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 user 2006-08-10 at 12:16:00 pm Views: 85
  • #16047

    Tinkering trait leads to global ink
    Cartridges Are Us’ Iocco find big niche for family business
    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
    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
    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.”