There’s no doubt that a tough economic environment is forcing a decline in printer sales – but it’s also making companies really think about things like product longevity, warranties and print volumes.

Paul Norris, Brother product manager at Mustek, explains that it’s relatively easy for companies to postpone their printer refresh cycles when times are hard. “It’s not always easy to delay the purchase of personal computers, but printers are a convenient place to save as companies can ‘sweat these assets’ a bit longer.”

This isn’t really an issue if the machines are rugged and capable of running efficiently for longer, Norris adds, but there are other challenges that are making it harder for printer vendors to thrive.

Consumables are the traditional lifeblood of the printer industry – customers may only buy a new printer every two, three or even five years, but they use consumables every day.

However, the industry is facing a massive challenge in the form of counterfeit ink and toner cartridges flooding the local market.

In fact, two counterfeit operations, which were importing components and then assembling, filling and packaging them here, before selling them as genuine products – have recently been shut down.

But there are still plenty of sources for fake products, Norris adds, and customers could well be duped into buying them.


Adding value

To make it in the current market, Norris says, printer vendors have to add value; and it has to help address customers’ pain points.

Brother regularly polls its customers on how they use their printers and asks them what features would truly make their lives easier.

Norris says seven features came out of the latest round of research. They are:

  • Speed – customers want their machines to print faster, and Brother has responded with a 50 page per minute (ppm) printer, an increase of 10ppm over the previous model.
  • Bigger consumables – customers don’t want to change their toner and drums too often; so  toner cartridges that print 20 000 pages instead of 12 000 pages have been introduced, along with drums that have nearly twice the lifetime of previously
  • A long warranty period – customers want a three-year on-site warranty, and Brother has extended this to all its printers.
  • Mobility – software has to allows customers to print directly from web-based apps, using any device, without having to plug in a PC. “The ability for people on the go to very easily work and print is often a deciding factor,” says Norris.
  • Bigger paper capacity – many companies are opting for departmental multi-function printers and eliminating the photocopier entirely. But this means the printer has to have better paper capacity, which Brother has addressed with the ability to add five paper tray, increasing capacity to 2 600 sheets.
  • Business solutions interface – Brother makes  web-based platform available where developers can plug in their own applications, customising the printer’s functionality to their own specific needs. Examples include billing, tracking, job control or security applications.
  • Security – added mobility and connectivity make security a major issue.

Most importantly, Norris says, is that printers must be robust and reliable, and able to operate for the longer lifetimes that customers are demanding.

“If they are installed and configured correctly, a good printer should save customers money.”

Looking to the future, the trend appears to be towards inkjet printers in the corporate space, Norris says. “There is a lot of emphasis now on business inkjets, with the possibility that they could soon be less expensive and more sustainable than laser printing.”

Another trend is towards carefully planning the placement and capability of printers within an organisation. “Balanced deployment is about putting the right device in the right location. For instance, not everyone needs to print in colour. So monochrome multi-function printers could be easily available for everyone, with the people who actually need colour having access to the colour printer.”
Brother printers are popular in government procurement for good reasons, he adds, with the brand scoring well on quality and market penetration.

Recent years have seen Mustek extend Brother’s reach beyond government into the broader commercial market as well as into mass retail.

As the only distributor for Brother in South Africa, Mustek is well positioned to assist resellers in reaching the corporate and SME markets, offering access to products as well as  full suite of pre- and post-sales services and maintenance.