THUNDER BAY -- Keifer Hutka started looking around for a business opportunity after graduating from Business Administration at Confederation College. He found Island Ink-Jet, then a franchise, and it seemed like a good opportunity.
After buying the business in 2013, the first thing Hutka did was to move out of the Thunder Centre, where the lease was expensive. He found a place with good visibility on May street and set up shop. Five years later, he was able to purchase a building across the street and moved to 714 May Street North. The Island Ink-Jet franchise changed its business model, and Hutka decided to rebrand and become independent.
Lakehead Inkjet and Toner now sells ink and printer supplies and refills inkjet cartridges. Hutch also sells car, boat and other batteries, including solar batteries. Refilling printer cartridges is not only an eco-friendly solution, but also an economical one, Hutka says. “Refilling is about a third of the cost,” he explains.
Some manufacturers use cartridges with chips that are programmed to shut down once the ink is depleted, and those cannot be refilled. Customers can call the shop and ask, or bring in their empty cartridge to see if it can be refilled. If not, Lakehead Inkjet and Toner can sell you a new cartridge and they will match the lowest price, even from online retailers such as Amazon and Staples.
“I want to make sense for people to shop local,” he says. “There’s no reason for them to take extra time out of their day to pay 10% more than Amazon.” Keeping his margins that low is challenging, but Hutka says he manages because he owns the building, and does not employ any staff.
Lakehead Inkjet and Toner has had an online store since 2017, which helped during the pandemic lockdown when people needed to do their browsing online. The majority of his sales are still in-store, but he believes his website helps direct traffic to the store. “Most people look at the website then call [in an order,]” Hutka says.
As a small business owner, Hutka worried about what the pandemic would mean for his business, but to his surprise, sales have been up. “People are setting up home offices and there was a surge in sales, especially cartridges,” he says. “And people still need batteries.”