Above: The new production print products were a big draw at the Sharp national dealer meeting.
The Sharp national dealer meeting, April 18-20, sent a clear message to the industry. The company now has a partner (Fuji) that desperately needed them. Fuji’s relationship with Xerox has been difficult, and the supposition that Fuji would enter the U.S. market directly to sell the products it provides to Xerox is a fallacy.
The office market is declining. Why would a manufacturer bear the expense of entering a market that is beyond mature, and to what end? On the other hand, Fuji expanded its production print distribution by private labeling the best of its products to Sharp.
It was a win for both companies. The question remains, how big? It will also take time, and in our opinion, the number of dealers selling these products will be in the 8% to 12% range. Xerox has been very successful in selling the Fuji production print products to its dealers that Sharp will now offer to its dealers. In conversations with Sharp dealers at last week’s American CoOP meeting, the likelihood that they would participate in large numbers is not going to happen.
Why the Fuss About Production Print?
So why the fuss? UBEO is selling the Xerox Iridesse Series 300 production presses. That is the top of the line. How competitive can Sharp be? We believe that Sharp understood exactly what they were dealing with. It will take on the Fuji products and develop an internal organization capable of competing with the other manufacturers. Along the way, those will include Sharp dealers selling those products.
Sharp dealers that are already selling Xerox production print will begin to shift their purchases to Sharp within 12 months from launch. The line is broad and includes entry level products. That is where their dealers will play almost exclusively while they build an organization capable of competing in production print. Sharp will most certainly make inroads against manufacturers who do not want their dealers to play in the upper reaches of production. The notion that dealers cannot play in that space is ridiculous. At the same time, Sharp has already shown the competition what they are capable of doing in the MFP world.
Between the Sharp dealer meeting and the American CoOP event, we have learned just how strong that bond is between Sharp and its dealers. It is not a perfect relationship, but it is as good as it gets. John Sheehan, SVP of channel sales for Sharp, was at the American CoOP meeting to ask dealers what their concerns were and what their manufacturer could do to help them. We have been attending independent dealer group meetings since 1982 and have never seen that before.
Sharp will nurture its dealers who enter the production print space just as they do with the rest of the line. At the same time, the company has 18 branches that will most certainly lead their efforts in production print.
The Seeds of a Strong Partnership
What is my point? Sharp has demonstrated they are committed to the future of this business and given those 30-35 dealers (our opinion) who will sell production print, that will represent a huge opportunity. At the same time, Sharp’s relationship with Fuji will grow stronger. By selling their production print product to Sharp, Fuji strengthens its position against Xerox in what has been a contentious battle.
Make no mistake, Xerox knows the production print space and has a well-seasoned sales and service support structure that can fully assist those dealers who are able to sell the top of the line. These people are referred to as “Tigers.” Sharp will have to build that kind of support capability. Be sure to pay close attention to our September issue, which is devoted to production print within the dealer space.
In that issue, we will interview dealers who sell Canon, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, and Xerox. We will also interview Sharp’s Shane Coffey who will bring us up to date as to where Sharp is in its efforts to begin selling production printers to their dealers. We will also need to explore what Kyocera is doing with their 15000 and what their plans are in going forward.
We have 44 years in this business and have been told that dealers could not sell plain paper copiers, console copiers, facsimile, convert analog to digital, connect machines to a network, sell the top of the production print space, and more.
In a conversation with Brian Balow, vice president production print, for Ricoh, he claimed the company will actively recruit dealers to sell their Z75. We are of the opinion that Ricoh will lead the way to dealers selling their most expensive products. Konica Minolta is also committed to doing that, and Sharp will not be far behind.
If you follow the financial news coming out of Japan, you will find that despite the pandemic, some manufacturers are doing quite well. You can rest assured that those reporting growth and profitability are doing so because of their success in the production print space.
This may well be my last hurrah, but I am not going anywhere until I write an article in our production print issue that tells the story of just how successful all the Japanese manufacturers are selling their production print products through dealers.
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