Oki Data printing global president, Harushige Sugimoto, was recently in Australia to announce its acquisition of local distribution partner, IPL, and launch the vendor’s new printer range. He caught up with NADIA CAMERON to discuss the printing and imaging market and its strategy for 2010.
Why did Oki decide to buyout IPL’s Australian operation? Harushige Sugimoto (HS): Oki has been in this business for 27 years, along with IPL. We have established a presence mostly in the dot matrix space. But times are changing – no-impact printers are coming into the market, and competition is more tough. So the situation has changed. At the same time, the Australian market is the ninth largest in the world, and is similar to Europe – colour and MFPs [multifunction printers] are bigger here and in Europe than other places. As a result, we wanted to source more business opportunities, which meant more investment locally and better market access. That’s why we decided to acquire IPL.
Oki has been a good partner with IPL and Stead [Denton] has been important to us. However, the telecom and printer markets are different worlds and but need to grow more. So it’s better to separate in order to focus more specifically on taking the products to market and the business.
How much of Oki’s strategy has been affected by the economic downturn over the last 18 months? HS: This economic downturn is not specific to our industry – it’s a global event. Oki Data Corporation’s services revenue is so much dependent on overseas markets – 87 per cent of our total revenue comes from outside of Japan, especially the US and Europe, which have suffered a severe economic crisis. As you can imagine, printers and the copier market have been affected. Even though the economy has already hit bottom and is starting to look up, as far as our industry is concerned, it is still very slow. Generally speaking, it’s about 20-30 per cent below last year’s global figures. But our case is still better than those shrinking in the market, as we’re gaining some market share. We have also tried to change several things: One thing we are focused on is gaining more customers in the market in those markets that are growing. Australia is one of them, as is China. With our products, our direction is around MFP, especially colour machines.
Also, managed print services [MPS] are key. Customers globally are looking for more services than hardware. Even though our target market is small to medium-sized offices, those customers still want cost savings and better business operations. Another approach for us is selling solutions, not just selling the box. We are proposing solutions along with our printers – our page printer is LED technology based, not laser, and is more accurate and the resolution is better. That is suitable for better security, as well as other unique applications like Anode. It’s a significant change, but we must change. Unfortunately, we aren’t as big as Canon or HP and we cannot buy the company, but still we are focusing more on our target market by maximising our strengths.
Competition in the printers market is also getting tougher – Samsung is the latest player to enter the market. Have these market conditions changed your channel strategy? HS: Samsung is, of course, very aggressive and well-known in other markets. Right now, our current channel is more or less dependent on the distributors, then the dealer. We have no plans to change this structure, but we are trying to form closer relationships with key partners. In other words, we’re not only increasing the number of partners we work with, we want to increase our in-house share with those partners. What Oki Data is doing is not only pushing the sales, but also working with dealers to get closer to the end-users and promote our products more. We’re doing this so they can pull from the distributor, rather than us pushing at the distributor level.
Why do you appoint Synnex as a distributor in Australia? HS: We have a very good relationship with Synnex in other countries such as the US, and they’re a great customer for us. Ingram Micro and Tech Data are also very important there, but they are so big, and looking after everybody, so we need more strategic partners we can work with on specific market segments.
Is SMB your key market then? HS: Yes. Of course, the MPS is becoming more popular in enterprises, but even in small companies in operational applications – even those people are looking for solutions that aren’t necessarily full MPS, but are available on a cost per-page model.