Petros Demertzis had already noticed the declining state of Greek media a few years ago, but when newspapers and radio and television stations began shutting down and his colleagues started losing their jobs with little hope of finding new ones, he wracked his brains to come up with a plan B for when his turn arrived. He remembered a story he had read about some Japanese university students who found a way, as part of a project, to reduce the cost of photocopies to zero by selling advertising space on the back of the copies. The students eventually sold their idea to a large company and made enough money to retire.
Demertzis saw no reason why this idea couldn’t work in Greece, a country notorious for the number of photocopies citizens need for every bureaucratic procedure as well as the absence of textbooks at universities. He drew up a business plan and applied for funding from the EU-backed National Strategic Reference Framework, but was turned down as his scheme was not deemed innovative enough.
“I set the idea aside for awhile,” he told Kathimerini recently. “But then my work situation began to deteriorate.” A few months ago, Demertzis became a dad, but was no longer getting paid for his work. “I had to find a way to support my family, but that would have been impossible if I continued to work without pay,” he explained.
So, in October he said goodbye to an 18-year career in journalism and embarked on his first business venture. He had no funding, but managed to get backing from his wife’s sister and brother-in-law. A couple of months ago he opened Greece’s very first TwoDots store in a strategic location near one of the country’s biggest educational institutions, at 80 Aghiou Spiridonos Street in Aegaleo, just a few meters from the Athens Technical College, which has some 45,000 students.
At TwoDots, customers pay an annual membership fee of 2 euros (required by law, which prohibits free photocopies) that allows them to make an unlimited number of photocopies at no extra cost on 100 gr A4 paper (which ensures there is no transparency). The only catch is that there is a full-page colored ad on the back of each sheet, funding the scheme. These ads are normally for special offers or coupons, which students often find useful.
Demertzis and his partners estimate that every student makes an average of 150 photocopies per class. Given that they take between six and eight classes per semester, this means around 1,000 photocopies a year. Most photocopy stores charge 7 euro cents per page, costing students around 70 euros a semester. Many scrimp on the number of copies they make, especially since the onset of the crisis.
“We certainly want to help the students and their parents, who usually pay for these expenses,” Demertzis explained. “They come here and instead of copying 20 pages, they’ll copy 100, as many as they need, and sometimes they even make two copies. One kid came in here the other day and copied 1,800 pages. He couldn’t even carry them.”
The biggest problem Demertzis has faced is explaining to new customers that the service is in fact free – bar the 2-euro membership fee.
“They just don’t believe us. We have to keep assuring them that they don’t need to pay anything,” he laughed.
TwoDots currently has just over 200 members and is seeking more advertising.
“We have one red line. No student politics. We’ve already been approached by the youth wings of two parties and have turned them down. Everyone else is welcome,” Demertzis underlined.
The entrepreneur is looking to expand his business through franchises around the country. The next step will be to ensure that TwoDots becomes 100 percent green, using recycled paper and nontoxic ink, and running recycling campaigns for university campuses.
“I think we have found a way to help young people at this difficult time, but also ourselves; we can have a better, albeit simpler life,” Demertzis said.