It’s been a decade since the MPSA was founded, and my, how much has changed in the office technology industry. In this series, we hope to catch up with a few of the industry experts involved in helping the MPSA get its start and learn through reflection. We spoke with one of the original members of the MPSA, Brian Stevenson, footprint Managed Services, Inc., to gain some perspective of where we were 10 years ago, how we got here, and his thoughts on where we’re headed. Read on.
When the MPSA started up 10 years ago, what do you remember about the office imaging space?
I remember the overall lack of information and awareness across the channel. For the first generation of MPS providers, we knew very little about each other and were still educating customers on the benefits of printer-fleet management and what we meant by “Managed Print Services.”
What was the popular go-to-market for MPS?
For many of us, we had developed through the manufacturing of remanufactured toner – and were still manufacturing our own toner. The era of a laser printer costing $0.05/page for mono was real, as were the challenges IT departments were experiencing in managing the continued decentralization of their print environments. The benefits for our customers were obvious: improved peace of mind around supporting the print infrastructure while also saving money.
What was your role then?
I was the president of LaserNetworks. At that time, we were one of the largest providers of MPS in North America, with our Canadian head office located near Toronto and our primary U.S. office located in Raleigh. Two years later, we had sold to Xerox and the next generation of MPS was beginning.
Who were the major players in MPS 10 years ago?
It was dominated by the independent resellers. Flo-Tech (Leo Bonetti), Printelligent (Mark Crosby), and LaserNetworks were three of the largest independent dealers. Along with us, Supplies Network had brought on Doug Johnson and Ron Alphin to build out an "enablement" model for the next wave of MPS providers.
Who was leading the charge?
Nobody, really. The mega-dealers of today didn’t exist in 2010. Back then, there was truly a lack of knowledge of the size, scope and makeup of this industry. The major OEM players of HP and Xerox were still dismissing the movement. It wasn’t until the early Photizo conferences that I met with Leo Bonetti, Mark Crosby, Doug Johnson, Ron Alphin, and several others that had a similar interest in growing this market.
Looking back, how has managed print evolved?
As a large MPS dealer, we had built our own ERP system, MPS sales model, and toner remanufacturing. This was built in a bubble, and through significant trial and error had created a fairly successful business. However, it was a people-intensive model, not easy to scale or pivot, and very difficult to compare against other options in the market. Today, the barriers to entry are significantly lower and many of the newer entrants into MPS are choosing to outsource the lower-value back-office applications to a supplier partner.
Another evolution is with supplies. Most of the large MPS resellers have shifted from being a manufacturing company to a services company and have spun-off, sold, or simply closed their toner remanufacturing facilities. For LaserNetworks, we ultimately believed that we could grow faster without the distraction of toner manufacturing. This timing also aligned with HP moving into MPS with supply pricing that made for an appealing transition from remanufactured to OEM.
Did it take shape like you and others in MPSA leadership thought it would in 10 years’ time?
Tough question! I always thought MPS was best delivered by the provider that understands how to deliver a great "last mile" experience to the end customer. In virtually every case, these companies are the independent dealers. Many of the OEMs have attempted to build out their own solution, only to realize there are some speed and flexibility challenges with their model. Today, these OEMs are rethinking the strategy, outsourcing to proven experts in the space, or slowly migrating out of the MPS services business. So, in a roundabout way, I think it’s in the shape that we thought it might be once the early evolution was complete.
What is surprising in looking back in that time?
The number of companies and individuals that have entered the space and believe they understand MPS. It’s difficult. It’s a "get rich slowly" business, and you can’t cookie-cut your MPS practice. To me, this ignorance has resulted in a lot of slow learning, a sale that is more price-based, and the continued growth of enablement partners. The other surprise to me is how the large A4 OEMs rebuilt their supply pricing strategy to win in this space. Ten years ago, the large MPS dealers either had a remanufacturing arm attached to their business or purchased most of their supplies through a remanufacturing vendor. Today, that is simply not the case, with most of the MPS dealers having an OEM mix that exceeds 80%.
Fast forward to today – what are the most important lessons imaging dealers should take away from managed print’s journey?
For me, I think there are three core lessons:
1. Know the experts. There’s a lot of noise from people that profess to know MPS, and many of those people do understand MPS and can provide you with some terrific insight. Unfortunately, many also don’t. Seeking out a peer group that looks similar to your business could be a great start. Had I known Leo Bonnetti, Mark Crosby, and Doug Johnson years earlier, my business would have been more successful.
2. Know where you provide value. For many of the legacy MPS providers, the value we provided to our customers focused on our knowledge and experience related to printer fleet management. To do that, we had to "own" everything. Today, many of those functions can be outsourced. Is it necessary to manage your own DCA? Do you need to warehouse supplies? Do you need a help desk? Do you hire your own technicians? Every provider will answer these questions based on the value they deliver to their customers. From my perspective, if it fits to outsource, there are some extremely capable partners that understand MPS and can help support your model.
3. Change is cool. This industry has evolved so dramatically over the past decade yet feels like it’s been controlled change with frequent pivoting. Independent dealers understand how to evolve and it’s no surprise that we’re seeing mega-dealers win at MPS. One thing is a near certainty: MPS will continue to grow over the next decade and we’ll continue to experience an equal amount of change – from new pricing models to an expanded focus on security. We’ll continue to see web-based growth for MPS, and no doubt the OEMs and our "traditional" copier channel will continue to consolidate. Stay nimble and engaged – and enjoy the ride!
Looking forward, where do you see the greatest opportunities for dealers as it relates to MPS?
This is tough because there are a lot of options. First and foremost, I’d recommend being great at what you currently offer. There are often benefits to both your customers and your financials if you can improve some key areas within your business. After that, I do believe it’s based on how your company is set up. For an independent dealer, it might mean a further shift into workflow software or IT services. It could mean a shift to the more transactional online model. If your business offers breakroom and Jan/San supplies, then a shift to contracting those supplies and including a data collection agent for auto-fulfillment seems like a potential growth area. Or, for the fastest growing MPS dealers, it’s sticking to your knitting. It may not be sexy, but you’re great at selling MPS and your win rates are strong. Keep it going as there are millions of unmanaged printers still being filled with transactional supplies.