How Far Out On the Pier Are We?

 

Recently I had an opportunity to speak to industry peers at the RT Imaging Summit-Americas in Cancun This article shares my thoughts of the event.

As the Summit in Cancun, Mexico got under way, my mind went to the pier across the road, right off the beach. I began thinking how far down the “pier” the imaging channel has gone over its decades-old life. Just how much longer can we walk the planks of the pier? Using this analogy, the planks are the customers of print. How many new planks, if any, will be added in the future? How many will replace those planks which the winds of change have removed and continue to remove. We find ourselves in the constant storm of technology innovation.

Those attending this second expo and summit in beautiful Cancun are all having to weather change in the print consumables industry. Some are faring better than others, judging by the comments during the vigorous panel discussions.

I was one of the speakers. As I listened to those before me, it became apparent most agree the industry we call home is in transition. However, there are conflicting timeframes for starting the changes needed for survival.

The speakers’ messages were candid as each shared how their particular area of expertise is impacting or being impacted. The most realistic members within the imaging channel do, in fact, believe print is declining, particularly in the lucrative markets of North America and Western Europe. Yet others are convinced the pier continues to expand for them. It’s this thinking in any declining industry which is most dangerous to ending the life of any organization. This thinking will kill their drive to innovate.

“The worst thing about a temporary rise in a dying business model, usually caused by those who evacuate, is the false sense of hope it gives those who hang on.”

Attendees at the summit were mostly from North and South America. The 86 exhibitors, however, came from 24 countries across the globe including Europe, the Americas, India and China. I kept hearing the visitors comment “All the important vendors are here.” To be honest, I was amazed at how many organizations are still being born for the purpose of manufacturing ink and toner cartridges. As I wandered the expo floor, the familiar theme was loud and clear: “a world without toner is not possible.” There was no despair on their faces.

All industries should be confident about their future but also take pride in assessing their relevance. Everyone knows that continued relevance is the enemy of status quo. Continuous relevance is a quest about deconstructing the past as you build the future. Most can’t do this. Which gives a head start to those who can.

The print channel has, and continues to decline: this trend will not change. No one has the power to stop the speeding train of technology advances. Customers buy outcomes, the means to achieving them will always change.

Some in the industry are replacing legacy technologies with innovative technologies. To this end many manufacturers on display at this show are not just supplying parts and components any more, but finished cartridges ready-to-go. Some of these finished products are fully remanufactured and others are new-built. Many remanufacturers have also adjusted their business model and are focusing more on selling imaging products. In this sense, this is an industry in transition.

Both suppliers and buyers have also been obsessed with lower pricing of supplies in order to gain market share. This year I noticed many on the floor shopping for quality too. But is it enough?

A hot topic in the summit and on the floor of the expo was acquisitions. On the surface this strategy seems to be a powerful way for some to disrupt the industry in order to gain market share. There are those who believe that growth through acquisition is a remarkable strategy. However, an instant increase in customers may only be temporary. During an industry decline, growth through acquisitions, without a plan to redefine your deliverable is "delusional growth."

Look at the Sears and Kmart merger in the USA for example. Here were two struggling organizations with the same dysfunctional deliverable. Neither could think, let alone operate, out of their box filled with the way it was. Both will soon find themselves on the list made up of all those companies who spent all their time thinking about how great yesterday was, and never believing tomorrow would come. What if Sears had bought a software company, or merged with a player who was bringing the future to the present. Sears thought if they had a bigger presence from the past they could miraculously make it through to the future.

Organizations who become obsessed with adding revenue by buying customers from their competitors are just positioning themselves for significant loss. Ricoh could have warned all those in the print industry about this. Growth at all cost, with no regard to cost, will cost you dearly. Ricoh had revenues of close to US$19 billion when they determined their business model was a failure and needed drastic change for their continued survival. Time will tell if they responded quickly enough.

“A company becomes obsolete when the focus on bringing the past to the future instead of bringing the future to the present.”

Many in the imaging channel think the same way as Sears and continue walking toward the end of the pier. Some will fall off, some will jump off, and some will temporarily find safety from falling off by gathering with others. We must all remember the pier is built from customers, not from what we manufacture or deliver. The pier was constructed as the means to the customers’ desired outcomes.

“No one has a crystal ball,” as one of the speakers said. However, all of us must evoke our common sense, proceed with caution as our pier shortens, and continuously look for ways to reinvent our deliverable, and no one from any industry either in decline or growth should ever forget this.

This event brought the industry together. It’s a good thing. However, if we all leave and go back to our businesses in any of the scores of countries that attended, with the intention to do business the same way as we did last year, then we have missed the point.

R.J. Stasieczko

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Comments (2)

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Ray Stasieczko Great point with the typewriter industry.  Many of those typewriter dealers saw the writing on the wall and moved into the imaging industry.  They survived, they flourished and they made the change to another product within the Office Technology Industry.
There are too many brilliant dealers principals out there that will let themselves fail by staying on board a sinking ship.  Those dealers will innovate because they have too in order to survive.  Those that are not brilliant will go down with the sinking ship and that's not a bad thing.  Everything changes!
Just today, I thought about new services that could be offered by dealers that are outside of the imaging channel. In fact I'm going to present my idea to ESP/Surgx. 
Look to those emerging technologies and then think about what type of services could be married to a specific technology. 
I'm still actively selling copiers, and IT services to end users.  While there may be a 2% drop in office printed pages every year, I don't believe it's doom and gloom for the imaging industry as a whole.  Look at Xerox with their Object Color Printer, and EFI with their Nozomi printer.  Print is migrating and we need to follow
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