Australia-based Cartridge World, an after-market ink-jet and toner franchise, is setting up shop across the U.S., in hopes of grabbing a larger slice of the nation's ink cartridge market, which Lyra Research estimates at $21 billion annually.

The company, which refills ink and toner cartridges for printers, copiers and fax machines, has already entered 30 states and plans to be in all 50 by the of 2005, according to Burt Yarkin, CEO for Emeryville, Calif.-based Cartridge World North America.

Established seven years ago, this privately held company generated more than $200 million in sales last year from its 750 stores in Australia, Europe and North America. Cartridge World plans to open another 250 to 300 stores throughout the U.S. this year.

A number of franchisees, priced at $100,000 to $150,000 a store, are opening multiple stores in their respective markets, Yarkin says.

Seventy-five of the firm's existing U.S. locations are in shopping or strip centers. Cartridge World is looking for 1,000- to 1,400-square-foot floor plates in grocery-anchored centers; strip centers with at least three to four tenants and stand-alone locations, such as bank corners, for future stores.

Cartridge World's approach is unique. “We're bringing this service right into neighborhoods, opening stores next to Starbucks and local supermarkets,” says Yarkin. Customers can drop off empty ink cartridges to be refilled while they wait or shop. Ink cartridge refills typically save 50 percent of the cost of purchasing brand-name replacements. Cartridge World stores also offer pick-up and drop-off service for businesses.

Its main competitor is British Columbia-based Island Ink-Jet, which has 150 stores in North America and Mexico, located primarily in mall kiosks. Island, also a franchise, refills printer cartridges while customers shop and sells its own brand of refill kits. Other companies, like Rapid Refill, operate mail-in cartridge refill services or sell ink cartridge compatibles.

After-market ink-jet and toner refill stores have only been around for a year or so, says Jim Forrest, editor of Hard Copy Supplies Journal. He says that overall after-market suppliers have cornered 17 percent of the ink-jet cartridge market and about 30 percent of the monochrome laser toner market.