By: West McDonald

Nothing stays the same.  If you were fortunate enough to attend the rejuvenated ITEX event in 2017 you would have noticed that “the office equipment industry” is becoming a different animal altogether.  The showroom floor was filled with vendors that had absolutely nothing to do with office equipment.  And if you go on most dealer’s websites you’ll see that they are offering Document Management, Telephony, Managed I.T., Security and more.  We may need new terminology for the office equipment industry.  Maybe the “Office Enablement Channel.”

Not only were some of the offerings different than what we’re used to seeing, but so were some of the ways we deliver our current print-related offerings.  I held a session on Seat Based Billing (SBB) for Managed Print.  I was worried I would have poor attendance as the session was early in the morning on the last day of the show.  Well, it was standing room only.  Clearly, the dealer channel is paying attention to and looking for new ways to protect profits and deliver additional customer value in a market that is saturated with competition.  It was also the first time we had a dealer panel of businesses that are currently offering SBB.  We’ve moved from theory to practice and that is certainly getting noticed.

Fast forward a few months: just recently, Clover Imaging Group, GreatAmerica Financial Services, Supplies Network, DOCassess, and Print Audit joined together to offer the world’s first SBB Road Show in Kansas City.  Again, I was a little nervous.  Would dealers spend their hard-earned dollars and take a full day away from the office to learn about the various aspects of SBB for managed print?  And again, I needn’t have worried. The classroom was full and we had to have a few extra chairs brought in.  When the reviews came in they were exceptional.  If you are interested, there are 2 more SBB Road Shows coming up and you can find out for yourself what all the fuss is about.  

Of course, SBB isn’t for everybody.  For dealers that are looking to buckle down and do a better job of just “managing” print under a cost per page contract I’m sure the future is bright.  After all, only 15% to 30% of the world’s pages are currently under contract.  I guess my only caution here is this: Of the remaining 70%+ of pages being sold a la carte, how many of those will never go under contract? 50%? 60%? All of them? Who knows. Another option is to get rid of “value” altogether.  For those that are looking to do higher volume with lower margin and have a lean model built to deliver on that, perhaps even CPP isn’t necessary.

It’s pretty obvious which camp I fall into: the “diversify or fade away” camp.  If we’re really looking to grow I think I prefer to do so by delivering more value to our customers in ways that they prefer to buy.  As the world is quickly becoming “everything as a service” it’s good to try and make sure our customers can buy from us that way.  Diversified business practices have a pretty good track record of success.  If you look outside of our space at companies like General Electric you can see that diversification works.  I’m not saying we need to go to the extreme that GE has but we could learn a lesson about the importance of trying new things and making money on the ones that work.  Even in our own space the OEMs are diversifying.  Two to note, Xerox and Konica Minolta, are both investing heavily in value added solutions that are either related to their core offerings in the office equipment channel or completely outside.  Adjacent investments are happening in document management, I.T. management, etc.  A great example of one outside the bread and butter product sets is how Xerox is managing toll booths and other transportation systems around the world.

We can’t exist in the world of Uber, Netflix and AirB&B without learning the lessons they provide about how buying habits are changing.  The need for wariness and paying attention to changing trends is ultra-important as the rate of change around us continues to escalate and disrupt.  We have the tools and the know how to be able to adapt, we just need the resolve and the belief that if done properly we’ll all be a lot better off.

My point is simple: SBB is here to stay.  Diversification of offerings is here to stay.  The need to rethink how we define ourselves as a channel is upon us.  Profiting from the status quo simply won’t work as we look to grow into the future.  It’s going to require some change.   It’s not going to be easy and I’m not saying we won’t make a few mistakes along the way, but here we go.   We need to hunker down and get down to the business of becoming something new.  We’ve been doing it all along:  we don’t sell typewriters anymore, and most of us aren’t selling fax machines either.  At Print Audit, we bought a document management company and invested untold dollars and sweat equity into getting SBB right, for the benefit of the entire channel.  The folks at ITEX, like Marc Spring are doing it too by changing the face and value of what a tradeshow looks like.  So, let’s get to it.  I’m ready and excited and hope you are too.