There are very few companies that don’t need to evolve over time to survive in their fields. As new technologies emerge, companies have to meet new challenges in order to thrive. Either these companies adapt, or they became increasingly marginalized.
Repeat-O-Type, a Wayne, NJ-based ink company, is one such business that faced major decisions regarding the markets that it served. Up until the late 1980s, the company, which was founded by Joseph Keen in 1931, had specialized in making stencils for mimeograph machines. In 1971, the company started producing mimeograph inks in addition to stencils. However, with the advent of Xerographic and ink jet printers, mimeograph machines were on their way out. This posed a serious problem for Repeat-O-Type. Their solution was to follow their customers into the ink jetand digital duplicator ink market.
“We go with the flow,” said Fred Keen, Joseph’s son and executive vice president of sales and marketing at Repeat-O-Type.
“When my father-in-law founded Repeat-O-Type in 1931, he repaired mimeograph machines and sold stencils and inks,” said Whitney Keen, president of Repeat-O-Type. “Technology evolved slowly in those days, but now you have to move quickly to keep up to date. By 1989, we got into the ink jet market by making refill kits.”
Today, Repeat-O-Type specializes in bulk inks and refill kits for all makes and models of ink jet printers. “Most of our business is with ink jet cartridge manufacturers and professional recyclers, who refill empty cartridges as a business. We also sell to people who make kits for refilling,” Ms. Keen said. Repeat-O-Type has a strong overseas market and sells through distributors in the U.S.
Considering the cost of OEM-manufactured cartridges, a refill kit can be quite a bargain. Depending upon the cartridge, an eyedropper or syringe can be used to refill the ink. For example, a typical four-color process kit will cost $24, and will be good for four refills.
Regardless of cost, the inks still have to provide high quality. “We expend a lot of effort to assure that the physical characteristics and performance of each of our inks match those of the OEMs so that users can get the same results from our products as those of the OEMs,” Mr. Keen said.
It takes ingenuity to figure out the new delivery systems created by OEMs, and Mr. Keen and production manager Jerry Napolitano can usually determine how it’s done.
“OEMs design cartridges so that after-market companies can’t compete,” Mr. Keen said. “They even make their machines differently for different regions. It becomes a chess game.”
One advantage that Repeat-O-Type has over its much larger competitors is flexibility. “We can decide in a week what it takes a major firm years to realize,” said Mr. Keen.
Repeat-O-Type has had many successes over the years. Repeat-O-Type most recently introduced refill kits for the HP DeskJet 700/800, 900 and PhotoSmart series printers, which include special starter solution, cartridge clip, and syringe. Repeat-O-Type also just developed a new resetting device forrechargers and printer owners for refilling Epson’s “smart chipped” ink jet cartridges.
Digital duplicators such as the Risograph and Ricoh Priport are another area that Repeat-O-Type is mining for new opportunities by developing inks. “Digital duplicators are now making 120 copies per minute, and some companies are now offering two color cylinders,” Mr. Keen said. “We were the first independent ink manufacturer making inks for these machines, and the quality has gotten to the point where copy shops are using them over offset.”
No one really knows what the next great printing technology will be. However, Repeat-O-Type will most likely be right in the mix.