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THE CUTTING EDGE: SMALL OFFICE / HOME OFFICE | THE
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Do You Copy?

Or Fax? Or Scan? Or Use a PC? Kinko's Thought So, and Its Foresight Is Paying Off

June 16, 1997|PAUL KARON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Paul Diskin, manager of O'Brien's Irish Pub in Santa Monica, was busily officing at the Kinko's on Lincoln Boulevard in Marina del Rey.

Kinko's, as everybody knows by now, is much more than the world's biggest chain of 24-hour copy shops. It's "the new way to office." Diskin, standing before a large-format photocopier, was officing hard to create a new poster that would advertise the live bands coming up at the lively Main Street bar.

The machine kicked out a medium-sized poster. It looked pretty nice. Diskin hit the button for another copy. The copier shuddered, blinked a few amber-colored indicator lights and jammed. "Uh-oh, I just broke the machine," Diskin said, and looked around. "Help."

A Kinko's employee arrived presently, opened the copier's side panel, reached in and jiggled an interior carriage, restoring the machine to life. Diskin printed another poster, which came out even better than the first. Then the machine jammed again.

Hey, no one ever said the new way to office would be easy.

Roughly translated, the clunky but catchy Kinko's phrase seems to mean about the same thing as work. But what the extremely successful chain of copying and service shops provides, obviously, is not work--though a lot of Kinko's employees do a lot of work--but access to the machines people use when they work.

That includes, of course, the photocopiers, including impressive new color copiers, personal computers of both the Windows and Macintosh varieties, lots of software, laser printers, scanners to convert hard copy into computer-readable data, fax machines and even soda and candy machines.

In short, all the electro-mechanical wonders that are typically associated with today's business office.

Though Kinko's still makes most of its money from large-volume document reproduction, the Ventura-based firm has correctly and very profitably realized that the modern professional can't work without machines, and if they can't afford to own them, then they'll just have to rent them, even if just for a few minutes at a time.

It's another one of the simple but powerful insights of Paul Orfalea, founder and chairman of Kinko's. According to company legend, Orfalea opened his first copy shop in 1970 in a converted hamburger stand near the UC Santa Barbara campus, after realizing that just about everybody needed copies at one time or another. Through most of the next 20 years, Kinko's stores popped up primarily in college towns, but in 1989 the company started focusing more on corporate and small office/home office (SOHO) customers.

It's been a happy strategy: Now there are 850 Kinko's, mostly in the United States, with about 20 in other countries. Earlier this year, the investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Inc. further invigorated Kinko's with a $214-million equity stake that will help fuel even more worldwide expansion and services, especially for the SOHO market.

In Kinko's terms, the nation's ongoing shift to SOHO-based employment translates to a large and growing demand for a convenient and dependable place to find a photocopier, personal computer, fax machine or just a clean, well-lighted place to work, said Karen Sophiea, the company's vice president of marketing.

Sophiea is the person at Kinko's headquarters who receives the letters from the English teachers and other defenders of grammar. They condemn the company's "new way to office" slogan, calling it an incorrect usage of the noun "office," and complaining that the marketing theme is another instance of advertising copywriters playing loose with the language.

That may be true, but in Kinko's defense it should be noted that no less an authority than the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary observes that "office" has been used as an intransitive verb in the United States since late in the last century.

Despite that, if you approach someone at Kinko's and ask, "What are you officing on?" or maybe the jocular, "Officing hard or hardly officing?" you'll be met with a blank, slightly frightened look. Even so, the steady stream of busy customers in the Marina del Rey store suggested that Kinko's speaks the language of business very eloquently, and that is indeed helping people meet the day's technological needs.

For example, there was the young man, casually well-dressed in a green shirt, tan jeans and cowboy boots, who was pacing, waiting impatiently for a fax that he thought should have arrived by then. He said his name was Rene. "Believe me, if I had the money I'd get my own fax machine," said Rene.

"What do you do?" the young man is asked.

"I'm a physician, a surgeon."

"And you can't afford a fax machine?"

"I have a fax machine at home, but I'd need a fax machine every place I stay."

"Where are you staying now?"

"On my boat." He described the vessel as a 30-foot cabin cruiser.

Meanwhile, Diskin, the publican from Santa Monica, left with several posters under his arm. On his way out, he paused to recommend a few single-malt scotches.

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