Sage Electronics Refurbishes, Recycles Electronic Gear

By Tim Feran The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio.

The folks who established the electronics refurbisher and recycler Redemtech are back in business with a new take on old electronics -- one that includes a new guide to how much those devices might be worth.

Bob Houghton and Jill Vaske, who co-founded Redemtech, bought by Arrow Electronics Inc. in 2012, are behind the new company, Sage Sustainable Electronics.

Launched early this year by Houghton, Vaske and Wendy Kelman Neu of Hugo Neu Corp., Sage aims to help people use their devices longer and keep the gadgets out of the trash heap.

One way the company plans to help people and companies refurbish and reuse equipment is through the Sage Blue Book.

Like its automotive equivalent, the Sage Blue Book lists a device's current value, allowing anyone to figure out how to get the best value from their old device -- trade it in, sell it or get rid of it altogether.

Sage makes money after individuals and companies donate or sell their used electronics to the company. Then Sage refurbishes and sells the still-working devices for a profit. If Sage can't refurbish the devices, it sells the old parts.

"The typical family or small business has closets full of stuff they don't know what to do with," Houghton said. "This (book) will help the average person. It'll be quick and convenient answers."

For businesses, it will mean financial reward and recovery, too.

"One of the things that's true in typical electronics is the recyclers are only reselling about half what they get," he said.

"We think with the Blue Book, we're going to increase that to 80 percent," because many recyclers don't have a clear idea of how much the old devices are worth, or have a good avenue for resale.

The Blue Book is expected to launch sometime before July 4. It will be free to individuals, but businesses will have to pay a fee.

The expectations of the company for its growth are not surprising coming from "an incredibly experienced team, the kind of entrepreneurs you want to see go into business again," said Wayne Embree, executive vice president of venture acceleration and investments at Rev1 Ventures. The organization is the business incubator once known as TechColumbus.

The management team is not only experienced but comes with many corporate contacts -- and those contacts are allowing Sage to get a vast supply of used electronics, Embree noted.

"Just think of all the Fortune 1000s in central Ohio," Embree said. "If (Sage executives) get in front of every one of those companies and say, 'We will take your electronics as you retire them,' they may get them for free. That's a hell of a way to get inventory.

"If you have that kind of volume on one side and have identified a sufficient market of people who are going to be happy with refurbished electronics, it's a great business model."

It was the experience at Redemtech that led to the Blue Book, Houghton said. At the old company, a team of appraisers would provide the same service, but that meant the company was limited by the appraisers' knowledge.

The Sage Blue Book, on the other hand, has more than 80 million records, and is updated every day.

"There are places that will buy your old cellphone," Houghton said, "but there's no way of knowing if you're getting a fair price -- and if your privacy is going to be protected after you hand in your phone. This will give true market value, advice on protecting personal data and how to buy used electronic equipment."

The book has been in development for more than a year.

Sage is also working on a "pro" version of the book for business customers.

"It should be particularly useful to procurement people and asset managers," Houghton said. "You can get automated appraisal of your entire IT holdings. So, say you're a large company and you're returning 10,000 laptops. You can get the appraisal value and future value forecast."

Sage is already "quietly accumulating excited clients," Houghton said.

Some former Redemtech clients are already on board with Sage, which was expected.

"But some of our business is coming from other sources ... other competitors," Houghton said. "That's been a nice surprise. We're very busy, having fun, making a lot of new friends."

Since Sage officially launched in January, the company has grown quickly. The company has a staff of about 45 employees and three locations -- in Columbus; Reno, Nev.; and Baltimore, Md. -- with plans to open additional facilities in 2016.

While Houghton would not disclose revenue at the privately held company, "I can say we intend the business to be as large as Redemtech in a relatively short order. We feel we've got a good start toward that goal."

The company's website is www.sagese.com.

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