WAUTOMA, Wis. — Bill Zimmermann had a print job to get done, but no ink.
“I needed ink and it was bout 6 p.m. at night and I live in a smaller community and there was nowhere to get ink,” he said. “Thank goodness the local office supply dealer let me in after hours, but that thought never left me: there’s opportunity when you’re in a small town, you’ve got nowhere to go, and you’re desperate to print.”
That opportunity came in the form of INK BOX. It’s a 24/7 ink cartridge vending machine business he launched about six years ago.
The business has four locations in central and east-central Wisconsin. All are in smaller communities.
“We put these machines in underserved communities where there just isn’t enough retail, where customers need ink cartridges but the only way to get them is on the internet or a 45 of 60 minute drive,” said Zimmermann, who owns Office Outfitters in Waupaca.
The vending machines are located in high-traffic spots in the communities. In Wautoma, the INK BOX machine is located outside of the Ace Hardware store.
Assistant Manager Cody Laber said the machine has been there about a year. Zimmermann approached the Ace location about the machine as staff there was trying to figure out what printer cartridges it should carry and where they should buy them.
“At that time Shopko had just closed, and I had people walking in asking, ‘Do you have printer ink?’ I said, ‘No, sorry, I don’t. I don’t really have access to it,’” Laber said.
INK BOX answered both of those questions by offering a machine they stock, refill and maintain.
“It’s really been helpful for anybody who is in need of printer ink and doesn’t want to travel 20 miles, 30 miles to a bigger city to find the ink they need for their particular machine,” Labor said.
Ace and the other partner business get a commission on sales, Zimmermann said.
INK BOX has been growing the past two years, due in large part to the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, sales took off,” Zimmermann said. “Sales tripled and at that point we decided to take the leap and buy three more machines. We’re probably going to be buying some more shortly.”
Zimmermann said they could expand by 25 to 30 machines in a roughly two hour radius in central Wisconsin.
He said franchising the business is also a possibility.
“There was a real need with the pandemic. I was pretty fired up,” he said. “With all of the people working from home now, there’s more need than ever for at-home printing.”