Americans generated nearly 246 million tons of waste in 2005, most of which ended up in landfills. Each year, over 350 million inkjet cartridges end up in landfills, and that number is growing. With many consumers searching for “green” solutions, the inkjet printer and its disposable ink cartridges are one area of their lives where they can make a difference. A number of inkjet cartridge refill options have sprung up recently. So much so, that retailers like OfficeMax and Walgreens have added inkjet refill systems to their locations. Standalone franchises have also popped up in the last few years, whereby consumers can buy and recycle their ink and toner cartridges.
“The explosion of franchised refill stores over the past two years demonstrates the frustration of businesses and consumers with the high cost of OEM inkjet and toner cartridges, and they are looking for inexpensive alternatives,” comments Tom Baratz, an industry consultant in Lyra Research’s Custom Research and Consulting Group. “But large chain stores that enter the refilling market have the infrastructure and marketing engine already in place to become major players quickly. Consumers also enjoy the convenience of refilling cartridges while shopping for other items, rather than making a separate trip to a franchised refill shop.”
Lyra projects that by 2009, 62% of chain stores will be offering refilling, as opposed to 7% in 2005; 9% of independent retailers will offer the services as opposed to 31% in 2005; and 29% of dedicated retail refilling franchises will be servicing consumers, as opposed to 62% in 2005.
Two inkjet refill systems on display at PMA earlier this year were designed for placement at photo specialty or minilab locations. They are the Accufill Inkjet Refill System from Academy Corporation, and the Ink World system, distributed by AAA Imaging Solutions.
According to Academy Corp., the Accufill system is specifically designed for operators of photo minilabs. According to David Nycz, vice president and general manager of Academy’s silver recovery and ink-refill businesses, inkjet refill systems are “an elegant competitive response to the printer/ink manufacturers who have siphoned off minilab operator revenues. It provides retailers an opportunity to better serve customers and drive more traffic to other store departments.” Nycz explains that retailers can also increase their sales of OEM and compatible ink cartridges for those circumstances when a customer’s cartridge cannot be refilled due to damage or age. “Retailers can help their customers and themselves to Recycle, Refill and ‘$Reward$,’” he says.
AAA Imaging Systems’ Bob Noterman explains that inkjet refilling is a natural fit for photo. “This system is perfect for the one-hour photo lab or retail photo operations,” he says. “Their existing customers are turning to digital output devices, which are usually inkjet printers. This just augments the service offered in these types of businesses.”
Adding Revenue Via Refill Services
Tom McMahon, owner of TJ’s Photo Center, located in Albuquerque, NM, says he “knew that I had to do something. There’s so much business that’s going away.” So to offset losses, he installed the Accufill Inkjet Refill System. McMahon explains that since Academy has been his silver recovery vendor for the past 12 years, he was familiar with the company, and knew he’d receive the support he would need for this new venture. “If I’m getting into a new business, I felt I had a company to trust in Academy,” he says.
McMahon says the Accufill system is contributing a significant percentage of dollar volume now. He notes that once he got the word out to his customer base that TJ’s Photo Center was offering the inkjet cartridge refill services, business picked up. “Now that national chains are doing it, they can’t do it as good as I can—being an independent—but they’ll do a lot of marketing, so consumers will know that such a service is available, and that will help me out,” McMahon explains.
According to McMahon, the more printing people do at home, the more of a market there is for inkjet cartridge refills. “I think the market will continue to grow by leaps and bounds,” he says.
Consumers are responding positively to the concept of inkjet cartridge refills. “I think people understand ‘new’ versus ‘refill,’ and they ask questions,” explains McMahon. Even though the ink isn’t the same ink used by the OEMs, it’s just as good for most purposes. And McMahon notes that his customers probably get more prints from the refilled cartridges than they did from the new ones.
Installing the Accufill system has brought in additional revenue. “I’m getting repeat business from customers that have refilled cartridges more than once already,” he says. “I think it’s a great item, and fits well with my business.”
Marinette, Wisconsin-based Marinette Camera Fair installed an Ink World system earlier this year, on Good Friday. According to store manager Chris Wingender, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join em.” Wingender explains that more consumers than ever are printing at home, and if they can’t be convinced that the store’s silver-halide output is better, at least he can get them through the door by refilling their inkjet cartridges.
Wingender says the system uses a touchscreen display that walks staff through each step in the process. He adds, “Ink World is great to work with.” But, it’s not necessarily photo printing that his customers are doing, either. Many are using their inkjet printers for printing documents.
The inkjet refill service has brought new customers into Marinette Camera Fair. Wingender says the increase in foot traffic has expanded into the processing and camera sales. And the store offers its customers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.