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Working toward a better future

August 1, 2006
by JOHN MAISTO, BA
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How one agency is using empty printer cartridges to empower consumers and strengthen its financials

Employing consumers in meaningful jobs can be challenging, as opportunities sometimes are lacking. My agency was determined to provide additional work opportunities to consumers who could function at a higher level than what the traditional sheltered workshop model offered. We didn't want to depend on standard corporate assembly or packaging contracts, which were unpredictable and offered payment to consumers at a per-piece rate. The time had come for Care Plus NJ, Inc., a provider of comprehensive, recovery-focused mental health and substance abuse services in Northern New Jersey, to stop relying on decisions and trends beyond our four walls.

In 1996, Care Plus NJ ventured into the business community with the concept of remanufacturing laser printer, copier, and fax toner cartridges and selling them to New Jersey businesses. Care Plus Laser Imaging began when Care Plus NJ recognized that individuals who received clinical services from the agency needed opportunities for vocational growth. These individuals needed competitive employment opportunities to develop marketable skills, establish a solid employment history, and secure financial independence. The goal of Care Plus Laser Imaging is to employ people with disabilities and disadvantages, and at the same time earn revenue for Care Plus NJ to assist with its mission.

We started as a service that picked up used or empty toner cartridges. This allowed us to make contacts and to cover some of the start-up costs by selling the empty cartridges to already established remanufacturers.

We began remanufacturing toner cartridges in 1996, but toner cartridges had become more complicated since then. The growth of remanufacturing technology caused us to look for other opportunities to grow the business, yet still meet customers' demands. Keeping up with technology and continuing to create employment opportunities for consumers were our priorities.

We learned that outsourcing manufacturing through other remanufacturers was a viable option that would help us to stay true to our mission of creating employment for people with disabilities and disadvantages. We also learned that companies remanufacture toner cartridges for nonprofits to sell and still leave many job opportunities for consumers. One of those companies is Print Recovery Concepts (PRC) in Standish, Maine.

Now PRC ships us completed toner cartridges. Our consumers individually box and label the products, warehouse them, and assist with order processing and fulfillment, even helping with local delivery in some cases. We also process our customers' used toner cartridges for remanufacturing. And although 50% of our remanufacturing business is outsourced, we still remanufacture 50% of the cartridges in-house.

We sell cartridges to more than 150 firms and institutions, from very small to some listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Our consumer/workers hold meaningful, critical jobs with continuity, security, and purpose. Customers routinely rave about product performance and service, and our CFO appreciates the surplus revenue! We are on our way to more than $1 million in gross annual sales.

And through this business we are able to create numerous jobs for our consumers, enabling us to employ consumers functioning at high, moderate, or lower levels. Care Plus Laser Imaging employs more than 24 individuals with disabilities. With this opportunity, consumers move on to more financial self-sufficiency and less dependence on various entitlements, such as SSI, SSD, or state assistance programs.

Whenever I speak with other nonprofits about our business, they are amazed by the number of jobs that can be created for a variety of consumers, as well as the volume of toner cartridges available (70 million cartridges are used in the United States each year, according to the trade association for the remanufactured printer cartridge industry). They often have never thought about using their contacts with local businesses, hospitals, schools, and other institutions to develop a new source of services and revenue.

When I decided to write this article, it soon dawned on me that our business isn't about a great “workshop” idea. It's about jobs, consumer independence, participating in the economy, and one way to “make it on our own.” I encourage you to consider this and other business opportunities—to not only empower consumers to live more productive and meaningful lives, but to help with the bottom line, as well.

At Care Plus NJ, we started with little knowledge of the business and did not have a mentor to help us. Through dedication and mutual support we have been able to build and sustain a business that not only meets consumers' needs but the public's, as well. If you would like to venture into a business similar to Care Plus Laser Imaging, please feel free to e-mail me at johnm@careplusnj.org. We would be happy to help you with the process. If you are interested in purchasing remanufactured printer cartridges from us to support our mission, please call (888) 362-8700.

John Maisto, BA, is Director of General Services/Operations Management at Care Plus Laser Imaging, a division of Care Plus NJ, Inc.

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