PrintIT Reseller spoke to Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing at Sharp Europe, about recent acquisitions and the company’s plans for 2018 and beyond
Late summer, Sharp Electronics Europe announced it had acquired Birmingham, Stockport and Cardiff based office technology reseller Midshire. The business is now a part of Sharp Business Systems UK.
This latest deal, which gives Sharp a presence in Wales and strengthens its ability to sell its growing portfolio of business solutions to the commercial and public sector, comes on the back of a string of channel acquisitions, including the takeover of IoT in 2011 and more recently, the acquisitions of Copyfax and CopyIT which boosted the OEM’s presence in the North West and East Anglia.
“Acquisitions are a key part of our European overall growth strategy. We’ve completed on several to date across Europe, in fact earlier this year we also acquired Fritz Schumacher AG, a Swiss printing service provider and retailer,” Cort said.
“Two years ago, at our channel partner event in Malta, we were very transparent about our future plans. During the keynote address we shared the news that channel acquisitions are a key part of our strategy for growth. However, we were clear in communicating that our objective in this is not to compete with our partners, it’s about plugging gaps in our coverage,” he added.
Consolidation has been a recurrent theme in the print market. News of major M&As is a regular occurrence from HP’s acquisition of Samsung’s printer business, to Kyocera buying Annodata, through to Apogee’s aggressive acquisitive path across Europe and the UK, including its acquisition of Danwood, arguably one of the UK’s largest dealerships.
“The US is ahead of the curve, the past few years has seen the emergence of super dealers and they have a lot of power and inﬂuence. Across Europe, some of the OEMs are slowing down in terms of takeovers, but we’re now seeing the super dealer trend emerge across the region. The market is getting smaller and more and more resellers are selling up. We have to think about the impact if a competitor bought them, and we need to defend against that. For Sharp, it’s about looking at each individual situation and making the call to protect our MIF,” Cort explained.
Speaking to the Midshire acquisition Cort confirmed that this is a major event. “If we are to reach our growth objectives, we need growth to come from both our direct and indirect channels. Midshire will continue to operate as an independent business under its own brand name, they are very successful and very good at what they do,” he said.
Midshire is a multi-brand reseller, when asked if the plan is to convert their MIF to Sharp, Cort said: “We would hope that they would convert MIF to Sharp but ultimately it’s about them delivering customer value – and if the Sharp offer isn’t right, then they will offer an alternative. Yes, we would hope they will sell more Sharp products, that’s a natural thing to happen.”
As well as extensive document solutions expertise, Midshire also provides IT Services, visual solutions and hosted desktop. As part of the Sharp family, the frm is well placed to build incremental revenue beyond the print portfolio to the wider Sharp offer that includes large format displays, videoconferencing and collaboration solutions and cloud services.
Today, more and more customers are looking at digital signage, professional displays and interactive meeting solutions. “It’s a natural place for any reseller to go into,” Cort said, adding: “The Sharp visual solutions range provides our partners with massive scope to increase sales of these products.”
Sharp has made big steps over the last year or so, strengthening its offering in areas such as smart LFD.
It has invested in its product range, in mainstream areas like signage, but also in innovative and new solutions like large form factor video walls and huddle displays. It showcased a transformed product line-up which includes six new product categories at ISE 2017.
Products on show included a 70” video wall display, the ‘largest commercially available’, its first interactive display for huddle spaces, an interactive display range with direct bonding technology as well as a new digital signage solution platform, the Sharp Open Architecture Platform, and an OPS (Open Pluggable Specification) format designed with Intel.
“Visual solutions is a rapidly growing part of our business. We sit at the value end of the market, our offer is based on three pillars: quality, customer experience and functionality. We are looking to increase market share and with the backing of Foxconn, this is helping us bring a wider portfolio to market,” Cort stated.
In terms of delivering on its plans for growth, Sharp is looking outside of its core business. “Acquisitions are one route to achieve growth, but we’re also looking for opportunities outside of our traditional business,” Cort confirmed.
“There is lots of opportunity for some time to come, but we also need to grow our complementary business so we get a healthy mix,” he added.
In terms of the print sector, Cort acknowledges the challenges facing both the channel and the OEMs. “If we fast forward, five or even ten years, the challenges will be the same – less placements, fewer pages printed and shrinking margins. We have to ask ourselves how can we diversify? We can’t keep cutting costs,” he said
He continued: “Yes, we’ve got the visual solutions side and that’s really interesting but we also have to look at what else we can add to that.”
Sharp’s direct sales arm has taken its services capability to the next level with the roll-out of IT services that enable SMEs to outsource essential functions, such as help desk, back-up, disaster recovery and hardware break-fix. The plan is to fine-tune these services on the direct side before offering to the channel.
“IT Services has been a focus area for us. It’s a natural place to look as you move beyond the MFP. The question is – where is the value? Is it in selling the display or supplying the content and wrap around solutions that go with it? That’s where partners can create value and stickiness, but with that comes a requirement to boost the professional services offer and upskill the team,” Cort counselled.
Cort argues that Foxconn’s financial backing, advanced manufacturing technology and massive purchasing power, has opened up major opportunities for the company. “The alliance offers mutual benefit,” he said. “When we talk about diversification, there are many ways we can expand into new markets. For example Sharp is the market leader in OLED technology and in Japan we sell mobile phones.”
Many years ago Sharp sold mobile phones across Europe and Cort confirmed that there are plans in place for the company to re-enter that market as early as Q2 2018. “There are lots of exciting things going on, so much so that the challenge is picking the winners – that align with our strategy as a business as well as delivering what clients want and need.”
In January, Sharp Europe will hold Inspire 2018, a conference for its European dealers. “The event will play host to around 600 partners,” Cort said, adding: “It’s a fantastic occasion for them to meet the Sharp team and a great networking opportunity.”
Inspire 2018 is a significant investment for the company. “It’s a statement that our partners are really important to us and provides us with a platform to showcase our commitment to investing in the channel and in new products, solutions and services,” Cort stated.
“The timing is driven around what we’ve got to talk about,” he continued. “We will be making some major announcements around products and solutions as well as our vision around how we see the convergence of technologies in the office. Whether it’s voice or AI, IT is the wraparound to creating a great customer experience. If technology is not simple and productive it’s not going to work.”
Sharp has a long history of technological innovation and is creating a new framework for information collaboration. “We’ve done lots of research around the frustrations in the office whether it’s the fact that the network isn’t working properly or that the tools employees are using aren’t fit for purpose. Ultimately the benchmark these days is the consumer experience – and that’s what workers are looking for and expect in the workplace,” Cort said.
Cort insists that working with the right partners to enable that experience is key. “That’s an area where the partnership with Foxconn is helping enormously. It’s a vast organisation that works with leading OEMs worldwide, that’s a relationship we can leverage for mutual benefit to increase the number of new products we bring to market and further strengthen our brand.”