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January 21, 2019
On the record

CLYNK's Vanderhoof targets 20% annual growth for the tech-driven recycling firm

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
Alison Vanderhoof, president and CEO of CLYNK, a tech-based bottle-and-can redemption and recycling firm.

Alison Vanderhoof is president and CEO of CLYNK, a technology-driven bottle-and-can redemption and recycling company based in South Portland with more than $10 million in annual revenues. She succeeded founder Clayton Kyle in October.

Vanderhoof, an alumna of Princeton University and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, spoke with Mainebiz about the company's growth ambitions and where it's headed next. Below is an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: What career path led you here?

Alison Vanderhoof: My background was strategy consulting, and then I worked for companies launching new technologies and had several great experiences. I came across Clayton through the Princeton network as he was looking for a second [in charge] and knowing that he was planning to retire.

MB: You'd never worked in this industry before, so why CLYNK?

AV: My technology background put the lens on what I was seeking and I thought, this is a technology company that doesn't know it's a technology company. Over the last couple of years we've shifted to put the technology more at the forefront of what we're doing.

MB: How have you done that?

AV: A lot of it is cultural. Instead of thinking of the technology as an enabler to the rest of the business, you think about the fact that the technology is our differentiator.

MB: What's unique about the technology?

AV: The history of bottle redemption is that it's a very manual, gritty, hand-count business. About 15 or 20 years ago the reverse vending machines came in, which put a mechanical aspect into the business, but still there was no technology. Our technology allows us to scan every single container, so we get the bar code and can give the beverage distributors a full accounting for every single container that we're asking to be paid on. That's not unique in the world of technology, but applying that to this industry is.

MB: Of the 10 bottle bill states that regulate beverage deposits, how many are in you in now?

AV: We are in four — we're in Maine and New York with full CLYNK operations and plants. And we're in Oregon and Iowa through our partnerships with our technology, so we have six others to conquer. And in Canada, we're in one province with a pilot but every province has a bottle bill, so that's another opportunity for us.

MB: What markets pose the greatest interest for future growth?

AV: Our first step is to go to the bottle bill states, and each one is interesting in its own way. Massachusetts is so close, and it's between us and our New York plant, so that's the obvious one. California is also a bottle bill state, and you change the game entirely if you're there. San Francisco would have a similar returning population to the whole state of Maine. We also still have room to grow into the rest of New York.

MB: What are your priorities for this year?

AV We have a dual focus on building our pipeline of new business and making sure that the foundation is as solid as possible so that when we scale, we're scaling on a solid base. We don't want to lose sight of the fact that there's so much moving in the markets that we want to run after, but it's a lot easier for us to reinforce what we've built now than to do that when we're four times as big.

MB: What's your growth target?

AV: My target is 20% revenue growth a year. The reality of this business is it grows in steps, so we moved to New York with Hannaford, which allowed us to double our footprint to 100 Hannaford stores. That move was in 2016, and it took us two years to roll out all the stores.

MB: Any hiring plans?

AV: We hire all the time. The vast majority of my hires are plant and transportation staff, and we'll continue to do that at a pretty rapid clip, because we're both growing and it's an hourly position that has quite a bit of turnover.

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