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 user 2006-08-10 at 12:14:00 pm Views: 76
  • #16151

    Tinkering trait leads to global ink
    Cartridges Are Us’ Iocco find big niche for family business
    Steve Iocco has been tinkering with things since he was a kid.His mechanical abilities have served him well, allowing him to parlay a basement hobby into a global business.Iocco is the founder and chief executive officer of Ithaca-based Cartridges Are Us Inc. The entrepreneurial spirit of Iocco’s family-run inkjet cartridge remanufacturing business, with roots in St. Johns, has caught the attention of accounting powerhouse Ernst & Young.It had Iocco and his son on the short list for its Entrepreneur of the Year Award this year, though the Ioccos didn’t win.”My husband started it just as a little hobby job,” said Iocco’s wife, Angie, Cartridges’ vice president. “We call it the hobby job run amok now.”

    ‘Mechanically inclined’
    Iocco’s company sells about $12 million worth of cartridges a year to customers around the world. It employs 65 people in Ithaca and St. Johns.”We’ve grown leaps and bounds in a very short period of time,” Iocco said.”I’ve always been mechanically inclined,” Iocco said. He began working with his father in a gas station at age 10, and has been doing “something mechanical” ever since.Dave Flower, vice president of commercial loans at Fifth Third Bank in Lansing, said the Ioccos are “just nice people that have found a way to grow a business, kind of using their own knowledge and old-fashioned hard work,” Flower said.”It’s the type of company you wouldn’t normally see located in Ithaca, Mich.”That’s why Flower nominated Iocco and his son Dominic, the company’s chief financial officer, for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, given by the New York-based international accounting and consulting firm to leaders of what it terms “dynamic and growing businesses.” The Ioccos didn’t win, but were among 48 finalists selected from more than 100 nominations.Steve Iocco “quit a pretty comfortable, high-salaried position” at Federal-Mogul Corp. to dedicate himself to the business full-time, a gamble that paid off in just a few years, Flower said. Now, he said, the family has “found a niche.”

    Full of family
    Cartridges Are Us is a true family business.”We have nephews, cousins, a whole bunch of people,” Steve Iocco said. “We call ourselves the Cartridge Family.”In 1997, Steve Iocco was working as a production supervisor at Southfield-based Federal-Mogul when he decided to start a home-based cartridge business to meet demand for low-cost ink.”Ink is like, almost the most valuable liquid in the world,” Iocco said. “You pay almost $1,000 per gallon, compared to gas, which we think is really high at $3 a gallon. People were looking to cut costs.”Angie Iocco said the company is able to sell cartridges for less than others because of its remanufacturing focus.Customers quickly spread the word, and the company was besieged with orders.”Basically just by word of mouth, it just escalated,” Angie Iocco said.The company, which started in the couple’s St. Johns home, ended up moving three times in three years. Sales, meanwhile, soared to $10 million in 2003 from $1 million in 2001.By 2001, Steve Iocco had enough steady customers to quit his job at Federal-Mogul and devote all his energies to the cartridge business.”We started getting calls from all over the country,” based on word-of-mouth recommendations, he said. “It got to the point where my wife had given up her job, my son had come to work for us, we had about 15 employees – it was just the right time.”

    Ithaca move
    As Cartridges Are Us began to outgrow its St. Johns facility, the Ioccos looked around for a larger space to buy. Through their United Parcel Service Inc. driver, an Ithaca resident, they learned that city was offering tax savings for companies willing to locate in its Renaissance Zone, a tax-free area designed to attract business to a region and generate economic growth.”He said we should check it out, and we’re really glad now that we did,” Angie Iocco said. “We figure the tax savings over a 10-year period of time will about pay for the building.”Steve Iocco said he wanted to keep his company in St. Johns, but couldn’t pass up the deal Ithaca was offering.”For an 8-year period, we don’t have any property taxes or single-business tax,” he said. “It was a significant savings for us.”The company moved to Ithaca in 2003 and has a 20,000-square-foot facility there, but maintains its St. Johns retail store.The company also has a retail store in Ithaca, but Angie Iocco said retail sales account only for about 1 percent of Cartridges’ business. The company mainly is a wholesaler.Steve Iocco attributes his success in part to timing.”We got into it early in the process,” he said.Fifth Third’s Flower, meanwhile, said Iocco is “a very humble individual” who is proud to be “a blue-collar guy who came up with a product that worked.”