Steamboat Springs It’s fitting that the two-year anniversary of the local Cartridge World comes on America Recycles Day.
Keith Zimmer, who owns the Central Park Plaza store with his wife, Patty, said last week that the store’s efforts to refill local printer and toner cartridges are adding up.
“We’ve calculated that we’ve saved 3 1/2 tons of plastic from going into the landfill,” he said.
The store opened two years ago today next to Village Inn. Keith Zimmer said they work with about 230 businesses across Northwest Colorado — including some in Craig and Kremmling with the majority in Steamboat Springs — with the goal of helping businesses reduce their expenses and create less trash. And, of course, the goal of turning a profit.
“Instead of buying a new cartridge, you bring a cartridge in to us and we refill it,” Keith Zimmer said, adding that they also sell refurbished used cartridges. “Our products are anywhere from 30 to 40 percent less than buying a new cartridge.”
The local Cartridge World sells new cartridges, as well. Keith Zimmer pulled an HP 21 cartridge off the rack Tuesday and said it retails for $15.
“We sell them for $9.99,” he said. “And it’s pretty much across the board that same ratio.”
But Keith Zimmer said he hasn’t had any backlash from other local cartridge-sellers.
“I send people over to Staples all the time — in a way, it’s two very different products,” he said. “Our major focus is not selling new cartridges. It’s re-manufacturing old ones.”
That re-manufacturing occurs in the store’s back area, which occupies the majority of the Zimmers’ space behind a relatively small public retail section. The back of the store includes an office desk, shelves atop shelves filled with rainbows of ink bottles, and a room entered through heavy dust curtains that contains what Keith Zimmer calls “the black hole” — a filtration system used to clean out toner dust and refurbish cartridges.
The manufacturing area bears all the signs of constant, organized production, indicating that two years into the business, the Zimmers have found their niche.
The Zimmers moved to Steamboat about 10 years ago, while still owning clothing and gift shops in Red Lodge, Mont. The ownership required frequent trips north, Keith Zimmer said.
“We were going back and forth until I opened this store,” he said. “We were a customer at one of these in Montana, and we realized what a great business model it was.”
Hoping to grow
It’s a model they’re trying to expand in the region. Keith Zimmer said he and Patty estimate that they refill only 15 to 20 percent of the cartridges at businesses in Steamboat Springs.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said.
Their customers include Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., this newspaper and many more. The Zimmers also run a Cartridge World recycling program at schools and nonprofit groups including Hayden High School, South Routt schools, Partners in Routt County and the Boys & Girls Club of Craig.
At Steamboat Springs Middle School, student mentor Katie Neiert is continuing a program that collects cartridges from parents and returns them to Cartridge World, where the Zimmers pay for each cartridge they receive.
“The money goes to help fund our Culture Club,” Neiert said. “It’s the easiest fundraiser in the world.”
The Culture Club is an after-school program that introduces students to different cultures from around the world. Last week, for example, Neiert’s office contained a pile of Australian didgeridoos made from heavy plastic pipes. The school’s Green Team includes about 40 students and also benefits from the cartridge recycling program, Neiert said.
Keith Zimmer said the recession has had a mix of impacts on his business. Some customers are doing less business and thus needing fewer cartridge refills, he said, but others are drawn to Cartridge World to save money in tough times.
Keith Zimmer said he’s not planning any huge changes to the business model down the road — his main goal is to add more volume, he said.
“It’s grown, but not as fast as I thought it would,” he said about the business. “But I’m pleased with it — it’s been two years, and we’re still here.”