Technology Reseller v50 47 Q&A TR: Laptops and visual displays obviously present two major opportunities for Sharp and its resellers, but I see that Sharp air purifiers have also recently been added to your offering and I am always surprised to see furniture as part of Sharp’s portfolio. SS: Traditionally, our furniture business operated very much north of the border. It came from a previous acquisition, and we did fantastic work in Scotland, kitting out schools and county council offices. We’ve now got that capability south of the border, so we can offer it to the whole of the UK, and we’re testing the water with dealers. If you find an opportunity, we’ll work on it together and then we’ll share the spoils. That’s new. In addition to major furniture installations, we continue to create bespoke products. For example, we’ve just launched a new interactive table range for nurseries, for education, for care homes and we’ve got a new communicate and collaborate table for group Teams meetings. And we continue to amalgamate furniture and technology in what we call oven-ready packages to make life easier for channel partners. When we sell something like the nursery tables, we partner with a company called Green Door which produces educational software for young children. We partner with them so that the table already has the education software on it. TR: You introduced your new partner programme in September. Has that been developed to support and encourage more diversification? SS: The pandemic, when business levels were low and clients and channel partners were on furlough, was a unique opportunity for us to sit down, take a breath and look at where we were going, where our partners were headed and what fundamentals we needed in place for the future? It was during that time that we designed our new partner programme. We recognised that everyone would come back in a different position – some would come back wanting to sell up, some would come back wanting just to stay in print, some would come back thinking we need to diversify to survive. And we tiered it so that, based on our conversations with them, we could put partners into different tiers giving them access to different investments and different products and services and different training etc.. Our top-level partners are saying they need to change, they want to invest in wider products and not just print. Let’s work on it together for our mutual benefit. TR: Has the programme been well received by resellers? SS: It has. We’re in a really good position with reseller recruitment and are doing better now than we have done in many years. Some of it may be down to stock and the fact that some of our competitors have struggled to get the right stock in. But it’s also down to a mindset of people saying ‘let’s talk to Sharp because they can give us more than just printer equipment’. We have partners who just want visual solutions from us and people who have already got print partners who say ‘we’re not going to move away from that print partner, but can we tie up with you for your visual solutions equipment?’. TR: At the moment, your offering encompasses print, AV and IT, including laptops and IT services when they are rolled out to the channel. Is that enough for you to be getting on with or are there more areas you want to move into? SS: Our SMART Office offering covers every bit of IT (services, infrastructure, cyber security, software etc.), furniture, hosted telephony, MFPs, managed print, AV, displays, collaboration, digitisation and that’s certainly enough for now. We spent a lot of money on some of these things, at both a corporate level and a UK level, and we need everything to get back to normal. We need the print business back where it was and then we need to make sure that we’ve embedded these new areas before we move on. But with Foxconn behind us who knows what’s around the corner. We don’t want to stand still, that’s for sure. We’re getting close to that stage now because in our direct business we have proved that customers will talk to us about IT services, and we’ve achieved a significant level of cross-selling between the two businesses. Obviously, progress hasn’t been as fast as we would have wanted, both for ourselves and for our channel partners, but one thing I’ve noticed is that since coming back from the pandemic, our partners are so much more open to new ideas. Channel partners who in the past treated displays as a nice-to-have product are now looking at how to make them part of their core offering rather than just an occasional tactical find. Our channel partners are engaging more, and our end user customers are starting to invest in visual displays way more than they used to. Education has always been a major market, and that hasn’t changed too much, but now SMB and mid-size companies are starting to invest in that type of equipment to make collaboration easier with people in multiple locations. We’ve launched some really good new products recently including a new software solution called Synappx that makes the practicalities of having a meeting with a screen a lot easier. It means you can walk into a meeting and don’t have to worry about cables and where your files are and how you bring them up to screen etc.. TR: Presumably printer resellers are looking for other sources of revenue to make up for a long-term decline in print volumes. The figure I hear is 15-20%. Does that tally with your experience? SS: It depends on the underlying client base. Our experience is that education has been only slightly affected, if at all. With so many children working from home and packs being created for them, people might actually be printing more in education. We see SMB being affected by maybe 15-20% and some corporate clients by much more than that. Our sweet spots have always been SMB and education and, taken together, we’re seeing a reduction of nowhere near 20%. However, resellers or print manufacturers with big corporate customers that really do work from home and are giving up a lot of office space will be affected a little bit more.