Like most aspects of technology, this year’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the market for printing in significant ways. And like many aspects of technology, Epson Americas executives are betting those changes are going to stay in place for a long time after the pandemic, a phenomenon that will change the game for many of its partners.

Speaking at a virtual version of its Ink Boldly partner conference event recently, Mark Matthews, vice president of commercial sales and marketing for Epson Americas, said the company’s first-quarter “shattered all sales record.” And then, days later came the lockdowns. And with it came the changes — the biggest of which was that the enterprise-level print market cratered in a dramatic way. So Matthews detailed how the company pivoted from those devices to the A4 print market, which was suddenly wildly popular in support of people who suddenly needed to do their business print jobs from home.

“The desktop business exploded overnight,” Matthews said, adding that in many cases, customers went from ordering “dozens, to selling hundreds, and even thousands” as the work-from-home reality struck.

To support that motion, Matthews detailed how it pivoted its partner-facing resources at the same time, ramping up virtual training and enablement to support the new A4 demand.

And the company says it believes those changes will continue to be “the new normal” in whatever form the new normal may take. Matthews said the shift from A3 to A4 will continue as people move back into printing largely from the office, a shift he defined as moving from “centralized to de-centralized print in the office,” which means a lot more desktop-class devices in the office, whether that office is in an office building or at home. 

“Because of our PrecisionCore technology, we’re uniquely positioned to win,” Matthews said.

That heat-free inkjet technology matters the company asserts, because of its lower energy consumption and waste, as well as speed and consistent image quality. 

The company’s partners, in particular its channel of smaller independent dealers, “have been nimble and responded well to this” shift in the market, Matthews reported.

“They’re crushing it,” he said of smaller partners.

At the same time, the company reported it has found a new avenue for sales of its WorkForce Enterprise devices. Joe Contreras, commercial marketing executive for office solutions at Epson Americas, said the company is seeing success selling its largest printers into print houses, where the products provide backup and flexibility to more traditional large-run printing presses at the core of their businesses.

“It increases their volume and their flexibility to print multiple jobs throughout the day,” Contreras said.

Epson will soon debut partner training, collaterals, and lead generation resources to tackle this new opportunity, he said.

Keith Kratzberg, president and CEO of Epson Americas, also detailed other areas of success for the printer vendor in the pandemic era, noting, for example, growth in printers for creating signage and t-shirts related to the U.S. elections and social distancing information signage, as well as the need for more receipt printers to support massively expanded curbside pickup options at retail.

Also at Ink Boldly, the company outlined a number of new or developing partner initiatives. The one most directly linked to the changing nature of a distributed print network is the debut of the Epson National Service Network, which is an effort to create a peer-to-peer group of partners that can provide on-site services — an effect that will likely become more necessary as workers and the printers on which they depend become more distributed. Under the program, partners can register their areas of service expertise and geographic reach, allowing other members to augment their own benches in either of those aspects.

The company also introduced a sales reward program called the Sales Ambassador Program and announced plans to let its Platinum partners bypass distribution and purchase directly from the vendor — a change Matthews described as “the number-one request” of the company’s Platinum partners.

In terms of partner strategy, executives played up the partner impact of working with a vendor that is “under-distributed” in terms of having a smaller partner base, and which does not have its own sales locations, pledging loyalty to partners. Patty O’Brian, director of sales for commercial and end-user at Epson Americas, said it would pursue “rational” partner growth, particularly looking to add partners in geographies or market opportunities where it was today under-represented.