An Oregon company is diving headfirst into the off-site automated teller machine business.

TRM Copy Centers Corp. of Portland, which operates photocopying machines in 35,000 retail locations, has received a $20 million investment from ReadyCash Partnership, a Philadelphia firm led by two brothers with strong ties to banking and financial services.

TRM's goal: to deploy 6,000 to 10,000 ATMs by yearend 1999.

"We have the financial resources to be able to aggressively attack the market," said Paul M. Brown, chief financial officer of TRM.

That means quickly snaring as many as possible of its 27,000 U.S. self- service copy centers. The centers are in typical mom-and-pop retailers such as pharmacies, gift shops, and hardware, stationery, and convenience stores.

"The fastest-growing segment of the market is the nonbank segment," said Daniel Cohen, president of ReadyCash. "TRM is in a good position to seize this opportunity in the ATM market."

Mr. Cohen, and his brother, Edward, helped guide Resource America Inc., also based in Philadelphia, from oil and gas exploration into real estate leasing and financial services in the early 1990s. Edward Cohen is also on the board of directors at JeffBanks Inc., a $1.4 billion-asset Philadelphia banking company. For their $20 million investment, the Cohens are to get a 20% stake in TRM.

The initiative comes as deployers-both banks and nonbanks-are scrambling to lock up retail sites. ATM surcharges-generally $1 to $3-have made off- premises deployment financially attractive because they require less foot traffic to break even.

Large deployers such as Banc One Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, have jostled for the best sites with large retailers. Last year, for example, Banc One installed 3,000 machines in chain stores such as those of Rite Aid Corp. and Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Though TRM has plans to sell to larger retail chains-it already has photocopying contracts with some regional retailers-it plans to differentiate itself by going after the small independent store. "Those retailers are hard to find and hard to sell to," Mr. Brown said. "We already have that relationship."

Despite the ambitious plans of off-site deployers, the picture might not be so rosy, said Mark Walter, an electronic banking consultant in Birmingham, Mich. Mr. Walter noted that, as ATMs flood the market, deployers will be seeing thinner profit margins.

"The per-terminal transaction levels are dropping," Mr. Walter said.

To combat declining average transaction volumes, TRM will focus on installing less costly cash dispensers. It is talking with ATM makers such as NCR Corp., Diebold Inc., Triton Systems Inc., and Fujitsu ICL Systems Inc.

The company hopes to begin deployment in the fourth quarter. "Our objective is to become a dominant player," Mr. Brown said.

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