You really have to hand it to 2019—it was a year that really knew how to make an entrance, not to mention an exit. We rang in the past year with the news that Staples was acquiring DEX Imaging, and closed it out with a testy little letter exchange between Xerox and HP that started out friendly before turning a bit hostile. In between stood an avalanche of M&A deals, equipment roll-outs, increased movement toward adjacent technologies and familiar faces in new places.
That’s old news now, with the exception of the fluid Xerox-HP tango. A new year and a new decade await the office technology universe, and while the expectation is for more of the same in terms of evolution and combination among the industry players at every level, the great unknown of what the future holds is always exciting. Change, generated by the evolving needs of the office space, is being thrust upon us. How we react to it will go a long way toward deciding who will be a part of the narrative being scripted.
While we cannot predict the future, we can measure trends—both recent and long developing—that will certainly impact and play some degree of role in how 2020 unfolds. To that end, we have assembled a wide array of industry notables from every corner in the office technology neighborhood to offer their insights as to which trends should be followed in 2020, along with suggestions as to how the dealer community should respond to them.
One of the subtopics of conversation emanating from the combination of DEX Imaging and Staples is the need to get closer to the client. Mike Stramaglio, president of MWAi—which falls under All Covered’s Business Consulting Services—believes the mission for his company and others within the industry is to adopt that philosophy. Part of it entails providing products more in the way of services for a broader, deeper and more significant manner of selling.
Stramaglio believes the Xerox-HP scenario is further evidence of a convergence aimed at tunneling closer to the end-user customer. “On a broad scale, I think HP and Xerox are a microcosm of everything that everybody else needs to do,” he said. “The top dealers are going to continue to take full advantage of that big migration with the strategy of companies like Xerox and HP. There’s a great opportunity for dealers who are progressive and making the appropriate changes inside their organizations to be able to get closer to that client.”
There’s a great opportunity for dealers who are progressive and making the appropriate changes inside their organizations to be able to get closer to that client.Mike Stramaglio, MWAi
There’s something to be said for dealers developing close relationships with the OEMs, as well. With the rash of ongoing acquisitions, it is important for the independent dealer to focus on what it does well and continue down the path of growth areas in its business, according to Troy Olson, chief business development officer for Les Olson Co. Those dealers that are “built to last” and nimble enough to transition into new revenue streams will continue to be successful, even as the dealer market around them shrinks.
That’s where the strong relationships with OEMs come into play. “It’s hard to be important to many partners, so it’s good to align with a core that you are strong with, can be transparent with and build solid relationships,” he said. “Those strong relationships can come into play because things can change depending on some of these acquisitions.”
It’s hard to be important to many partners, so it’s good to align with a core that you are strong with, can be transparent with and build solid relationships.Troy Olson, Les Olson Co.
Wouter Koelewijn, chief of products for Y Soft, firmly believes that customers want their suppliers to be more consultative, offering comprehensive solutions that solve their IT costs, as well as using technology that aligns with their digital transformation initiatives such as cloud and mobile.
“This means that dealers will need to rethink their business model and partner with technology providers more closely,” Koelewijn said.
While the Internet of Things (IoT) is not a brand-new phenomenon, it has witnessed some growth in the office space and will continue to flourish, according to Laryssa Alexander, president, field service division of ECI Software Solutions. Alexander feels IoT’s ability to enable dealers to keep a more-watchful eye on what is happening in the offices of their clients will help solidify that relationship.
“By connecting all the equipment dealers manage to a central database, dealers can triage their service calls, anticipate issues before they happen and understand how the equipment is being utilized by the end-user,” she said. “I believe we will see dealers become more successful by capitalizing on IoT devices and the data they provide.”
I believe we will see dealers become more successful by capitalizing on IoT devices and the data they provide.Laryssa Alexander, ECI Solutions
Another ongoing development of note is software trending into subscription-based models. Joseph Odore, product manager-document and imaging, Office Products Unit of Panasonic, notes the traditional on-premise licensing model is going away. Meanwhile, the subscription route offers flexibility and enhances the overall ability to update with the movement towards the cloud.
For dealers that are not offering software-based services and document solutions, Odore feels it is an opportune time for them to revisit their business model. “Customers don’t want dealers to just sell them a copier, scanner or some lumpy piece of hardware,” he said. “There’s so much information out there and the buyer knows what they want before our salesmen walk through the door. More and more of them are going to start asking questions about what you can provide. If it’s only hardware, you might be losing them.”
Risk Versus Reward
There’s no denying the growth potential offered by managed IT, and with the continued onslaught of businesses being victimized by cyberattacks, the subject has garnered mainstream attention. Jeff Gau, CEO of Marco, has heard horror stories from fellow dealers who had less-than-bulletproof protection on their own end, leading to corrupted email systems and compromised clients. As Gau observed, “You don’t want to be the pointy end of that stick.”
It is a prime caveat for dealers looking to expand into managed IT, particularly for companies that attempt to build their own as opposed to reselling branded or white-labeled security platforms.
Security will continue to be an expanded area of opportunity, but also an expanded area of risk, both for the end user and the reseller.Jeff Gau, Marco
“Security will continue to be an expanded area of opportunity, but also an expanded area of risk, both for the end user and the reseller,” Gau said. “Resellers need to be very careful as to what message is being conveyed at the sales rep level and clarify what they actually can do in the support of their offering.”
One person who thinks ink will be making a comeback in 2020 is Lee Flood, director of sales for Pearson-Kelly Technology. He notes that certain manufacturers, including Kyocera, have been developing and releasing production printing devices, and Pearson-Kelly is taking a hard look at moving down that path. He sees opportunities in the market for customers who have needs for high-quality marketing materials, brochures and mailers, with a desire for quick turn times.
“There are several vendors we’re looking at, large manufacturers who have long track records and others who are in the R&D phase,” he said. “The key is understanding the sales and servicing side of it, ensuring that it makes sense to offer it to your customer base. And is that a customer base you want to go after? The ink side has a lot of questions.”
Another proponent of diversification into adjacent services is Dean Swenson, president of The Swenson Group. Stretching beyond the MFPs to bring more value, customer retention and revenue can be attained by annexing ancillary offerings such as physical security and hosted voice solutions, among other areas, according to Swenson.
“I recommend ensuring your dealership is very strong on its core MFPs and service proposition before branching out,” he said. “Once that critical component is optimized, look to layer additional, adjacent services that you can support in terms of adding internal talent or through partnering.”
I recommend ensuring your dealership is very strong on its core MFPs and service proposition before branching out.Dean Swenson, TSG
While the industry’s brisk pace of acquisitions continued in 2019, a merging of OEMs in 2020 could lead to a slowing of private-equity influx into the space, according to Chip Crunk, president and CEO of RJ Young. He also expects one of the private-equity groups will execute an exit strategy from its current holdings.
Like his contemporaries, Crunk believes it’s vital to diversify from both a manufacturer and offering standpoint. “As we continue to see more steps into the services space, we need to find new ways to add value for our customer base,” he said. “I also believe it will be important to continue moving upstream into print production, which can be difficult for small dealers.”
I also believe it will be important to continue moving upstream into print production, which can be difficult for small dealers.Chip Crunk, RJ Young
Andy Slawetsky, president of Industry Consultants, holds a different view of the private-equity phenomenon. “Outside money will continue to invest in dealer acquisitions,” he said. “In fact, it will increase in 2020, with new players entering the field.”
Slawetsky also expects 2020 will see security as the “hardware-selling hot button.” As more OEMs market security more intensely and the message garners momentum, he added, dealers will increasingly use it as a selling tool going forward.
One of the biggest trends seen by Todd Hirshorn, president of RingByName, is dealers looking to expand cloud-based as-a-solutions offerings to generate additional revenue from their existing base of customers. He believes dealers need to find synergies in other services in order to introduce new solutions to their base.
“(Dealers) will look for offerings which can be sold to all of their clients, not products or services suited for only a small percentage of their base,” he said. “This gives them the best chance for success with the largest number of customers.”
Many dealers are continuing to dig deeper into their OEM partner’s portfolio for alternative technologies beyond print. Advanced Imaging Solutions (Minnetonka, Minnesota) is leveraging Konica Minolta’s Workplace Hub, which marries a color MFP with a server and allows dealers to provide a reliable, robust and secure solution to a client for both IT infrastructure and traditional copy/scan/fax/print capabilities.
“Offering solutions like these services to clients that are more relevant to the smart workplace will help businesses drive efficiency that will result in increased customer satisfaction,” said Stephanie Keating Phillips, director of solutions for Advanced Imaging Solutions. “Investing in your people is imperative, in my opinion, and will help with any new endeavor a dealership decides to take on. Implementation of education and training opportunities will develop extremely knowledgeable employees and make these transitions smoother for the dealership.”
Investing in your people is imperative, in my opinion, and will help with any new endeavor a dealership decides to take on.Stephanie Keating Phillips, AIS
One of the major talking points, unavoidably, has been the evolution of the robust M&A activity that has expanded to include more venture capital and cross-channel players—i.e., Staples obtaining DEX Imaging. Nick Capparelli, managing director, LEAF Commercial Capital Inc., a subsidiary of People’s United Bank, N.A., believes it opens the door to other cross-channel suitors, including (but not limited to) Best Buy and Amazon.
“Throughout 2019, there has been strong demand for capital to maximize enterprise capability and valuation, whether that’s through acquiring or positioning a business to appeal to acquirers in a marketplace that’s currently full of compelling options,” Capparelli said. “Though some forecasts point to slowdowns in capex among larger companies, we expect healthy demand for growth capital in the near term.”
Though some forecasts point to slowdowns in capex among larger companies, we expect healthy demand for growth capital in the near term.Nick Capparelli, LEAF
Capparelli believes that continuing to power enterprise growth with smart investments in verticals and new business areas will be key, as will investing in marketing, sales, infrastructure and other essentials. “Dealers should also consider investing in back-office efficiency to reduce ongoing opex,” he said. “If those efforts require the assistance of a capital provider, partnering with one that has demonstrated expertise in the industry and the capacity to fund all of these investments in an integrated, value-added way will help to streamline the process and avoid missed opportunities.”
Jim Coriddi, vice president, dealer division for Ricoh USA, notes that at a time when the subscription economy has grown (300%-plus in the past seven years), customers are demanding more workflow and less infrastructure—consumption-based solutions that scale with them.
The view of the dealer as a provider of technology and professional services pales in comparison to the clients’ desire to have their providers furnish guidance and perspective on the industry, including where their business is headed, how the client could do better and how the dealer can help.
AI and big data are becoming key technology trends driving all kinds of business improvements.Jim Coriddi, Ricoh
“AI and big data are becoming key technology trends driving all kinds of business improvements,” Coriddi said. “Technology in the office space will need to leverage these new trends to drive increased business improvements.”
Dealers and distributors alike have stepped up their efforts to market their products, services and programs through social media, notes Brent Martin, director of marketing for ARLINGTON. Using vehicles such as LinkedIn and Twitter has bolstered B2B relationships significantly in the past year, and Martin notes that the use of video posts is an added component that can drive home messages quickly, cheaply and effectively.
“There seems to be a growing social aspect to the B2B relationship through social media,” Martin said. “LinkedIn, particularly, is an effective platform for enhancing your brand recognition and generating new business. It would behoove dealers and distributors to get more involved in their company pages, particularly for value-added video content.”
LinkedIn, particularly, is an effective platform for enhancing your brand recognition and generating new business.Brent Martin, ARLINGTON
The movement toward adjacencies that are within the same ballpark as MFPs continues to garner steam for practical reasons. David Clearman, director of marketing and PLS Sales at Muratec America, points out that both label printing and package printing equipment has grown at a brisk pace the past few years. In fact, adhesive and pressure-sensitive labels have grown 9% each in the past year while packaging has shot up 19%.
“What’s driving that is the technology from different manufacturers, whether it’s Konica Minolta, or an OEM partner that’s built the product that Konica markets to its dealers in the wholesale channel,” Clearman said. “Those are going to determine how this business grows and which way it trends. We’re getting a lot of good feedback, a lot of questions from dealers who want to see more of the product.”
Fearless Forecasts: Industry Leaders Gaze into Their Crystal Balls
Any look at the new year would be incomplete without a little prognostication. Here’s a sampling of views from our panel of industry notables as to what 2020 may hold in store.
Laryssa Alexander, ECI Software Solutions: Dashboards and data analysis tools will become even more crucial for dealers. Dashboards will allow dealers to dig further into the data they already mine, and give them better visibility into their business and the needs of their customers. On the OEM side, I believe that manufacturers will start to commit to artificial intelligence. In 2020, the OEMs will most likely release more and more predictive analytics features, allowing this industry to see the same gains from AI technologies as others have.
Nick Capparelli, LEAF: Staples’ acquisition of DEX Imaging is most likely a sign of things to come. It points to even more pressure on businesses that are perceived as “copier dealers” to escape commoditization by offering a unique value proposition and focusing on the most profitable segments of the market. For many dealers, this will involve substantial investments in new capabilities, staff, fleet, marketing and other initiatives. Demand for capital to power these activities is likely to remain strong, and finance providers with industry expertise and integrated offerings developed just for these needs will have a strong edge with office products dealers seeking growth capital.
David Clearman, Muratec: I think we’ll continue to see the trend of smaller dealers selling their businesses. I hate to see those small dealers go, because those small- to mid-sized companies have been a large part of our business model for the last 20 years. There will be opportunities for some of their customers to see new owners with new strategies come into some of those markets. That’s exciting to me—some of the larger dealers are getting into new markets for themselves, and making them their secondary and tertiary markets. I think these are big opportunities for us while there’s a trend toward increasing the business in those areas.
Jim Coriddi, Ricoh Americas: The pace of change isn’t stopping anytime soon. The ability to effectively empower digital workplaces is key to future success. It is now more important than ever for dealers, manufacturers and everyone else involved to step up, so they can confidently guide and assist customers through and beyond their digital transformation. “Stepping up” means delivering more than print. Today’s customers need partners who understand how people, processes and technologies shape back-end process and front-end success. In short, they need knowledgeable allies in their corner who can help them protect information, manage technologies and connect the end points—technology, data, applications and people—that form the backbone of their business.
Chip Crunk, RJ Young: I predict that at least one of the manufacturers will be bought or merged with another in 2020. I also expect to see at least one of the private equity groups begin to execute an exit strategy from their current holdings.
Lee Flood, Pearson-Kelly Technology: I think we’ll see mega dealers continue to grow and buy up organizations. But it’s also a good time to be a local dealer, because we have that flexibility to be the local presence, bring new offerings to the table and be agile.
Jeff Gau, Marco: In 2020, there’s going to be some manufacturer consolidation, and we’re starting to see some of that play out. As for the mega dealers, those over $100 million in sales, they’re going to invest more in IT companies because they’re starting to take it more seriously. Some of the dealers who said they’d never do it are moving that way now because they have to.
Todd Hirshorn, RingByName: Dealers want 2020 to be the first year their income statements show meaningful revenue from sources other than their core office equipment.
Wouter Koelewijn, Y Soft: As cloud adoption for print infrastructure and print management services increases, customers will transition from an OEM/dealer relationship to a broader IT provider that manages these services for them. Print becomes outsourced. The OEM/dealer channel will compete with a new set of competitors who provide a wider set of IT services, and print will be one of many service offerings.
Brent Martin, ARLINGTON: We’ve seen a lot of business going to the large DMRs, the Amazons of the world. While I don’t see anything stopping that business from continuing to grow, I really think there’s going to be a resurgence in the B2B relationships. While there’s obvious value in those deals and the discounts you can find, I truly feel that consumers, particularly in the B2B environment, do value the relationships, the intimacy within that B2B relationship. That’s going to continue to grow, because people want to deal one-on-one, face-to-face with folks.
Joseph Odore, Panasonic: AI is going to be a lot more prevalent this year. We’re starting to approach the point in the tech now where it’s starting to get a little bit cheaper. More companies are going to start adopting it. I think we’re going to start seeing more of that growth curve increase in AI, from both a business and document management aspect. Kofax is pushing it hard these days, and there are a ton of smaller companies getting into the space. It’s just a matter of time before AI becomes a lot more mainstream and available to companies at a more economical price.
Dean Swenson, The Swenson Group: I believe the M&A activity and consolidations will continue, not only for dealers but also manufacturers…maybe Xerox and HP?