Konica Minolta Builds on Past Success, Looks to Future at Dealer Meeting

02/03/2012

By Carl Schell, Associate Editor, February 1, 2012

 

Near the outset of his remarks at Konica Minolta’s Business Conference & Expo at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Rick Taylor, president and COO of Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., proclaimed, “Dealers are the champions of our industry.” While it could’ve been perceived as a statement to curry favor with the dealer community, Taylor and Konica Minolta have every reason to be thrilled with the performance of its BTA channel.

 

The manufacturer has experienced a resurgence over the past five years—and not just in sales totals, of which an increasing share has come from dealers. An aggressive yet measured plan of attack in all things document imaging has netted Konica Minolta a stellar portfolio of hardware and software, a stable of strong partnerships and, of course, a healthy distribution model. “We’ve positioned ourselves as a value-add organization,” Taylor said. “We’ll never choose to be the low-cost provider, and will always choose quality over price.”

 

“Our future is inextricably linked to our partners and customers,” said Shoei Yamana, president of Konica Minolta Business Technologies. “The 2008 downturn presented us with an opportunity to develop new strategies for growth. We wanted better services, added value and trusted partners to become a true global services organization.”

 

A vertical market strategy was apparent throughout the general session, best illustrated in the new EnvisionIT brand for solutions. In fact, the product fair was set up to reflect this approach, with areas for education, healthcare and legal. Also, Konica Minolta announced its updated Optimized Print Management (OPS) platform (launching during the summer), and will continue its push in production print. “We want to grow organically by developing new products, but we also have a goal of being an active acquirer of companies, such as All Covered, so we can become a national provider of IT services and solutions to complement our hardware.”

 

Business Is Good

When Konica Minolta gathered its dealers in Los Angeles for “The Power of Performance” in May 2010, Taylor announced that the manufacturer had secured the No. 3 market share spot. A huge achievement, no doubt, but in Las Vegas Taylor said, “Over the last three years, according to Gartner data, Konica Minolta is the fastest-growing company in the industry, improving our share from just over 10 percent to, in the last nine months, just over 16 percent.” In fact, while the market has been flat for some time, “We’ve grown in excess of 5 percent year over year for the past three years.”

 

Another interesting fact revealed in Los Angeles was that the split between unit sales by direct branches versus dealers was 55 to 45 percent, but now it’s 52 to 48 percent. More intriguing facts from Las Vegas...

 

● In the US, color office and color production print placements grew 12 and 22 percent, respectively, helping Konica Minolta maintain the No. 2 market share for color placements

 

● While unit sales declined 3 percent industry-wide in 2010, Konica Minolta’s increased 25 percent in 2010 in all areas—the highest increase in the industry; the manufacturer’s unit sales increased another 16 percent through the first nine months of 2011 over the same period the previous year

 

● Production print sales grew 38 percent in 2010, and another 11 percent in 2011; Integrated Document Technologies, a dealer based in Little Falls, NJ, last year had the largest install ever of the bizhub PRESS C8000, placing six units

 

● In 2008, only 23 percent of revenue stemmed from major accounts handled by dealers, but in 2011 major account revenue from dealers had ballooned to 40 percent

 

● Already delivering on its goal to increase managed IT services sales, Konica Minolta has national IT services with annual revenue in excess of $100 million

 

Hardware that “Inspires Customer Passion”

While EnvisionIT, managed IT services and OPS Enterprise were the primary topics of discussion, Kevin Kern, senior vice president of marketing for Konica Minolta, said the manufacturer is still “fully committed to research and development in our core business: hardware.” He explained that Konica Minolta will refresh its entire portfolio over the next 18 months, with the hope of extending its reach in the A4 market by offering more color devices, and in the production print space, too—not surprising given the weight this subject carried at the show.

 

A3

The biggest news on the hardware front was the impending launch of the bizhub C754/C654, slated for the first week of February. These devices have a rated color speed of 60 ppm (75/65 ppm in black, respectively) and are designed to straddle the line between high-volume general office settings and light production. According to Maria Krawsek, product marketing manager for Konica Minolta, the series employs an engine comparable to the bizhub C652, with new features that completely set it apart from the previous generation, as well as key differences pertaining to serviceability: In particular, components can now be accessed more easily in the rear; because of this technicians, must undergo training for the bizhub C754/C654, despite the use of a “similar” engine.

 

 

Konica Minolta bizhub C754 Control Panel
The bizhub C754’s touchscreen slides left so users can
access traditional hard keys.
The family’s system architecture supports a 9" electrostatic display—for BLI’s money, this is the most impressive feature about the devices and gives them a modern look and feel. The touch-flick-grab scrolling à la smartphones or tablets proved responsive during a brief hands-on experience with the bizhub C754 at the product expo; the touchscreen slides to the left to reveal some traditional hard keys. Another nice feature is that, if the device is in an energy-save mode, it can detect a finger within an inch or so of the touchscreen and then wake up automatically. What’s more, organizations can purchase an integrated reader for iCLASS and proximity cards rather than having to use one externally (which applies to other types of cards and biometric authentication, though). And the series is equipped with the manufacturer’s latest bEST platform, ensuring that the devices are compatible with a range of solutions.

 

 

Kern highlighted a handful of other features, including a smaller footprint (3" shallower); longer-life consumables; standard and maximum paper capacities of 3,650 and 6,650 sheets, respectively; handling of media as light as 14-lb. bond and ranging in size up to SRA3 paper; a standard 150-sheet dual-scanner document feeder, which can capture pages at 90 opm in simplex mode; real-time scan preview and scan to PPT, PDF/A and linearized PDF (optimized for the web); and power consumption of only 3 watts or less in sleep mode, which is 70 percent less than with the previous generation. Of the two optional finishers, the 100-sheet stapling variety can be supplemented with saddle-stitch capability (up to 80-page booklets), a post-process inserter, and hole-punch and Z-fold kits.

 

The bizhub C554/C454/C364/C284/C224 are based on a brand new engine but have the same design as the bizhub C754 family. The three slower-speed devices (scanning is optional, no Fiery support for the C224) will launch in June, followed the next month by the other two (bizhub C554/C454). Meanwhile, the bizhub 215 is scheduled to launch in April, serving as the replacement for the bizhub 181 and bizhub 161/f.

 

 

Konica Minolta bizhub C754
Konica Minolta bizhub C754, outfitted with an LCT and several finishing options.

 

 

A4

In Los Angeles in 2010, Konica Minolta unveiled its first midsize workgroup A4 devices to be sold by its dealer channel. And because two A4 MFPs—bizhub 42/36—were launched in Las Vegas, it’s clear that the company is serious about making greater inroads in the A4 market. Built on the A3 bizhub 423 engine and using the A4 bizhub C35 controller, the new entries utilize the same driver set and open architecture as the manufacturer’s high-speed devices, “making the line complete and nearly identical,” Kern said. This series has standard and maximum paper capacities of 1,150 and 2,150 sheets, respectively; toner yield of 25,000 pages; and an optional internal finisher that can staple up to 50 sheets.

 

Production Print

In May, Konica Minolta will launch the bizhub 951. While it replaces the bizhub 950, the new device is built on the bizhub 1051 engine (slowed down to 95 ppm) and employs belt transfer LED technology at true 1200 dpi. The bizhub 951 has a number of improvements such as higher standard (3,000 versus 2,000 sheets) and maximum (9,000 versus 4,750 sheets) paper capacities; 176,000-page toner yield and on-the-fly toner changing; and a new modular finisher that allows for 100-sheet stapling in up to eight positions, with optional saddle-stitching (up to 200-page booklets), a post-process inserter, and hole-punch and tri-/half-fold kit. Most noteworthy, is that the bizhub 951 represents the initial foray of Konica Minolta’s bEST platform in the production print arena; embedded applications for eCopy and Equitrac, for instance, are available.

 

In conjunction with the manufacturer’s production print initiative, Kern announced that Konica Minolta has achieved G7 certification, which is a “process to ensure continuity and consistency of color image quality on commercial offset presses—and we’re the first to do it on a digital press.”

 

Wide Format

Continuing its partnership with KIP, Konica Minolta will offer the C7800 to its dealers so they can expand in the wide format space. The unit can print up to nine color or 11 black D-size posters in a minute, regardless of coverage. It employs quick-drying toner so output doesn’t smear or smudge, and supports plain paper up to banner or adhesive media. Quick Switch Technology allows the C7800 to continue uninterrupted when printing posters on different-size paper. And according to the KIP representative BLI spoke with, cost per page is four times lower than that for inkjet wide-formats: $0.19/square foot for heavy coverage and less than $0.01/square foot for CAD drawings.

 

First Look Reports and Lab Test Reports on many of these devices will be available soon on bliQ.

 

Programs for Dealers

Konica Minolta has made a 180-degree turn from where it was just five years ago. Part of the proof lies in this: “In 2008, our dealer support rating among Tier 1 competitors was the worst, but last year we were voted the best,” said Alan Nielsen, executive vice president of dealer sales for Konica Minolta. Why? There are many reasons.

 

One dealer we spoke with listed the leadership appointments of Taylor and Nielsen as a crucial move. This, he described, has led to much better relations between the manufacturer and dealers. The drafting and enforcement of the “Rules of Engagement,” which provides policies to protect dealers from directs, has proven to be very good, too. “There was branch conflict, and we weren’t the easiest company to do business with,” Nielsen said, adding that streamlined distribution—355 authorized dealers versus 459 in 2008—has also improved the situation.

 

Another dealer was equally as happy with what he heard at “Inspire Customer Passion,” saying that Konica Minolta has changed the tide from one of discontent to definite satisfaction, primarily by offering dealers the tools they’ve been clamoring for.

 

As mentioned earlier, the manufacturer has a deep desire to go after more major accounts—and dealers are stepping up to the plate in a big way. Dealers will have access to the same corporate account service as do directs, to help them sell and support large national accounts using, among other things, Konica Minolta’s logistical support system and business intelligence services. “We want you to keep growing in this market, and our corporate account services will allow you to facilitate billing, shipping, dispatch, commissions and reporting,” Nielsen said.

 

What’s more, programs such as Konica Minolta Premier Finance and a campaign builder, which makes it simple for dealers to create vertical market-specific brochures and flyers, were met with applause. On a lesser scale but still of great import are an updated Konica Minolta website and the new dealer portal.

 

The “Customer 1 Guarantee”—announced in Las Vegas—is yet another step in the right direction for the company to be a top-flight provider of support and services. “It works or it walks,” Kern declared. “If a product doesn’t perform to spec in two years, we’ll give the customer a new product—guaranteed. We’ll make sure it’s compatible with future operating systems and network software upgrades, and if a device needs to be replaced, we’ll pay for shipping both ways and give your dealership up to two hours ($80/hour) of tech time to handle the install.”