Tuesday, January 12, 2016

From the current issue of the Larry Hunt Newsletters - on starting a copy center business from scratch … in a foreign country

I just received the January 2016 edition of The Larry Hunt Newsletters.  As many of you know, The Larry Hunt Newsletters include three different newsletters, “Color Copy News”, “High-Speed Copy News” and “Wide-Format News.”  These newsletters have long been a great source of information for those in our industry who make equipment-buying-decisions. 

When I read through the January issue, I noticed that Dirck Holscher (who is the current publisher/editor of the Larry Hunt Newsletters) responded to a reader’s question.  You’ll see that question …. and Dirck’s response …. below my initial comments.

Dirck was one of the initial shareholders in Copy General Europe (and he is still a shareholder.)  I had the awesome pleasure of doing consulting work for Copy General Europe after I retired from NGI (National Graphic Imaging / FL/GA).   The founding shareholder of CG Europe was Paul Panitz (who Dirck mentions below), one of the very first “imaging industry” people I became friends with (I met Paul in 1970/71 ... and, yes, I am ancient!)  Paul Panitz was inducted into the Reprographics 101 Reprographics Industry Hall of Fame, last year, and there is a separate archive devoted to Paul (known as The Panitz Archives.)

Okay, here we go with the question one of LH Newsletters’ readers asked Dirck, followed by Dirck’s response.  (I did get permission from Dirck to post this on the Reprographics 101 Blog.) (This comes from page 6 of the January 2016 issue):

Getting Started in Europe ... A reader writes, “I’m curious about your past business experience. How did you develop the opportunity of owning the copy businesses in Europe? Was there no competition serving the market? Did a customer you currently have ask you to open facilities in that market?”
Editor’s comments: We got started in Europe because an old friend of mine, Paul Panitz, was travelling in Europe at just the time the Berlin Wall came down. Great changes were taking place in the entire region, but especially in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany. Paul had just sold a successful business in the Washington, D.C., area, and since he felt he wasn’t ready to retire, he was looking for new opportunities.
He was in the right place at the right time. The first thing that caught his eye was the opportunity to invest in independent newspapers in Poland. Under Communist rule, there was no free press. The media were under the thumb of the government and the party. Paul’s willingness to invest in these papers was important in re- establishing a free press in Poland.
While travelling in eastern Europe, Paul noticed that the most-developed and western-facing country was Hungary, particularly its capital, Budapest. Yet one vital thing was missing. Because of Communist control in Budapest, the entire city had virtually no copy shops or printers. Printing was totally controlled by the state, with no access to the general public. Paul saw this as an opportunity, since Hungary was finally opening to the West, and massive changes were taking place in its government and in society as a whole.
One day I received a fax from Paul. He outlined what he had observed, and he thought we should get together to discuss the opportunities. He proposed lunch ... in Budapest. He told me he had arranged for an open plane
ticket and several nights in the historic Gellert Hotel. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. However, I did have second thoughts as, several weeks later, I was driving in from the old Ferihegy airport in a beat-up Trabant taxi. I saw the convoys of Russian troops heading out to the airport (it was many months before the last Soviet troops left Budapest). I thought at the time that “the Communists are heading out as the capitalists are arriving.”
I was intrigued with what I saw and felt there was a tremendous opportunity for a U.S.-style copy-shop operation in Budapest. Western companies were streaming in to do business in Hungary. And newly privatized Hungarian companies were free to do business in the West and needed Western-style marketing materials in order to be taken seriously.
It took us almost a year to get the first store open. Finding retail space was very difficult. There was no ready source for production copiers, and bindery equipment of any kind was totally unavailable. We finally persuaded Kodak to sell us some basic high-speed equipment. Service, though, had to come from Austria, several hours away. We brought in older bindery equipment from our operations in the U.S.
Once we finally got going, the rest was history. The first store became so busy we had to open a second, then a third. Ultimately we had six stores in Budapest and several locations in other parts of Hungary. We then expanded into the Czech Republic and Poland. Copy General has also had locations in Russia, China, Costa Rica and several other countries.
Copyright 2016 by Larry Hunt Publications. No part of this report may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express written consent of Larry Hunt Publications. Material presented in this publication is based on the best information available, but cannot be guaranteed for completeness or accuracy. To subscribe, contact Larry Hunt Publications, P.O. Box 1269, Berryville, VA 22611 – (540) 336-3360, fax (888) 345-3860, email:dirck@larryhunt.com, website: www.larryhunt.com. Editor: Dirck Holscher
E-mail from Joel to Dirck:

Hi Dirck,

Hey, thanks for the Newsletter.

I really enjoyed reading the piece you wrote about Copy General getting started in Europe.

If you don't mind, I would like to print-to-pdf that page of the newsletter so that I can post it in "The Panitz Archives", which is linked to the Reprographics 101 Reprographics Industry Hall of Fame.

By the way .... small world .... and I don't think I mentioned this to you before .... but, shortly after I reunited with Paul, which took place in early 2007, I bumped into Rafael Luis Aparacio at the IRgA convention in late May 2007.  Rafael was then CEO of Service Point (HQ'd in Barcelona.)  I had already known Rafael for several years.  But, when we talked at the convention, and I mentioned Paul to him, he said, "I was with Kodak at the time Paul started in Budapest, and I was the salesguy who worked out Paul getting his first Kodak copiers in Budapest!"  I later passed along to Paul Rafael's "hello."  So, Dirck, I got a smile when I saw you mention "Kodak" in the newsletter/article.

Dirck’s response to my e-mail:

Kodak was instrumental in getting us equipped in Budapest. They really went out on a limb placing machines in a country where there was no real print for pay market, except for what we were trying to create. We eventually worked with Sir Ralph Land and others at Rank Xerox to place engineering machines, but originally I believe all our copiers came from Kodak.

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