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Ricoh's top U.S. executive has a message for industry observers who think the company has turned its back on the channel: indirect sales are more important to the printing and imaging vendor than ever, even as it touts a direct services workforce that numbers 30,000 worldwide.
"It's extremely important," said Jeffrey Hickling, president and CEO, Ricoh U.S., in an interview with CRN Thursday. "Even though we have a strong Ricoh-owned operation, the dealer channel is incredibly important to Ricoh and to me personally because in what we'd call the midmarket and the commercial accounts, a direct coverage model alone can be prohibitively expensive."
Added Hickling: "While a much larger share of our revenue comes from direct, we increased our investment in dealer support 50 percent in 2010."
Hickling acknowledged criticism that Ricoh has, in the past few years, been de-emphasizing indirect channel sales.
Most of its critics point to 2008 as the year that emphasis shifted, as it was the year in which Ricoh not only acquired Ikon Office Solutions, a major services firm and mainstay of CRN's VAR 500 list, but also blew up its channel organization, ousting former channel chief Ann Moser and consolidating several channel-focused divisions.
But Ricoh is still wholly committed to indirect channel sales, Hickling said, and if Ricoh's direct business grows between 5 and 10 percent in 2011, he expects its indirect business to grow apace.
"If I grow the direct channel 5 percent in 2011, but the dealers shrink 10 percent, that's a zero-sum game for me," he said. "I have to make sure that our approach recognizes that our coverage model is only going to be effective if we have a strong relationship with our dealers."
Hickling urged VARs who may have moved away from Ricoh in recent years to come back and compare its offerings and channel support to those of its competitors.
"Ricoh lost some share in the dealer business with the IKON acquisition," he said. "But there's every reason in the world we want them to re-look and reposition their business with us again because of the technology and the services we can bring. This is a very germane discussion for me."
Hickling sat down with CRN Senior Editor Chad Berndtson at Ricoh's global press and analyst event in New York to discuss the channel and other pressing issues. Excerpts of the rest of the conversation follow.
Looking at this idea at moving beyond managed print services and leading to MDS, managed document services, can you articulate what you see as the main difference between a lot of the managed print services offerings and MDS? Is it the BPO element?
In my view, managed print services has literally been about looking at a print coming off one device and deciding whether that should be on a desktop printer, a multifunctional printer, a networked device, and in and of itself, that's important. But fundamentally, we're as concerned about non-paper images as we are about the output from a printer. In the future, it's about helping [customers] manage electronic information. Our heritage is the multifunctional printer, but we're much more about managing document workflow, which goes beyond was MPS was, in my view.
Next: Ricoh's Vendor-Agnostic Device Management