Sharp Relaunching Channel Efforts

Mahwah, N.J.-based Sharp Document Solutions--with a long presence in the office automation and copier segments--is also rolling out six new multifunction peripherals (MFPs). Ed McLaughlin, president of the Sharp document organization, said that the company has learned from its prior unsuccessful attempts to enter the commercial IT reseller channel.

McLaughlin acknowledged that Sharp would be competing against a plethora of document vendors that have launched, relaunched or changed their channel programs over the past two years, including the likes of Oki Data, Samsung, Dell, Xerox, Ricoh, Hewlett-Packard and Brother.

"It's a popular place to be," McLaughlin said in an interview. "I like crowds. A crowded market is a market that is attractive, and a lot of people want to play there."

Company executives said there are several propositions to their new effort in the channel: strong profit margins for resellers; document technology that is focusing heavily on network security; and a policy that will eschew any direct sales in the corporate document space.

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"As long as I am here, we will not sell direct," McLaughlin said.

Specifically, Sharp is rolling out six new MFPs--the DM-3551 and DM-4551. Each can ship with one of three different configurations: basic print-and-copy devices; devices that have network scanning capability; and devices with both network scanning and fax capability. Each device that is scan-capable also is equipped with LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), a sender-authentication technology.

Distributor pricing on the new models will range from $10,599 to $13,599, for machines that can produce between 35 pages per minute (ppm) and 45 ppm. And in its effort to bolster its security message, the vendor said resellers will be provided with its Data Security Kit model AR-FR4U with pre-assembled hardware. According to Sharp, the security kit provides additional security layers including encryption, seven-time overwrite capability on its data storage hardware, and MAC address and IP address filtering.

Harry Fields, president of Chattanooga Business Machines, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based solution provider and Sharp dealer, said he believed the vendor was "a good company" that has--in the office automation space--been aggressive in updating its product line. While he had not been briefed on the company's new channel strategy, he said that while he would welcome higher margins, the 18 percent to 22 percent would not represent a significant premium over what he now gets.

McLaughlin said Sharp's past efforts to engage with the commercial IT solution provider channel, which included distributor Ingram Micro, were unsuccessful because they failed to address channel conflicts between product resellers and channel partners that would be qualified to provide service.

Under the new model, Sharp through Tech Data will qualify resellers in general distribution for product sales, and require additional training and other commitments before qualifying a solution provider for service.