- December 14, 2021
- Betsy Kahn
40 Years: Reflections on a Lifetime at One Job
Buckle up. It’s not easy to consolidate 40 years into a few sentences so we’ll share the first half, with the second to follow soon.
Monday, October 9, 1981 – my first day on ‘the job’ at Copycat
A few weeks before my first day on the job, my father, Max Kahn (from here on out, I might refer to him as Daddy) asked me if I’d like to come work for him selling drafting supplies. I didn’t have a job at the time; my employment as a camp counselor teaching young girls how to play tennis at a camp in New Hampshire had come to an end. I was living at home wondering if I could get a job on a cruise ship as the cruise director.
Daddy seemed to think my work history (giving tennis lessons was the extent of my work experience) combined with his offer would catapult me into a successful career selling items about which I knew nothing, absolutely nothing. [For those of you uninformed like I was, drafting supplies were used in the Architectural/Engineering/Construction industries for a really long time prior to the advent of computers. Even today those in the A/E/C world have periodic need.]
At 8am on 10/9/81, I reported to work at Copycat’s location at the corner of 15th & Queen. My orientation was brief. “Here’s the key to the door and this is what you’ll be selling.” Apparently, I was all set. I was to be mentored for two weeks by the woman I was replacing. She had given noticed to go back to her home state; in so doing, she was charged with getting me up to speed. I have no clue if she knew anything about sales. The best pro tip I learned in that two-week period was how to have two-hour business lunches. In retrospect I believe Daddy was not unhappy she was leaving; he seemed to have confidence in me as her replacement, even if I was a terrible candidate for the position. Clearly, he was desperate.
After two weeks of learning basically nothing except how to have extended lunches, my mentor left and there I was, ready to sell drafting supplies (whatever they were).
It’s hugely important to note that this was before computers. There was no such thing as ‘googling’ an item. If I wanted to understand anything about what I was selling, I had to refer to a catalog.
To learn the difference between architectural and engineering scales, I referred to a catalog.
To learn about drafting machines to be attached to drafting tables, I referred to a catalog.
To learn anything related to what I was supposed to sell, I had to consult a catalog or call a vendor. Suffice it to say, I became quite the research librarian, scouring vendor catalogs to educate myself.
Becoming self-taught on the topic of drafting supplies was an achievement but then there was the small matter of who used the stuff. Again, we were computer-free back in those days. Enter the telephone book Yellow Pages . . . my second most favorite reading material at the time. I scoured it to determine who bought drafting supplies (the A/E/C folk).
[Btw, there are quite a few folks I called on then with whom we do business today: Willie Dalrymple who was a designer for Boney Architects, now LS3P; Greg Stier, a local general contractor, plus architects like John Stirewalt, John Parker and Cothran Harris have all been loyal patrons. The list of clients dating back to the early years is extensive and I’m sure I’ve left out some key players – please accept my apologies in advance. We are immensely grateful for their continued faith in Copycat.]
And so it was for three years. I went out in the morning making sales calls & deliveries, meeting new folks and becoming more educated on how their tools were used, then spending the afternoons by myself in a 3000sqft building, reading product literature, making phone calls (at least my phone was push button and not rotary!) and placing orders with vendors.
Geek warning – Technical stuff ahead
While Daddy might not have been the best at providing sales instruction, he had a knack for recognizing innovative equipment when he saw it. Because of this, he ordered our Shacoh 920 in 1984, a walloping $120,000 purchase and a tremendous leap of faith. This electrostatic copier allowed for 36” input and output – revolutionary stuff! We could scale documents in 10th of a % increments from 45.8% up to 210% with 10th of a % accuracy.
As an example of what the scale changes meant, if a landscape architect had a site plan drawn at 1:30 and needed it at 1:10, we could dial in the correct percentage, feed the original through one side of the machine and receive a scale-changed copy on 20lb bond, translucent 20lb vellum or 3 mil polyester film. The site plan did not have to be redrawn, saving professionals hours of valuable time. To offer this service was a HUGE paradigm shift in assisting the A/E/C communities become more efficient.
Right out the gate, it became my responsibility to sell this technology to the A/E/C community. Once our customers learned how our services could improve their workflow, the Shacoh ran pretty much non-stop. My father’s leap of faith evolved into a brilliant and lucrative move.
Riding the technology wave
In the late 80s, we upgraded to the Shacoh Mark II and before long, added the first commercially available color copier in the area. Few, if any, area businesses had desktop printers so we generated hundreds of thousands of color prints for a variety of industries. Natural progression meant adding the first commercially available wide format color printer in the early 90s (I can take some credit for convincing him on this one).Once again, Daddy recognized local needs and found applicable (and lucrative) solutions.
About that time, we were introduced to a new way of printing ‘blueprints’ which have been a staple Copycat product since 1970. Making bond copies with black lines on an electrostatic printer was our next innovative introduction. It was a faster, less expensive way of producing a better product for our customers. Yet another paradigm shift in how printing evolved in southeastern NC thanks to Daddy and allowing me to assist with his gutsy decision-making. In the span of about 15 years, Copycat Print Shop with Daddy at the helm and me as his co-pilot, introduced 5 new technologies/services to Wilmington and the vicinity.
This is a great spot to end Part I. In Part II, we’ll talk about more technologies introduced to you, the various locations we’ve inhabited and Copycat’s community-minded efforts.
Max Kahn plugging away at a fax machine back in the 80’s.
David Turner, Betsy’s cousin, who worked with Copycat from 1984 until his retirement in 2016.