These are pivotal times for the office equipment channel. Office print volumes are coming back, but they are probably never returning to pre-COVID levels. And as more businesses digitize, automate, and lift as many processes as possible to the cloud, digital transformation is starting to look like more than a trend. This is going to make having good technology partners more important than ever.
Independent office equipment dealers have a unique business model that is the envy of resellers across the globe and the bane (at times) of many a manufacturer’s existence. In order to be successful, the model requires strong and supportive, but not controlling, OEMs. The balance can be complicated and delicate.
It is exactly that complexity in the relationship that I wanted to take a closer look at. And Konica Minolta gave me the perfect opportunity.
Sometimes, it’s the little things
It’s difficult to remember that 2019 wasn’t a bad year. In fact, it was a stellar year for many. But there wasn’t time to celebrate the successes of 2019 – especially for those who saw years of growth wiped out in a quarter. 2020 erased a lot of things.
But once the worst was over, Konica Minolta didn’t forget about the folks who absolutely crushed it in 2019. Those dealerships were supposed to be rewarded with a trip in 2020 for their efforts in 2019, but of course international travel in 2020 was virtually impossible and ill-advised, so those rewards had to wait until travel opened back up in spring 2021. Even then, it would have been easy to just delay until the fall and skip a year, but in a world with no shortage of businesses that held back rewards in response to the pandemic, Konica Minolta was happy to fulfill their end of the bargain. When they did, they invited me along as well to witness firsthand what this special relationship looks like up close.
That is where the rest of this story begins. Dateline May 2-6, 2021, Cabo San Lucas — the KM FY2019 Dealer Trip. Ensconced in a beautiful luxury resort along the sun-drenched coast of the Baja Peninsula, I made it my mission to speak with some of the most successful independent dealers in the U.S. that sell the Konica Minolta line — and sell a LOT of it, qualifying them for this trip.
The conversations were far-ranging and covered current topics spanning from the impact of COVID on their businesses (significant) to supply chain shortages (near-universal). But we didn’t just discuss the problems, which have been widely covered for the past 16 months. We also talked about what makes for a good partner and how that contributes to their success, helping them weather difficult years like 2020. Certain words and phrases came up so often that I decided to make a word cloud out of them:
In the dealers’ words
Jeff Swenson, Principal and VP of Client Experience, The Swenson Group and also new president of the Service Dealer Advisory Council (DAC) at Konica Minolta.
I’ve defined our verticals as “all essential businesses.” Whichever companies that we knew were open and working became the new vertical for us. Being based in California affected us very differently than some of the other states that did not lock down as restrictively. However, while the imaging business declined for us, the managed IT services has been going up. All Covered has been a critical partner, allowing us to scale up quickly to meet the new demand caused by the work from home exodus.
The new technology coming out of the service side of the business through Konica Minolta is a game changer. Remote updates and other technology being implemented are changing the face of the industry. There are a lot of good things percolating in the pipeline.
Finally, I believe Konica Minolta has made a lot of innovative acquisitions. This will be a differentiator as we go forward.
Jim Loffler, CEO & James Loffler, President of Loffler Companies
We believe being able to deliver on “all-in-one technology solutions” is a big opportunity. But you have to be able to do it better than everyone else. Good technology partners are a key part of that delivery.
Not all revenue is the right revenue. Not only does it need to look good on the P&L, it also has to deliver the right customer outcomes. We are in the business of helping our customers succeed.
Mike Murray, Owner, Integrated Business Solutions of Hawaii
A couple of things really helped us get through the past 16 months. We sold a few of the big AccurioWide production print machines, which immediately bumped up our revenue. We also landed some big IT contracts. Konica Minolta’s investments in All Covered and developing their production print line has paid off for us. The Muratec label equipment also helped, it gave us a net new ancillary business.
Konica Minolta also got creative in 2020 and adjusted some of their programs to help their smaller dealers. They got rid of big minimums in their Dealer Development Program (DDP) during COVID and replaced it with a really good program that honestly got us very close to the pricing we had when we were having to buy large quantities of equipment under the DDP.
The Konica Minolta managers handling our account are as good as they get. I’ll sing their praises all day. Last but certainly not least, the credit folks were terrific during this crisis.
Chelsey Bode, President, Pearson-Kelly Technology
The culture of Konica Minolta – not just in the past 18 months, for years — has been different than every other manufacturer. Konica Minolta is very progressive. They are very pattern interrupt driven. They do things differently than how the copier industry says you need to do things. They are also investing in adjacent opportunities. It’s something you want to be part of. You see them doing things you think a viable business should be doing.
That attitude attracts a whole different caliber of people. That innovation brings innovative minds to them.
We are trying to go after the right dollars to be recession proof and to keep us all employed. The past 18 months have taught us how to be smart about the future. Part of that is having the right technology partners also focused on the future.
Kevin Jackson, President/CEO, Advanced Business Equipment
Konica Minolta has been a great partner for us. We’ve been with them since the beginning — 40 years! They’ve been walking beside us all the way. It’s been a great journey. They are very supportive in driving revenue and getting creative to win business. They are always open to talk and listen to different ideas and are great to go to market with.
Konica Minolta’s thermal scanners were a good adjacent market for us during COVID. We were able to get some equipment revenue but also new recurring revenue. The product also opened doors for us, we had conversations with companies we’ve never been engaged with before. It also served to move us beyond our traditional markets and cross state lines in multi-site environments.
The unified communications program with All Covered has also been important for us. We recently held an event with All Covered that brought customers and produced good activity. You just have to be innovative and creative with a good partner.
Konica Minolta has great technology, they are very innovative, they are always looking for additional partnerships. They are very forward thinking.
Brad Knepper, President, All Copy Products
Konica Minolta has really helped us grow. We were able to acquire some new locations this year that had core strengths in production and in the government vertical which has helped us gain some key expertise. The level of knowledge of some of the KM team members particularly on the production side is impressive.
I’m also very excited about the possibilities with unified communications. It’s very profitable.
Konica Minolta has really good people. They make every effort to understand us, our point of view. They listen. That makes them an excellent partner.
Craig Cheek, President, Ameri-Tek Document Solutions
The Konica Minolta aggressive push to develop adjacent market opportunities for dealers helped frame our mindset to adopt and develop new offerings for our customers, like VoIP, managed IT services, etc. That has been critical to us weathering the COVID period.
Blake Alford, CEO, CEI The Digital Office Company
You know what Konica Minolta has done this past year that has been helpful? Going forward and having this dealer trip. Sitting here with you and the dealers and Konica Minolta — kudos to them for doing this. Just getting away has been therapeutic.
But in addition to that, our managed IT services are growing like never before. If I could be competitive in a bigger situation, Konica Minolta has really stepped up to make that happen.
The opportunity is unbelievable to grow our business. I feel good about the future.
Dean Swenson, CEO, The Swenson Group and President of the Dealer Advisory Council at Konica Minolta
Our IT business is booming. Equipment sales, not so much. But it is hard. We are working harder than we ever have.
Maybe the most important reason that Konica Minolta is a good partner for us is that they listen to us. They might not always agree, but they listen. They are also very supportive and they get creative to help us. We are a smaller dealer and they treat us like we are a big dealer. My customers like the Konica Minolta technology, they think it works well, it’s easy to use. My technicians like working on it. Obviously, company culture is important but no one is going to stay partners with you just because of that. We all run businesses and ultimately it is about making money. However, there is a choice out there in technology partners and Konica Minolta has a strong company culture.
All Covered has been a huge component for us. We receive tremendous support from them. We get a lot of attention, a lot of resources, creative deal-making. We have a great book of recurring revenue, they get us into offices we haven’t been in before so we can eventually cross-sell equipment, we take over the IT for our clients, which embeds us deeper into their business than just being an equipment supplier. All Covered has a very comprehensive offering. By leveraging them and their massive resources, I can have a call with a hospital CIO and talk about how we can help them with HIPAA training, policies and procedures – something that would never be possible if I had to do this on my own. All Covered provides us instant credibility through their resources and enables us to close those complex deals. We look bigger as an organization, it gets us into doors that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. By having a partner in All Covered, it is less risk for me, less investment.
They also help with the smaller things that are no less important when every internal resource is already fully deployed. We recently did a cybersecurity webinar and Konica Minolta supplied the subject matter expert, they gave us a lot of the marketing materials to promote it, they provided the organization and logistics behind it. We got a handful of leads from it and actually closed some business because of it. The marketing team led by Kay Fernandez is amazing.
Chris Taylor, President and CEO, Fisher’s Technology
You know the quote by Winston Churchill during WWII — “Never let a good crisis go to waste”? Well, for us, having really good (and lots of!) communication was the key to weathering this storm. I held lots of Zoom meetings regularly with our team. I shared all the financials – we were very transparent with the numbers. People really rallied behind it. We showed that we have a plan and the plan is working. Q1 of 2021 was our best quarter ever.
Konica Minolta is so innovative. They’ve diversified and they’re just a great partner. As an example, we are doubling down on security products.
Maybe the differentiator with Konica Minolta is that they are entrepreneurial – which is perfect for the independent dealer.
Their dealers are not the only ones that believe Konica Minolta knows how to forge good partnerships. In 2019 and then again in 2020, CRN included Konica Minolta in their Partner Program Guide, which recognizes the most rewarding partner programs from technology companies that provide products and services through the IT channel, and in 2021 Konica Minolta qualified for the third year in a row. CRN applauded the investments in program offerings, partner profitability, partner training, education and support, marketing programs and resources, sales support and communication that Konica Minolta brings to the table.
CRN gave particular recognition to Konica Minolta’s Dealer Connect Portal, Automated Marketing Program (AMP), and Konica Minolta Learning Services. In the Dealer Connect Portal, partners have access to a treasure chest of helpful tools and services. Konica Minolta provides dealers with everything from co-branded marketing materials to help with websites, email marketing, branding, and lead generation. Meanwhile, AMP provides dealers with consultative marketing services, so they can tailor the perfect campaign to wow prospects. Finally, Konica Minolta Learning Services enable dealerships to maximize the potential of their employees. Here, employees can receive certifications and sales training.
That brings us back to the beginning. The office equipment channel is key to Konica Minolta’s strategy. Now and in the past, they have made big investments to make sure that their partners have what they need to succeed. Konica Minolta is future-proofing business for their partners by focusing on digital transformation, managed IT services, ECM, and commercial print, and helping dealers build the pillars that the next generation of their business can sit atop. That future looks bright, and there is nothing like a ton of fireworks to emphasize that, so I will leave you with this awesome display unleashed for us on our last evening in Cabo San Lucas. Wear your sunglasses!