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'Black gold' for BEO Co.: toner cartridge remanufacturer serves Southeast.

In a community whose fortunes are rooted in tourism and government, Shelly Smith has nurtured a manufacturing enterprise rooted in dependability, customer service and an environmentally conscious work ethic. With Smith as sole proprietor, Juneau-based BEP Co. remanufactures print toner cartridges for customers locally and throughout Southeast Alaska. In addition to saving money on toner cartridges, local customers get the added benefit of time-saving pickup and delivery service.

BEP customers range from government agencies and corporations to individuals and their home-based offices. Customers typically save 30 percent or more on cartridges, which can be the largest line item in an office supplies budget.

As Smith expands her business, customers across Southeast are increasingly responsive to this locally offered service. "Toner cartridge remanufactufing is the norm in the Lower 48," Smith said. "Interest continues to increase here in Alaska. Customers outside Juneau simply drop their cartridge(s) in the mail, though some have used air cargo or even hand-carry their depleted cartridges on the ferry when they come to town."


Building BEP's customer base has required determination. "The industry refers to toner as 'black gold' because of the high profit margins. The original equipment manufacturers vigorously defend this profit center, using statements like 'This is not a genuine (brand name) product. Are you sure you want to install it?' which deters many users from purchasing remanufactured cartridges."

Smith identified another challenge. "The cheap 'drill and fill' method has given remanufactured cartridges a black eye. They are not true remanufacturers and offer a cheap and inferior product. It can be a challenge to overcome this reputation." BEP Co. remanufactures cartridges in accordance with specific guidelines in factory-produced manuals.


Some customers express the concern that using remanufactured cartridges will void printer warranties. However customers can be assured that their printer warranties are protected by law. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act prohibits printer warranties from being voided by using remanufactured toner cartridges.


Smith has a long history of creating success as an entrepreneur. While in college she and a fellow student started a business selling advertising on restaurant placemats. In Connecticut, after leaving college, she designed a state-of-the-art facility in which she established a Kindergarten, childcare and early learning center. After settling in Juneau and starting a family, Smith and her daughter opened an organic health food restaurant serving homemade soups, freshly tossed salads and signature wraps.

"My highest compliment was when a customer painted a watercolor landscape and captioned it 'for the best salad I've ever had in Juneau.' It was fun and something I always wanted to do."

She also founded a small natural foods purchasing co-op so she and friends could have access to organic whole foods and benefit from locally harvested foods whenever possible. Smith took over BEP in 2009 when its former owner and founder retired.


Tom Buzzell provides the skilled hands and experience needed for the actual remanufacturing process, and keeps BEP Co. current with technological advances. Along with replenishing the cartridges with dedicated toners, BEP replaces computer chips, worn gears, wiper blades, and thoroughly cleans each cartridge.

"It can take between 30 and 90 minutes of skilled labor to remanufacture a single cartridge," Smith said. "We do all our work to factory specifications because we take pride in our service."

Longtime customer Ken Nestler has been bringing the same toner cartridge to BEP Co. since 1988, although he presently recycles a cartridge for a newer printer. "I never would have believed you could re-use a cartridge for 23 years," he said.

BEP Co. has earned certification from Green America as an environmentally sustainable supplier to businesses and organizations. The Green America Seal of Approval was given for BEP Co.'s use of local labor, a locally made product, level of re-use and recycling, and importance of sustainability to overall business goals.

Toner cartridges are a significant contributor to e-waste that's clogging landfills. The cartridge core, made of industrial plastic, will last for years. Each year in North America alone, more than 350 million toner cartridges are sent to landfills after just one use. In one year, if all the world's toner cartridges were laid end to end, it would circle the earth more than three times.


"Our business practices have reflected two core values: integrity and innovation," Smith said. "These values have guided us through massive changes in technology, many waves of competition, and various changes in procurement regulations. All that time, we have kept our focus on local customers."

BEP is building an informal network of customers and colleagues to support Southeast Alaska. Part of this effort is a new program where BEP customers will be able to go on the company's website and vote for which charities receive a portion of BEP's profits. "The economic well being of a community is about keeping money and resources local," Smith said.

BEP has also joined Juneau's Green Gazelle Network, where a group of entrepreneurs have joined to share best sustainable business practices in rural Alaska. University of Alaska Southeast professor Rick Wolk runs the network as part of the Green Gazelle Research Project. "BEP is a perfect participant because their customers save money, they support a local entrepreneur, and reducing waste is a first step for any office sustainability plan."

BEP Co. recently qualified at the highest level of the Alaska Product Preference Program, which affords a 7 percent preference when bidding on State of Alaska contracts. Less than 1 percent of State agencies currently use remanufactured cartridges. Smith is hopeful that this recent classification and presence on the State of Alaska vendor list will make it easier for government agencies to purchase toner cartridges remanufactured locally.

"Shelly exemplifies the modern-day entrepreneur," said Eric Downey, client relations manager at the Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership. "She expresses her creativity and sense of community through her business relationships. She solves problems using local solutions and creates value for those around her. Entrepreneurs like Shelly create family wage jobs and maintain our unique Alaska character."
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Comment:'Black gold' for BEO Co.: toner cartridge remanufacturer serves Southeast.(SMALL BUSINESS SPECIAL SECTION)
Author:Schmitz, Richard
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:May 1, 2011
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