Brother Stakes a Claim in the SMB Space

One of the biggest surprises from last year’s Toshiba’s LEAD event was the presence of Brother on the vendor floor. At the event, a new partnership was announced between the two manufacturers, giving Toshiba’s customers access to the full series of Brother Workhorse A4 devices, along with Brother’s full portfolio of services and solutions, all available through Toshiba’s direct and independent U.S. dealers. The addition of Brother to Toshiba dealers’ lineups would provide an entry-level option complementary to Toshiba devices, working together with Toshiba’s other partners to offer a unique value proposition to dealers.

Up until mid-April, the Toshiba event was the clearest indicator of Brother’s slow but steady evolution from a SOHO player into the B2B space. But on April 11 and 12, Brother invited a group of press and analysts to an event at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, explaining exactly what the company has been doing over the last couple of years to really pave its path into the dealer channel.

The event packed a lot into a fairly short time. Brother has been doing fireside chats with dealers around the country and retained that format for this event. We were all pretty pleased to walk into the room and find a circle of cushy, inflatable armchairs and desks (portable, comfortable and capable of being used as a floatation device — I’m thinking of getting one for my living room). But of course, it’s not just about looks; without content, we’d have just taken naps in those comfy chairs. So Brother was tasked to deliver, and they did.

Brother meeting 2019

Yoshio Nakao, general manager SMB Business Development, presented a look at the market, including an assessment of strengths and risks and discussing the shift to new business models. Brother’s strategy is to accelerate the transition from a moving-the-box business to transitional and subscription (MPS) models.

Dan Waldinger, B2B senior director, elaborated on what Brother is doing to make that shift, including an enhanced value proposition and reseller programs. Brother’s Value Print Program (VPP) is designed for the contractual business, complementing an A3 lineup and allowing resellers to increase their margins. The combination of low hardware cost, low supply cost and Brother’s three-year “hot-swap” warranty equals an aggressive CPP, said Waldinger. “The reseller can sell their own MPS program and whatever backbone they have … to monitor and manage, we’re compatible with all of that. We’re very nicely integrated into the channel.”

According to Waldinger, Brother also started aggressively focusing on the VAR/SI (systems integrator) channel, noting that although that channel doesn’t specifically focus on print, there is a huge amount of hardware sold along with IT services.

Waldinger also emphasized some of Brother’s programs and initiatives that should increase its channel profile and value to dealers, including its Authorized Service Dealer program, training programs, and an aggressive multimillion-dollar PR and advertising program.

Robert Burnett, director, B2B product & solutions, and Shelly Radler, B2B senior manager, went over the product lineup. The Workhorse series color laser and black-and-white laser lines included the newly launched HL-L6400DWX/MFC-L6900DWX “eXtras” that come with a 20k-yield toner cartridge in the box, making them good for MPS contracts. In January, Brother also started shipping Trade Agreement Act (TAA)-compliant solutions designed for meeting the needs of government agencies, including triple-layer security and ultra-high-yield cartridges. New products to be launched later this year include a stapler/finisher option for the HL-L6400DW/T.

Brother, well-known for SOHO inkjet, recently got into business inkjet — an ideal fit with the B2B and SMB conversation. Radler said the MFC-J6945DW is designed as a complement to laser machines with its high supply yields and advanced features including security, a customer user interface, duplex scan and a competitive CPP. It is available under the VPP program, as is Brother’s line of scanners, which includes both workgroup and high-volume/back-office models.

In addition to the hardware, Brother spotlighted solutions-based offerings, including translation services powered by thebigword. Translation services is a $43 billion industry in the U.S., said Bob Burnett, director of product development, and Brother’s offering is an additional potential revenue opportunity for dealers, as is document workflow and automation. Brother has partnered with content-processing software provider Accusoft to provide the software-as-a-service (SaaS) workflow solutions platform OnTask, accessible from the touchscreen of compatible Workhorse models. Possible workflows include digital signature, document approval and document review – we got a demo of all three.

Continuing the show and tell, Brother invited two of its dealers to be the “voice of the channel” and talk about their experiences with Brother — Tom Mitchell, president of Connected Office, which has Sharp as its primary line, and Philip Zangara, sales director of Image Systems and Business Solutions (ISBS), a Ricoh dealer. Brother, said, Mitchell, is unique, because they understood their challenge with printers. “It was an ‘a-ha’ moment for us,” he said, noting that the Brother printers would be easy to integrate into their sales and service models. Zangara said his dealership chose Brother because they wanted to stay single-line MFP while still covering the A4 gap. He said Brother enabled them to penetrate several new vertical lines. Both agreed that the application side of the business, rather than hardware, is where the most growth potential lies, and feel Brother can be an asset in that area.

Our Take

Brother has made a big impression over the last six months and is primed for an extended reach into the B2B channel. We’ve all seen the numbers, though, and are well aware that the print side of the business alone isn’t going to be anyone’s new growth area. Brother realizes this as well and while they certainly are well positioned to take advantage of the areas that are showing positive movement (A4 color, according to data Brother presented), they also offer a  slew of solutions and services that aid in digital transformation: cloud file sharing, archiving and management; scanning, distribution and document management; print security and rules-based printing; device management and services, and much more.

Along with its products, Brother is putting people front and center and says it will continue to offer the Fireside Chats this year, including an end-user component. “When we bring a dealer on board,” said Waldinger, “it’s about training them and seeing how successful they can be.” He noted that the Brother Knowledge Center just hit the milestone of its 30,000th training module completed by channel partners.

While Brother’s dealer base is not large (less than 100 dealers), it does have plans to expand, and it seems likely the brand will find its place at dealers similar to Connected Office and ISBS; dealers seeking to bridge the A4 gap with lower-cost devices ideal for customers who don’t need an A3 option or extensive finishing (although the new stapler will be a selling point). Combined with its focus on security and verticals and the advertising and educational campaigns it is offering, Brother appears to be staking out its spot in the SMB market. What was presented in April was certainly intriguing and will have us keeping an eye out for more from Brother.

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Amy Weiss

Amy Weiss

is editor-in-chief of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. She has more than 20 years professional writing and editing experience and has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 15 years, focusing on areas including print and imaging hardware and supplies, workflow automation, managed print, document management solutions and software, business solutions and more. Contact her at amy@bpomedia.com.