PrintIT Reseller met up with Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director of Brother UK to talk about the company’s plans for 2017, and what he’s been up to in 2016. Here we present edited highlights. A video recording of the discussion can be seen on the PrintIT Reseller website
PrintIT Reseller (PITR): Please could you tell us about Brother’s year in 2016?
Phil Jones (PJ): 2016 has been a vintage year for us. Our market share continues to go from strength to strength and we [will] exit the year as the number one brand in mono laser printing. Our colour laser share has dramatically increased, in fact across the board really. So I’m really really pleased with the way that the commercial side of the business has been working.
We’re also very fortunate to win a number of awards including the PC Pro best printer event award, which is voted for by end-users, which is fantastic. We were recognised by Investors in People with a platinum award – one of the first companies in the UK to achieve that status, which really recognised a lot of the work we’ve been doing around our people, training, investment and creating a culture of high performance.
PITR: What for you were the biggest industry challenges?
PJ: The big industry challenges in 2016 have clearly been a lot of turbulence after the Brexit vote. That’s meant an awful lot of change for people in terms of pricing, they’ve had to deal with pricing changes from multiple vendors in very short time periods, so that’s been quite a major pain point. I think the second thing has been that we’ve seen a real move to services being demanded by the end-user customer, and unless business and resellers are in a state of readiness to react to that, then they’re quickly being made irrelevant and being cut out of the conversation, which of course is always concerning.
We’ve had a lot of merger and acquisition going on in the channel and of course that creates quite a lot of uncertainty, particularly if you put your eggs in one basket with a particular vendor and that vendor has been acquired by somebody else.
PITR: You mentioned the consolidation in the market, what impact is that having on resellers?
PJ: Yes, I think the key thing for me about this merger and acquisition side is that it does just create some uncertainty, because if you have a commercial relationship with one particular vendor, and then of course that’s thrown immediately into doubt. If you look for example with the HP and Samsung situation, the channel strategies of both organisations are a little bit different, so of course what that will mean is that there will be winners and losers somewhere down the line.
I guess if you are somebody sat in the channel, you’ll be thinking right now, am I going to emerge a winner or a loser as a result of this M&A, which of course is outside of your control. And there may well be elements of the business that you’ve set up to support a specific vendor, which may no longer be required, which might mean future de-investment. So, it’s kind of like you’re sort of stuck in the middle a little bit I think at the moment if you are somebody that has strong allegiance to somebody that has undergone an M&A.
PITR: How are customer requirements changing and what does this mean for Brother’s channel? How are you helping them cope with that change?
PJ: We’re seeing particularly a much stronger demand for all of our portfolio products to be offered as a service. Customers very much now are in the mindset of acquiring things in the utility basis, you know printers as a service or IT as a service, service as a service even nowadays.
So, what we’ve had to do is look widely at our portfolio, pricing policies and offers, to make sure that we are in a position to respond to that. And, more importantly, are the channel partners who play a really key role in delivering our promise to end-users, also capable of delivering those promises underneath our banner of ‘At your side’.
So, it’s a really interesting time for the channel in my view and it’s also a time when I think we’ve got to be talking, openly communicating and working together to deliver the future blueprint based upon a very, very fast-changing customer expectation.
PITR: Where do you see the future growth for print vendors and resellers?
PJ: It’s really interesting that we’ve got quite an uncertain marketplace and we’ve also got uncertainty within customers, so the absolute opportunities for growth in my view are about having quality conversations with your customers. Because I heard one of the major research groups talk in a conference recently about not leaving money on that table, and I thought that was a really really good way of describing these conversations. If you can go and talk to an end-user customer and just talk quite generally rather than about specific things that you do, what you’ll begin to see developing from those conversations is really good opportunities. For example in print, you know print isn’t just A4 pages and A3 pages, it can also mean labels, it can mean safety labelling, it can mean badges for conferences, it can mean elements for labelling in a warehouse, it can mean print on the move. So, widen out the conversation as much as possible to understand those customer pain points, because I think you’ll be surprised y those outcomes.
Now with the technology level clearly, we’ve talked about services, so I guess having a very good and strong services offering is key in my view in 2017. You need to be able to offer customers anything fundamentally that you do as a service and I guess from a pure print technology point of view, of course emphasis remains on colour, on all-in-one devices and around balanced deployment processes of the brand. What that means is putting printers in the right places to ensure maximum productivity. That’s what really matters I think to the customers that have engaged with us, they’re less worried about a centralised departmental offer, what they’re really concerned about is people being as productive as they possibly can be. So, I think the quality of your conversations will determine the quality of your opportunity that you might see in the year ahead.
PITR: And of course, Brother doesn’t just sell printers, you also diversify into other areas that resellers can profit from.
PJ: For sure, we’ve been busy diversifying for some years now, and those partners that are close to us will really understand that journey quite well. We’ve developed our services portfolio extensively now so we have a very, very strong services catalogue that we can offer, that our partners can offer.
We extended our range of hardware products into the scanner marketplace and Brother has been busy building our footprint in that sector to have now emerged as the second largest vendor in the UK. We’ve seen a lot of emphasis now in much higher volume scanning and vertical applications, and that’s going particularly well.
Of course, we have our labelling business and identification business, that is exploding and there are so many vertical markets that we’re opening for our partners there, that’s a really, really big opportunity, which I think is money left on the table in most conversations that resellers might have with their customers.
And finally, Brother has built a really significant footprint in the healthcare arena using our web conferencing facility OmniJoin, and that means now that most GPs can deliver consultations in the surgery using the web conferencing system rather than you having to visit in person. And we’ve now developed some significant opportunities and installed sites, working with some key partners who were developing that marketplace for us. I would encourage any reseller that wants to try and diversify their product portfolio to talk with us.
PITR: You mentioned some of the uncertainty in disruption in the global market, what do you see as some of the key strengths of the printer industry and resellers that will enable them to prosper and survive in the future?
PJ: I’ve been in the printer industry now for over 20 years, so one thing I do know is that we’ve got a bunch of people that really do understand products very, very well. I think if you go back to basics and you understand product features and functionality, which much of the industry does, you can quite easily translate a customer pain point into a benefit that you could quite easily match.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things – I recall us winning a very large piece of business simply due to the fact that our toner couldn’t be removed from the page by a fingernail, that was the key winning part of a significant piece of business, and that’s all down to product knowledge.
I believe the printer industry does a very good job of that, and I also believe that the industry has for many, many years, been intimate with customers and very customer-first orientated, and long may that continue.