Konica Minolta Gains Traction In The Channel

Konica Minolta Business Solutions, the Ramsey, N.J.-based unit of the worldwide imaging giant, has targeted rivals Xerox and Canon in its goal to boost its U.S. market share. The company is planning to invest more in fewer solution providers and has specified color, monochrome and production print areas as ripe for growth opportunity, said Steve Jones, executive vice president of Konica Minolta U.S. dealer sales.

"We have some very strong markets, and we have some very weak markets," Jones said. "Our goal by '08 is to have 20 percent market share, across the board, across our product line. Right now, we're at about 12 points. That means we have to pick up about 8 points over two years."

Jones said Konica Minolta is looking at its newest multifunction device, the Bizhub C550—a network-enabled, color-laser device street-priced at $25,000—for a competitive advantage. The device prints at 55 ppm in black and white and 45 ppm in color, with scan, copy and fax capabilities. As one of the few companies that designs and manufactures its own printer engines, the company believes it has a technological advantage and can be more nimble in development.

In 2003, the combined company maintained a roster of more than 600 dealers and solution providers in the U.S. Since then, Jones said, that number has declined to about 500, largely by design. "We do not want more dealers," he said. "We want better-quality dealers. We're really getting to the point where we are basically satisfied with the partners we have. But we're studying where we need help."

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Jones said he has divided his channel sales force into three groups, each focusing on one specialty area: monochrome, color or production printers. The company has targeted Xerox in the production print space, and Xerox and Canon in the other two segments and is working with partners to focus on those areas as well, Jones said. The plan to boost targeted investments in partners that are on board with its strategy kicked in with Konica Minolta's new fiscal year in April.

To drive the point home, Jones said he has altered the way he will compensate his inside sales team. "I'm comping my people on the dealers' growth. If my dealers are successful, my people will be successful," Jones said. "The main goal is looking at the strategy of the dealer, and what areas they want to focus on," he continued. "I require every one of my people to put together a business plan with the dealer at the beginning of every year. That process is beginning now."

Doug Pitassi, director of sales at Pacific Office Automation, a solution provider in Portland, Ore., that partners with Konica Minolta in addition to other vendors, said the breadth of Konica Minolta's product line has made it a staple in going to market with a competitive sales offering. "We're very big with Konica Minolta," Pitassi said. "The reason is they have a full product lineup; they've got multifunction devices as well as production print equipment.

"That has helped us out, when you can go into an account and produce a full set of solutions," Pitassi said. In addition, he said, Konica Minolta's support has become stronger, and he was bullish on its channel efforts moving forward.

Those efforts are taking hold at a time of significant upheaval. IBM is setting up a joint venture with Ricoh to take over IBM's InfoPrint lineup; Dell saw significantly reduced sales of products manufactured for it last year by Lexmark, according to Lexmark's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission; Oki Data is rewriting its channel engagement from the ground up; and Xerox said earlier this year that it will open its entire product line to the channel.

Looming over the industry is Hewlett-Packard, the global and U.S. market-share leader, which has become focused on expanding into areas such as Web-based printing with its announcement that it would buy Tabblo, which specializes in online print services for consumers; and rumors that Lenovo will join the fray by acquiring a printer company.

In the end, all this turbulence is making it clear to vendors that solution providers are more critical than any stable, long-term growth in high-output commercial accounts.