Printer vendors sure are an honest bunch. Earlier this year, they promised their color laser printer prices would drop to $600 or less, making color a no-brainer buying decision for most business customers. And true to their word, that's today's reality. The result is an explosion in demand for color in the SMB market, plus a surge in replacement purchases for older monochrome printers.
In addition, multifunction printer (MFP) sales are growing at double-digit rates, and vendors traditionally focused on retail distribution are now wooing VARs with new marketing, sales support and incentive programs. Of note, programming tools enabling user-friendly integration of MFPs into customers' document-management systems offer new profit opportunities for VARs and systems integrators.
"For 2004, some areas to watch in the MFP space are heightened competition between monochrome and color laser MFPs, and continued growth and adoption of scanning," says Jennifer Thorwart, senior research analyst for U.S. hard-copy peripherals at IDC, which forecasts MFP unit sales will increase at a near-16 percent compounded annual growth rate through 2008.
Here's a look at some of the new products and corresponding VAR programs that have appeared since VARBusiness' Annual Guide To Printing in March (March 29, page 39).
On the high end, the ImageRunner C3220 Digital Imaging System from Canon USA, introduced June 28, is an important breakthrough for VARs. It adds Canon's Multifunctional Embedded Application Platform (MEAP) development architecture to the highly successful C3200 color laser networked MFP introduced in 2003 ($10,230 and $11,940 for the C3220's copier- and printer-based models, respectively). MEAP enables software developers to program one-button applications for complex document-processing tasks and tightly integrate the C3220's functionality into an enterprise's overall document-management system (see "Integrating MFPs With Enterprise Applications," page 62).
"Canon considers the inclusion of MEAP a groundbreaking workflow differentiator for our customers--a vehicle for harnessing Java technology to significantly help businesses improve productivity and reduce costs through tailored applications and streamlined document management," says Dennis Amorosano, director and general manager of Canon USA's Imaging Systems Group. Health-care customers are especially keen on MEAP for secure processing of HIPAA data and complex medical forms, he adds.
Canon also has introduced two non-MEAP additions to its color laser ImageRunner family. The C6800 ($24,000) for enterprise departments prints at 68 ppm in monochrome or 16 ppm in full-color mode, scans up to 70 ppm at 300 dpi or 50 ppm at 600 dpi, and comes standard with digital copying, document-to-mailbox features and Ethernet connectivity. For small offices, the C3100 ($8,900) and network-ready C3100N ($11,500) print monochrome at 31 ppm and color at 7 ppm, scan 44 ppm at 300 dpi or 28 ppm at 600 dpi, and include copying and mailbox features. Super G3 Fax options are available for the C3100, C6800 and C3220 devices.
Also for small offices and workgroups, the $999 Magicolor 5430DL color laser printer from Konica Minolta prints 21 ppm in color or monochrome, does graphics at up to 2,400 dpi, and comes with 64 MB of SDRAM (upgradeable to 576 MB) and 100-Mbps Ethernet connectivity. The 5430DL, introduced this month, incorporates innovations aimed at small businesses.
"First, it's 30 percent faster and 30 percent less costly than its nearest competitor," says Grady Yarbrough, director of product marketing for Konica Minolta. "New technology in the 5430DL includes a multiple-beam laser system and an all-in-one imaging cartridge. In many tandem printer designs, you have up to eight consumable components for the user to change. The 5430DL has just one, helping to create a very compact footprint."
The Magicolor 5430DL offers another simple but oddly unique amenity: The consumable supplies come installed. "Yes, that's a big deal to customers," Yarbrough says.
Konica Minolta has improved its reseller program, too. "For example, it used to take 10 to 12 weeks of paperwork to pay SPIFFs to our resellers," says Melvin Evans, director of channel marketing for Konica Minolta. "Now, they get a debit card the moment they sign up online, and the money they've earned is credited to the card in a matter of days. Also, every registered reseller is assigned to an inside and a field support rep. Resellers talk to the same person every time." Konica Minolta also offers lease financing and incentives on consumable supplies, service contracts and certain add-on options.
Like Konica Minolta, Oki Data America broke the $1,000 color laser barrier with two new products. The C5200n and C5400 series produce 1,200-x-600 dpi color pages at 16 ppm (24 ppm monochrome). The C5400 offers PostScript emulation, a 10-GB hard drive, job accounting software and Ethernet connectivity as options. The C5200n includes standard Ethernet connectivity and comes with 32 MB of memory, upgradeable to 288 MB. Both include Oki's fifth generation of Single Pass Color technology for faster throughput on a variety of media.
Oki's Managed Services Program, introduced in April, is proving popular among enterprise customers and resellers. The program helps customers inventory their printing assets, audit workflow and cost-of-ownership statistics, identify underutilized printers and properly plan replacements of aging printer fleets.
Lexmark also hits the sweet spot in the SMB marketplace with its C510 network-ready color laser printer. The $699 product does an impressive 30-ppm monochrome and 8-ppm color, with duplex-printing standard. The E232t monochrome laser printer illustrates price pressure from color models: $299 buys a 22-ppm, network-ready workhorse. Lexmark scores again with its $1,479 X422 MFP, which prints monochrome at 22 ppm and scans color to e-mail, FTP and LDAP recipients.
"MFPs continue to grow fast in the business market, replacing standalone copiers, faxes, printers and scanners," says Mark Barnett, director of product solutions for Lexmark. "Document-workflow-management software is becoming the major value-add for resellers. Solutions, not hardware features, are driving sales." To wit, Lexmark's Document Solutions Suite software enables one-button solutions tailored to specific users, workgroups, businesses or industries.
Lexmark says it's continuing to work with VARs and improve their incentives. "For instance, we recently doubled rebates to 10 percent off MSRP through the end of 2004, offered 50 percent discounts on demo units and added significant discounts for education accounts," says Lexmark senior channel manager Jean Hodge.
For its part, Brother International also offers a broad line of monochrome laser printers and MFPs priced aggressively for SMB offices and workgroups. The HL-6050 series offers 25 ppm, 1,200-x-1,200 dpi, 32 MB to 160 MB of memory, built-in automatic duplex printing, and Ethernet or wireless connectivity starting at $749. The MFC-8840 ($550) and MFC-8820 ($350) multifunction devices print 21 ppm, scan color at up to 9,600-x-9,600 dpi, support PC fax, scan to e-mail, and come with or without Ethernet connectivity.
"VARs should get to know Brother [beyond] retail," says Jeff Sandler, senior product manager for printers. "We do not go direct to end users. Our commercial sales division has been calling on VARsto help them take advantage of our lead generation, free collateral, evaluation units and product-customization programs."
Most recently, Kyocera Mita launched an 18-ppm monochrome MFP on July 1. The $1,170 KM-1815's key benefits include a smaller footprint and smaller price for the features that small offices and workgroups use most.
"By including standard network print, color scan to e-mail and scan-once/print-many capability, Kyocera is providing a solution that meets the needs of the small office at an affordable price," says William Cassidy, product marketing manager for Kyocera's monochrome MPPs. Later this year, the company will launch two new color laser printers. The FSC- 5020N (17 ppm color and monochrome) and FSC-5030N (26 ppm color and monochrome).
Kyocera's newly formed Network Solutions Group, directed by former national digital product support manager Mark Desamo, will work with resellers to design, install and maintain solutions to customers' network-integrated document workflow needs.
Finally, HP launched a new workgroup class color laser printer on June 2. The CLJ-4650 series starts at $1,799, prints at 22 ppm in color or monochrome, and offers optional Fast Ethernet or wireless connectivity.
Printers, particularly multifunction devices, are becoming communications hubs that are central to customers' document-workflow-management systems. Word to the wise: VARs should partner with vendors that offer end-to-end solution development strategies, not just more features for lower prices.
David Hakala (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in Denver.