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June 24, 2010


CLYNK expands redemption reach to Bangor area

A bottle and can redemption company based in South Portland is extending its reach into eastern Maine. Starting today, CLYNK will be offering its bag-and-tag system in Hannaford supermarkets at the Airport Mall and Broadway Shopping Center in Bangor, as well as the store in Brewer.

CLYNK first broke into the Bangor market a month ago, opening at the Hogan Road Hannaford. By year's end, plans call for CLYNK to be in 46 of the 55 supermarkets in the state, as well as doubling its processing capabilities in South Portland.

"We're pretty close to reaching everybody we can at this point," Hannaford Bros. Co. spokesman Mike Norton says about current and planned CLYNK operations. Scarborough-based Hannaford has an exclusive contract with CLYNK.

Some of the remaining stores, particularly farther north of Old Town, may not see CLYNK while others will have to wait until 2011, he says.

With CLYNK, customers sign up for accounts and are initially given 10 free bags that each hold about 65 cans and bottles. After that, customers pay $1.25 to $1.50 for packs of 10 bags, depending on the size.

The system is largely automated, with customers returning bottles and cans in bags tagged to their CLYNK account and a few days later they are electronically given credit that is redeemable at the Hannaford store.

CLYNK and Hannaford officials see it as making it easier for people who are busy yet want or need to recycle. In Scarborough, its first location, can and bottle volumes have tripled since it opened in 2006.

"Fundamentally people value their time and at the same time there is more awareness of recycling," says Clayton Kyle, CEO of CLYNK.

In anticipation of increased demand from the new additions, not to mention the short-term fluctuation of Mainers and vacationers quenching their summer thirsts, CLYNK is increasing its processing capacity.

With a $500,000 matching grant from the Maine Technology Institute as well as a $1.1 million bank loan guaranteed by the Finance Authority of Maine, CLYNK is developing its next generation of equipment to sort the bottles and cans that come in. The company holds patents or has filed for additional patents on how it processes the containers and on how it maintains the accounts.

The new bottle and can equipment, developed with help from the MTI and other resources, should be installed by August, says Kyle, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. CLYNK is owned by CHK Capital Partners, which consists of Kyle, Peter Cianchette and Bill Hunscher.

Kyle expects his company will add personnel, at least temporarily, to handle the summer crush, but he is optimistic that with the new locations on board some of those positions will be more permanent hires. Currently the company employs about 50 people.

He says Clynk's expansion is all about improving and meeting the demands of customers. "Our model has evolved over the years as we've worked with Hannaford and as we've looked at making it a positive attribute to the store and to the customer," Kyle says.

But part of that evolution last year put CLYNK at odds with some of its customers and left it facing possible state sanctions.

Last fall, as part of efforts to automate and reduce costs, CLYNK eliminated 50 jobs, mostly CLYNK employees stationed at many of the locations, helping customers seeking cash redemptions for up to 50 cans or bottles. Traffic into the CLYNK locations was sporadic and employees at times had little to do, Kyle says.

Cutting the cash option angered some customers, who complained to the Maine Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state's bottle bill.

State officials, including from the Maine Attorney General's Office, concluded that requiring customers to pay for bags without the on-the-spot cash redemption amounted to a fee, something prohibited by the bottle bill, explains Steve Giguere, program manager with the state agriculture department.

Hannaford, CLYNK and the state met and in early April signed an agreement, which requires CLYNK to provide three free bags to customers. The bags are smaller than the others and can hold 10 to 15 returnables.

This provision is still on a trial basis, scheduled to end sometime in late summer barring any new complaints. Largely, Giguere says, the issue has been resolved.

"The concerns we had were well addressed," he says.


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