LONGMONT — In 1995, Maggie Benton received a package stuffed with a cream-colored linen woman’s business suit absolutely ruined by ink stains.
The office supply company she then managed in Louisville had dabbled in do-it-yourself style ink cartridge refill kits — something that backfired, as evidenced by the angry customer who spilled on herself and ruined her suit.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea, but I knew refill kits were not going to be the answer,” said Benton, who launched HardCopy Recycling in her kitchen sink with partner Barbara Douglass that year. “The (brochure) pictures looked all easy, like it’s so neat and clean. It’s messy.”
That’s when the two decided to start a business doing the environmentally friendly dirty work of recycling.
This April, they will celebrate nine years of 15 percent and 20 percent annual growth, which explains why they have — as of today — officially changed the name to HardCopy Solutions.
The cartridge and toner refill business comprises nearly 65 percent of sales, Douglass said. But the company has expanded to repair and sales of refurbished printers, copiers and fax machines and now stocks the entire front half of the 454 Main St. shop with “eco gifts” made from recycled materials.
Ultimately, the shop outgrew the original name and needed something more catch-all, she said.
“We had a certain idea of what we wanted to do and all of a sudden, people kept coming to us with other things,” said Douglass, a former corporate purchasing agent. “They trusted us for some things, and they wanted to use us for more things.”
Launching the core business was a little trickier because just a half dozen companies recycled ink cartridges in the mid-1990s, Benton said. Only Hewlett Packard’s DeskJet and the Canon BJ10 used them, after all.
To get in, Benton and Douglass — president and vice president respectively — initially used syringes from a veterinary supply company to inject ink into old casings.
But when a 6,000-unit refill order arrived in year one, panic set in, Benton said.
That’s when the now middle-aged women began racing the clock to find a fixture on vet supply shelves — namely a spring-loaded cow inoculation device.
“But it was immediate carpal tunnel. After doing about 10 or 12 times, I was completely crippled,” she explained. “There was no other equipment then. There was no one to teach anything.”
They continued the hunt at a medical supply company and there picked up a Vacu-Aid — nicknamed the “lung sucker” for its intended use of aspirating mucus.
That and contract workers helped them fit the bill.
Though HardCopy Solutions now competes with “hundreds” of others, Benton said, the Longmont store still sells recycled cartridges for 30 percent to 50 percent less than new.
And it continues doing business by developing community connections and customer relations, they said.
Since its inception, HardCopy Solutions has donated 1 percent of gross sales to local causes, Douglass said, and has aimed to treat customers like company.
“Customers want to be treated personally as opposed to feeling like they’re being run through a scanning device,” Benton said.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.