Digital photo printing has been the star child in the printer world of late, capturing most of the spotlight. But according to industry experts, the office printer is regaining favour as new feature sets and usage improvements come to the fore.
Epson marketing manager, Mike Pleasants, claims the office market is sexy once again. Resellers are finding new meaning, expanding their selling opportunities, and pitching an array of product improvements, including better print speeds, colour quality to workplace efficiency and productivity. "The office business need has always been there - since the time of dot matrix printers - but it has been overshadowed by digital photo printing in the last little while," he said. "Not anymore."
Pleasants said resellers needed to brush up on the office category.
He pointed out printer costs were a big drain on the enterprise, and there was still often confusion around printer specifications, the value of laser versus inkjet or even printer versus copier or multifunction device (MFD).
"Office printer growth is starting up again. Organisations need help boosting productivity and keeping costs down," he said. "Product prices have come down, networking features are standard, and the rise of the small office, and even home office, is having a positive impact on the overall market. "Where resellers go now is the question. They aren't making as much money in the photo area, so they have to re-learn their skills about selling office type equipment, printers and solutions."
One way to retain office printer business was to create deals locking in contracts for the supplies and paper, offer maintenance, training and support or consulting in the form of printer consolidation, Pleasants said.
HP business printer market development manager, Andrew Cameron, said resellers can pitch a number of services and solutions to the office crowd as part of a balanced printer deployment approach. But be wary of too much printer consolidation, he warned, as it can lead to an inefficient, office environment.
"There are hundreds of solutions, depending on a company's business needs, that the channel can offer," he said. "Offer cost-per-copy solutions, a pay-as-they-use model, highlight a host of new security features, high-speed networking solutions, and forms processing or document management solutions. "In the SMB space, understand the total system sale as opposed to dropping boxes."
Cameron said the office crowd continued to exhibit a strong bias towards laser over inkjet.
"The perception is ink is more expensive," he said. "Consumers in the early days purchased inkjets and were burnt by the cost of cartridges."
Other areas that resellers could tackle were ongoing toner and paper sales and extra trays for special output functionality. "Australia has one of the highest attach rates of after-market accessories. It is one of the biggest areas that partners make money," Cameron said.
According to Lyra Research, worldwide office printing accounts for 60 per cent of total hard copy industry revenue, but it's hardly an untapped market. Its maturity poses a distinct set of challenges to industry players. A recent IDC survey of the mid- to large enterprise category found the top three user requirements were consistent quality of product, meeting business needs, and customer service and support. Survey findings also showed customers were still perplexed about overall printer specifications, colour capability, and key features like duplexing and page volume, IDC peripherals market analyst, Rishi Ghai, said.
"It suggests vendors can't afford to position products by specifications alone," he said. "How well vendors are able to communicate pricing and its channel strength is important."
Resellers needed to educate corporate users about the changing face of the office printer market. "When marketing to the mid- and large enterprise, vendors and resellers need to be aware price isn't the sole criteria. So there's a real opportunity here to avoid a price bloodbath, so to speak," Ghai said. On the hardware front, he suggested resellers continue to pitch laser printers into the office environment.
"Lasers were very significant in 2006. Vendors pushed volumes in the entry-level segment," he said. The mono laser single function device, which has reached the sub-$200 level, increased by 43 per cent in 2006, compared to 9 per cent growth in 2005. Colour lasers are the market standout, with sales jumping by 46 per cent last year.
On the MFD front, the market continued to be segmented into two categories: the copier gang, which typically attracted the mid- to large enterprise; and the entry-level laser targeting the small to medium office environment, IDC peripherals market analyst, Katarzyna Czubak, said.
Both ends of the market saw nice gains in 2006, and she predicted the trend would continue. "There tends to be a balance between the two markets, each meeting different business needs of an organisation," she said.