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What started as a means to make extra money in college has turned into a $1 million business enterprise for three friends.
Winston Ferguson Jr., 31, Leighton Condell, 31, and Neftaliee Rivera, 26, started Copy Pros, an Atlanta-based professional photocopying service specializing in litigation photocopying, in 1994. The three met while working at a Miami photocopying center in 1991 (Condell and. Ferguson were in college at the time). After becoming proficient in managing the operation, they realized how lucrative the photocopying business could be and vowed to start their own business once they had enough resources.
Their chance came in 1993 when Condell, who left that company to work for another Miami photocopying firm, flew to Atlanta to assist in a project. That trip showed him a market that was virtually untapped. “Atlanta has a large African American population, which we knew would help open doors more easily,” says Condell, vice president and director of sales. “I also had Kappa Alpha Psi brothers there who could help out.”
Later that year, the trio moved there to start Copy Pros with $13,000 from family, friends and savings. Much of this money was used to purchase copier equipment. Their Atlanta connections helped them find space, incorporate the business, and even paint and wire the office.
The 16-employee company offers services that include high-speed copying, color copying, oversize document copying, bankruptcy mailouts, binding and trial exhibits — all available 24 hours a day with free pickup and delivery, according to Rivera, the production manager. Cold calling and word-of-mouth referrals have landed clients such as Sun Trust Bank, AT&T, Arthur Andersen Consulting and 12 of the top 20 law firms in the Atlanta area.
“We face stiff competition from other photocopying shops such as Kinko’s, but we’re able to stay in the game because of our personalized service,” says Ferguson, president and managing director. “Our challenge is to keep increasing revenues and reinvesting in the business until we offer the same range of services as our competitors, while keeping a morn-and-pop atmosphere where we know our clients by name. That’s what we’re striving for.”
“We know what it means to sacrifice and struggle,” says Ferguson, recalling their lean financial beginnings-taking on night jobs, sharing an apartment and living a spartan lifestyle.
To duplicate their success, the three now plan to open a second store in suburban Atlanta before year’s end, and a third in an undisclosed city. Their long-term goal is to have stores in 10 major cities by 2004.