Bill Swanson brings more than 25 years of finance and operations leadership experience to Cartridge World. He joined Cartridge World in May 2011 as its Global Chief Financial Officer and added the responsibilities of Cartridge World’s North American Chief Executive Officer in July, 2012.
Swanson held finance positions as the Corporate Treasurer of Staples, CFO of Staples’ European Catalog division, and VP of Finance at Quill Corporation. Operational experience includes General Manager of Medical Arts Press and most recently, COO of TonerHead, a manufacturer of ink and toner printer cartridge refilling and testing equipment.
Swanson joined Cartridge World in the midst of a relocation across the country, resulting in a loss of about half of their employees. The company went through a complete culture change within, re-defining roles, identifying new management expectations, and reinventing the system. At its old headquarters, the company was being led by absentee leaders from different areas of the country. Now, the company is under Swanson’s leadership and he spends most of his time in the headquartered building in Spring Grove, IL.
Franchise Chatter (FC): For those unfamiliar, can you talk about the different services that Cartridge World offers?
Bill Swanson (BS): Cartridge World is the leading ink and toner cartridge retailer and franchisor in the $80 billion printer cartridge industry – with 1,600 stores. Cartridge World stores offer business and walk-in customers a tremendous cost-savings alternative to buying new printer cartridges, providing a 30- to 40-percent discount. The company uses state-of-the-art remanufacturing processes and inks and toners, resulting in an economically and environmentally responsible business model.
In addition to selling ink, toner, printers, and related service solutions, Cartridge World is involved in the communities in which we serve. We offer a variety of recycling programs. Annually, we recycle about 4.5 million printer cartridges, and many stores are e-waste recycling centers. We also offer a recycling/fundraising program for schools and community organizations to raise funds.
Plus, Cartridge World supports Earth Day, America Recycles Day, Veterans Day, local business organizations, and philanthropic causes. We recently launched a national breast cancer awareness and fundraising drive in conjunction with the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
FC: How much can people save by reusing ink cartridges rather than buying new ones?
BS: Business customers save up to 30- to 40-percent when they purchase ink and toner printer cartridges from us. They also get our 100-percent guarantee and free delivery. For most businesses, the savings calculates to thousands of dollars per year. Customers can use our online savings calculator to see how much they can save each year.
FC: Please tell us about your efforts at the corporate level to become as environmentally-friendly as possible.
BS: Cartridge World advocates recycling and remanufacturing printer cartridges – our business model is based on that premise. With 350 million printer cartridges discarded in landfills annually, the environment is suffering. Cartridge World recycles millions of printer cartridges every year. But that’s just a small part of the solution.
Cartridge World makes printer cartridge recycling easy in stores and with its recycling rewards programs for organizations and schools.
FC: Can you talk about the challenges you faced when you joined the company in the midst of a relocation of your corporate headquarters across the country, resulting in a loss of about half of your company’s employees? How did you deal with these challenges?
The company had great growth in its start-up years and then stalled during the global economic downturn. To reduce expenses and get closer to our technology partners, suppliers, and franchisees, we relocated in the Midwest last year. As a result of the move, we lost the institutional knowledge of the prior staff. But it also provided an opportunity to pump new energy and vision into the organization with new team members.
In the course of 18 months, we’ve made tremendous improvements in the business. We turned from a cash-consuming business to a cash-generating business. We refocused our vision on creating success for our franchisees. We are investing in new technologies and partners. We re-focused our marketing plan on our most profitable customer segments, product lines, and media channels. We’re simplifying the business for new franchisees. Just this year, we introduced a new franchise opportunity – Cartridge World Express™ – a mobile franchise concept.
How are we getting it done? We communicated our vision. We have an open-door management style. And we’ve given our management team the flexibility and support to accomplish their goals – in a hurry.
FC: Can you tell us about your management style and the process you follow when making important decisions affecting the company?
BS: A strong leader will flex his/her approach with the needs of the business and the skills of the team. Generally, I look for three key attributes in my team to determine my level of involvement with their particular area of responsibility.
- First, we make sure that the team has a consistent vision of what success looks like. We spend a good deal of time discussing and challenging our notions of success.
- Second, we also spend a good deal of one-on-one time talking about how each member of the team thinks about his/her responsibilities, the tasks they are working on, and the judgment exercised in making decisions and taking action.
- Third, I look at the initiative the team members take to make good things happen. Do they see opportunities or wait for others to point them out? Do they take action or wait for others to ask them to do so?
Armed with this understanding, an effective leader can keep the members motivated to accomplish some pretty tall objectives.
A person is far more likely to succeed at their job if they can choose their own path to success. If I force them to take my path above another workable path in which they firmly believe, they will show me that my way isn’t going to achieve the best outcomes, because by definition they can’t. If their path is workable, even if I don’t believe it’s the best way, I generally let them do it their way, because it’s their way, and because it’s their success.
FC: What are the eight values in the workplace that you follow so closely which drives you to be as honest and successful as you can?
BS: Defining, communicating, and living specific values create the culture of an organization. At a company earlier in my career, we took the time to discuss and crystallize our values. To this day, they remain an important influence on me and our business’ daily decisions.
1. Customer Service – Serve the customer in a way that you would want to be served as someone else’s customer. And if you’re not directly serving the customer, you better be serving someone who is. The true test of a company is its ability to respond appropriately when things don’t go well. (It’s easy when everything goes well.)
2. Hard Work – Nothing good comes to those who are lazy or only wish for good things.
3. Accountability – Clearly defined and communicated roles, responsibilities, and expectations of performance.
4. Teamwork – 1+1>2. Together, we can come up with a better answer than either one of us would have come up with on our own.
5. Fiscal responsibility – Too many businesses and business people don’t have the capability to understand financial consequences of decisions made. We always have to ask ourselves – is this action or this decision going to create value or destroy value? What are the cash flow implications in the near term, medium term, and long term? How is our capital structure impacted by this decision?
6. Integrity – Without integrity, nothing else matters. It is the foundation on which the house is built. It is the basis on which trust is formed.
7. Continuous learning and improvement – Formally and informally, we should be learning each day. Sometimes we learn by our mistakes. I like to say that the only person who doesn’t make mistakes is the person not doing anything. You just don’t want to make the same mistake over and over.
8. Empowerment/enablement – By sharing the vision, understanding capabilities, and creating an environment that rewards initiative, much greater outcomes are created than trying to control the processes. Managers control processes. Leaders provide vision and inspiration.
FC: What is your vision for Cartridge World? What specific steps are you taking to reach this goal?
BS: With 600 stores in North America, Cartridge World has a great start. In five years, we hope to add 1,000 more stores. A strong leader needs to define his/her vision for success, effectively document it, and communicate it over and over again.
We have two jobs: providing the tools, systems, and products for our current stores to succeed; and spreading the Cartridge World message – so more entrepreneurs join our franchise. Motivated entrepreneurs who seek freedom, a path to fulfill their financial goals, and are able to communicate the value of a product and service will succeed.
We are re-invigorating both our current business support systems and franchise development efforts with the help of focused internal and external manpower. We have partnered with a very strong franchise development organization to jump start this process.
FC: Is there anything else you wish to share about Cartridge World?
BS: The Cartridge World business model is successful because it is so logical. We sell products that are consistently used in nearly every business and home; are lower cost than the OEM; have a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee; and are environmentally friendly. We sell remanufactured laser and ink printer cartridges, printers, and related products.
We are ranked number 1 in our category by Entrepreneur Magazine. We’re in an $80 billion industry. Millions of printers and cartridges are sold around the world. More than 1 million printers were sold in the United States in August 2012 alone. We have an incredible opportunity for growth.