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Kinko's founder all shook up as FedEx drops the K-name

June 15, 2008 |  3:43 pm

From Times staff writer Alana Semuels:

Kinko’s as Elvis?

That’s the anguished analogy that the copy chain’s founder, Paul Orfalea, makes in his belated comments on FedEx Corp.’s decision to drop the Kinko’s name.

FedEx, which bought Kinko’s in 2004 for $2.4 billion, announced on June 2 that it was changing the name of its stores from FedEx Kinko’s to FedEx Office, which "better describes the wide range of services available" at the stores, the company said.

This was, of course, not the first time an iconic corporate name has been junked. The dust bin of history is filled with once-revered retail names, including Marshall Field and Filene’s (both swallowed by Macy’s). And this year, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which produces Panasonic products, said it would change its name to Panasonic Corp. in the fall, dropping Matsushita, the name of its founder.

Elvis But Orfalea, who founded Kinko’s in 1970, said in a statement on Friday that FedEx’s decision "hit me hard."

He built Kinko’s from a single shop in Santa Barbara to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees. (Orfalea was called "Kinko" because of his frizzy red hair, and named the shop after that sobriquet.)

Orfalea, 60, stepped down as chairman of the firm in 2000, and has since spent much of his time donating money to various causes in Southern California.

In his mournful comments, Orfalea said that Kinko’s used to be about "shared power, shared profits, and shared knowledge," but that the Kinko’s he created "has been gone for a very long time."

Just like Elvis -- in more ways than one, he suggests.

Orfalea ended his statement remembering what John Lennon reportedly said when asked about the death of Elvis Presley in 1977: "Elvis died when he went in the army."

"As music historians note," Orfalea said, "Presley entered the army [in 1958] as a rock and roller, but returned as a crooner and movie star. The rebellious independence Lennon loved in Elvis was gone long before the King died."

Hmmm. So Kinko’s, like Elvis, had its soul sucked out of it? Sounds like a good subject for a biz book.

Sure enough, Orfalea notes that’s he’s at work on a tome to be titled, "Kamelot: Kinko’s Brief Shining Moment in American Business History."

He says: "We want more entrepreneurs to know how Kinko’s became so successful with its unconventional partnership structure, why the corporate culture was unique, how we listened to our counter folks to focus on customers, and ultimately how the remarkable in-store and corporate culture and innovation was lost."

For book marketing purposes, FedEx might just have done Orfalea a favor.

Photo: Elvis gets his first Army haircut at Fort Chaffee, Ark., in March 1958./Associated Press

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