Outside the box

Features - Cover Story

Mario Skopek of Blue-Pencil Information Security Inc., Toronto, has embraced digital information management.

November 12, 2014
DeAnne Toto

Blue-Pencil Information Security at a Glance

Location:  Toronto

President:  Mario Skopek

No. of Employees:  20

Equipment:  Blue-Pencil operates five shred trucks, one of which was manufactured by the company and is dedicated to processing hard drives. The other trucks are manufactured either by Shred-Tech, Cambridge, Ontario, or Axo Shredders, New Zealand. The company also uses software from Qxpress and Docu Data.

Services:  Physical and electronic document management, document scanning, online backup, on-site  destruction of paper and nonpaper media and consulting

Blue-Pencil may seem like an unusual name for an information management company that got its start providing on-site document destruction services. But, when you stop to consider the meaning, it makes perfect sense. As a transitive verb, blue-pencil means to edit by shortening or deletion.

When Mario Skopek founded Blue-Pencil with his father in Toronto in 2004, his focus was on providing secure, on-site destruction of documents and nonpaper media. However, his vision for the company was more extensive. “I knew that one day we would provide more than secure shredding and wanted a universal name for our company,” Skopek says.

While Blue-Pencil was an ideal name for a business that focused on information destruction, Skopek says it’s also well-suited to the company’s expanded mission of “providing a paper-free office solution that continues to cut, delete and eliminate their paper records.”

Blue-Pencil’s document management division is “two years young,” he says, and allows it to offer “full-circle, comprehensive solutions for information management” that include physical and electronic document management, document scanning and online backup in addition to its well-established on-site destruction services.

This comprehensive service offering of innovative solutions combined with a focus on customer service and security have resulted in year-over-year growth for Blue-Pencil, he says. “It is the shared effort and commitment from our people and the support of our customers that has made all this possible.”

Rooted in destruction

Blue-Pencil serves more than 8,000 clients, including small and medium-sized companies and Fortune 500 businesses, from its single location in Toronto that provides it easy access to the majority of the Ontario marketplace, Skopek says.

Ninety percent of Blue-Pencil’s revenue comes from its destruction division, where the company focuses on providing additional value to its clients as well as customer service excellence, he says.

“Over the past 10 years, I have worked very hard to innovate the way shredding is offered in the marketplace, but unfortunately I can’t take credit for coming up with a breakthrough or billion-dollar idea. However, through this relentless pursuit of taking ‘commodity’ out of the service of document destruction, we continue to stay one step ahead of the competition with our value-added proposition that usually resonates well with decision-makers,” Skopek says.

Skopek became acquainted with the document destruction industry as a teenager. At the age of 15, he began working at Shred-it, which presently is based in Oakville, Ontario, after school. His father began working for the company in 1992 when the family emigrated from Poland.

“I baled paper, shredded off-site material and prepared consoles for delivery,” Skopek says of his early employment with Shred-it. “In my last year of high school, I applied for a co-op position at Shred-it where I assisted in building shredding trucks,” he adds.

Four questions for Mario Skopek

Mario Skopek, owner and president of Blue-Pencil Information Security Inc., Toronto, shares some of his worries and successes as a business owner in the following Q&A with SDB Editor DeAnne Toto.

Q: How did your experience at Shred-it shape your approach to running Blue Pencil? What were some important lessons you learned while with that company?

A: I was young, and the only thing I knew was document destruction. Being in the operations part of the business helped me logistically understand how to run my new venture. My short stint as a sales rep helped me understand why people buy document destruction. I was typically selling to clients using office shredders.

I went through the university of Shred-it and it opened my eyes to an industry that I love and made me a successful entrepreneur as a result.

But I really learned by trial and error running my own business.

Q: What have been some of your foremost challenges as an entrepreneur and how have you addressed them?

A: Even though I read The E-myth shortly after becoming an entrepreneur, it was hard for me to delegate many tasks so I could focus on working on the business and not in the business. The good part is I was always conscious about it, and today I spend more of my time working on the business.

Q: What are among the accomplishments you are most proud of?

A: My family immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1992. We didn’t have any other family here except for each other. My father, one of the hardest working men I have ever encountered, consistently worked 15 to 17 hours of hard labor Monday to Saturday to provide for his young family. My siblings and I quickly became semifinancially independent so not to put the financial burden on my parents.

It wasn’t until about two years ago when we built our stand-alone records center facility and a large Blue-Pencil sign was installed on the front of the building. One evening we stood out there in anticipation of the LED lights coming on. Once they did, our family stood out there emotional and with great sense of accomplishment, while my father told the history of our immigration and how we got to this point.

This accomplishment comes second to being a husband to an awesome wife and a father to 3-year-old Matthew and 1-year-old Emma.

Q: As a business owner, what keeps you up at night?

A: My mind racing through ideas for our next market-best value proposition, but my wife would tell you that nothing keeps me up at night, not even our screaming 1-year-old.

Skopek remained with Shred-it, holding various positions, including driver and salesman, until he left to form Blue-Pencil, which began serving clients in January 2004. His father helped to fund the business with his savings, while Skopek focused on developing the business plan and managing the business.

Blue-Pencil began by offering on-site destruction because it is what Skopek knew, he says. “I was trained to sell against off-site in my previous life. I am still convinced that it is more secure and efficient.”

He adds that roughly 85 percent of the Toronto market prefers on-site service. “It could be that the awareness that Shred-it has created in the marketplace is driving that number up,” Skopek says.

The company also provides on-site destruction of nonpaper media using a shred truck dedicated for that task that Skopek and his father built when they launched Blue-Pencil.

Outside the box storage

More recently, Blue-Pencil expanded its roster to include records management services; however, the company is focusing on providing electronic records management as opposed to traditional hard-copy storage. Blue-Pencil also offers document imaging and online backup services.

“We didn’t get into the document management business to be another market standard records management provider offering document storage and physical document retrieval/delivery,” Skopek says. “We got into the document management business to be a part of the paper-free evolution.

“We did not invent document management or document destruction; we are simply reinventing the way it’s being offered in the marketplace, and our objective is to stay one step ahead of the competition in promoting inevitable change in the marketplace,” he continues.

Blue-Pencil also wants to avoid the courier aspect of traditional records management, he says, citing yearly increases in fuel costs, insurance and traffic.

The records management sales cycle tends to be much longer than that for destruction services, he notes. Given that Blue-Pencil’s records management division is only two years old, the company is still in the process of converting its destruction services clients to records management clients. “We’ve got over 8,000 clients that we want to bring on as document management customers,” Skopek says. However, within a single company, decision-makers who are purchasing document destruction services may vary from those who are purchasing document management services.

While Blue-Pencil’s destruction services clients often are happy to refer the company to their document management counterparts, Skopek says, meeting with Blue-Pencil may not be their top priority if they are already vended. “Part of our sales process is to continue to market to those people until they are ready to have a look at what we have to offer,” he says.

However, Skopek says opportunities do exist, adding that Blue-Pencil takes a consultative approach to sales and focuses on driving best practices. “We can quantify what bad records management means for them.”

It’s difficult to address potential savings in terms of generalities, Skopek says, because “records management company pricing is all over the place.” However, he cites one customer that had 1,500 cartons stored in a market standard program that could realize a savings of $11,000 over the life cycle of those cartons by moving to Blue-Pencil’s electronic solutions.

“What we are finding is that clients overkeep their records,” Skopek says, noting that clients often need assistance with records classification and establishing and adhering to retention schedules.

Blue-Pencil educates its clients on the best available solutions for their documents, he says. While document conversion is attracting the attention of clients, it can be the most expensive option for records that have a retention period of five to 10 years and that are largely inactive, Skopek says. “Documents that need to be kept for the life of the organization and that they need constant access to justify document conversion,” he adds.

To provide these services, Blue-Pencil has become a value-added reseller of existing software. “We are a sales- and marketing-driven organization,” Skopek says. “We don’t want to put a ton of money into infrastructure and compete against large international companies.”

That decision led Blue-Pencil to white label an existing solution and take it to clients in the Toronto market.

“When we have a large client base, we will have to decide if we want to develop our own product and go to market with it,” Skopek says.

Blue-Pencil’s focus on electronic records management does not mean it completely ignores hard-copy records, however. “We do help clients manage paper records in their offices and off site as well,” he says.

Service oriented

Regardless of the service Blue-Pencil’s staff is performing for a client, Skopek says, one thing remains constant: providing customer service excellence.

“I am a very demanding individual and a perfectionist, which I’m sure drives people who work along me crazy,” Skopek says. “However, I’m happy to say that we employ individuals who care about providing client service excellence as much as I do.”

He continues, “New employees quickly realize I have one pet peeve: when clients get upset with our service. We are in the service business; that is what we need to be the best at.”

To help ensure Blue-Pencil continues to excel in this area, Skopek says the company conducts a customer satisfaction survey yearly with its regularly scheduled clients. “We have a 100 percent satisfaction rate,” he says.

At times when Blue-Pencil has failed to deliver on a customer’s expectations, Skopek says the company has an incident report process, which he often leads. “We will investigate and get back to the client with our findings. We offer compensation in the form of free service to the client if we dropped the ball. We don’t like providing free services, so we make sure not to drop the ball,” he adds.

Blue-Pencil tries to turn its focus on customer service into customer referrals to help grow its business. “The challenging part is remembering to ask for referrals,” Skopek says.

Blue-Pencil gives clients who provide successful referrals $50 Visa gift cards.

While Blue-Pencil’s focus is on providing customer-centric, innovative services that add value to its clients’ operations, Skopek says a single ingredient is responsible for his company’s success. “If you asked me for one ingredient that leads to business success, I would say ‘hard work.’ We put a lot of hard work into this business.”

Much of that hard work currently is focused on continued growth. “Our immediate vision is to continue to grow our market share in Ontario; we have over 8,000 shredding clients that we have to turn into document management clients,” Skopek says. “We are in the process of building our strategic marketing plan, which is due to roll out in 2015. The success of this plan will also help us determine future expansion plans. We will continue our relentless pursuit of service and solution innovations.”


The author is managing editor of Storage & Destruction Business magazine and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.