by Amy Weiss
If you watch enough Animal Planet you’ll learn that certain creatures have amazing skills of adaptation, allowing them to excel in any environment, no matter how harsh. Extra-long limbs to access food sources out of reach to competitors, extra-large ears to hear both predators and prey better than the rest, the ability to store reserves of water or food — these adaptations are not about mere survival. Rather, these animals have developed in ways that allow them to excel, to thrive, and to gain an edge over their competitors.
In many ways, business is not terribly different from the animal kingdom. There’s the fight to survive, heavy competition, and a food chain with very little room at its peak. To reach the top of that chain and maintain position, companies must also adapt, develop skills and abilities that set them apart from the competition, and the ability to use those skills in ways others may be unable to.
This brings us to LMI Solutions, a Phoenix-based solutions provider that has developed in ways that its founder, Gary Willert, may not have imagined back in 1997. But then again, he may have — Willert is a visionary who has brought this cartridge remanufacturing company to the forefront of the managed print and services industry.
In 1997, LMI was a cartridge remanufacturer with seven employees, producing around 1,000 cartridges and servicing 10 customers per month. Today it is a true solutions provider, with an industry-leading managed print program, approximately 700 dealership customers, and two recently acquired printer remanufacturing companies, Global Printer Services and Printersdirect. And yes, LMI is still a cartridge remanufacturer, producing around 150,000 cartridges per month.
It’s a long road from there to here, but LMI proved early on that it was going to be able to travel that road successfully, as one of the first cartridge remanufacturers to really embrace managed print in the days when cost-per-page (CPP) was still largely the realm of the copier dealer.
“It all started when some of our customers started to get into managed print/CPP models,” said Willert. “Some of them were being forced into it by their customers, and they were calling us saying, what can you do for us, because your products work extremely well in this CPP environment.”
There was a learning curve all around in those days when it came to CPP. “Someone would have a cheaper price, so they’d switch, and realize not all cartridges are created equal. It wouldn’t necessarily be lesser quality; sometimes the yield was poor. One customer switched away from us for two or three months and when they came back, they said it seemed like the other company was filling (the cartridges) half full. That was an extremely important lesson in the CPP and MPS environment, that the dealer is responsible for those costs,” said Willert.
Willert didn’t just take those lessons and keep them to himself, however. Instead, he used the information to create a program to help dealers sell managed print.
“We’d get calls asking how to do this, how to get into it, and we realized everyone was looking for that information. So we put together a program. We put together the device monitoring software that we used, then started developing the PageTrac TCO program. It evolved into training, with online modules and the Peak Performance solution to give reps not only training but marketing material — tools to attack the market and be successful,” said Willert.
Tools for success
Today, LMI offers a comprehensive suite of tools to enable its customers to not only survive, but to excel. The LMI MPS Advantage is the company’s “MPS in a box” solution that includes consulting, sales training and marketing, print management software, and supplies.
The components of the program are numerous and impressive. For instance, Peak Performance 2.0 includes a series of training videos, marketing materials including email templates and lead generation videos, and a mobile sales pitch kit app available on the iTunes store. PageTrac Software is LMI’s total MPS solution, providing MPS dealers automatic remote monitoring, device discovery, meter reads, supplies fulfillment, service dispatching, meter collection and billing software. LMI’s PageTrac TCO Calculator is a web-based application that helps dealers understand their true costs when proposing a new MPS program to their customer. It includes a proposal generation tool that integrates with the PageTrac software to use the dealers’ actual costs to generate proposals.
“We want a long-term relationship with our customers,” said Willert. “We provide ongoing support. We have experts who have gone through MPS before, who have run programs at dealerships and will let them know what they need to focus on, ideas for comp plans, things of that nature. We want them to grow their business, and as they grow their business we’ll grow ours. We take that very seriously. We’ll do anything for our customers. We’ll do cartwheels—whatever it takes to be successful.”
Along come printers
One of the latest offerings LMI has for its customers is the remanufactured printer. In the summer of 2014 LMI surprised the industry with a pair of back-to-back acquisitions of printer remanufacturing companies. In June, LMI acquired Madison, Wis.-based Global Printer Services, an 18-year-old company with distribution centers in Minneapolis and Las Vegas. In July came the acquisition of Atlanta-based Printersdirect. It would seem LMI was now able to offer the trifecta: remanufactured printers, remanufactured toner, and the managed print programs to tie them all together. But is it as simple as that? What’s involved in adding a remanufactured printer to that MPS program?
“Printers fall in line with solutions selling,” explained Willert. “Once you get that account, it’s just one more way to improve your profitability. It’s a long-term opportunity.”
The opportunities are truly immense when you think about the logistics. Cartridge remanufacturers benefit most from older printers with a large install base — the company uses the HP 4000 series as an example, saying they are the most in-demand line of cartridges even though the machines themselves are no longer sold new. They are, however, sold remanufactured, and the opportunities for a dealer placing, for example, a remanufactured HP 4250 in a managed print environment soon become clear.
Of course, just as with a cartridge, a printer can’t simply be resold — there’s work that must go into it before it can be placed with a customer. “We truly rebuild the printer into like-new condition,” Willert said. “There are only a handful of people with that ability. You really have to do things to the printer to make it look like new. It costs a little money.”
It’s a worthwhile investment, however, and Willert stands by the results obtained by LMI’s dealers. “We’ve seen companies using a lesser quality product at a lower price, and when they switch over to us their profitability on MPS contracts increases dramatically.”
Breaking ground while staying true to its roots
LMI is not resting on its laurels following its two latest acquisitions. Willert is always planning what’s next, and thinking about new ways to grow. “It could be new products, new systems, new software — maybe an acquisition,” he said. “I never want to be closed in to not looking outside our industry. There could be ideas out there that could be implemented, even within our dealer group. That’s how a lot of them have gotten into managed services.”
Managed services — the ultimate crossover. The managed print industry talks about it regularly and there is some success in both directions. “There are a number of VARs that have bought into managed print,” Willert said. “Typically the biggest ones, the ones with more infrastructure in place, have made it happen. We’ve had good success in that channel, but there’s still more the industry could have in general. A lot of (managed service providers) are still shying away from the print side, saying it’s a waste of time, something they don’t want to know much about.” It’s a common complaint among managed print providers, and if it’s surprising that a cartridge remanufacturer has made more headway than many, maybe it shouldn’t be — not when that remanufacturer is LMI.
“We’re still making our money on cartridges at the end of the day,” said Willert, who says 99-plus percent of the company’s cartridges are remanufactured in-house. “Very little is outsourced,” he said. “We’re very particular.”
As with many companies in the remanufacturing industry, environmental benefits are a big selling point for LMI. The company offers a “Zero-Landfill Sales Kit” that promotes the environmental benefits of remanufacturing to customers while closing the loop for LMI with a return program for empty cartridges. It’s another ideal fit for the printer business as well, since the environmental benefits of using remanufactured printers fit right in with the company’s “Greener Print Strategy.”
So the opportunities in the managed services and supplies and hardware markets are all well and good, but do they all add up to opportunities in the managed print market? Yes, says Willert. “One dealer said that just one out of 20 customers they talk to know what managed print is,” he said. “It’s becoming more commonplace, but the opportunity is still there. So we’ll continue to devote time and energy and money to making them successful.
“We want to continue on, do our thing and service our customers,” said Willert. “There’s a bright future for everyone.”
On the web: LMI
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Imaging Channel.