s of no concern to him, because he’ll tell you he’s not in the cartridge business. When White founded Rapid Refill Ink, it was based on two simple tenets. He wanted to build an integrity-based company in which people come first.

“Customer service is what we’re all about,” White said. “Cartridges are not our business. It’s a service we provide. To get to my store you have drive past a lot of places where you can get cartridges. We set up our stores with a principal of customer service that sets us apart from anybody and everybody else.”



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