Concerned about some of the waste going to the landfill, and passionate about recycling, Tom Fountain, 57, started a business. And although he did so in the middle of a recession, and he has very little hope local economic conditions will improve any time soon, Fountain, the managing director of Inktech Inc., believes he has been playing his part in creating a safer environment while meeting a need.
Inktech Inc., an ink and toner cartridges company, started about five years ago specializing in the refilling and remanufacturing of printer cartridges. It also does printer servicing and computer repairs.
“Our business was developed in the midst of a recession, because when we started in 2009/2010 it was in full knowledge that there was a recession going on. We felt that we were needed, and I wanted to start a business that had an environmental component. That is really the reason we started this business. We wanted to do something that restricted the amount of waste going to the landfill,” said Fountain.
“We looked around at ways to do that and we thought that getting into a business that allowed us to recycle things, make money from it and save people money was a way to go. And that is what we have done. So our business has been designed to be somewhat recession-proof,” he added.
And after five years, Fountain says business has been “quite good”.
He said when he started his High Park, Prior Park, St James home-based business he had some “major cash flow problems”, but those issues were short-lived.
“We have made ourselves resilient, and we can take a lot more knocks because we don’t expect much,” said Fountain, adding that he was able to grow the operations without depending on the traditional banking system, or Government for support. He said it was through “alternative sources of funding” he was able to get the company back on the track he wanted.
And, with a focus on delivering high-quality customer service and promoting a clean environment, the entrepreneur told Barbados TODAY that he had been able to capture a lot of business over the years.
Inktech has two full-time staff members and two directors.
“We get a lot of business from people who are disappointed by how expensive it is to get brand-name printer cartridges. We have picked up customers because they looked at us from an environmental perspective first, particularly through the partnership we have with the Barbados Future Centre Trust,” said Fountain.
“Not only are we doing something that is environmentally beneficial to their own business, but they are also saving money; so it is really a win-win situation, and I think that message is spreading.
“And as a result there are people who are coming to us, who could afford to buy brand-name cartridges, but come to us because of the environmental reasons. And, of course, customer service is huge. We try very hard to deliver what our customers want when they want it,” he said.
“It just hurts me to see the stuff that is being thrown away. When in the UK, where I was, if you throw a glass bottle away, you are almost a social outcast; and I wanted to do something to pay back, and that really concerned me. The whole way of how Barbadians abuse the environment made me wanted to go along those lines,” he added.
Fountain said while there were no immediate plans for expanding the business, he was taking it one day at a time to ensure the human resource was highly skilled, and good partnerships were formed. He also agreed that as technology improved, he would seek to expand the range of items he remanufactured.
Inktech has introduced a new education programme in some schools across the island as they seek to educate the younger generation on the importance of recycling. And Fountain is encouraging other businesses to do likewise.
“I would like to see a better environmental component within Barbados business culture. It is very easy to say, and I don’t know how we would necessarily do it. But when you step back from your day-to-day doings and you walk or drive around Barbados and go in the sea, you realize we really have something here that needs to be preserved. I feel that we all as a small island, we need to be a little bit more committed to the environment.
“It is something I feel deeply about. It is what really started this business,” said Fountain.
It was never his dream to become involved in the remanufacturing of printer cartridges. In fact, Fountain is a design engineer, who has lived and worked in England for about 24 years before returning to Barbados. It was while working with De La Rue, the world’s largest printer of banknotes, that Fountain developed an interest in re-inking cartridges.
But when he came back to Barbados, about 11 years ago, he worked for a company, all the time with the intention of starting his own business. He admitted that shortly after starting Inktech there were days when he felt like giving up. However, he said he managed to hold on by reminding himself of why he started the business.
“If you don’t like solving problems and are not a resilient person; if you are easily put off, or don’t have patience, you just should not be an entrepreneur, because it challenges you on so many fronts. But I like a challenge,” said Fountain.
Lauding Caribbean e-Waste, B’s Recycling, the Future Centre Trust and ACE Recycling for their efforts, Fountain said they needed more support form the general public.
“I just thought that the time was right and I really intended to open this business as an on-the-side thing, but it grew somewhat and it became a lot more fun that I expected it to be. Up until I opened Inktech I had never run a business, and it is amazing. I have a greater level of respect for business owners, having done it now,” he said.
“My title may be general manager, but I also clean the car and I pick up stuff from wherever, and I do anything that needs to be done in order to make it happen; and that is fun. It would be difficult for me to go back working [for someone else].
“It is a very different environment for me, and I guess it is late in life to start a business, but I just wish I had done it sooner,” said Fountain.
When Inktech started its operations, there were about four other companies providing direct competition. However, Fountain said that given his focus on the environment, customer service and attention to detail, he was able to compete favourably.
Adding that he did not take the competition too seriously, since it was “just somebody else trying to earn a living”, Fountain admitted it took some amount of convincing to grow his business.
“People had used some of our competitors whose products were not always right. So people would say, ‘We tried remanufactured cartridges before and we are not going to do that again’. It took us a long time to persuade some people that it wasn’t our cartridges that they were trying or they didn’t come from us.
“Those who have tried it say, ‘You know what? You are right’,” said Fountain.
The entrepreneur said he did not expect any “magical improvement” in the economic situation in Barbados this year, and that though he was hopeful, he was also looking at the situation “from a realistic point of view”.
“We are going to have a challenging situation in Barbados for some time to come,” said Fountain. “I don’t really see any particular reason to expect growth in the very near future. We remain hopeful, but we have to understand that it could be a little while before things turn around. I don’t think the commercial conditions in Barbados really usher in very encouraging signs,” he said.
Despite the less than favourable outlook, Fountain said “for our part we are going to continue to do what we do, which is giving people what they want, good customer service and being good to the environment. It is a formula that has worked well for us in the past and I am pretty sure it will continue to work. That is a formula you have to apply”.