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Why One Print Solution Provider Is 'Optimistic' About What's Beyond COVID-19

The CEO of ImageNet Consulting says his firm's diversification and opportunities for landing new print customers are driving his optimism amid the health and economic crisis.

Despite severe challenges in the print channel from the COVID-19 crisis, ImageNet Consulting CEO Pat Russell has his eye on opportunities that lie beyond the current travails.

Printing at customer sites has plummeted by about two-thirds since the crisis began in March--though he's "treating it as a blessing" that it hasn't been worse. He's heard from peers that are down closer to 95 percent.

[Related: 10 Top Printer Industry Trends To Watch In 2020]

And while office printing may not return to pre-coronavirus levels, Russell said that Oklahoma City-based ImageNet Consulting is positioned to both survive the crisis--thanks in part to its diversification in areas such as managed IT--and to find big opportunities on the other side, such as adding new customers as the dealer channel shrinks.

"I am optimistic about what the future holds. Our diversification really lends itself to having more opportunities with our customer base and with future prospective customers," Russell said.

ImageNet--which partners with HP Inc., Canon and Konica Minolta on the print side--also offers enterprise content management (converting paper-based workflows into digital), managed IT services (including an offering leveraging HP's Device-as-a-Service solution) and even 3-D print devices (including HP's Jet Fusion 3-D printers).

This diversification has been key to helping ImageNet weather the storm, as offerings such as managed IT have seen increased demand during the crisis, Russell said.

Beyond the coronavirus crisis, the corporate world will most likely "never get back to the level of print that was pre-pandemic"--which "definitely will expedite" the ongoing decline of the print industry, he said.

"I run on the old concept that 30 days makes a habit. Well, when most employees are working from home right now, they're finding ways to do business without printing. So it's going to be a far greater percentage decline in print when everybody does get back to work, because they have new habits," Russell said.

Still, the situation creates opportunities for firms such as ImageNet, Russell said.

"I do believe that there are a lot of other dealers that are not going to survive this pandemic," Russell said. "My heart goes out to them from a personal level. I feel awful for them. But from the business perspective, as I've been telling our sales consultants, that means there's a lot of opportunity. There's going to be a lot of customers that are seeking dealers like us to be their provider going forward, because their provider may be out of business."

Meanwhile, ImageNet has already seen some demand from customers for additional print devices for employees working from home, he said.

"We've put together our own bundles, and that has allowed prospective customers and current customers the ability to buy a [print] bundle that is made for home," Russell said.

While increased work-from-home print demand could "absolutely" continue into the future, "I don't think it'll offset what the office environment was doing," he noted.

On 3-D printing, ImageNet has deployed its own 3-D printers to aid in the production of personal protective equipment needed by medical workers.

At the company's facility in Dallas, ImageNet has produced devices needed for masks and face shields, Russell said. “It’s been great to be able to give back,” he said.

All in all, "I haven't lost focus on my optimism," Russell said.

"It is a roller coaster emotionally--one day I may be more optimistic than the other," Russell said. "But ultimately, what I keep coming back to is that we've got a great group of people that work for ImageNet. I know the talent that we have within this organization. And I'm ready to unleash them on our marketplaces once that's again allowed."

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