The Foxconn acquisition is starting to pay dividends if the news from Sharp’s recent dealer meeting is any indicator.
The last time Sharp held a dealer meeting—two years ago—the company was experiencing some serious financial issues and speculation was running rampant about Sharp’s future. Then came Foxconn. And Sharp’s fortunes changed.
After spending three days in Phoenix at Sharp’s 2017 dealer meeting, Pulse 2017, Sharp is back with a vengeance, its rocky recent past behind them as the focus is now on the present, and more importantly, the future.
The meeting saw the introduction of more than 30 new products and a great deal of fanfare around the Smart Office, a vision of the future where all things and all workers are connected. Sure, much of the Smart Office is conceptual right now, and a device that is at the heart of Sharp’s Smart Office is still not ready for prime time, but the vision is there, and Sharp executives weren’t shy about talking up that vision.
During the General Session, Sharp President & CEO Doug Albregts took some noticeable digs at Konica Minolta for the lack of partners and product at their recent dealer meeting in Carlsbad, CA. Sharp went the other way, showcasing plenty of products and inviting dozens of partners to participate in the Product Showcase. If you are looking for a way to differentiate your meeting from one of your top-tier competitor’s, that was as good a way as any.
However, with a focus on diversification, robotics, visual displays, water generation systems, and the Smart Office, Sharp also underscored that they are on the same page in their vision of the future as many of their competitors.
Committed to the Core
Recognizing that dealers still need to focus on their core business, 20 new document systems were introduced, including A3 and A4 mono, A3 color, production print, and printers. Yes, thanks in large part to Foxconn, Sharp now has its own A4 devices and a printer line for its dealers. File that under better late than never—a file that also includes Sharp’s digital and color entries of years past. We suspect that folder can now be filed away for good as the Foxconn connection more than likely should place Sharp ahead of the technology curve rather than behind it.
Albregts separated Sharp’s strategy into three phases: providing dealers with what they need today (Phase 1), adding new products to help them expand their footprint (Phase 2), and the Smart Office (Phase 3).
Overall, Sharp is rolling out 10 A3 monochrome and color models ranging in speed from 30-60 ppm, which will be available in December as well as two 26-ppm A3 entry level workgroup models—one color model (available in December), and a monochrome device, scheduled for spring release. The four A4 models (Advanced Series and Essentials Series) offer speeds of 35 ppm and 45 ppm and will be available in the spring and December, respectively. The various devices have a common UI, which offers a consistent user experience. They also use the same supplies. The two printers are also set for a spring release.
December looks to be a big month of introductions with the release of two Pro Series 80-ppm light production color devices with an optional Fiery Print Server. But that wasn’t all. Dealers now have access to enterprise level and small business level network storage devices from Thecus.
A nice touch was having dealers on stage, talking about big wins. Joe Reeves, CEO of Smile Business Products in Sacramento, CA talked about a new contract with the State of California while Derrick Wilson, founder and CEO of The Wilson Group in Pittsburgh, PA, touted his placement of Sharp Aquos Boards within a school. Wilson was accompanied by a customer, Adam Swinchock, director of educational and informational technology, at Peters Township School, who offered insights into how the school was using the technology. Although not a novel concept to have dealers or customers on stage, this in our opinion is always highly effective.
Beyond the Core
Noting that Sharp copier unit placements were up and revenue down, enabled Albregts to relay the message to dealers that they need to diversify beyond the core business. Pulse 17 offered plenty of examples as to how dealers can indeed diversify their product offerings beyond traditional imaging devices.
Sharp has been touting its visual displays for a few years now and three of those were among the 30 introductions as well as four desktop monitors (Yes, another new product line for Sharp.). The company also announced three software version upgrades—Kayleigh, SRDM, and SharpDesk as well as two new product categories, Skywell, atmospheric water generation system (Don’t call it a watercooler, said Albregts.) that collect moisture from the air and convert it into pure drinking water. As part of its future products, there’s the aforementioned Smart Office which includes a new voice-activated device similar to the Amazon Alexa except with a camera to recognize users. Speaking of Amazon, Amazon recently announced Alexa for Business and the only technology partner among the imaging OEMs identified at the rollout was—you guessed it—Sharp.
The most stunning technology on display was Sharp’s 8K technology which offers 16 times the pixel resolution of 1080p. A wall of displays vividly demonstrated this high definition technology. If it weren’t for the black lines separating the many screens displaying the moving images one might have thought they were looking out a window, that’s how realistic those moving images were. This technology has already been launched into global markets in Russian, China, Taiwan, and Japan. We’re not sure how this will fit into Sharp’s dealer channel just yet, but give it time.
A Vision of the Future
Bob Ishida, executive vice president, head of AIoT Business Stategy, CEO, Sharp Europe, presented Sharp’s business vision for the future, discussing how the company is looking to change the world with 8K and AIoT.
Without deviating too far from what’s of immediate interest to the dealer channel, Sharp’s vision for its AIoT [AI (Artificial Intelligence x IoT (Internet of Things)] is set on creating a smart home, smart office, smart factory, and smart city via this technology. Ishida talked about AI that will learn about a person’s activities and the surroundings, and then be able sense changes in the user and his or her surroundings. From there, the technology would connect them with related services. As Ishida pointed out, the technology will not only be able to offer suggestions to the user, but will also be able to think for them. Potential applications include medical, security, and infrastructure maintenance.
The highlight of the event’s second day was a presentation by Tassu Shervani, professor at the Cox School of Business, SMU-Dallas. Professor Shervani expertly tied together technology trends, weaving together examples of the past 175 years or so, illustrating the S curves of technology. His presentation beautifully illustrated how our world has changed as the result of technological advances, and where we and Sharp are on the current S curves of technology. It was far from a pointy headed presentation, and one that will hopefully help dealers better understand how technology is changing the way that people work in the future while further underscoring the need to diversify.
Here’s John Sheehan!
The meeting also offered an opportunity for Sharp dealers to meet John Sheehan, Sharp’s new vice president of channel sales. We weren’t expecting him to a big of a role at the meeting, but as it turned out, Albregts tossed him directly into the fire. It was a wise move on Albregts’ part as the Sharp dealer community is still reeling from Laura Blackmer’s departure, and with shoes that big to fill, there was no time like the present to place Sheehan front and center. From our perch, he handled himself professionally, and based on our early interactions with him, Sharp dealers, if they haven’t already, will find Sheehan an engaging and enthusiastic conduit between Sharp and the dealer channel.
Sharp Corp. may have seen its operating revenue decline last year, which Albregts attributed to restructuring that went according to plan. Since then, revenue has been steadily increasing and in the first half of 2017, Sharp saw an 18% increase in operating income revenue. The forecast for 2017 is nearly double that.
“It’s been a long time, but it’s good to stand here and tell you that Sharp’s numbers look very, very good,” stated Albregts.
Even though revenues for Sharp’s Business Solutions Group were flat from 2016 to 2017, Albregts emphasized that operating income is still very good while also pointing out that it costs a lot of money to bring products to market and invest in the future and still make a nice profit.
Perhaps the most positive news regarding Sharp’s financial health was that the company was once again back at the Tier One level on the Tokyo Stock Exchange after being dropped during the height of its financial troubles. Apparently, Sharp was able to achieve this goal within 15 months instead of the projected three-year timeline.
Even though we did not see anyone from Foxconn at the event, the Foxconn presence was everywhere. That connection permeated the entire Sharp dealer meeting and virtually every discussion in a most positive way. Without Foxconn, Sharp wouldn’t have its own A4 product line. Without Foxconn, Sharp would not be introducing a line of printers. Without Foxconn, Sharp would not be introducing a line of computer monitors. Without Foxconn, Sharp would not be introducing Skywell. Without Foxconn, well let’s just say we would be having a very different discussion right now about Sharp.
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