Born in Germany, Ray Slipatchuk, Owner of Priceless Ink and Toner Co, and his parents arrived in the United States via Ellis Island, NY, in 1950. Slipatchuk and his parents, who were considered ‘displaced persons’ following the end of World War II, eventually settled in Philadelphia. He went on to have a successful career in real estate before moving with his former wife, Kathy, to Charlotte County in 1980. Since then, Slipatchuck’s journey has taken him to Eastern Europe and back and included several businesses, along with a tragedy that changed his life forever.
“When Kathy and I moved down to Florida, in search of warmer weather, we were both in real estate,” Slipatchuk said. “As time went on, we opened our own real estate and construction company. Between 1985 and 1990, we built 500 homes in Charlotte County. In 1990, both of our sons passed away in an automobile accident. As you can imagine, it was an extremely difficult thing to live through. We decided that, in order for us to heal and to be able to continue life, we had to leave the area for a while. Since both of our backgrounds were from the Ukraine, we decided to temporarily locate there and begin a new chapter in our lives.”
While in Ukraine, Slipatchuk launched several unique businesses. The first was importing nutritional products such as vitamins, proteins, powders and drinks. In the years following the Chernobyl disaster, families were in desperate need of nutrition for their children. Slipatchuk discovered a lack of local companies in this space and found a niche importing these high-demand products. Around this time is when he was first introduced to the world of imaging supplies (laser toner and ink cartridges).
“A friend asked, if I wanted to get involved with an opportunity to invest in a toner re-manufacturing plant,” Slipatchuk said. “He had sources from the government that would collect empty toners, recharge them and then resell them. I became very familiar with the re-manufacturing industry and subsequently started to import nylon ribbon. We’d cut the ribbon into desired widths and sell the inked spools to people who, were still on the dot matrix printing system.” Inked ribbon cartridges are still widely used in Eastern Europe, even today.
Slipatchuk continued, “We also got into dry cleaning, leather cleaning and even oil and lubricant sales. I worked with the product Dura-Lube and became the main distributor throughout the former Soviet Union. By 1997, the government (Mafia) wanted a piece of our company’s trough for their protection racket business. We were basically forced to either be their partners or shut down our operations. We decided not to break any US Laws but take the losses and to leave the country. Life was becoming too dangerous for Westerner’s and my wife decided it was time to go home to Florida.”
According to Slipatchuk, the next year was very difficult one. They lost a lot of money and it took about a year before he got back into the swing of things. On a seemingly inconsequential trip to a local office supply store, to purchase a few ink cartridges for his printer, Slipatchuk accidently stumbled upon his next opportunity.
“Staples were selling compatible cartridges for $19 that only cost me $3.50 to import when we were still living in Ukraine,” he said. “I immediately recognized a great opportunity. This was around 1998 – a time when Jeff Bezos started selling books through Amazon. I thought, if he could sell books online, I could sell ink supplies. That’s how Priceless Ink and Toner got started.”
Slipatchuk, along with a few technical friends built one of the first online stores with a robust search feature. This allowed customers, and even competition, to search for exact products using printer model numbers. The result was consistently being ranked on the first page of Google – a factor that contributed to Priceless Ink and Toner's rapid growth. The search feature utilized a proprietary platform that acted as a database for products, customers, costs and suppliers. Everything was digital and automated. They even utilized drop shipping to minimize costs, speed up order processing and product delivery.
From the start, the focus was, and continues to be, on competitive prices, excellent quality products and great customer service. As you’d expect, Slipatchuk worked through a handful of challenges including consumer education and maintaining product availability.
“Within most IT departments are employees that have been programmed by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for years,” he said. “OEMs implant fear, uncertainly and doubt in consumers’ minds, which allow them to control what they buy. The IT guys aren’t spending their own money, so they’re more likely to use OEMs, even though our products are nearly identical and much cheaper. That was and continues to be a challenge of educating our consumer. Keeping up with demand and ensuring that suppliers are able to keep up with us has been another.”
Slipatchuk’ new wife, Elena, joined the team in 2013. Since then, she’s been running the company and handling orders and shipping. “Due to past health issue, I elected to appoint Elena as the Owner/President of Priceless,” he said. “Since 2013, she has done a wonderful job serving the Charlotte Community, as a Women Owned Business. Consider me to be the advisor in the background.”
What advice does Slipatchuk have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Develop mental fortitude,” he said. “You need to have a lot of faith in yourself and don’t ever give up. Also, avoid big national banks. From my experience, they don’t care about you. Stick with the regional banks. You’ll get much better service, especially when you need it most.”