Lessons Learned, Part Two: Even the Worst of Years Provided Beneficial Moments

The oft-repeated adage about life, that it gives you the test first and teaches the lesson after the fact, certainly holds true. During 2020, we learned on the fly from the comforts of home but certainly weren’t always thrilled with how adversity was reconciled on a broader level. The pandemic did, in fact, bring out the worst in us, but it also painted a picture of courage, leadership and inspiration.

Speaking of lessons, our local high school principal has the following mantra highlighted in her weekly communications to the student body, which reads: “Remember, you control three things: your words, your thoughts and your actions. Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” While the pandemic did not pave the road to the best of days, Mrs. DuBois’ advice regarding control—while intended for still-developing minds—is portable wisdom when engaging with circumstances beyond our control.

Since we’re in school mode, the question becomes “Did we make the best of our days and are we continuing down a path that, from a business standpoint, maximizes opportunities while minimizing adversity?” We offer part two in our look at the lessons learned from 2020 and how we can leverage those aspects within our control to achieve desired outcomes in 2021 and beyond, courtesy of our trends and predictions panel of industry experts.

Chip Miceli, Pulse Technology: We should all be conscious of staying healthy – as individuals and as organizations. The people who are the healthiest seem to be the ones who do the best in battling COVID. We will all probably be wearing masks for a long time. We can improve our overall health by getting flu shots, and embrace the medical science that will help get us through this. Going forward, we should all be as prepared as possible for something like this. Be careful and prudent with finances. One of my friends always says “cash is king.” Many people jumped the gun with PPP funds, brought back furloughed employees and had no work for them. And then, as the funds ran out, they are not prepared. Companies should develop a contingency plan for the unexpected turns in our country and our economy.

Brad Cates, Prosource: We must continue to innovate and diversify our business, remaining laser-focused on how we are solving customer problems. For example, if your entire business was predicated on customers making a lot of copies at a school that had to close its doors for three months, you’re falling short on delivering a solution that addresses your customers’ most pressing business challenges. But if you have a diversified business that can react to your customers’ needs to go remote with managed IT services or help customers consume print and manage costs differently through managed print services, that’s when you’re truly delivering on your commitment to solve problems and provide value. We’ve also learned that in the industry, the need to stay nimble and adapt goes beyond dealers, extending to manufacturers and suppliers, too. As we all tried to continue to drive growth at the end-user level, some suppliers and dealers realized that their traditional programs and protocols were not as effective in this new environment. That’s an area of opportunity to get creative and ensure that those partnerships evolve along with the changing market.

Ray Belanger, Bay Copy: Expect the unexpected. No one can ever predict the future. But we can learn from what has happened over these past eight months and be as prepared as we can for the future. We need to do the best job we can when it comes to staying in touch with customers. We should be certain to keep up our marketing efforts. But in so doing, it’s important to remember to be acutely tuned to what our customers want to hear – which is what we can do to help and support them.

Doug Albregts, Marco: The importance of preserving and maximizing working capital in good times has been a key lesson. Some had saved for the rainy day, others did not. The most resilient businesses continue to preserve capital and implement more efficient business models. We also saw how the diversity in your line card can make a big difference in surviving such events. Dealers that avoided this investment years ago find themselves struggling now.

Larry White, Toshiba America Business Solutions: It isn’t a lesson learned but more of a confirmation of the fact we are a very resilient industry. 2020 has been a mental and financial battle for all of us and has taken a toll none of us could have imagined. Everyone has had to make some extremely difficult decisions that I am sure they never thought they would have to make. With that understanding, we have persevered and pivoted to new ways of conducting business. One of the things I am most proud of is how we created new ways to engage our customers and employees. This includes hosting Paycheck Protection Program webinars for dealer principals, holding hundreds of remote training sessions for sales and service organizations, and delivering virtual end-user seminars as well as town hall meetings for Toshiba employees.

Joe Contreras, Epson America: Over the course of the year, remote collaboration technologies became the new avenue for communication between coworkers, partners and customers. Webinars have been perhaps one of the most popular avenues for providing channel partners with sales, marketing and training support throughout the duration of the pandemic. In addition to self-guided training, to accommodate social distancing protocols and limit exposure for technicians and personnel, Epson offered virtual hands-on service training to walk partners through disassembling and reassembling products and cover differentiators and updates between product generations. This program, and training programs of the like, resonate with dealers because they no longer need to take technicians out of the field and put them on a plane to receive training. Collectively, the industry directed efforts into strategizing, compiling and creating educational tools and support to help partners remain successful in the variable marketplace. Now, there are libraries of recordings that partners and their sales reps can access at any time, anywhere. If we had one takeaway from this past year, the ability to adapt quickly and creatively adjust offerings was a valuable lesson. Our dealers have appreciated the diversity in Epson’s print portfolio which has helped them cast a wider net. We are proud to see the industry continue to evolve and overcome challenges in business. It is a true testament to the resiliency of the independent dealer community and we are honored that dealers have placed their trust in us.

Laryssa Alexander, ECI Software Solutions: As we move into 2021, I think one area that should be a focus for improvement is really utilizing technology solutions holistically. As technology continues to evolve, new features may not always be fully utilized or automatically implemented. By familiarizing yourself with all the capabilities your software solution has to offer, dealers will be able to connect the dots between activity and outcome, allowing them to better determine where the opportunities and losses are in their business.

Jose Estebanez, Kyocera: This was not about business, but about our values as an organization. We came together with our employees and our dealers as part of the Kyocera family to communicate frequently, clearly and with much more transparency than ever before. Already, we’re beginning to see the value and reward of doing so, receiving great feedback from our partners. We’ve become more agile as we can get an immediate response or receive a suggestion and act quickly on it, helping us to identify how we can help our employees and our dealers today, as well as tomorrow and beyond. We firmly believe that the pandemic has shaped a better Kyocera and we hope that it has helped us to make our dealers better, too. I think those who have thrived and engaged in this process have learned from it and are seeing the benefits. Those who have failed to do so, or have been slow to adapt, are the ones who will struggle and we may see them be taken over by stronger companies who have reacted well to this crisis.

Katsuhiro “Jerry” Matsufuji, Canon U.S.A.: Despite the challenges, which included financial burdens, a shift away from in-person events, and changed business environments that resulted in lower than expected print volumes, the lessons we have learned can help pave the way moving forward, accelerating trends and ways of working. Over the past few months, businesses across the globe have embraced new opportunities, technologies and ideas, allowing them to optimize business growth and rethink what’s possible for 2021 and beyond. We’ve learned that in order to remain efficient and successful, we must be agile in the face of change and quickly shift to support new ways of working. With this in mind, Canon U.S.A. continues to offer new solutions and remote services backed with security features to help its customers as they navigate through the hybrid work environment. For example, a solution recently developed based on our learnings is the extended capabilities added to Canon’s PosterArtist/PosterArtist Lite software, which allows imagePROGRAF customers to download and customize templates to print signage and posters highlighting COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Anneliese Olson, HP: We are learning that people cannot be connected 24/7 and be “on” all the time, connected to a digital screen. You can see the trends around wellness articles and mental health questions growing around the world. There is a growing trend to balance technology use and ensure people are learning and retaining information and also building human connections in a physical, tangible way. Research shows that retention increases when people read physical documents, books or worksheets; this is very important, especially for K-12 learning. Having hands-on practice for science projects is better than watching a video about it. Planning for a blended digital and physical world will be important for the education sector as we go forward. On a more personal level, I think we learned the importance of caring for one another. In March, as many companies closed their physical offices, we invited one another into our homes and into a more realistic view of our lives as many of us shifted to work from home. We learned that even with all the technology and connectivity in the world, technology alone does not make a team function or great ideas possible. We need to take care of ourselves—taking breaks and allowing ourselves to feel the pressure of this unprecedented time—and make active choices to support each other.

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.