If you were in the printer parts business, where would you think your customers come from?
Over the last few years I have talked with most of the printer parts dealers in the United States, thinking that they would want to create a fresh, new, and loyal customer base. Interestingly, while most initially displayed mild interest, most have done little to cultivate and create the largest emerging group of printer parts customers that I have ever witnessed. You see, about 6 years ago, I observed a growing number of our service customers asking questions about installing their own maintenance kits, feed rollers, and Jet Direct cards, etc. All fairly simple things to do, but all things that they were paying us handsomely for at that time.
After "giving away" advice and basic instruction to the first few of these customers our Basic Laser Printer Maintenance & Repair Training DVD was born. This first version was shot while we were working on actual printers at customer locations, then edited and the voice track added later. Looking back, that first version was a bit rough, but it contained real information that could be used by anyone wanting to perform basic printer maintenance and repair. Our initial customer list included independent computer techs that wanted to expand their business, IT departments, independent toner refill shops, and mail room employees assigned to keep an eye on the office printers, to name a few. Of course, we now shoot the video in a controlled studio environment and show more than double the number of example printers than we had on our first version in 2005. Our customer list grew to include several city, state, and federal departments, office supply and copier dealers, and the IT departments of companies that are household names.
OK - Just a question . . . If all of these uncommon printer tech types of people were buying training to perform their own printer maintenance and repair; would it be logical to assume that all of these people would also need printer maintenance kits and parts from time to time? Trust me, if you are reading this now, I thought the same thing as you are thinking now. Of course, they will all need maintenance kits and parts.
Perhaps naively, I thought that printer parts dealerswould embrace the opportunity to partner with us in an effort to cultivate this emerging printer parts market. It would truly be a win-win partnership; we would sell more DVDs and they would sell more parts. The market already existed in its infancy; it simply needed a bit of cultivating and nurturing. Strangely enough, I was wrong. For the most part, I guess that the printer parts dealers thought they didn't need to help develop a market, because the existing market was already big enough. In some cases I almost felt that I was being laughed out of the room. But, I saw and talked to our customers every day. I could see what was happening. In fact, I'd bet that if you ask any experienced printer tech how many of his/her service calls are to install maintenance kits or maintenance related items that they will tell you that they are a fraction of what they were only 5 years ago. That's right, IT departments, end users, and others such as toner refill businesses are filling the gap that the printer service businesses used to thrive on.
The answer to the question (Where do printer parts customers come from?) appears to be - from their competitors. The never ending saga of picking up a customer here and there, and losing a customer here and there, seems to be the rule of the day. Sure, there are some new customers entering the wholesale printer parts market; the toner refill businesses, the copier dealers, and the office supply dealers, etc. We have helped many of these businesses get started with printer maintenance and repair with our training products, but there is no real coordinated effort to help train these dealers, by the parts sellers, beyond the standard lineup of HP and Lexmark training. Guess where the biggest segment of this new market, the IT departments, buys their maintenance kits and parts. I don't know where they all buy them, but one of our Fortune 500 service clients buys them from Staples, Office Depot, or where ever they can find an online seller that will sell to them.
Don't get me wrong. I am not railing against printer parts dealers. I have met many people in the parts business that I have come to like, and have great relationships with. However, I am suggesting that they are leaving a huge chunk of business on the table by not adapting to this trend of businesses bringing the basic and intermediate printer maintenance and repair tasks in-house. Think about it for a minute. Is it easier to steal your competitor's customers or create a "special program" to deal directly with IT departments? It shouldn't even take a full minute to answer that question. Special sales reps could be assigned to the market and special pricing (somewhere between retail and wholesale) could be created for the market. How about the toner refill businesses, copier dealers, and office supply dealers? Give them basic training that they can put to use on Day 1 and they become instant customers also. If you are concerned about how your support staff will deal with all of the "uneducated" printer repair techs from these new markets, you don't need to worry about that. The Printer Coach Premium Memberships will bring them along at a comfortable pace, and we will even handle the tier 1 support calls.
If you are a printer parts dealer, and you want a steady stream of new customers, you should contact us to discuss our Partner Program and co-branding benefits. We can help you set up this program quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively. We work with this market every day, and it is truly a shame to watch them pay retail.