The verdict is in and the jury has made their decision.
Whenever I speak with Andre D’Urbano, executive director, sales and marketing at RISO, or Joe Contreras, head of sales and channel marketing, office print at Epson America, I always hear about the benefits of inkjet technology.
But RISO and Epson aren’t the only companies specializing in inkjet technology. Let’s not forget Kyocera’s entry into the inkjet market in 2020 with the TASKalfa Pro 15000c, a mid-range production printer. At the upper reaches of the inkjet technology production market, there’s Canon, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, and Xerox. Kyocera’s inkjet production printer doesn’t play in those upper reaches where speed, volume, and print quality are paramount. RISO and Epson take it down a few notches, with Epson more focused on the traditional office space with its A3 and A4 devices, and RISO on office customers and commercial printers looking for affordable color light production options.
With all this talk of diversification across the office technology industry, are devices using inkjet technology from Epson, RISO, and Kyocera a diversification opportunity, or is it the same old, same old, albeit with ink instead of toner?
“I always viewed it as you’re diversifying by going from toner to inkjet,” opined RISO’s D’Urbano. “Inkjet is a very simple path to diversification with a built-in infrastructure that you’re just tweaking. It’s the same technical people, the same salespeople, and the same service people.”
“We absolutely believe that it is a diversification opportunity,” added Epson’s Contreras. “But I will caveat it by saying not all inkjet is the right diversification opportunity. There are many different types of inkjet technologies. So as dealers look to diversify, they should do their due diligence and understand the differences in inkjet technology and, of course, being biased, specifically, Epson’s PrecisionCore technology because there is a unique and distinct advantage.”
Contreras unabashedly maintains that PrecisionCore is the world’s most advanced printing technology available in the market.
“Why do dealers diversify? One, to expand their revenue potential, but also to protect their business from unforeseen market or economic changes. If you look at inkjet as a diversification opportunity, specifically PrecisionCore, we have a minimal startup cost and low risk. It’s low-risk technology in that it’s similar to but different from what dealers offer today. It offers more reliability, better uptime, and a better service experience for the clients that they serve.”
Contreras adds, “When we talk to dealers, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re diversifying in all these other areas, why wouldn’t you want to diversify in print with the technology you offer and be on the forefront knowing that the market is heading in that direction? Why not get in early, and be a leader instead of a lagger?”
At this time, Kyocera’s inkjet technology eggs are all in the TASKalfa Pro 15000c basket. Still, José Estébanez, vice president for Kyocera Document Solutions America, also views inkjet as a diversification opportunity and has seen positive moves in that direction among Kyocera dealers who have picked up the TASKalfa Pro 15000c as an entry into production print or to broaden their production print offerings. He cites the oft-mentioned selling points of inkjet—low energy consumption, low acquisition cost, low service and maintenance costs, and inkjet being more eco-friendly than laser/toner—as strong value propositions to diversify with inkjet. Nearly 50 Kyocera dealers are now selling the Kyocera inkjet printer. “It’s been a game changer for us,” said Estébanez.
Growing the Line
The inevitable question Kyocera continues to receive from dealers is if there are any plans to enter the market for office inkjet. “I don’t have any information I can share with you now,” said Estébanez. “We have the technology and are selling inkjet heads to other manufacturers. If we see an opportunity from what others are doing, we will be there. There will be opportunities for dealers in the office space but it’s still a little risky because dealers only have one OEM to choose from. The moment other OEMs start competing with them, that will change.”
Although Estébanez isn’t ready to share Kyocera’s plans for office inkjet yet, he did reveal that the company will enter the graphic arts space with an inkjet product with an announcement sometime this summer. Kyocera also plans to offer an inkjet printer for the textile printer market. “We are the main manufacturer of inkjet printheads for the textile printing market in the world,” noted Estébanez. “The technology is there, and we have plans to develop new products.”
Meanwhile, Epson is building out its inkjet line. At its February InkBoldly Partner Conference, Epson introduced new A3, A4, wide format, and labeling products, providing dealers with a comprehensive line for the first time. With broader offerings, Contreras sees an opportunity to bring more dealers on board.
“The challenge we had leading up to InkBoldly is that we still had some gaps in our portfolio,” acknowledged Contreras. “That’s where we had to work with dealers on the best positioning our products—the right fit for the right vertical. Now, we’re driving toward the sweet spot of the speed segment of the market—40, 50, 60 pages per minute, small footprints, and full finishing—capabilities dealers have been requesting.”
A Step Above
For the speed, color printing, and price points of the RISO products, D’Urbano contends it’s much more palatable for some dealers than higher-end toner-based production print devices.
“Many dealers have to go into production print to survive,” observed D’Urbano. “Here’s the problem; it’s challenging. Number one, it’s an extremely competitive marketplace made more dangerous because now they’re competing against manufacturers. Number two, they’re not only challenged on selling price and CPCs, but it’s a market that is very demanding for service. These operations negotiate the four-hour response time to three or even two hours. They want you to lock in toner, pricing, and CPC rates.”
He emphasized that diversifying with toner-based production printers is not the same as diversifying with inkjet technology. “That’s a much softer landing. You’re not going head-to-head. You’re not competing for the same volume, the same space, the same CPCs, or in the same price range.”
Like Contreras, D’Urbano acknowledged that he is biased about inkjet technology. “But I’m speaking the truth,” he said. He referenced the book, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. “The message is, swim where there are deeper waters and fewer sharks,” explained D’Urbano. “That’s the Blue Ocean message. If inkjet isn’t Blue Ocean, I don’t know what is.”
Profitability in Color
D’Urbano noted that there are two types of dealers, those looking to diversify because of the opportunity that inkjet technology represents, and those doing it strategically, as one dealer told him, to build a moat around their base of copiers.
“That was smart,” opined D’Urbano. “If we look at this strategically, where is the value in diversifying? Black and white copies are not profitable for anybody—not for the manufacturer or the dealer. Even for the print shop that resells those black and white pages, they’re making a penny to two cents a page on black and white. The profitability lies in color pages, where everybody makes money—the manufacturer, the dealer, and the end-user. A print shop reselling color toner could make as much as 10 cents per copy because they’re reselling it for 15 cents or so. That gap is where we fit and what we try to educate our dealers about. If you’re going to diversify into inkjet, diversify into that gap.”
According to D’Urbano, a print shop with a RISO color inkjet provides the end-user with a chance to migrate from black and white to color at a price that doesn’t blow up the budget. “Every customer that they can convert from black and white to inkjet color, they double, even triple their profits,” he said.
D’Urbano emphasized that inkjet is an excellent entry point to production print. “The GL series recently replaced the GD products. We sold those GD products for about five years. Of the 1,000 or so we placed in the production arena, our average volume was 430,000 copies a month. How many MFPs do you have to sell to get that type of output if you have MFPs doing 10,000 to 20,000 copies a month?”
Added D’Urbano, “There’s math to be done here. There’s math for the print shop looking at inkjet mathematically and saying, ‘Wow, I can double or triple my profits every time I migrate black-and-white toner to color inkjet.’ There’s math to be done for the dealers every time they migrate black-and-white toner to inkjet. Inkjet generally grows at the expense of black-and-white toner.”
He also maintains that dealers should use inkjet technology to protect and grow their toner base by capturing incremental meter clicks from offset or competitive production devices, primarily black-and-white output. “That’s the key for dealers,” said D’Urbano. “Selling inkjet will positively impact the sale of everything else they sell in the print arena.”