If the name Panasonic and multifunctional printers don't seem to go hand in hand, Panasonic is hoping that will soon be a thing of the past.
The vendor hopes to double its market share in the sector over the next 12 months, launching a new channel initiative designed to service the small and medium business market.
"It is quite an aggressive objective, but we are already seeing positive results," said Shane Cook, sales and market manager for digital imaging with Panasonic's systems product division. "We are ahead of plan already."
Dubbed Panasonic @ Work, the new strategy aims to mirror Panasonic's reputation in the consumer space in the business environment. Key to this focus is a nationwide network of Panasonic-exclusive dealers which will supply and maintain products such as multifunction devices (MFDs), copiers, business fax machines, laser printers and electronic whiteboards.
The vendor has overhauled its channel program, requiring its partners to be loyal to the Panasonic brand. The program has already been established in Melbourne and Sydney, and Panasonic expects to finalise its dealers for Brisbane and the Gold Coast by the end of the year. In 2003, the program will be extended to Perth, Adelaide and regional centres. The scheme is based around geographic territories, where the maximum travelling distance from a technician to a customer is two hours.
"In the past, there has been no protection of the geographic territory, so there was the potential for dealers to fight over business," Cook said. "For our partners, it means greater profit opportunities."
Despite the restructure, Cook maintains the number of resellers hasn't really changed, and the company is actually attracting new partners, based on the increased opportunities.
"It's really being driven by the number of technicians needed to support the customer, and we expect the number of technicians to increase dramatically," he said. "The industry standard is 200 machines in the field for each technician. We'd like to see less than that."
The Panasonic @ Work program is specific to Australia, but has the backing of parent company Matsushita, the Japanese manufacturing giant. Its research found ease of use and reliable service are the two main issues for small business owners.
"We found that the areas at the large end of town are very well serviced," Cook said. "But there's a large volume of business below that. These are primarily SMEs, 95 per cent of which have less than 30 employees. We want to extend our focus to that group."
Small businesses want products that are easy to use, where they can be guaranteed reliable service, he said.
"One of our focus groups found they couldn't even get someone to come out and give them a quote. So we are training resellers to focus on the relationship and remove themselves so that they are not stuck in the jargon."
Although its dealers cannot sell competing vendors' products, Cook said this does not mean they will be unable to provide customers with specific requests.
"We have to provide a solution to the customer," he said. "If there's a product we need to complete the solution, dealers will most definitely be able to purchase that."