Laser printers have traditionally been the reserve of big business. But as more and more vendors launch models aimed at the SMB and SOHO markets, it can be hard to know just what to stock. Ben Furfie investigates...

Laser Printers

As it approaches its 40th anniversary, the laser printer is becoming an increasingly viable solution for small office and home users, as well remaining strong in its more traditional markets such as small and medium business.

Despite its age, the market is still undergoing a massive shift in the type of laser printers that are selling and knowing where the market is going is key to being successful. Much like in the inkjet market, there is a move towards colour and multifunction devices.

"Colour is still growing faster than mono and multifunctional products continue to gain market share," argues Lexmark’s UK marketing director Paul Callow. It’s a view shared by Kyocera’s marketing director Tracey Rawling Church: "The shift from single to multifunctional printers was a big driver in 2007. According to recent statistics from TechTrader, it is predicted that 58 per cent of sales in 2008 will be multifunctional."

"Market growth looks set to continue for both laser printers and all-in-ones," adds Brother’s sales and marketing director Phil Jones. "All-in-ones will experience stronger growth, reflecting the increasing need of consumers to have a complete office solution encompassed in one machine."

Ingram Micro’s commercial director, Bhavesh Patel also agrees, but says that the change in purchasing habits is having a knock-on effect in the way that the devices are used: "It is in turn driving more managed print services deployment, where business end-users are increasingly looking to reduce capital expenditure through pay-per-use models."

One factor that could be driving this move is a realisation of cost of low-cost models. "It is most often the case that the cost of printing is inversely proportional to the cost of the product," argues OKI’s senior product marketing manager Alan McLeish. "So while the cost purchase price of such entry level printers may be attractive, users need to be aware that the cost per copy is often relatively high."

That’s not to say the market isn’t there. "In Kyocera’s case, the recent launch of two long end laser products has generated high levels of sales for our channel partners, demonstrating that the market is still buoyant," adds Church.

It’s also not to say that the market won’t change: "As the cost of owning colour printers continues to fall, the likely impact is that the volume of colour printing will rise in the home and the small business sector," further adds McLeish.

But what about how to go about increasing sales in the mean time? "Strong partnership programmes will always be key to improving margins for dealers and increasing margins for dealers and increasing sales for manufacturers," says Jones. "Much of our success is down to the channel and we are keen to supply dealers with the right tools to do the job."

It’s a point echoed by Patel. "Partnering with the key vendors will be critical to allow resellers to open up new opportunities, particularly around the growth in the multifunction market."

However, there are other factors that retailers and resellers should focus on. Price isn’t everything stresses McLeish, suggesting that the ability for retailers and resellers to actively engage with their customers gives them a massive advantage over the prices offered by etailers. "They obviously have a much greater than etailers to engage with these users and persuade them of the most appropriate product choices."

However, Jones warns that despite the benefits that retailers and resellers have over the internet, it has become a tool that has enabled potential customers to better research potential purchases, making it more difficult for them to add value.

"One of the biggest challenges that independent dealers face going forward is that end users are becoming increasingly well informed. There is a wealth of information available to consumers and business customers regarding all aspects of hardware and software and the internet has made it a lot easier for potential buyers

Of course, another area that retailers and resellers can take advantage of the selling opportunities is with the consumables the printers will inevitably need. "Certainly the growth of our laser toner business is much faster than the growth of our inkjet lines in 2008," concludes Medea’s Mike Scott.

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