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Kinko’s holds the key to 24-hour services

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The lettering on the door sums up the business model: "Your branch office/Open 24 hours." Kinko's, once known simply as the leading chain of printing and copy shops, has recast itself for the work-obsessed digital age.

Where there once were only copy machines, Kinko's stores in the United States and abroad now feature a uniform mixture of fax machines, ultra-fast color printers and networks of computers equipped with popular software programs and high-speed Internet connections.Many business people, while traveling, have come to regard Kinko's as their office away from home, stopping in to check their e-mail or otherwise make quick use of a computer. And laptop stations let business travelers plug their notebook computers into any of several different printers for making copies of presentations while on the road.

Don Allen of the R.L. Polk company in Salt Lake City is one of those travelers. As he designed a flier on a computer in the downtown Salt Lake Kinko's on a recent Wednesday, he said it helps him manage business in a three-state area.

"I'm traveling, so it makes it easy to pop in and do things . . .," Allen said. "I couldn't haul everything around in my car all the time."

He said Kinko's always has telephones available, so he can check his voice mail no matter where he is.

"I can work any hour of the night or day that I need to," he said.

Many a home-office worker also has come to rely on Kinko's as the well-appointed office outside the house. On any given day, tens of thousands of them stop by a Kinko's store, whether to make temporary use of a high-resolution color printer or to find something else the home office does not have: other people.

"You get frustrated, so you end up meeting people," said Peter Goggin, a Web site designer with Epicenter Communications Inc., in Sausalito, Calif., who regularly stops by Kinko's to make color prints. "Sometimes you share tips."

Bonnie Stewart, assistant manager of the downtown Salt Lake Kinko's, said it is receiving more and more jobs on disk or by e-mail. And an increasing number of its customers are from small or home-based businesses.

That is precisely the kind of pay-by-the-hour collaboration that gladdens the heart of Kinko's chairman, Paul Orfalea, who as a 22-year-old with kinky red hair, inspiring the business's name, opened his first copying service in 1970. He set up shop behind a taco stand in Santa Barbara, Calif., to serve students at the University of California campus.

Even though the company has grown, it still meets that core need. Brent Little, a Weber State University student, was in the Salt Lake Kinko's recently making color copies of photographs.

He said he often uses Kinko's to copy notes and work on art projects.

"Lots of times I'm up late, and everything else is shut down," Little said. "You don't use (Kinko's) all the time, but it does come in handy."

That handy reputation has helped Orfalea nurture the privately held outfit into a chain with 902 stores in the United States and abroad, including 43 foreign branches, mainly in Canada and Japan, and revenues now estimated at $1 billion, making Kinko's the leader in the $7 billion copy-services market.

And if all goes as planned, Orfalea may finally take Kinko's public next year.