Once the final fireworks to usher out 2017 and welcome in the New Year fizzled in the night sky, the office technology universe was treated to a series of explosions that are still shaking the house. If there was any doubt that the increase in mergers and acquisitions witnessed last year was a harbinger of things to come, the first five weeks of 2018 have put them to rest.
It’s not altogether unusual to see deals going down in rapid-fire succession to start off a year. The last two months of the year are always hectic as dealers are busy closing out normal business, holding annual meetings, reviews and planning sessions for the coming year, mixed in with vacations, holiday parties and charity events. The genesis of many deals can trace back months, and there is a myriad of factors that push acquisitions into the next calendar year.
So what is driving this robust M&A market? Aric Manion, president of Kent, WA-based Kelley Imaging Systems—an active player in the acquisition game—points to the economy.
“I think the volume of activity is due to the booming economy which has a created a lot of capital to invest,” he said. “The venture capital companies are looking for high-performing EBITA companies, and copier dealers and managed service providers fit this model. There are more of these companies available and they are more stable than other technology startups.”
The list of deals thus far in 2018 has been impressive, and not just relegated to the dealer community. Last week’s combination of Xerox and the Fuji Xerox joint venture was at once shocking yet not surprising. The long-rumored deal, worth $6.1 billion, is at once monumental and sad; as is the case with most combinations of this magnitude, cost efficiencies are garnered through staffing reconciliation, and roughly 10,000 Fuji Xerox employees are losing their jobs, mainly in the Asia-Pacific.
Xerox made a huge push last year with its unprecedented product release with the AltaLink and VersaLink printers, supplemented by its Future of Work Global Tour. The manufacturer brought me down to Washington, D.C., last October to get an up-close view of its ConnectKey portfolio, rich with app possibilities, and one can’t help but root for Fuji Xerox to continue backing this huge investment. After 110 years as a solo act, hopefully this move will help fortify the manufacturer’s efforts.
On the dealer front, Visual Edge Technology (VET, and technically not a dealer) picked back up where it left off in 2017, wrapping up four recent deals. VET fortified its East Coast holdings with the acquisition of JANCO Business Systems in Wolcott, CT, and FastForward Digital Solutions of Miami. It also obtained Brady Business Systems of Grand Blanc, MI, which carries the KYOCERA line of products. Brady blankets the central and southern regions of Michigan with three locations, bringing managed print and IT solutions to the fold.
Most recently, VET announced it had added Zymphony Technology Solutions of Tampa, FL, a leading provider of managed IT solutions, cloud technologies, cybersecurity and hosted IT solutions.
One of the common themes in the early 2018 deals is regionalized combinations. Meritech of Cleveland picked up ACE, which has delivered printers and copiers, voice and data services, managed IT, document management, cloud, creative and web services to the city for more than 40 years. The company now claims to be the largest independent dealer in northeast Ohio. The companies are mirror images—family-owned, market-focused, with a solid offering of KYOCERA, Konica Minolta, Sharp and Ricoh offerings.
Datamax fortified its Texas holdings by adding East Texas Copy Systems. The combined companies provide copiers and MFPs, desktop printers, wide-format printers and digital production equipment, along with document management/workflow solutions, MPS, MNS and IT consulting services. Both being local and privately-owned, the companies offer many complementary products and services to provide an enhanced offering to customers.
Chip Miceli, president of Des Plaines Office Equipment (DPOE) in Elk Grove Village, IL, points to a number of factors behind the rash of smaller companies merging. “There is a competitive advantage for dealers who represent different product lines or services to join forces,” he said. “As an example, a Toshiba dealer who does not carry Konica Minolta might find a strong market advantage if he/she carried both, and a merger can accomplish that. Sometimes adding new lines—office furniture, IT or managed network—is accomplished through a successful merger.
“There are also a number of companies that are available for acquisition, sometimes from Baby Boomers or longtime owners seeking to retire. For the acquiring company, it’s an advantage to step into a situation with an existing customer base and an expanded product line.”
Less than 40 miles separate AOS Digital of Doylestown, PA, and Copy Products of Upper Darby, PA, which officially merged after working on many projects during the past 20 years. Both companies were founded in the late 1970s and decided to officially join forces in order to offer customized business processes solutions and managed output device optimization.
Virtually the same distance separates Charlotte, NC-based Technocom Business Systems from its latest acquisition, Document Imaging Systems of Statesville, NC. The deal will enhance Technocom’s reach into the Hickory and Winston-Salem regions. Clients of the respective firms will be able to draw upon a strong core of Kyocera, Xerox, Toshiba and Lexmark copiers and MFPs, Océ wide-format printers, Lenovo computer systems, MPS, managed IT and Pitney Bowes mail systems.
ABR Digital Office Solutions obtained Coyle Business Products in a deal among Savannah, GA-based firms. The deal enables ABR to become the only local provider of Konica Minolta products; it also carries the Panasonic, Canon, KIP and Océ lines.
So while global billion-dollar deals tend to grab headlines, the heart of the office technology dealer community remains small, independent, localized and regional in service scope. Many of them are joining forces to be able to maintain a shared culture and offer a broader array of products and services without losing that Main Street customer service mentality. Given the highly fragmented nature of the dealer universe, these tales are certain to repeat themselves throughout 2018.