Sharp Announces 13 New Products at National Dealer Meeting

Also Focuses on Relationships and Its Shift from Consumers to Businesses



SIICA President Doug Albregts spoke during the general session at Sharp’s National Dealer Meeting.
SIICA's Doug Albregts

At Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America’s (SIICA) annual dealer meeting earlier this month in San Antonio, which was themed “Relationships@Work,” the company announced 10 new color MFPs and three new monochrome production devices, spotlighting them along with a range of solutions at a product fair the company touted as its best ever. “The expo was designed to showcase technology not as a menu from which to choose, but as a recipe that combines technologies that are uniquely Sharp with those of strategic partners,” said Shane Coffey, SIICA’s Senior Director of Hardware Product Management.

In keeping with Sharp’s two-tier strategy, the new color MFPs include the Advanced and Essentials versions that range in speed from 30 ppm to 60 ppm. Based on the same “clean sheet” engine design, the models all share the same accessories and the same toner—something that elicited applause from the attendees and that every dealer we spoke with was very happy about. They will have speeds of 30, 35, 40, 50 and 60 ppm. The Advanced series models, which feature a quad-core processor, are designated by a 70 in the last two digits of the model name, while the lower-priced Essentials models, which feature a dual-core processor, are designated by a 50 as the last two digits. The MX-3070N, MX-3570N and MX-4070N were introduced at the show, while the MX-3050N, MX-3550N and MX-4050N are slated for February availability. They will be followed by Advanced and Essentials versions of the 50- and 60-ppm models in May.

“Our dealers have asked for reinforcements and we are providing the best vetted relationships and opportunities.”–Doug Albregts

The new monochrome light production devices include the 120-ppm MX-M1205 and 105-ppm MX-M1055, which will be available in February, and the 90-ppm MX-M905, which is slated for availability in the fourth quarter of 2016. Successors to Sharp’s previous models in this range, the MX-M1205 and MX-M1055 are available with a Fiery controller that, as with the color MX-7500N and MX-6500N, integrates Command Workstation into the device control panel. According to Kent Villarreal, SIICA Senior Product Manager of Product Planning and Marketing, they feature a 15.4" control panel and significantly enhanced media handling via a media catalog that allows for the creation of profiles for up to 1,000 different media types. With the same look and feel as the MX-7500N and MX-6500N, and the same input and output options, these are “true sister products,” said Villarreal.

According to the company, Sharp is doing very well with its production devices, thanks in part to a capability that can’t be matched by competitors at the price point—the ability to print full-bleed booklets on 11" x 17" paper—but the addition of a Fiery controller option will help its sales reps place more monochrome devices alongside its color devices in environments with Fiery workflows. These new models with their available Fiery controllers were one of many examples cited at the show of Sharp delivering a product or feature directly in response to dealer feedback. The MX-M905 will not be offered with a Fiery controller. Sharp also spotlighted its relationship with EFI, demonstrating EFI Digital StoreFront.

More Details on the New Color Lineup
As noted, the common accessories and toner were wildly popular with dealers. It will greatly reduce the amount of inventory dealers have to keep on hand, reducing their costs, and will also help service technicians, who will be able to carry fewer parts and supplies on service calls. The new color models feature a redesigned user interface—at the control panel, the print drivers, the web utility and even the information available to technicians in service mode.

Based on what we saw in the limited time we had, the improvements are significant. Many of the criticisms BLI has noted in the past appear to be addressed in the new design. The next-generation 10.1" touch and swipe touch-screen panel features fewer, bigger icons. Plus, there are more streamlined Easy menus for Copy, Scan (and Fax if configured) that display only the features most people use most of the time. Users can switch between the regular and Easy menus, and can even access the previous generation's display if they prefer not to make the change. It also features an enhanced online operation guide at the panel and enables drag-and-drop customization. And now when users insert a USB memory device, they are presented with a prompt asking if they want to print or scan.  

Sharp’s New Control Panel
Sharp's New Control Panel


Easy Copy Screen
Easy Copy Screen

Protecting Dealers’ Profits
The common toner cartridge across the line is intended to protect dealers’ profits.  Many dealers provide managed print services to their customers at a fixed click charge across the fleet regardless of speed, but the dealers’ costs aren’t fixed, with output produced by lower-volume devices costing them more due to their toner costs. For its new color MFP line, Sharp is providing the same cartridge—one that will provide the lowest TCO—across the line. Also contributing to lower TCO is longer developer and drum life. Note, though, that different developer yields for a couple of the products, owing to technological factors related to speed, will result in very slight TCO differences. Another new design feature intended to protect dealers’ profits that was also cheered by attendees is that the toner cartridges will eject only when they are empty, preventing users from prematurely replacing cartridges when a toner-low message appears, which is costly to the dealer providing supplies under an MPS contract.

New Features for Sharp
New features in the line not previously offered by Sharp’s MFPs include direct printing of Microsoft Office files; a walk-up motion sensor that wakes the machine when it detects the presence of a user approaching, which combined with the units’ 10-second warm-up time means they will be ready for use with virtually no waiting time; and OCR for scanning documents into fully editable Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel files (available only for Advanced models). The models also feature an optional internal stapler that can bind together up to five sheets without staples or can be used for manual convenience stapling with staples. That’s in addition to two 3,000-sheet finishers, one of which is a booklet finisher that can produce booklets of up to 80 pages; and two 1,000-sheet finishers—one stacking and one booklet.

Standard on both the Advanced and Essentials Series models is serverless print release, which enables users to release print jobs from any of up to five MFPs on the network designated as clients. To maintain color consistency, internal controls check color every 100 pages and a developer auto refresh system mixes a small amount of charger with toner to extend toner life and maintain quality.

Differences Between Advanced and Essentials Models
While the models share many similarities, there are some differences, which include the following:

● Advanced models incorporate a more powerful quad-core processor, which Sharp says enables faster UI responsiveness, while the Essentials models use a dual-core processor.
● The Advanced models feature a 150-sheet duplex single-pass feeder that scans at up to 200 ipm, while the Essentials models feature a 100-sheet RSPF that scans at up to 80 ipm.
● Advanced models feature 1200-dpi resolution versus 600-dpi resolution for the Essentials versions.
● Three capabilities are not available on the Essentials models—the retractable keyboard, walk-up motion sensor and scanning with OCR. A number of others are standard on the Advanced models but optional on the Essentials models. These include direct printing of Microsoft Office files, wireless connectivity, Cloud Connect, Compact PDF, PostScript 3 and the OSA Communication and External Accounting modules. 
● The Advanced models feature a higher-capacity hard drive, at 500 GB, compared with 250 GB for the Essentials models.

The units’ standard paper supply of a 500-sheet drawer and 100-sheet bypass tray can be expanded to a maximum capacity of 3,300 sheets with a range of options.

Sharp Rebranding Itself as a B2B Company
Kazushi Mukai, Executive Managing Officer of Sharp Corporation and President of the Business Solution Company formed two months ago as part of the Sharp’s restructuring, acknowledged the struggles Sharp has been through over the past few years but declared that the company is basically through the biggest restructuring in its history, “now in the last stage involving the LCD display business.” He said, “Once it is fully complete, the Business Solution Company will stand at the center of Sharp and we will work to expand the business drastically as the main growth business of Sharp.” This declaration that its worst times are behind it was echoed by SIICA executives on a number of occasions during the show—including during private meetings with industry press and analysts. We were convinced and so were the dealers we spoke with.

Despite the fact that there is also a Consumer Electronics Company in the reorganized Sharp (along with an Energy Solution Company, Electronic Components Company and Display Device Company), the company is making a deliberate shift in the brand away from consumers and toward business.  The company, for example, recently licensed its TV technology to another company. Mukai stressed that the document business was the most important in the Business Solution Company. He touted the “aggressive product launch” at the show, calling it a demonstration of Sharp’s “strong reinvestment in its core business of MFPs.” He noted that the company also has a great product line in B2B display with its Aquos Board and digital signage and has also identified robotics as an important category that will be used for the B2B market, not for the consumer market.

Sharp Sends Reinforcements to Dealers
Alluding to the battle at San Antonio’s most famous landmark, SIICA President Doug Albregts said dealers need reinforcements to help them survive and thrive in a changing industry. But whereas the reinforcements never came to the Alamo, Sharp is providing reinforcements to its dealers not only in the form of new hardware and software products, but also in the form of relationships—the theme of the show.

“Our dealers have asked for reinforcements and we are providing the best vetted relationships and opportunities,” kicking off a strategy SIICA has been working on for the past several years when it first set out to become the “premier facilitator of managed network solutions.”

He said that the strategy has been working judging from the positive feedback from dealers as well as revenue and profitability. While as expected Sharp Corporation’s revenues declined owing to exiting some consumer segments, SIICA had its third straight year of revenue growth and operating income growth. And on a global basis, MFP revenues grew 6.5 percent over the previous period. In fact, he said, Sharp’s last fiscal was one of the most profitable for the US document business, with operating profit up 145 percent over the prior fiscal period.

The strategic relationships key to the strategy include one with Tech Data, whereby Sharp dealers will have access through a special portal to all of the products distributed through Tech Data—not just Sharp products, but anything Tech Data sells—printers from a range of vendors, scanners, tablets, mobile phones, laptops, PCs, routers, integrated solutions and even wireless services on which dealers can earn recurring revenue. Albregts told the dealers in attendance, “The more diversified you are with your accounts, the more likely you are to retain that copier placement—which is what drives the profitability.”

“Tech Data is not just a logistics company,” he said, “it’s a conduit to allow Sharp to deliver on its strategy of enabling dealers to facilitate custom solutions for their customers, including integration capabilities, Sharp and third-party devices and solutions, all on one invoice and all with the idea of retaining the copier business.” The portal, slated to debut in February, is exclusive to Sharp dealers (Sharp products can’t be ordered through by anybody but a Sharp dealer) and is designed to integrate seamlessly with dealers’ existing systems, such as ECI eAutomate.

“The more diversified you are with your accounts, the more likely you are to retain that copier placement—which is what drives the profitability.”–Doug Albregts

Another key Sharp partner exhibiting at the show was Fujitsu, whose scanners and solutions can be purchased through Tech Data. Fujitsu offers a range of models, from workgroup up through network and production, that can be bundled with Fujitsu’s capture software—which can also integrate with Sharp MFPs. The scanners and MFPs can be ordered bundled with software for easily deployed, repeatable vertical market solutions such as healthcare or for horizontal applications across industries such as human resources. In a breakout session on how dealers can expand their offerings to customers, Fujitsu noted that dealers can not only expand their penetration into the many organizations who already use Fujitsu scanners, making margins of 10 to 20 percent, as well as recurring revenue from service contracts. Up to 95 percent of devices are covered by annual service contracts, according to Fujitsu. Notably, Fujitsu offers training, support and even in-field engagements.

Relationships to Support MPS and Managed IT Services
Another strategic partner with a booth at  the show was Continuum, whereby under an agreement initially announced in 2014, rolled out first to Sharp-owned branches, dealers can offer their customers managed IT services without having to hire the resources to provide it themselves, which could be difficult for smaller dealerships. Continuum provides the resources in the background, while dealers can offer varying levels of service from simple monitoring of devices on customers’ desktops and anti-virus protection, to 9 to 5 or 24/7 help-desk support (with calls able to be answered under the dealership’s name), to more advanced services such as on-site fixes.  Of course, dealers may opt to offer outsourced IT services through a firm of their own choosing.

To help dealers provide managed print services, Sharp has partnered with Clover Imaging Group, the world’s largest provider of remanufactured toner and inkjet cartridges and printer parts. The company claims that its patented manufacturing processes and process automation result in cartridges that are as good as those of OEMs at a much lower cost.

Sharp Walks the Walk
While partnerships are certainly not new in the industry, what impressed us most about the relationships Sharp touted at the show was the genuine partnership that Sharp seems to have with its dealers. The company has done a number of multi-city roadshows, talking to dealers to understand their businesses and getting their feedback on what customers want. Because the dealers and sales reps are the best way for Sharp to understand customer needs, Mukai said, “The relationship with our dealers is a treasure.” And instead of inviting only dealer principals to attend the show, top sales reps were also invited. The new products and the show as a whole were very well received by all of the attendees we spoke to, although a couple expressed reservations about outsourcing IT and having too much control of the ordering, fulfillment and billing processes handled by a third party, respectively. Toward the end of the show, Tim Murphy, President of Select Business Systems of Bakersfield, California, said it best. Noting that he has been in the industry and attended dealer meetings since 1983, he has “never before known more people on a more of a personal level,” than he does now within the Sharp organization.

SIICA’s Shane Coffey (left) and Mike Marusic introduced all the new hardware to the crowd in San Antonio.
SIICA;s Shane Coffey and Mike Marusic