By Andy Slawetsky – During a quick visit to NJ I popped in to visit Sharp for a tour of their new North American headquarters in Montvale.
The old location in Mahwah was a nondescript building on the NY/NJ border. It was nice inside but dated. I’m sure it was pretty state of the art back in the 80s but by today’s standards, it was kind of blah.
Sharp moved into this new building in January and must have spent a considerable amount renovating, as the facility is pretty awesome.
Hardwood floors can be found everywhere, fathead wall decals add to the themed conference rooms (The City has a wall with the NYC skyline on it, The Ocean Room has a wall of the ocean, etc.). There’s even a Wisconsin Room, for some reason.
The building is really well lit and very modern. When you enter, there’s a giant red “S” that used to hang on their old building mounted on the wall in the new lobby. All the Sharp employees who moved from the old building to the new one signed it. Pretty cool! They also brought over the “old crappy chairs” (not my words) for a “retro” conference room, I think it’s called The Mahwah Room but I can’t remember for sure. Not to worry, the chairs in the other rooms are all tip-top, I assure you.
Near the lobby is a product area for office and production print equipment, a nice change from their previous HQ where the MFPs were housed behind closed doors in a room behind the TV show room, WAY in the back. Now they’re front and center. If you’ve ever been in their old building, you wouldn’t know they sold copiers/MFPs. Now they’re the first things you see when you walk through the doors. This really sums up who Sharp is today and how focused they are on this industry.
Not far from the lobby is an atrium where they have created a huge but cozy area where employees can get away from their desks and eat, hang out (collaborate) and work in comfy chairs (as well as play foosball, billiards and Xbox). Obviously there are monitors all over this room. I may have to head to Sharp for March Madness. For the record, no one was playing Xbox when I was there although I did receive a challenge from Vince Jannelli.
Sharp has also installed a gym area with treadmills and other equipment that employees can use to get those endorphins pumping. There are showers too (thank goodness). Sharp is focused on their employees’ health and several of them even have those standing desks where they work at their PC on their feet. They also have a couple of treadmill desks where employees can work on their laptops while walking. These will be spread out throughout building.
The façade of the building is pretty boring at the moment but Sharp has plans in the spring for a complete renovation of the front of the building as well as lots of landscaping updates. Based on how nice the inside of the building looks, I’m sure the forthcoming updates will be amazing.
So What’s Happenin’ with Sharp? After my building tour, I sat down with President and CEO Doug Albregts and COO Mike Marusic to discuss. It’s coming up on a year since Foxconn took over and while we may not have heard a lot of news from Sharp in that time, there’s a ton going on at all levels.
Behind the scenes, Foxconn has whipped Sharp into shape and they just reported their first quarterly profit in two years. It’s pretty amazing they’ve got things turned around so quickly when Sharp struggled unsuccessfully for years to fix these issues on their own.
One of the benefits of the Foxconn acquisition to the Sharp office products group is the access it’s giving them to other technology in the Foxconn family. There is a massive catalog of partners and in-house products that Sharp can draw on to make available to resellers. Doug and Mike are constantly reviewing new products and technology from Foxconn’s vast library.
An early example of this is water coolers. Yes, water coolers. Many of you experimented with this in the 1990s and some of you may still sell water. This is better. The systems Sharp will roll out through a Foxconn partner pulls water from the air like a dehumidifier. It then purifies that water into perfectly clean drinking water. Just plug it in and it works, there’s no need for storing and lugging those five-gallon jugs anymore.
Of course there’s a service component and a supplies component with the filters, etc. This may not be for everyone but what a great product to add to your pitch book. Anyone who has every changed a water cooler bottle will appreciate not having to do that anymore. It’s a great “in” for talking to new customers. Give a big customer a free one as a thank you and don’t be surprised if they come back to you begging for more.
Sharp is also expanding into other new areas. In one of the labs, Mike showed me a mobile outdoor robotic security vehicle that Sharp has built from the ground up. These self-controlled small, motorized machines can cruise company parking lots and venues with a 360-degree camera, broadcasting and recording sights and sounds with incredible detail. Sharp says there is an extremely high level of interest from customers they’ve started showing these to.
As print continues it’s long, gradual decline, dealers need to find other areas to expand into. Many of you are moving into managed services. Some of you have dabbled with 3D. Like other OEMs, Sharp is looking to fill in the dealer’s pitch book with new technology – water coolers, security/robotics and more to come. While these areas may not be of interest to all of you, if you don’t have things outside of copiers and clicks to sell, I don’t think you’ll be here in five or 10 years. Sharp gets that and is actively pursing new markets their dealers can expand into.
There’s been a lot of talk and speculation about Sharp lately. Will Foxconn spin them off? Will they support the copier group if they don’t? These are good questions. Why would Foxconn want deal with such a small part of their company, even if they are profitable?
Here’s why; Foxconn is one of the biggest electronics manufacturers in the world (if not the biggest). Yet, they have no real brand and no recognition in the marketplace. Ask anyone outside this industry “who is Foxconn?” and I’d wager that most people have never heard of them. In fact, I’m sure a lot of people in this industry don’t even know who they are.
Sharp gives Foxconn a recognizable global brand. It also provides them with a B2B channel, which they’ve never had. The way Doug and Mike talk about the wealth of technology and products Foxconn is sitting on, the more I get the feeling that Foxconn is looking at this channel as a B2B sales force for their massive catalog.
I asked about acquisitions and they danced around it, as I knew they would. But the feeling I got was that Sharp is considering acquisitions at all levels. Does that mean they’ll buy dealers? An OEM? Who knows, but I don’t see them standing still as the industry continues to realign around them.
The bottom line is they now have the deepest pockets in this industry and Foxconn seems to be firmly behind them, both financially and in terms of support. The new building is a great example of this. Why would they upgrade into such a beautiful facility just to sell off the division?
There is a renewed energy at Sharp Electronics. The employees love the new facilities and casual dress code and even more so I think, the stability they’ve experienced in the last 10 or 11 months.
Sharp may have been quiet over the last year but there’s been a lot going on. A spring road show will bring the Sharp gospel to the streets, hitting several cities with technology updates. They’ve quietly been filling in their A4 portfolio, which had always been a gaping hole in their offering. They’re expanding into non-copier areas, providing dealers with opportunities outside of their traditional comfort zone.
The biggest issue I see for Sharp going forward (and for everyone for that matter) is distribution. Each week there are fewer dealers out there and there seems to be no end in sight as the acquisitions keep coming fast and furious. While it’s not necessarily bad when a dealer buys another dealer, it’s a whole different ball game when it’s an OEM buying that dealer. And we’ve seen several OEMs doing just this in the last year. When Dex acquires a Sharp dealer, it’s no biggie, they’ll keep selling Sharp. When GIS (or KM or…) buys a Sharp dealer, Sharp loses a dealer, and chances are, it’s a good dealer. This is an issue that must keep Doug and his competitor peers up at night.
To me, Sharp is definitely one of the companies to keep an eye on. The Foxconn acquisition appears to be the best thing that could have happened to them for a ton of reasons. This group was profitable when they had minimal resources and limited investments in R&D due to the Sharp financial crisis they lived through over the last few years. Now they’re stable, they the most cash in the industry and they’re finally getting the investments into technology they wanted and have desperately needed. Don’t sleep on Sharp.
Thanks for the afternoon Sharp, it was great seeing you all. Enjoy that new building!
PS wait ‘til you get that new Wegmans they’re building down the street! You’ll see…!