Put some lipstick on this RFP and ship it!

Some have pined in past months for the former influence and glory of a catalyst publication like Fast Company. Ten years ago, their pimping of ideas like change agents and brand you helped inspire and invigorate a generation of entrepreneurs and professionals. Today, FC's ad pages are way, way down. But the ideas and the ethos live on - there's evidence in our everyday business that we've absorbed the "learnings" of the 1990s.

An example: a friend of mine was recently pitching for new business. Not a local pitch. Not a fellow Rotary member. Not even an acquaintaince of an old college friend. A serious municipal RFP with detailed requirements. The sort of thing that can cripple a one-man shop if not handled properly.

Now, Greg's the kind of guy to have his material backed up on the laptop, spare CD, usb keychain and his Treo. He was prepared for this pitch. He had the marketing material sewn shut, the cover letter ironed, and the proposal polished. But he needed three pretty copies produced and shipped to the officious and demanding registrar by 11 am the next day. Oh - and he was travelling across the country on business.

The deadline was strict (Why 11am? Was there an office lunch buffet at Charlie Chan's scheduled? Had people made plans to get loaded and copy their fannies on the office Xerox - in duplex?).

The only option in this two-bit town was a local copy shop. The sort of place that prides itself on its "next day service." With the 1993-era computer that can't handle "big attachments."

Ten years ago, he would have hung up the payphone, turned on his heels, dejected, and headed for the closest peeler bar. Instead, he looked for a Kinko's - the nearest was a mere 100 miles away, in a different state.

And the manager in Exurb, Indiana said he could do it. E-mailed files would become colour documents, copied, cerloxed, and packed for shipping.

A few months ago, I questioned the value of Kinko's acquisition by FedEx. Less blinkered than me (and just a little motivated), Greg saw an opportunity: he harangued the manager to have an off-duty FedEx driver deliver his package to Ohio for the next morning. He even offered to transfer $200 the easiest way possible - through PayPal - to make sure the job was done.

End of story, right? A wonderfully modern tale of connectivity and hypersensitive customer service, right? Nope. Even better.

When Greg spoke to the manager again later that night, he was offered an even better option: FedEx Custom Critical. Same deadline, same driver, same documents - but twenty bucks cheaper and with an official FedEx delivery receipt.

That's right. The late night manager at a copy shop a hundred miles away not only arranged production but shipping, and figured out how to save Greg money as well.

And the smalltown guy who didn't upgrade his system to handle graphics files? Out of luck, but comfortable in his 1993 business model. I wonder how his other business - likely a video store - is holding up.