In a recent study, office equipment dealers and resellers named declining margins (45.8 percent), the less-paper office (38.5 percent) and price competition (34.6 percent) as their three biggest business challenges.

These findings, from the January 2017 InfoTrends “Primary Research Office Channels Survey,” make sense in the context of office printing, as laser printers have been the established standard since the early 1980s. Laser printers are very reliable, high print quality devices. The laser printer business is also quite mature after three decades. Intense competition and technological advances in performance and manufacturing have optimized development, and channel margins are tight.

To address their printing profit challenges, many dealers and resellers have taken to selling software or are trying their hand at managed IT to make up for waning laser revenues. Software and managed IT are critical, but different than selling imaging hardware. There are investments that need to be made in training, sales and support, and thus software and managed services become a risky path to profit given the level of knowledge that needs to be built in the organization.

Business inkjet printing provides another strong path to profits while continuing to provide imaging solutions for your customers. As the market looks for growth paths in color printing, simple managed print solutions, and greater print affordability, business inkjet is about to hit a rapid growth which you will want to participate in. Let’s talk about the reasons why.

Inkjet – a market view

In a recent survey of IT decision makers conducted by InfoTrends, “48 percent currently utilize business inkjet printers in their workgroup and departmental environments today, with the majority being companies with 250-400 employees.” InfoTrends reported that “the main motivators to purchase these devices were ease of maintenance and good enough color quality compared with color lasers.” In the future, respondents said they’d consider factors like multifunctionality and total cost of ownership.

Quocirca published similar findings In the white paper “Business Inkjet Comes of Age,” stating that “one-third of SMEs have already made the switch to business inkjet, with a further 27 percent planning to move to business inkjet in the next 12 months.” In that same white paper, businesses preferred inkjet for its “reliability, price and running costs as the top criteria for print selection,” along with “energy consumption and environmental credentials, particularly amongst large enterprises.”

But customers aren’t the only ones who appear to be bullish on inkjet.

According to projections made by IDC, the “business inkjet market will grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.2 percent over the period 2015 to 2020.” The company also predicts that “inkjet is likely to surpass 60 percent of total shipments by 2020,” with most of that growth coming from color devices aimed at the workgroup.

The research reports come back to a few fundamental advantages for business inkjet. These include lower costs of operation, service and energy, while also noting the reliability and ability to manage business inkjet printers seamlessly within a managed print environment.

Office printing – opportunities for growth

While printing is declining in some sections of the market (e.g. consumer), it’s growing and changing in the office market.  Quocirca reported that “almost half of organizations are reporting an increase in color volumes, with just 20 percent indicating that color print volumes fell in the past year.” Much of this growth is in the SMB segment, where the benefits of affordable color overlap with the SMB needs to build brands with rich, colorful documents.

Resellers and dealers can experience growth in the market with business inkjet’s lower cost supplies and service. While market prices for supplies and service will likely continue to decline, reducing your cost to serve your customer base provides a clear path to profit. Business inkjet allows you to bid on printing opportunities you may not have been profitable on with laser based solutions. While service is a critical component of a managed service engagement, having reduced service costs increases your efficiency and therefore profit.

Color printing will continue to grow as an opportunity, especially in the SMB space where SMBs don’t want to reduce color printing, they simply want to make it more manageable. Business inkjet is the technology that will allow this to happen.

Where is inkjet today as a technology?

Business inkjet technology has been evolving over the last 20 years, with some fundamental breakthroughs over the past few years that are setting the print industry up for a transformation. Compared with laser printers, business inkjet devices have always been more affordable with less service due to a less complex engine structure, more energy efficient because there is no need to melt toner, and a more versatile printing technology because ink is placed on top of the media instead of fused as with laser printing. Historically, however, you would have to trade off these benefits with concerns over reliability, paper handling, software solutions and other elements required for a complete office printing solution.

Today’s leading business inkjet solutions remove those historical tradeoffs, which is why the growth of business inkjet is one of the key areas of focus for OEMs, channel partners and IT managers.

On a fundamental level, inkjets are more versatile than their laser counterparts because of how their writing systems are designed. With laser devices, the writing system comes in contact with the substrate, applying heat and pressure to melt toner, which in turn can degrade color quality and limit the number of substrates you can print to. However, inkjet print heads spray tiny droplets of ink, with the head never making contact with the substrate, empowering businesses to print on more substrates and achieve brighter, longer-lasting color.

Today’s inkjets are also among the fastest printers in the market for their price point, because they employ fixed print heads that are the width of the page, which enable the device to print a single page with one pass rather than passing a print head back and forth across each page. Some devices leverage tiny embedded sensors in the print head that monitor each and every nozzle and automatically adjust image quality when a clog is detected. Impressively, current print head technology sprays ink droplets as small as one-hundredth the size of a strand of human hair, which means sharp, detailed, accurate output. Manufacturers have also spent a lot of time improving their ink formulations to focus on lower costs, higher-volume yields, faster speeds and dry times, and sharper and brighter colors.

In some business inkjet printers, these print heads are rated for the life of the printer, allowing vendors to place high yield ink supplies with the printer. With ink capacity offering over a year of normal printing, resellers and end users can save the hassle of shipping and managing ink supplies, further reducing costs and improving operating efficiencies.

High yield ink supplies greatly reduce the environmental impact of a given printer, as there are fewer toner cartridges and packaging to dispose of. Because business inkjet printers use significantly less energy than laser printers, they also reduce electrical costs and reduce carbon footprints for any business.

Best of all, inkjets can provide the same user experience that your customers are accustomed to with their laser devices. Leading inkjet models feature large color touch screens that mimic the functionality of the smart devices workers use at home and provide them with an intuitive, customizable user experience. Most devices come with their own hardware and CPU baked in, and can support their own apps or integrate with third-party productivity-enhancing, cost-saving and security-boosting applications.

On the managed print service front, inkjet can have a significant impact on your revenues. Just like with your laser offerings, inkjet devices can be integrated into your existing fleet management and MPS tools. They come with all the software and IT tools required to easily set up a printer on any managed network and are fully compatible with the leading MPS tracking solutions available in the market. With simpler design and fewer serviceable items compared to laser devices, you won’t have to dispatch technicians to make repairs as frequently, thus lowering your operating costs. Couple that with how inkjet technology comes at a lower total cost of ownership, and you can offer customers faster, more reliable and higher-quality print at better prices than the competition and win over more business.

Business inkjet is a tool for profit and growth

Inkjet provides dealers with an opportunity to find new business and help customers solve new problems. For example, dealers can position their inkjet lineup as a solution for businesses that want to bring costly outsourced printing in house. There are also opportunities in the wide-format, production and label printing space, which is largely dominated by inkjet technology.

The printing market is beginning to change. It needs to, because customers’ demands have not changed. Customers simply want high quality, reliable, affordable color printing and are not as concerned about technology. Resellers and dealers want to be able to meet those needs with a clear profit stream on hardware, supplies and service.

Business inkjet is making a significant impact against those needs today. Business inkjet delivers high quality output, on very reliable devices at costs that are a significant savings over color laser printing. Resellers and dealers who have embraced inkjet are seeing that it allows them to find growth with new customers, but also access supplies and service profits that weren’t available to them with laser printers. The perceptions of business inkjet are changing rapidly in the market, and those resellers and dealers who move first will see the benefits.

Larry Trevarthen
Epson America

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.

is Director of Business Imaging at Epson America, and leads the marketing of Epson’s WorkForce products into North America, including the revolutionary new 100-page-a-minute WorkForce Enterprise WF-C20590 printer. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience.