Lion's Lair: Hamilton company keeps tech waste away from landfills

REfficient focuses on sustainability, making use of surplus technology equipment. The company is a finalist in the Lion's Lair competition.
CEO Stephanie McLarty stands in the REffcient warehouse in northeast Hamilton. The company just celebrated its second anniversary. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Stephanie McLarty's philosophy on sustainability goes beyond business. It's even part of her fashion sense.

She's the president and CEO of REfficient, a Hamilton-based company that resells under-used or never-used technology supplies and today she wears a thick, grey and silver bracelet with a unique look.

"This is made from an old telephone cord," McLarty says, eager to show it off.

The bracelet is an important part of her smart outfit. She wears a black button-up top, grey pencil skirt and heels, but it also shows that McLarty wears her talk.

"It just makes sense to me," she says of sustainable practices.

McLarty is celebrating the company's two-year anniversary in July.

"We're like the eHarmony for technology," she says. "Someone said that to me once and it stuck."

REfficient has an online marketplace where businesses can shop in other businesses inventory. McLarty's clients provide equipment they can't use because of upgrades or surplus and her buyers can shop for that equipment online.

"Your set top box that sits on your TV as a receiver," McLarty gives as an example. "If you upgrade or if its faulty, the company will come in and take it back. Sometimes they reuse it internally, but if they have no more use for it, they send it to us. If there is resale value, we sell it for reuse and if not, we recycle it."

McLarty says REfficient has diverted over a million pounds of technology products from landfills since the company was born.

That's a statistic that makes her proud.

The woman

Starting up REfficient was not something McLarty said she expected to do.

A graduate of McMaster University's arts and science program, she went on to do a master's degree in peace and conflict studies in Austria.

"I thought I'd be working for the UN or another organization like that," she laughs.

But by chance – and because she was broke – McLarty returned to Canada in the middle of her graduate degree and took a contract position at a major telecom company.

"For 8 months, I drove around company van and went to 'headends' the buildings where the cellular and TV signals come from, physically pulling out the stuff and figuring out what to do with it," she said. "By the end, I developed a sense of what equipment had value and who would buy it."

With the friend who helped her get this job, she started CTAR Corp, a company with a similar focus on managing excess technology. In 2009, McLarty was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

When McLarty wanted to create an online platform to resell surplus equipment, she started REfficient. It was just her and a part-time warehouse staff person.

McLarty doesn't have an academic background in business, but learned as she went and picked up tips from her entrepreneur dad.

"I guess I'm the one of my siblings who got the entrepreneurial sense," she said with a laugh.

The 31-year-old from Ailsa Craig, ON, a small farming town north of London, also picked up quite a bit from travelling and volunteering in Thailand and India.

"It's helped me be an entrepreneur today," she said. "Dealing with different cultures and having to navigate that and dealing with insecurity."

The company

As McLarty walks through REfficient's warehouse in Hamilton's northeast end, she points to extension cords, cables, transmitters, headsets and speakers.

"Look, it's still in the original packaging. Never been used," she says.

REfficient focuses on reselling or recycling telecom, AV, IT and contractor supplies. The company has buyers in eight Canadian provinces and six other countries – the United States, Peru, the United Kingdon, Spain, Italy and France.

Locally, her major clients are Cogeco and Eastlink.

"We've just scratched the surface and it's out intention to keep growing. If there is a company that can reuse it, then it normally makes sense," she says.

McLarty says "normally" because what her company also does is calculate the carbon footprint for shipping the goods to where it needs to go.

"Shipping something to europe for example has a carbon footprint so we calculate that and as we go along we'll make that a decision factor for our clients if they choose it," she says.

McLarty moved the company to Hamilton a year ago from Mississuaga. It's less expensive here and she's closer to major clients, as well as the U.S. Border.

"What's going on in Hamilton and the transformation, being a sustainability-oriented business we've gotten a lot of opportunity," she said. "It's been good."

The Lion's Lair pitch: Why Refficient should win

McLarty wants REfficient to be a Hamilton success story.

The company employs six people and she's says, given the current market, it's an ideal time to accelerate expansion. That's where Lion's Lair comes in.

"Corporate and social responsibility and the need for sustainability has never been higher in terms of awareness," she says. "Companies and people are looking to save money in terms of resource efficiency and waste reduction."

McLarty says the platform her company has chosen helps enables solutions and makes it successful.

"We have shown that this business works. We're in operation. We have customers. We have revenue. We're growing. Last year we grew 200 per cent in terms of revenues," she says. "We've shown this idea works and we're doing it."

With the $100,000 cash prize, McLarty would dedicate more funds to marketing.

"Awareness of what we do and why it makes sense is really key," she says, emphasizing how difficult outreach can be for a small business.

A win by REfficient could mean a big win for the local economy, McLarty says.

"We chose to move here. We've provided the community with jobs and we're in a high growth area, so if we can grow the company, Hamilton wins."