Up until April 2019 when I traveled to Foxwoods Casino for a Brother press and analyst event, I had the impression that Brother wasn’t much of a player in the independent dealer channel. The company seemed to be keeping a low profile and it was rare to receive any news whatsoever about Brother.
It wasn’t always been that way. I fondly remember the Brother breakfasts at the old NOMDA and BTA conferences in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Then it seemed as if Brother’s emphasis shifted away from the independent dealer channel towards the office superstore channel. Right or wrong, that was my impression.
But Brother is back and making a statement. With a full line of A4 MFPs and printers, various services and programs, and new partnerships, the company is aggressively aiming to raise its profile among independent dealers.
If the results of our past two Annual Dealer Surveys are any indication, the company has been successful.
Last year we saw the percentage of dealers identifying Brother as an A4 supplier grow from 5% in 2018 to 11% in 2019. In our 35th Annual Survey which will appear in our October and November issues, that percentage has grown to 16%. Brother now ranks only six percentage points behind Lexmark as an A4 supplier.
In early August, I attended a virtual Brother press and analyst event to learn about the company’s 2019 performance and plans and initiatives from various Brother executives, including Dan Waldinger, senior director B2B marketing, Bob Burnett, director, B2B solutions and planning, Joe Ashcraft, vice president B2B sales.
Here are a few highlights:
- Hardware growth in the B2B/SMB category in 2019 was up nearly 9% while color laser multifunctional products and color laser printers were up 17% and 7%, respectively. On the monochrome side, multifunctional product placements were up 6% and monochrome printers up 3%. Brother also sells scanners, and that business also grew (2%). Growth in the copier segment was 11%. Brother MIF is now at 125,000+ units, representing growth of more than 33% in FY19.
- Brother executives touted the company’s Value Print Program (VPP). This program provides significant discounts on Brother genuine toner and a free two-year limited warranty upgrade on select hardware models when the customer agrees to purchase Brother genuine toner for a three-year period. (The program can be extended longer than that.) If the customer prints more than 1,500 pages a month, they qualify for a bigger discount on Brother genuine toners. Programs such as these are the wave of the future and are designed to lock in the end user customer.
- Recognizing the impact of COVID-19, the company has created materials that focus on the future of work in a six-foot socially distanced office space and a “WFH” (Work From Home) hub. This supports the Brother balanced deployment approach which is centralized as opposed to decentralized. Materials are customized for partners to share and distributed to the channel via Brother sales reps and distributors. One aspect of this future of work is a shift from A3 to A4, fewer users per device, badge and mobile print job release, and the ability to initiate document workflows with minimal machine contact. Considering that Brother has beefed up its A4 WorkForce offerings, the company is well positioned to meet the needs of a remote workforce as well as organizations that are reconfiguring their office space to keep their employees safe.
- The company’s solutions and services portfolio now include more than 120 solutions and services, including QL label printers. A notable solution is the Brother Kofax ControlSuite, a platform for managing, administering, and installing information print, capture, and routing capabilities. It reportedly works across mixed hardware environments and supports a distributed workforce. It supports SMBs as well as enterprise customers.
- The company is working on an integration with Microsoft to provide a universal print driver for select Brother devices so that users can manage their print infrastructure through the cloud.
- Brother executives revealed that even during the pandemic more dealers are talking to the company, including dealers who they might not have been able to engage with in the past, about partnering with Brother.
It will be interesting to see if Brother will continue to grow its presence in the independent dealer channel. One development that might impact the company’s momentum is the recent announcement by Toshiba of its first home-grown A4 products. Toshiba has been partnering with Brother, HP, and Lexmark for these products and it remains to be seen if dealers will continue to sell those products or opt for Toshiba A4s. A recent develop that could have a positive impact on Brother is the announcement that OKI Data Americas will no longer distribute its A4 MFPs and single-function printers in North, Central, and South America after March 31, 2021. Some of those OKI Data A4 dealers will likely be searching for a new A4 partner sooner rather than later and Brother has the products, programs as well as the additional services and solutions to more than fill that void.
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