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Posted on Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

With iPads in mind, Ann Arbor area recycling firm ReCellular adding jobs after tough 2011

By Nathan Bomey

Cell phone recycling firm ReCellular Inc. has returned to stability after a turbulent 2011, when the company laid off about 70 workers after a dramatic shift in its core business.

The firm, which recently moved its headquarters from Ann Arbor to Pittsfield Township, is adding capacity to its 57,000-square-foot plant in Dexter, where workers sort, process, clean and repackage cell phones for resale and distribution.

ReCellular, founded by entrepreneur Chuck Newman more than two decades ago, was unprepared for the sharp shift in consumer interest from traditional cell phones to smart phones, such as Apple's iPhone and devices powered by Google's Android operating system.


Employees sort cell phones at their work stations at ReCellular's cell phone recycling plant in Dexter.

Melanie Maxwell I


ReCellular employee Wazir Ali of Ann Arbor conducts a test call to make sure recycled cell phone is working.

Melanie Maxwell I

The shift left ReCellular with excess inventory — essentially, refurbished "flip" phones — that had lost significant value in the marketplace.

"Nobody saw that coming so quickly," ReCellular CEO Steve Manning said in an interview.

The shift led directly to ReCellular's layoffs in late spring 2011, which reduced its workforce to more than 250.

"When the market shifted to smartphones so radically we were stuck with literally millions of flip phones and no one wanted flip phones anymore, so certainly our inventory was worth a lot less than it used to be and we didn't have the product to match the market demand," said Jeff Bocan, managing director of the Michigan office of investment firm Beringea, which has backed ReCellular.

After the shift, ReCellular pivoted quickly, adapting its recycling plant and adding new workers to catch up to the market. The layoffs were temporary. The company, which runs a 40-hour shift Monday through Thursday and a 36-hour shift from Friday through Sunday, has raised its workforce to about 300. General manager John Wetherholt said the plant could ramp up capacity by adding shifts.

Now, emboldened by new opportunities for recycling in the tablet and laptop markets, ReCellular needs to fill 20 job openings.

About 60 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 monthly units the company processes were "high-value" phones, tablets and netbooks. Recycling smartphones for resale generates more profit per unit than traditional cell phones, although margins are thinner, Bocan said.

ReCellular, the world's largest recycler of cell phones, has deals with most major cell phone service providers and several nonprofits. The company examines each individual device it receives, determines whether it would have worth on the secondary market or whether it can be given away to soldiers, for example. Then, workers digitally or manually strip the phones of the previous owner's data, cosmetically improve the phones, repackage them and prep them for sale or distribution.


ReCellular temporarily laid off about 70 workers last year when it was caught with too much inventory of traditional cell phones, like these pile of Motorola phones.

Melanie Maxwell I

"No late-night texts remain on your cell phone after we're done with it," said Joe McKeown, ReCellular's vice president of marketing and communications.

The company receives phones unsolicited through various recycling programs and carrier contracts, but it also offers cash for phones through

Although smartphones will continue to be a major opportunity for ReCellular, the company is bolstering its capacity to recycle tablet devices like Apple's iPad. If, as expected, the consumer electronics company introduces a third version of the iPad in 2012, ReCellular expects to receive a significant influx of used devices.

"We're on the path to be a much larger and more sophisticated company," Bocan said.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Gary Landson

Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 3:39 a.m.

For more than 12 years I have heard tales of ReCellular from employees and former employees. It is interesting to note that I have never heard any positive comments. It is a company with a long history of treating employees with little regard. There appears to be little ability on the part of management to forecast work loads and need for staff levels. People are brought in through a temp agency in ever increasing numbers only to be let go in mass when management suddenly gets a clue that they have too many bodies. The process is repeated over and over ad nauseum. It is also a fact that the company takes the laziest possible approach with regard to evaluating employees. Good employees are often let go while poor performers get to stay on and nobody is evluated for reward of wage increase. There are people who have been there for many years still making the same low wage as when they started. Obviously ,it is not a place a person would want to be dedicated to and plan a long career. I am told also that the CEO makes but rare appearances and provides no noticeable leadership from his Pacific time zone home. This "lazy' approach to managment may be a key reason why the company financials are unimpressive too. There seems to be a constant need for more funding . Sooner or later they will run out of risk takers to fund the operation further.


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

Only a handful of those laid off were actually called back. As usual, Recellular used the layoffs to replace full time employees with temps. They have also added a number of new executives, several of whom live outside the state of Michigan including the CEO. One wonders how many layoffs could have been avoided if they weren't incurring the added expenses of travel, hotel accommodations (At Weber's) and rental cars for their out-of-town residing employees. I find this article disturbing on a number of levels. Recellular has historically been poorly managed and does not react well to changing market conditions. They ramp up during the last and first quarters of the year only to find that their sales decrease sharply after the first year. This should not be news as it has happened every year for the last 10. It takes them a very long time to reconcile their production reporting and realize that they need to resort to layoffs once again. The recent round of layoffs mentioned in the article is just the most recent. This article should have focused on why Recellular is chronically laying off full time employees and using disposable temps, why they hire an exorbitant number of VP's (including two for Marketing alone), and how significant their outsourcing operation is in Asia, instead of being a marketing mouthpiece.


Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 9:42 p.m.

So, let me get this straight... a net loss of 50 jobs by a chronically unstable company is cause for a fluff piece singing it's praises? This company has a long history of bold predictions, followed by inevitable turmoil and deep layoffs. Considering it was only a "temporary" layoff, how many of those 70 employees are being called back? Are we to believe that the same executive team who admittedly missed the boat completely on the "sharp shift" in consumer demand is going to crawl out from under the proverbial rock and miraculously rise from the ashes? Good luck to the new hires. Sounds like you're going to need it.


Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

I worked for ReCellular back in 2009-2010 until they let go people in my group that had been there as long as 15 years so they could hire in temps. from ManPower. I was a ManPower employee and once I had my 7 months in and could have been hired in as a ReCellular employee they let me go with no reason, I had never been late or called in sick, instead of people having a chance at making more money they keep hiring in temps. to keep their costs down, if you plan on getting a job there don't plan on it lasting very long. If you want to get hired there get to ManPower off of Jackson Rd in AnnArbor to fill out an application.