OEMs are doing a lot of pivoting in the new normal – creating new programs, focusing on different product lines, and finding ways to offer value to dealers and customers in a time where the future of office print might seem a little shaky.

Epson is one of those OEMs looking for new angles while continuing to play to its strengths. On Sept. 15, the company announced the newest additions to its WorkForce Enterprise line of inkjet devices – the WF-C20600, WF-20750, and WF-C21000. We had a chance to talk with Epson’s Commercial Marketing Executive – Office Solutions Joe Contreras prior to the launch, and got the scoop on not only the new products, but what Epson has been up to and how the company is handling today’s office environment.

Epson made a big splash in 2017 when it launched the WF-C20590, the predecessor to the C21000. The first PrecisionCore line-head color MFP, it marked a big move for Epson into the office space. The PrecisionCore line-head technology has since made its way into a number of other devices, but the 100 ppm print speeds of the C20590 were groundbreaking, and the C21000, also a 100 ppm device, still offers the fastest speed in its class according to Epson. The WF-C20750 and WF-C20600 print up to 75 ppm and 60 ppm, respectively, and the devices all come with advanced finishing options that Contreras says were developed in response to numerous requests.

The WorkForce line is still an impressive feather in Epson’s cap, bringing laser speeds into the workplace with the cost and maintenance advantages of inkjet. But of course, a lot has changed since Epson (presumably) began planning the launch of these devices, and so like most of their OEM brethren, they are doing a balancing act, as “fast devices the whole office can use” isn’t going to work as a sole selling point.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other selling points in the inkjet versus laser debate, and one of those is maintenance – or the lack thereof. “What we’re hearing from dealers is that, in some cases, when their technicians go to service a product at an office, there’s a social distancing process – they have to check in, get their temperature taken, answer a questionnaire about symptoms and exposure. It can add 20 to 30 minutes additional time to a service call … that’s a considerable impact to service profitability,” said Contreras. “It’s a perfect opportunity for Epson with our unique value proposition – because of our technology and inherent design, we’re able to run with lower maintenance and lower intervention. That leads to better service profitability, and that’s a win across the board.” He says that Epson plans to release data and real-world case studies to demonstrate that dealers won’t need to touch their products as frequently.

Noting reports of customers running high volumes of pages with very few service calls – he reported at least one that had run 750,000 pages with no service calls – Contreras says he sees the opportunity to expand into the light production space as well. The WorkForce Enterprise could act as a secondary device that sits alongside a more expensive web press device and handles overflow or increases print volume. It’s another “new normal” selling point – while office volumes may be taking a hit, there has been increased demand for signage and other promotional and educational printed pieces.

Another bright spot for Epson in the current landscape is the increased demand for SOHO and A4 devices. In its latest financials, Epson noted that demand along with a substantial increase in ink revenue. The earnings presentation noted that “The emergence of stronger at-home demand favors Epson because we have stronger touchpoints with SOHO and home printer users.” The increased use of Epson ink devices in home offices is then expected to transfer into the office: “From a longer-term perspective, we also see this as a chance to communicate the superiority of office shared inkjets, including their environmental performance, low cost per print, and low maintenance costs in order to continue to expand sales.”

Epson began communicating this message quickly, according to Contreras. In March and April, they began creating webinar series and events to stay connected, and then expanded on them. They began holding regional virtual events to keep their fingers on the pulse of the dealers, which meant they were able to quickly get a feel for changing customer demand.

“People were working remotely, students were going to school remotely, so there was a huge spike in demand for A4 MFPs and printers … we were able to quickly develop marketing material around work from home, learn from home, hospitality printing — dealers were quickly jumping on board. … They’ve been appreciative that they’ve been able to follow the quick pivot we took,” said Contreras.

A couple of other unique elements put into play by Epson are a national service network, in which dealers can engage with other dealers outside their territory and get local support if they want to sell a product outside their territory. They’ve also been utilizing the remote service platform, as well as holding virtual live, instructor-led service trainings. And Epson has also established a bid and contract team, which can help pursue state or other contracts – which then go to dealers that can sell from those contracts.

Is there still a need for workgroup devices? Absolutely. Is it the same as it was a year ago? No. The winning equation, then, is the one that mixes the old with the new, the super-fast workgroup with the SOHO A4, and mixes in some education, networking opportunities, and outside-the-box thinking. Epson seems to have a good handle on this equation – production inkjet is certainly a hot topic at the moment, and an ability to capitalize on that will be key. Meanwhile, continuing to meet home and office printing needs with the right mix of products has been a staple of Epson’s business for some time, and will continue to be so. While the buzzwords may once have been “ink in the office,” it’s now more like “ink in the office that’s also in the home.” It’s a good area for Epson to be in.

amy weiss

is editorial director of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. As a professional writer and editor, she has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 20 years. Prior to that she worked in public relations and has a master's degree in communication arts.