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Clover Imaging executive team, supported by equity partner, acquires full ownership of the world’s largest collector and remanufacturer of used printer cartridges and printer parts.


By Niels V Christiansen, US Editor


Clover Imaging Group, the standard bearer of the embattled imaging supplies remanufacturing sector and regarded as a global model for circular economy and sustainability, is back in the same private hands that built the company into a billion dollar business.


Jim Cerkleski, Chairman of Clover Imaging Group, and his executive team, with backing from Norwest Equity Partners, NEP, has acquired the Clover Imaging business unit from the majority owner of the last 10 years, the publicly traded 4L Holdings Group. The company is headquartered in Hoffman Estates, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, and operates in 43 countries.


The acquisition is widely welcomed as a positive development for a remanufacturing sector, which in recent years has been engaged in several ongoing struggles:


• From below, it is being undercut by a flood of cheap and often substandard new-built cartridge clones from Chinese manufacturers. • From above, it is being battered by OEMs, most recently notably Hewlett-Packard, HP, attempting to curtail the use of remanufactured cartridges through price cutting and what courts have determined to be questionable technological practices. • And, in general, a decline in printing as paper is increasingly replaced by digital platforms.


What was an estimated $8 billion a year printer cartridge reman sector a few years ago has been in sharp decline as Clover and other remanufacturers have fought back in the marketplace and, together with the International Imaging Technology Council, I-ITC, and other trade associations, in the courts.


BACK IN CONTROL


Cerkleski and his executive team partners and backers are betting that they will ultimately have the laws and consumers on their side, as this struggle on multiple fronts continues to play out.


“Clover’s executive leadership team, in partnership with NEP, will once again control the destiny of the company we built – demonstrating our unwavering commitment to the success of the business and a shared confidence in the aftermarket imaging supplies industry and consumers’ demand for environmentally conscious products like ours,” said Cerkleski.

The announcement followed months of uncertainty about Clover Technologies Group, comprised of the Clover Imaging business and its younger sister Clover Wireless business.


FINANCIAL CRISIS


While the Imaging business collects, remanufactures and distributes distributes printer cartridges and parts, the Wireless business similarly collects and supplies repaired and refurbished cellphones and parts to cellphone manufacturers.


Clover Wireless lost one of its largest customers, when AT&T decided to buy

refurbished phones from OEMs instead of Clover and other vendors. And 4L Holdings disclosed last summer that Clover Imaging was about to lose a major reman cartridge customer, as well. This customer was understood to be Xerox Corporation, as Xerox entered into an expanded partnership with HP.

Last July, worries about a debt load of more than $650 million for Clover Technologies Group led to discussions on debt restructuring and concerns about the company’s viability.


SIGH OF RELIEF


Financial details of the resulting restructuring and changes in ownership have not been disclosed. But reman industry leaders are breathing a sigh of relief, according to I-ITC Executive Director Tricia Judge.


“We’re thrilled about this news,” said Judge. “Clover is far and away the biggest company in our industry. There was a lot of concern about them moving forward. All kinds of rumors were swirling, but those rumors have now been put to rest.”


The history of Clover has ebbed and flowed with and, at times, defined the imaging supplies remanufacturing sector. The idea of remanufacturing printer cartridges came about a decade before the founding in 1996 of what became Clover Technology Group. But the imaging supplies remanufacturing sector grew into one of the top reman sectors only after Cerkleski acquired part ownership and took the reins of Clover in 2000. As the company made strategic acquisitions and grew into one of the world’s largest reman organizations, Cerkleski turned Clover into a model for sustainability.


REASON FOR OPTIMISM


Majority ownership of Clover was acquired by Golden Gate Capital in 2010. Nine turbulent years of explosive growth and heavy setbacks later, the people who built and have taken renewed ownership of the company say they are confident about the future.


“Under our new, very low debt structure,” Cerkleski stated, “we have a lot of flexibility moving forward and are well positioned to write the next chapter for Clover Imaging Group. We could not be more excited about the growth opportunities this new capital and partnership will provide.”


CLOVER IMAGING GROUP*


  • 5,000 employees

  • 38 locations worldwide

  • 3.5 million cartridges collected,monthly

  • 1.4 million units remanufactured,monthly

  • 14,000 printer parts remanufactured,monthly

  • 42.6 million units saved from landfill,annually

  • 2018 Clover Sustainability Report


Full Magazine, January 2020


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