One could say Joseph Contreras is living a charmed business life. From an Xs and Os standpoint, one could call it 75% coordination and 25% execution. The luck variable isn’t factored in here; while Contreras may modestly confess to good fortune, nothing has been left to fate.
Coming off a year in which manufacturers struggled to parcel out products in light of significant supply chain restrictions, the commercial marketing executive for Epson has reveled in the OEM’s continued WorkForce Enterprise growth. Epson has enjoyed borderline explosive growth in A4 product sales, and dealer proliferation continues to add to Epson’s reseller roster.
Epson’s PrecisionCore Heat-Free Technology is the engine driving much of the company’s success. We sat down with Contreras to learn more about how Epson continues to leverage the technology to garner further momentum and increased market share. Also providing perspective to the broader Epson offering are Tim Anderson, group product manager; Sean Gunduz, director of product marketing, system devices and ColorWorks; and Jason Meyer, group product manager for professional imaging.
Provide some insight into Epson’s financial performance during 2021. What were some of the variables that played into how the company performed?
Contreras: We had a phenomenal year despite the supply chain challenges that are having a big impact across the industry. We were able to continue to perform at all levels. We’re very fortunate that we were able to achieve our business plan for the year, which is great. Going into the year, I would say there were no concerns with A3 supply chain and availability. Working in close partnership with Seiko Epson, we were able to methodically plan that out during the year.
WorkForce Enterprise grew by leaps and bounds this past fiscal year; we sold three times more units than we did the prior year. That was coming out of the COVID year. We’re ecstatic that we were able to grow that segment of our portfolio that much. Dealer activation is another core area that we’re heavily focused on, continuously recruiting, onboarding and getting dealers to sell consistently month in, month out. We track the number of our activated dealers, not just dealers signed. We were able to double that number in the past fiscal year as well. So all in all, we’re more than pleased about the performance and results of the business inkjet group for the past year.
What were some of the highlights for Epson during the past year?
Contreras: A4 continues to be a shining star in the portfolio. And honestly, it’s been a godsend over the past couple years, because who would have thought people would be scrambling to find printers to work from home? We’ve been the benefactor of that, and the demand hasn’t subsided at all—it continues to grow month in, month out. We work closely with our partners in communicating the lead times for receiving product, and they in turn work with their clients. The orders keep coming in; the equipment doesn’t stay in stock. As soon as they hit our warehouse, the units go through to either a distribution partner or directly to an end-customer. We’re still very bullish on the A4 opportunity and look forward to continuing to grow that segment of our business. It’s just a matter of producing more, and we keep telling our factory that whatever they can produce, we’ll sell. That’s the only limitation.
Obviously, supply chain shortages continue to be a major talking point. What’s been the impact on Epson?
Contreras: We’ve seen more of an impact on our A4 portfolio, and that’s simply because we also sell within retail. The same factories that are producing the retail products are producing our A4 desktop products, so there’s a shared availability. We have to balance that mix of products, so that’s where we’ve felt constraints. On the A3 side, we didn’t really have any constraints last year. It was a matter of being fortunate and being in the right place at the right time. I alluded to the uptick in WorkForce Enterprise units we sold over the past year, partially due to our competitors not having product. So when competitors didn’t have product, we were able to pick up sales—we leveraged that quite a bit. We knew the dealers and the brands they carried that didn’t have products; we strategically targeted those, and it worked, because the dealers had specific timelines for installs and deliveries, and their customers weren’t willing to wait. We were able to prove ourselves to a number of dealers that had signed but weren’t really active with us. The message was: a) we’ve got the product, and b) it’s highly reliable. The proof is in the pudding and the profitability is good on these products. We’ve really taken a negative for the dealer in terms of availability and turned it into a positive with the Epson portfolio.
How has Epson been able to balance the needs of its clients during this time?
Contreras: It’s all about communication, letting our channel partners know what’s available, sharing what lead times look like, and being more strategic about the larger opportunities. Last year on the A4 line, we went from selling in the double digits to triple or four-digit quantities. That’s no small opportunity, but it’s not uncommon for us to be selling thousands of units to a particular client. It’s all about planning and communicating, sharing a mutual understanding of what the rollout looks like, so they know they’re not going to get them all at once. If we can mutually agree on a timeline in which we stagger the rollout and installation, customers are willing to work with us. It just comes down to being transparent and keeping open communication with our clients. They understand the worldwide situation across all technologies, not just print.
Epson has built its MFP portfolio around the PrecisionCore Heat-Free Technology. Talk about its journey and growing proliferation among your reseller base.
Contreras: That’s our lead message and we lean in heavily with PrecisionCore. It’s our differentiator not only on the business print portfolio side, but across all our printing technologies, including our wide-format printing technology. The message is resonating not only with dealers but end-users as well. We talk about the core technology and differences versus laser; that education is vital from an end-user perspective. Once they hear about the underlying benefits and the superiority of the technology as opposed to laser—as well as the reliability of the product and the superior service experience—it becomes a win for both the dealer and the end user. Dealers get to boost their service profit. End-users love that the product won’t break down or require intervention as frequently.
We knew the dealers and the brands they carried that didn’t have products; we strategically targeted those, and it worked, because the dealers had specific timelines for installs and deliveries, and their customers weren’t willing to wait.– Joe Contreras
We also emphasize the sustainability aspect—energy savings, lower waste, etc. This year, we’re really looking to unify and go even stronger on the message around PrecisionCore as it applies to what I’ll call business printing, the office printing I’m responsible for, as well as wide-format. Mark Mathews is responsible for wide-format printing now, so basically all the office/commercial printing falls under his guidance. We’re really looking to unify and have a concise and consistent message across that whole portfolio of products. It’s been very rewarding to see how our dealers have embraced it and how the message is resonating within end-users.
How would you characterize the market for A4 devices and the ongoing demand for work-from-home solutions?
Contreras: It’s creating opportunities across the board for our dealers. When the pandemic first hit, they had a product available, and it was sell, sell, sell. At the time, there wasn’t as high of a demand for A3 as there was for A4, but the pendulum has swung back a little bit and it’s created opportunities. With traditional MPS, dealers are mindful of what’s in the office, and it’s up to them to find out where the print is coming from and capture it all. A number of our dealers have really embraced that. Our larger dealers have really grabbed the bull by the horns and run with it. For every WorkForce Enterprise A3 unit, they probably sell four or five A4 units. They’re going into schools, health care systems, taking over the fleet. They’re placing 50-100 A3 devices and several hundred of the smaller A4 products. So it’s been great.
We’ll continue to enhance the portfolio with what I’ll call the transactional print side. We recently launched the WorkForce Pro WF-C4810. We’ll also be enhancing our contractual products over time, products that are more traditionally sold on a cost-per-page basis that would fit an MPS model.
Epson has rolled out a number of solutions for wireless scanners as well as receipt and label printers in the past year. How has the company fared increasing its market share in these segments?
Anderson: In today’s dispersed work environment, Epson recognized the market need for network scanners and recently introduced the DS-790WN wireless network color document scanner. Featuring versatile connectivity, robust features and an intuitive touchscreen panel, businesses can easily scan and share important business documents PC-free. Designed for reliability and ease of use in a wide range of industries such as government, service bureaus, higher education, finance and health care corporations, the DS-790WN delivers high-quality scans at fast speeds so businesses can manage documents with confidence.
Designed for reliability and ease of use in a wide range of industries such as government, service bureaus, higher education, finance and health care corporations, the DS-790WN delivers high-quality scans at fast speeds so businesses can manage documents with confidence.– Tim Anderson
Gunduz: To meet ever-growing demand for digital orders, including buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and delivery, Epson recently introduced the OmniLink TM-L100 – a liner-free compatible (LFC) thermal label printer offering Epson’s most flexible liner-free media support. Featuring tablet-friendly connectivity options, enhanced performance and improved usability, the OmniLink TM-L100 provides Epson’s broadest media support and can adapt to the changing workflows of today’s retail and hospitality environment.
Featuring tablet-friendly connectivity options, enhanced performance and improved usability, the OmniLink TM-L100 provides Epson’s broadest media support and can adapt to the changing workflows of today’s retail and hospitality environment.– Sean Gunduz
Epson also recently launched its newest on-demand color label printer, the ColorWorks C4000. The C4000 has advanced connectivity features, including Native ZPL capability, Mac and Linux drivers and Wi-Fi capability, helping Epson improve market share and reach new markets that require these features, such as retail, hospital and pharmaceutical.
Last summer, Epson unveiled the SureColor P- and T-Series production/wide-format printers. Tell us a little about the company’s approach and success in addressing the graphic arts market.
Meyer: The new SureColor P-Series and T-Series production-class wide format printers were designed from the ground up to fit seamlessly into any shop or office, even if space is limited. The SureColor P-Series is designed specifically for high-volume photo fulfillment, retail photo labs, and poster and graphic art production. The SureColor T-Series is designed for technical and graphics printing businesses. Featuring an innovative, purpose-built, reliable design with complete front operation, the printers can be used virtually anywhere in the workspace, even when pushed against the wall.
In production environments and locations where print service providers are producing more personalized photo products, décor and graphic art, we saw a growing need for higher quality solutions that deliver fast speeds, functionality and a seamless fit in any shop or office. The new SureColor models are designed to meet the needs of customers and help today’s professionals improve workflows and streamline project delivery. The new line delivers features that achieve high quality and speed with innovative media handling—all in a compact footprint—to enhance the way print service providers work.
In production environments and locations where print service providers are producing more personalized photo products, décor and graphic art, we saw a growing need for higher quality solutions that deliver fast speeds, functionality and a seamless fit in any shop or office.– Jason Meyer
Offering the latest in Epson technology and built on decades of innovation, the production solutions are designed to help the graphic arts market improve workflows and streamline project delivery. Models will start shipping in late 2022.
Contreras: This is another bright spot for our portfolio. When I’m having conversations with dealer principals, I’d say nine times out of 10 the topic comes up—either they’re already selling it or they’re interested in selling that line of Epson wide-format products. It’s been great for our portfolio, and that breadth of offerings is one of Epson’s true strengths. While the core focus for my team is office printing, the wide-format and scanning solutions really open up the opportunity for dealers to cast a broader net and capture additional or incremental revenue. It’s an opportunity for our reseller partners to take a deeper look at what they’re seeing in their customers’ offices, and introducing that into the conversation creates opportunities. And as with all our products, the dealers can stress the quality and reliability.
Clearly, wide-format printing is a hotly-contested market in terms of providers.
Contreras: We know who the biggest player in the industry is and we come across them all the time. Our dealers also sell and represent that brand. But they can always count on the PrecisionCore reliability and quality, which really resonates with dealers. They appreciate the relationship and the ease of doing business with us, and I think that’s where we win in a lot of cases. Yes, the product can stand alone, but it’s also the people and the support we provide that really help us win those relationships and capture additional sales.
What else can we expect to see this year from Epson in terms of new product rollouts?
Contreras: We have high goals and ambitions for this year. We’re working on a number of portfolio enhancements, and during the last few years we’ve been gathering feedback from dealers. We know where the gaps in the portfolio are. Epson is planning another partner event, like we had in 2020, toward the tail end of our fiscal year, so it’s probably about 10 months out. That’ll be our time to bring partners back together to celebrate and share some exciting developments across the board, both from a portfolio perspective and seeing how the business has matured over the past three years.
Is there anything new on the horizon from a program or partnership standpoint?
Contreras: The theme for our core group is to execute with excellence. We have great programs in place that we’ve been working on over the past couple of years. We have our set portfolio products, now it’s just about execution this year and continuing to build on our success, adding more dealers and activating them. We’ll get our dealers prepped and ready for when those portfolio enhancements are introduced later in the fiscal year. We’re in the final planning stages, making sure everything’s ready to go so we can hit the ground running.
What are Epson’s goals for the balance of 2022 and looking ahead to 2023?
Contreras: We’re still in high growth mode and are looking to recruit and bring on dealers, and we have a number of activation programs that allow us to do that, including open houses and sales blitzes. We’ve got demand-generation-type programs we’ve introduced that are working well. We have some exciting things to introduce to dealers later in the year, and we’ll continue to stay engaged and work through any type of supply chain challenges that may come our way. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been proud of how focused the team has been—they’re not getting derailed or sidetracked. It’s all upside for Epson; I tell people that every sale for us is net-new. We didn’t have an established MIF or base as a starting point. It’s not survival through base renewal. We’re stealing market share from somebody else. To me, that’s exciting. The competitive side of me loves that.