Stephanie McLarty is the founder and chief executive officer of Hamilton, Ont. based REfficient Inc., an online marketplace that helps companies save money and be environmentally responsible by buying and selling previously owned assets.
REfficient coordinates the logistics, to simplify the process, and calculates sustainability stats, to help companies see the positive effect on the environment.
The company gained early traction as an enterprise solution that allowed organizations to repurpose telecommunications equipment and audio-visual products. Then it moved to an open model targeting businesses with five to 50 employees and the value-added resellers that service them.
Its challenge was to gain the attention of the right people in its target market, so that it could educate them on both the economic and environmental benefits of buying previously owned equipment.
In 2006, between semesters of her master’s degree, Ms. McLarty took a contract job with a major telecommunications company, pulling out old telecommunications equipment and trying to figure out how best to dispose of it.
This exposed Ms. McLarty to the reality of ‘one person’s trash is another person’s treasure’ on an enterprise level, and that most businesses did not know how to take advantage of this principle.
In 2007, she completed her degree and co-founded a consulting company that helped large companies manage surplus equipment in an environmentally friendly manner.
While running that company, Ms. McLarty saw an opportunity to create an automated system that matched companies looking to buy equipment with organizations that had refreshed their information technology infrastructure and wanted to find an environmentally and fiscally responsible way to dispose of it.
In 2010, Ms. McLarty stepped out on her own and created REfficient. The telecommunications company she had done contract work for in between semesters of her master’s degree became her first customer.
Very quickly, Ms. McLarty learned there was significant value in capturing waste diversion rates, carbon-footprint-reduction information and other sustainability data, so that companies could include it in their corporate social responsibility reporting.
“The challenge then became that not enough companies knew about the equipment that was available for sale, so it was hard to optimize reuse and make the whole process successful,” Ms. McLarty says.
REfficient then moved from a subscription model focused on large enterprises to an open transaction-based model, so that companies of any size could reap the economic and environment benefits of buying and selling previously owned equipment.
“We built a Web-based marketplace – similar to the e-commerce site eBay – that could be applied to almost any type of business equipment and allow it to be sold to almost any location in the world,” Ms. McLarty says.
“We became the matchmaker of ‘who has what’ and ‘who is looking for what,’ taking care of the shipping/customs and calculating sustainability stats for our clients” she says.
REfficient’s challenge was how to attract a lot more buyers (companies with five to 50 employees and having their own IT resources to instal the equipment purchased) and the value-added resellers that serviced them.
REfficient had three primary goals: to help potential customers understand the financial and environmental value of purchasing previously owned equipment; to make sure they knew that more than 50 per cent of the equipment available for sale had never even been used; and to teach them that extra assurance could be provided by purchasing extended warranties through REfficient.
To accomplish these goals, Ms. McLarty decided the company should implement a ‘multi-touch’ sales campaign using direct mail, e-mail, and phone calls.
It chose a group of companies it thought would be most interested in the products that were available for sale.
“We decided to target the small-to-medium sized cable and telecom companies that were members of the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance (CCSA), given we had a lot of telecom infrastructure equipment that we thought they would be interested in purchasing,” Ms. McLarty says.
Initially a phone call was made to find out who the right person was to contact.
Next, a seeded paper postcard was mailed out. The postcards were made from paper with wildflower seeds embedded into them and could be planted instead of thrown in the garbage, or recycled.
A clever message about growing savings through REfficient and growing wildflowers was printed on the postcard.
Afterwards, the REfficient sales team followed up with a series of phone calls and e-mails.
Within four months, 15 per cent of all CCSA members made an initial purchase. Of those customers, 54 per cent made a second purchase within that timeframe, Ms. McLarty says.
“Companies who purchase through us love what we offer. Our customers save money and feel good about doing something good for the environment. So far, we have sold over one million pounds of equipment that would have ended up in a landfill site” she says.
REfficient grew 200 per cent in the year following the ‘multi-touch’ strategy. It now has more than 200 customers in Canada and six other countries; 50 per cent of REfficient’s sales are exports to the United States, South America, and Europe.
“This exercise reinforced that, the simpler and easier you make the messaging and solution for customers, the better. As a result, this fall we are launching a series of new features to make it even easier for companies to maximize buying and disposal opportunities, and further reduce what they send to landfill,” Ms. McLarty says.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Craig Elias is the founder of Shift Selling Inc. and an entrepreneurship instructor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
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