Diversify, diversify, diversify. It could be the mantra for businesses in the 2020s. Not that diversification hasn’t always been important, but the COVID era, as it did for so many things, created an increased sense of urgency. It’s clear that diversification is critical to continued business success, but how and when? Well, we’ll get into the how in a moment, but the when? You may expect me to say “yesterday,” but that’s not very helpful if you haven’t started, and the truth is, it’s never too late. Each business has its own timeline, and there’s no such thing as “too late” when it comes to evolving your business. Today is the right time for you to consider your diversification options — one of which, quite promisingly, is production print.

The need for diversification

The reasons to diversify away from office print have been well documented. Offices were trending toward digitalization even before the pandemic, but COVID hit the fast-forward button on most digital transformation efforts. Those new digital processes have eroded printed pages, and it’s only predicted to continue. Ignoring that trend would be negligent.

The pressure on pages, in turn, puts pressure on both manufacturers and dealers, many of whom have tried a wide range of diversification options, some of which have worked and some of which haven’t. Often, those that fail do so because they’re just not a good fit, not being adjacent or complementary to the office equipment market or the specific dealership’s book of business. Even so, some of these strategies may have worked for a while, and some may continue to work, but in a way that puts a lot of strain on a dealer whose core competency is selling devices and pages. If it’s not a good fit, ultimately it won’t be successful — so why leave the core competency behind when there are still pages on the table?

Enter production print

Production print represents an attractive opportunity for dealers to expand their businesses by going where the pages are. Even as workgroup pages come under pressure, production categories are expected to grow. An IDC five-year forecast shows many of the workgroup speed segments declining in units, value of shipments, or both, while the production speed segments show much more potential for growth. And of course, production devices themselves tend to be priced higher than office machines, creating the opportunity for greater margins.

The move upstream into production print can also serve as a new source of page revenue. Dealers can leverage their portfolios to become more than traditional copier dealers; they can evolve into comprehensive office technology products and services providers by offering a full portfolio. In doing this, dealers can not only grow their revenue, but also strengthen their relationship with customers by being a better, more complete partner.

The power of long-term relationships

Not only can diversifying into production print create stronger relationships, but it can also lead to longer-lasting ones. Production-class products tend to have longer lifespans and longer leases, making them not only a profitable addition to a dealer’s portfolio, but one that, by its very nature, extends the relationship. Selling products with a longer lifespan means a longer relationship between dealer and customer, creating a solid platform for generating new sources of revenue during that time. A customer who has an existing lease or contract on a production product and is happy with that relationship is much more likely to stick with that dealer for their workgroup products and turn to them for new products and services.

New avenues for revenue generation

Of course, diversifying into production print doesn’t just create new opportunities in the office print sector. It also opens up opportunities for providing adjacent services within the production arena itself. For example, near-line or offline finishing products, third-party devices and solutions, variable data applications, and web-to-print applications represent whole new avenues for revenue.

Additionally, adding production product lines is an opportunity to become even more essential to your customers. The more integral you become in their day-to-day functions and processes, the better you can protect your business. If you have office print covered for your customers but are not selling production devices and services, you risk your competitors filling that gap when your customers look for options.

Guarding against competitors

The odds are that at least some of your customers will investigate high-speed production print options at some point — whether to save money on projects they’ve previously outsourced, make in-house projects like billing and mailing more efficient, or try new projects like direct-mail marketing. In this competitive landscape, providing a full portfolio of products is not just about revenue generation, it’s about owning your customer and their technology portfolio. Not only do you increase your value to your customer by being a one-stop-shop, but you eliminate the need for them to go looking elsewhere. No one wants a competitor to gain a foothold with their customer — the one-stop-shop concept is too appealing. Remember, your competitors read the same articles you do and will quickly seize any opportunity to get their foot in your door. While there’s no guarantee that your customers won’t shop around, if you don’t even offer the product they’re looking for, it is guaranteed that they will.

Finding your production print customers

Of course, selling production solutions won’t always be as simple as an existing customer proactively deciding they need a production device, so identifying potential new customers is essential. For example, there is a strong market in schools and government institutions, houses of worship, and in-plant businesses, and these are good places to start. These sectors often have a consistent need for high-volume printing, making them excellent prospects for production print services — and the odds are good you already have one or more in your existing customer base.

Don’t forget those customers that haven’t already started looking into production — that doesn’t mean they aren’t also valid targets. Maybe they already have a production device in place but would prefer to do business with just one provider. Or perhaps they’re happy with their office class products and would prefer to have that single brand throughout their organization. New product availability from a line you already sell could make those customers low-hanging fruit. 

Overcoming roadblocks

If I’ve made it sound too easy to diversify into production print — well, if you’re in this business you know that nothing is without roadblocks. But there’s nothing so complicated it can’t be overcome. For instance, lack of experience is often a concern when branching out into a new area. But even if a dealer principal doesn’t have experience selling production-class devices, most dealerships have salespeople who have worked with other dealers and do have the experience. Even lacking that, however, you should never go into a new project blind. The vendor you choose to partner with should offer you all the support you need. That can include everything from training resources to assistance in the sales process. Look for a vendor with a regional demo center where prospects can go to get a curated demonstration. 

Perhaps you’re concerned about service. Do you have the resources to service the device, and is doing so practical before you’ve sold more than one? Your vendor should offer assistance in this area as well, aiding in installing and servicing the devices through a coordinated service network. For dealers who haven’t made the commitment to selling production print, or who don’t have enough customers to justify a significant investment, a vendor who has your back can make all the difference.

In an era where most office documents are just as accessible on a screen and where digitalization is the word of the day, dealers are being pressed into branching out. And even if things seem stable right now, diversification remains a viable and essential strategy for maintaining growth and stability. A diversification strategy that still includes printed pages makes sense in an industry whose bread and butter is selling them — and unlike spreadsheets and meeting notes, marketing and branding materials, educational workbooks, and similar materials are still better in hard copy. For office technology dealers, diversification into production print offers a promising way to expand services, boost revenue, and strengthen customer relationships. And that’s why today is a good day to diversify.  

Vice President, Product Management at | Posts

Shane Coffey is Vice President, Product Management for Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America.