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Kinko's founder tells how to copy success

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Orfalea

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BOWLING GREEN - Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko's Inc., is not a typical entrepreneur.

He dislikes being in his own store, has trouble reading, and openly admits, "I wouldn't hire myself."

He explained his success yesterday at Bowling Green State University's Sebo Series of Entrepreneurship, attended by local businessmen, politicians, and BGSU students.

In 1970, he opened his first store near the University of California at Santa Barbara. He named it after his boyhood nickname "Kinko," derived from his curly red hair. He was 22.

From the beginning, the premise was simple: provide college students with products and services they need at a competitive price.

"I was 100 percent paranoid all of the time, always asking, 'Who's going to wipe me out today,'" said Mr. Orfalea, 60. But as the company grew, so did his confidence, and ironically, so did his paranoia.

In 2000, he quit the business. Four years later, the firm was sold to FedEx Corp. for $2.4 billion. It currently has more than 1,700 stores on four continents. He made money from selling off a stake earlier and from the FedEx purchase, but how much is unclear.

"I've had a lot of [business] failures," he said. "But my mom, who used to play poker, would say, 'You can't make money if you always play scared.' "

He took that advice, grew his Kinko's empire, and then got out. Since then, he has owned a bowling alley, 24-hour dry cleaner, a Chinese and falafel restaurant, and the Espresso Royale chain, among others.

"Life is about work, love, and play, and without an even balance of those three, success is impossible," he said. "Listening, and acting on one's emotions, is imperative."

He advised students to always keep learning. "Read the newspapers. Be involved with current events. Be informed." He was able to manage Kinko's successfully, he said, by always thinking like a customer and always treating employees well.

"You think you're the boss?" he asked the audience. "I don't want to break your heart, but your workers are the boss."

Providing day cares, periodic free lunches, and college scholarship funds, among other things, goes a long way toward enhancing employee loyalty, he said.

His biggest mistake? He never said enough thank-yous to employees. As for his fondest memories with the company, his 100 favorite didn't involve business.

"My fondness is to have fun, go out, and play," he said.

Contact Ted Fackler at:

tfackler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.

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