by Patricia Ames and Amy Weiss
M&A activity in the imaging channel reached a fever pitch today as news broke that Konica Minolta USA acquired Muratec America. The long march of consolidation has been in play for a while, with HP’s acquisition of Samsung representing the largest deal to date, but this latest move by Konica Minolta shows a different approach that was unexpected.
Konica Minolta has been extremely active in the M&A arena over the last few years. Since acquiring All Covered in 2011 the firm has completed roughly 30 acquisitions, including ECM providers, IT services providers, hybrid MPS and IT services providers and traditional dealers. In July 2017 alone, Konica made two wildly diverse acquisitions: precision medicine and telephony. In early July, an agreement was signed for a subsidiary of Konica Minolta to acquire Ambry Genetics, a privately held healthcare company, the addition of which Konica says is the first stepping stone in creating an exciting new medical platform aimed at fulfilling the potential of precision medicine. Even more recently Konica entered the telephony market with its late-July acquisition of Columbus, Indiana-based TLS.NET, a managed IT services company that specializes in voice, cloud and IT solutions.
But this newest acquisition, of course, adds some much more basic items to Konia Minolta’s lineup: dealers, distribution and the addition of a secondary line and industrial printers. The latter is particularly worth looking at, as it’s been a focus for Konica over the last year, first with the acquisition of an additional stake in France-based MGI Digital Graphic Technology (MGI), a decoration-printing firm with which it already had an alliance. At its 2016 dealer meeting, Konica showed off the MGI JV 3DW label printing device and the bizhub PRESS C71cf digital label printer, and in a number of presentations discussed the opportunities in specialty and industrial print. Konica Minolta also had a strong presence at drupa 2016 in May, as well as exhibiting its production and label products at most of the subsequent major production print shows.
The importance of production and industrial print to Konica’s bottom line is clearly illustrated in its Q1 2017 financials, released last Friday, where its production print business was up 3 percent, compensating for a slight dip in office business. Konica noted solid performance of the AccurioJet KM-1, as well as increased sales of label printers and MGI products in North America. In its Medium Term Business Plan, Konica Minolta has stated it will “actively seek to nurture businesses in three fields: Full-scale entry into the area of precision medicine (see the Ambry Genetics acquisition noted previously), high value-added services appropriate to an IoT era in which things are connected to other things (illustrated best by KM’s “Future of Work” announcement earlier this year) and full-scale promotion of digitalization in commercial and industrial printing.
So how does Muratec factor in? The firm made an entry into the digital label market that pairs with its own unique understanding of adapting to an evolving market, having entered the industry as a fax manufacturer in the 1980s. Jim D’Emidio, president of Muratec America, has frequently likened the current trend into industrial and production printing by traditional office dealers to similar past adaptations to evolving technologies. In this Imaging Channel interview he notes, “We believe that same sort of transition will happen in labels as happened with color copiers, and we believe the BTA dealers can train and educate the end users on how they can print color labels themselves, much as they did years ago creating the market for color copiers.”
Education is a key word there; perhaps more important than the product launches itself has been Muratec’s investments into teaching its dealers to sell those products. In an interview at the time of the launch in January 2016, Muratec’s marketing team told us the six months prior to launch had been spent building a support program in which dealers experience a three-day workshop incorporating both sales and service training — unique, they said, in that everything was done through the dealer channel.
Indeed, Muratec’s investment in sales and training, coupled with its established space in the BTA channel — the firm has been recognized as having the top secondary product line in the BTA’s Channel’s Choice Awards for 11 years — may well be one of the most valuable assets to Konica Minolta. And then there is that adjacent market entry into digital label printing playing a role. Earlier this year the firm held a full-day “label university” at the ITEX show in Las Vegas, in which it displayed its newest label presses along with its dedication to dealer education and training. It could well work out to be an excellent synergy as dealers who train to sell lower-end label devices to the SMB may be able to leverage that experience into moving some of Konica Minolta’s larger devices.
Muratec’s team knows the channel
In the end, this acquisition may be more about people than money — in a good way. We attended an investor panel recently where Rick Taylor indicated that Konica Minolta seeks to acquire companies that have great teams that can be leveraged within their larger organization. As evidenced by its awards as well as word-of-mouth, Muratec is widely recognized as one of the best companies in the channel to do business with; known for keeping promises, fixing problems, and treating customers with the kind of consideration always touted as critical by training programs and sales gurus, but not always experienced in reality. In making this acquisition, Konica Minolta acquires an experienced team that is ready, willing and able to serve the channel, but now with the tremendous resources that Konica Minolta has to offer. It appears to be a great merger that is a cultural as well as a technological fit.