by Scott Cullen

If there weren’t opportunities for selling production color, do you think so many manufacturers would be piling those devices onto their menu of hardware offerings … or dealers would be clamoring to sell them as the market for machines in traditional office technology segments declines? Indeed, opportunities abound at the upper end of the hardware spectrum, and although monochrome production devices still represent a big opportunity, the future for color is more promising.

The challenge for the dealer community now, however, is pinpointing the opportunities once they’ve committed to offering production devices to clients.

“Some of these places are tough to find,” said John Lowery, president of Applied Imaging, a Grand Rapids, Mich., dealership that sells Canon, Océ and Ricoh production devices. “We’re doing better in data centers and through those finding production print opportunities — not just black and white, but color as well.”

From focusing their efforts on light production applications to taking smarter prospecting approaches and more, several dealers are creating opportunities for themselves in production color.

Vision Office Systems tackles light production applications

Vision Office Systems in Charlotte, N.C., sells a wide array of both monochrome and color Canon and Ricoh production machines. Vision doesn’t currently have specialists dedicated to these products, although Jason Habbal, vice president, reports that some of Vision’s latest hires are familiar with the production category and will function as specialists in the immediate future.

The big challenge that Habbal finds when trying to sell color production devices is similar to what plenty of other independent dealers have encountered in other product categories they’re selling. “You hear a lot about manufacturers and dealers at each other’s throats all the time. We don’t pursue a lot (of opportunities that pit us against them) because we’re finding that the manufacturer is selling (devices) for less than we can buy (them) for. (Manufacturers are) giving clicks away for almost cost, so if it’s not profitable, what’s the point of another 100,000 clicks a month? We’re making sure the deals we go after have more of a margin to them.”

That said, Habbal still sees an opportunity for making money with color production devices for light production applications. “The smaller units — like the Canon imageRUNNER Advance C9075 PRO and even the imageFORMULA DR-9080C color scanner — have done well for us. There’s a lot of margin there, and there seems to be a bigger need in the opportunities we come across.”

Copier Fax Business Technologies leverages market changes and a more targeted prospecting approach

Copier Fax Business Technologies in Buffalo, N.Y., has discovered that commercial printers are embracing the Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS C8000, primarily because of the high-quality output that device provides.

Market changes are also creating opportunities. “We’re seeing the transition from offset to digital,” said Al Scibetta, owner of CFBT. “We don’t focus much on print for pay because the price points just don’t suit us. CRDs and commercial printers are very lucrative markets for us, as is manufacturing.”

One of Scibetta’s clients is a company that does outdoor signage and was looking for a system that could accommodate different kinds of stock. “The products we have from Konica Minolta handle (a wide range) of media, and for a reasonable cost, (customers) can print … things en masse (from them),” Scibetta said. “It’s working out very well for us.”

A more prudent prospecting approach is also creating opportunities for commercial print. Lunch and learns, for example, have been an effective vehicle for marketing production print for Copier Fax Business Technologies, especially since Scibetta doesn’t employ production print specialists, given that his reps are territory-based versus market-based. “Similar to our software solutions, they will uncover an opportunity, and if it’s a specific opportunity for a particular vertical, that’s when David (Scibetta’s son) and his team get involved,” he said.

LDI’s all about education and specialization

Doug Cassetta is one of the founders of LDI Color Toolbox in Jericho, N.Y. He has a reputation, or so we’ve been told, of being one of the most knowledgeable reps in the New York market selling color systems. It doesn’t hurt that he’s been doing this since the dawn of the digital color age. His niche is graphics color, and with more than a decade at MCS Canon prior to LDI Color Toolbox, when he discusses how to be successful in the color market, people ought to listen.

Keeping pace with technology is an ongoing challenge, particularly in the color space, and Cassetta finds himself attending print conferences to gain further knowledge of what’s new and improved while also leveraging his relationships with OEMs and software companies playing in the color space.

At one time Canon was pretty much the only game in town in the color world, but as more manufacturers have introduced color and color production products, Cassetta says there’s still an opportunity for differentiation even if there’s less of a difference among manufacturers when it comes to the engines themselves.

“A lot of times, it’s the support structure and all the peripheral products that surround an installation” where people can specialize, Cassetta said. “That’s something we’ve have a lot of experience with, and it gives us a leg up over people who just sell copiers. They can’t just turn around and sell color production. It’s an entirely different sales cycle and support system.”

LDI has nearly 70 salespeople on the streets, and all of them can sell color production. Most of these are longtime industry sales reps, and as one might expect, all have solid relationships with their clients. The secret to successfully selling color and keeping those relationships solid is recognizing when to bring in extra help for niche segments where you might not be so knowledgeable, such as color management or large-format printing. That’s when Cassetta or other LDI specialists step in, working in tandem with LDI’s traditional sales reps.

Cassetta reports that LDI has found opportunities with clients and prospects who have purchased their production equipment from OEM direct branches like Ricoh or Konica Minolta. “They usually do a pretty bad job, and then people will turn to us and say, ‘I got burned by this. Can you get me a mix of products and support?’” Cassetta said. “That’s our niche in the market.”

WJS Enterprises targets add-ons and verticals

WJS Enterprises in New Orleans and Metairie, La., is a longtime Canon dealer with a history in selling color devices, including Canon production color. According to Russ Jacketti, vice president of sales, WJS is more focused on light production and doesn’t go as high-end as the color Océ devices. The Canon imageRUNNER 9200 Series sits squarely at the top of WJS color product offerings.

“We just placed one of these with an engineering firm,” Jacketti said. “What’s interesting is, the base equipment was only about one-third of the cost of the total deal. The add-ons for professional punching, folding and document insertion were over two-thirds of the cost of the equipment compared to the base unit.”

WJS has discovered that scenario is not uncommon with customers who are buying these devices. Prime prospects include the obvious, such as print-for-pay customers, construction firms and advertising companies.

“It’s important to have the proper add-ons and media,” Jacketti said with respect to servicing these markets. “They need to run a variety of media types, mostly different textures and weights of paper.”

WJS’ strategy for selling light production color is allowing all of its reps to sell it. “However, when they encounter a hot prospect, that’s when a sales manager becomes involved,” Jacketti said.

As far as the challenges of selling light production color go, Jacketti indicated there weren’t a whole lot for the company personally since WJS has been selling color machines for a long time. As a result they rarely need to bring Canon in for any kind of help. “That doesn’t mean we won’t lean on Canon when we need to, but it’s not that often,” he said.

Questions WJS receives from its customers tend to focus on image quality and color accuracy, which is extremely important in this arena. Luckily, since WJS has been selling color for years, they’ve got the answers. “A lot of the questions we get are the same ones we used to get in the CLC days, even though those weren’t production units,” he said.

Loffler is purposely selective with the types of devices it sells

Loffler Companies, headquartered in Minneapolis, focuses on three specific opportunities for production color: quick printers (print for pay), commercial printers and in-house CRDs.

“We find a lot of opportunities in the quick printers,” said John Hastings, Loffler’s vice president of sales. However, those opportunities come with a caveat. “You make the sales, but you make super low margins on the sales and service. We prefer to play in the CRD space and do very well there.”

No matter what space it’s focusing on, Loffler is well positioned with Canon and Konica production devices. All Loffler reps are capable of selling just about anything Loffler has to offer, but when it comes to production color, they are supported by production color specialists. Loffler has one specialist focused on print for pay and a color specialist for CRD opportunities. “Both are very technical and capable when it comes to production color, but one is more sales-oriented and the other more analyst-oriented,” Hastings said.

Loffler’s business plan is focused on driving growth in the color production space. Hastings himself is optimistic about the future for production color within the markets that Loffler serves. While other dealers may see a drop-off in other areas and use color production to fill in those gaps, Hastings views this area as an opportunity to expand Loffler’s influence in its market. “We’re just tipping into additional opportunities that are out there that we haven’t been playing in before,” he said.

Gordon Flesch Company hones in on the up and coming

Don Chambers, manager, Production Solutions Division for Gordon Flesch Company in Madison, Wis., has witnessed increased activity surrounding color production devices over the last year or so — particularly within the high-end office CRD type of environment. He noted, however, that organizations are often acquiring multifunctional monochrome and color capabilities with the Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE C9000 series, the “go-to” color device.

“That’s been a strong product for us in that space,” Chambers said. “The rest of our high-end color production is covered by the Canon imagePRESS series. That’s been successful for us since its inception.”

All Gordon Flesch reps are able to sell color production, although they usually engage a specialist to assist them with opportunities. Chambers added that customers are fairly astute about the hardware available, which makes the equipment easier to sell.

The solutions side, on the other hand, is where it gets a bit more complex. “A little bit of fogginess comes in with the way organizations can reach out and touch their customers with things like Web-to-print solutions and variable data solutions,” Chambers said. “Those tools require a little more education.”

As color production evolves from offset to digital, Chambers has seen interest in color production peak. “Digital has helped everybody,” he said, citing improved calibration, better color controls and greater color accuracy as advantages.

Meanwhile, Chambers expects to see some interesting new color inkjet cut-sheet introductions further shaking up the market. “That’s going to add another dimension to the production color space,” he predicted. “It’s going to be an interesting addition to a strong, growing market.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Imaging Channel.

About the Author

Scott Cullen is the editor of The Week in Imaging, a weekly online publication, and a frequent contributor to office technology and imaging industry publications, including The Imaging Channel. He has been covering the office technology and office products industries since 1986. When not writing and editing, Scott can usually be found at a concert or sporting event somewhere between Philadelphia and New York City.