One of the more interesting business stories of recent years is the mostly failed integration of freewheeling Kinko’s into the buttoned-down corporate discipline culture of FedEx. The shipping behemoth purchased the copy center chain in 2003 with high hopes of taking advantage of presumed synergies between the two brands. It made perfect sense: make your copies … and then express them to wherever.
Nobody could have foreseen that the two cultures wouldn’t meld, nor the fact that Kinko’s would be a drag on FedEx earnings, even four years later. But one would think – at a minimum – the retail outlets would have figured out a way to integrate their cash registers …
Which brings me to FedEx’s little tin full of Chinese cash:
Yesterday afternoon I stopped by the FedEx Kinko’s outlet on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road with the intention of shipping several packages to the United States and ordering a large copy job. I arrived with roughly US$40 in cash and relief at the sight of a sign promising that FedEx Kinko’s accepts Visa.
Except they don’t. When it came time to pay for my order, I pulled out the plastic and was immediately informed by the clerk that I could use credit for the copies but the shipping charges had to be paid in cash because “they are separate.” I begged to differ, and pointed out that the two companies had been one and the same since 2003. The clerk just smiled and repeated that “they are separate.”
So, after a mad dash to an ATM, I returned to the store with the cash which I handed to the clerk. However, instead of taking it to the register, he reached beneath the counter and placed a small cigar box-sized metal tin on a work station where another employee was collating copies. It looked like the tin that my grandmother uses at her garage sales, except hers isn’t stuffed tight with pink 100 yuan notes (roughly US$13, each) – including the ones that I gave the clerk. When I asked for a receipt, the clerk told me that he could not issue one, but would instead mail one later in the week.
This, from a company that generated US$9 billion in revenue last quarter.
The copies were another matter altogether. My credit card was accepted without issue, and I was given a cleanly printed receipt from a modern, computerized cash register.
What’s the point? Well, it’s one of the dirty little secrets of doing business in China that major multinationals typically don’t bring their A game to the Mainland. Often, they don’t even bring their B game. Clearly, this is the standard that FedEx and its little tin full of cash is living up to. Seriously: could any FedEx Kinko’s outlet in the United States even dream about this kind of stunt? I’ll post an update if and when I receive my receipt in the mail.