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Kinko’s – A Great American Success Story
Paul Orfalea of Santa Barbara, Ca is wealthy and famous because he was the founder of Kinko’s, the well-known copy store chain which was recently bought by FedEx® .Orfalea is plain-spoken – he doesn’t pull any punches when he talks about his life and his success. Orfalea learned much of his practical knowledge from watching his dad, in some cases he learned what he didn’t want to do as much as what he wanted to do. Orfalea’s dad owned a women’s clothes factory and had to redesign his product line six times a year. Orfalea knew he wanted a business that was not dependent upon constantly changing inventory.
Orfalea suffers from the disability, dyslexia, a condition that causes letters to jumble and makes it difficult to read. His reading problems began in first grade and plagued him all through school. He finally graduated from high school near the bottom of his class in 1966. Just because Orfalea had trouble reading didn’t mean he wasn’t intelligent, in fact, some might say he was a genius as an operator, finding inventive ways to manage and succeed in the educational system. He started attending community college at night and eventually transferred to USC where he managed to graduate as a business major in 1970.
Orfalea started Kinko’s while in his senior year at USC. He got the idea while working on a paper with a group of students. Knowing his contribution to the writing of the paper would be minimal, he volunteered to be the one who did all the leg work, copying the paper for everyone as it was written and then submitted. USC had a copy place, but it occurred to him that college students had a need for copying and other kinds of services. Orfalea opened his first Kinko’s at the University of California at Santa Barbara in September of 1970. On the first day of school, he stood outside selling notebooks and pens to student passersby. Soon he was buying paper wholesale, making copies, adding film processing and finally, even traditional printing. He opened his second store by the third year and continued opening stores as time went on.
Orfalea believes that entrepreneurs’ have three primary jobs. Job one is to motivate workers. He attributes his success to great employees and good management. He has had success in bad locations if the manager was good and failure in good locations if the manager was bad. He believes the best way to keep employees loyal is to make them partners by having them invest in the company so that they have a stake in the success of the branch. His number two priority is to understand the customer, not just what they want today, but what they are going to need tomorrow. Finally, and most important, entrepreneurs must keep their eyes on the money. Orfalea believes you must balance your own checkbook and be able to forecast in your head, or on the back of an envelope, at least three months in advance.
Orfalea looks for candor in the people around him; he wants the truth so he can fix little problems before they get bigger. Orfalea dislikes meetings, because he believes people watch what they say too carefully and time is wasted getting to the heart of the matter. He believes he learns the most from others in one-on-one conversations.
The Small Business Professors' Words of Wisdom
If Paul Orfalea had to do it all over again, he would have said “thank you” more often. He believes the job he did best was managing the cash. He’s had his share of failures, but he feels that failure is just a part of life. He says you can’t dwell on failure; you just have to move on. His personal philosophy is that accountants focus on the past, managers focus on the present, and leaders focus on the future. To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be a leader. Orfalea says you have your 20’s to try everything, your 30’s to figure out what you do best, your 40’s to make money from what you do best, and your 50’s to chill out and help others. Today, through his family’s foundation, Orfalea spends his time working with a variety of businesses involving kids with learning differences, working parents, early child development, intergenerational day care centers, and more. Orfalea is always looking for new business opportunities that help people and is now involved with more than he can count.
- Case History: www.paulorfalea.com
- Entrepreneur’s Strategy: Provide a service that you need and make it available to others. Watch the cash.
- Could This Work For Me? Too many business owners get away from handling their finances. This puts you in the position of being taken advantage of by others. Never lose sight of how much is coming in and how much is going out each month.
Orfalea started Kinko's while in his senior year at USC