This article appeared in the C-store Self-Service Executive Summary, Summer 2006.
Allen Thornton creates reams of paperwork in the course of running his commercial photography business — job quotes, employee documents, financial and banking documents — all of which need to be destroyed in a timely fashion.
But it doesn't stop there. As a creator of digital content, he regularly burns hundreds of CDs of his high-resolution files.
"This is my bread and butter," he said. "I cannot allow these to fall into the wrong hands. A home shredder cannot keep up or hold up with my needs. Shredding one page at a time on a low-cost shredder is not a good alternative."
Thornton is a satisfied customer of RealTime Shredding, a Colorado Springs-based company that aims to bring commercial-grade shredding capabilities to the masses.
A growing need
RealTime indeed might be arriving at a very opportune time. According to a report by the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center, 7 million people in the U.S. fell victim to identity theft in the past 12 months — that's about 800 people every hour. Victims spend an average of 600 hours recovering from the crime, which amounts to an average of $16,000 in lost potential or real income.
Money and time aren't the only things lost; well-being also suffers. "The emotional impact on victims is likened to that felt by victims of more violent crime, including rape, violent assault and repeated battering," the report says. "Some victims feel dirty, defiled, ashamed and embarrassed, and undeserving of assistance."
As awareness of identity theft has risen in the public mind, so too has the sale of at-home shredding units. The American Office Products Distributors Association said the global shredder market is currently $700 to $800 million a year, with a projected annual growth of 20 percent. Fellowes, a leading manufacturer of shredders, said its sales rose 25 percent in 2003 from the year before.
Into this market comes RealTime Shredding, which manufactures and deploys its eponymous kiosk, built around a Security Level 3 crosscut shredder that can process 600 pounds of material per hour.
Confetti on demand
The shredding kiosk is a sleek silver unit with a rugged look. An opening on the front allows users to dump in large amounts of material; a translucent window at the bottom shows the shredded results falling into a receptacle. Currently, the company charges $1 for two minutes of use, which is long enough to shred about 400 sheets of paper. Businesses also are able to place the machines inside their office buildings and receive a monthly invoice for usage.
The RealTime Shredding kiosk really shines when it comes to tougher materials that are often found buried within stacks of paperwork.
"Most home shredders cannot manage a single staple or paper clip, let alone credit cards, DVD, CDs or floppy discs," said company president Amanda Verrie. "Many people will find it easier to use RealTime Shredding for some needs."
One of the larger questions raised by the device is whether consumers will be willing to accumulate large quantities of sensitive documents, then transport them to a public kiosk. For this reason, the company provides branded bags with handles that customers can take home with them, perhaps setting them up in a corner of the office for easy use.
"The idea is that once someone fills the RealTime Shredding bag, it's time to visit a kiosk," Verrie said.
Verrie said there are currently seven of the machines deployed, in Colorado and Texas. The company is working on placing 300 of them in 2006.
Maintenance and servicing will be key for the growing network, especially emptying machines when they are full. Verrie said the kiosks are built upon a comprehensive remote management back-end that, in addition to sales reporting functions, automatically sends notices when the shredder bin is almost full.
"The development has been a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience," she said. "We are extremely proud of the fact that we've figured out how to get this type of service and power in the hands of the everyday consumer so inexpensively."