By Andy Slawetsky – Brother held an analyst briefing April 12 – 13 at the Foxwood Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT. This was the first Brother briefing in several years and in that time, Brother has started gaining traction in the dealer imaging channel by filling in the holes in dealer portfolios left by most of their “primary brands.”
Brother has quietly been working with dealers for about three or four years. That is, until about seven months ago when they “inked a partnership with Toshiba,” partnering with the A3 OEM to provide A4 printers and MFPs as Toshiba has done in the past with Lexmark and HP. This move instantly put Brother on the map of hundreds of dealers and waiting to announce this news at the Toshiba dealer meeting was a great way to launch the partnership.
On a personal note, I can tell you interest in Brother in this channel has grown considerably over the last two years, with clicks on Brother related articles topping 10,000 on this website in 2018, nearly double the number of clicks in 2017.
Brother had a nice event set up for us analysts, which was tied into a global internal sales event they were simultaneously holding throughout the week at the same location.
After a great welcome dinner complete with cotton candy displays, we began the briefing following breakfast the next morning.
Three of our hosts, known by many of you from their “previous lives” at other companies (Dan Butler, Dan Waldinger, Steve Santucci…) told us the previous night that we might be surprised by the layout in the briefing room and we were!
The entire room was set using props from Brother’s ongoing series of Fireside Chats, where they go city to city for training, briefings and other programs.
The “set” was awesome as we were seated in giant inflatable chairs that looked like big cushiony furniture, with inflatable tables set next to each chair. Not only were we comfortable, but the seating ensured no one was going to get up and sneak out in the middle of the session. Once you sat down, you were there for the long haul! I want those chairs for my patio.
After a brief welcome and review of the agenda by Dan W., Mr. Yoshio Nakao, GM SMB Business Development gave us an update on how Big Brother is doing. Mr. Nakao spoke to us about how Brother has evolved over the years to keep up with market changes. He reminded us that Brother used to be a typewriter company and today, they’re diverse, serving multiple markets through multiple channels.
Mr. Nakao was candid as he discussed a small revenue shortfall last year while their operating profit outperformed their targets. He also shared some slides that showed impressive data regarding their printers:
- Color Laser MFC/PRT +22%/15%
- Mono Printer +6%
- Scanner +21%
- Copier Channel Growth +15%
- MPS MIF F19 = 100k units
At a time when others are barely holding their own or in many cases, shrinking, Brother print is growing.
Considering Brother’s strong offering in A4 and scanning, this growth is not a surprise. Most dealers need a strong A4 partner and given the changes in that space in the last 12-18 months, the time seems right for a company like Brother who offers a very affordable and cost effective A4 solution.
Mr Nakao spoke for quite a while, discussing the overall health of Brother, where they’ve been and where they’re going. I will post his speech when I’m back home and have ample bandwidth in a future piece. “Stable growth will continue,” he told us during his briefing.
Dan W. then took the microphone back to discuss Brother’s B2B strategy, something they’re looking for dealers to help them with. Brother has done an amazing job over the years in retail and consumer printing, as well as in alternative channel sales. But, they never had the incredibly valuable face-to-face relationship with customers like B2B companies have. They see the value in that kind of relationship and thus, the increasing push into BTA “dealer” channel.
Brother has been busy, building programs like their Rolling Thunder and Fireside Chat among others, which in many cases brings products and training right to the dealer’s front door. They’ve also invested in a multi million dollar advertising and PR program designed to build customer awareness.
Social media help and ongoing campaigns will continue to push the Brother messaging in an effort to help nurture customers and build trust and credibility.
Brother has also developed a great amount of content for the sales rep designed to help them when selling to vertical customers in Healthcare, Retail, Government and Education. The amount of resources Brother has developed in the last few years is quite impressive.
After a short break, Shelly Radler and Bob welcomed us back to give us some demos of Brother solutions and an introduction to forthcoming Brother hardware. While there are several forthcoming upgrade and replacements to their current line, my favorite was the new optional finisher to an A4 model they’re now offering, one of the things many of today’s A4 printers and MFPs usually lack.
While there was a strong focus on hardware, Bob spent a decent amount of time discussing solutions in security and other critical areas where Brother is partnering and developing to keep their portfolio fresh.
It was a short day that ended after the demonstrations (and lunch) and a panel with Tom Mitchell from Connected Office (a Sharp dealer) and Philip Zangara from Connected Office Technologies (a Ricoh dealer). Both dealers spoke to us about why they took Brother on and how they’ve been succeeding with the portfolio, particularly in MPS engagements.
Brother has quietly come a long way in the last few years and they have a ton to offer dealers. While competitive A4 MFPs are often incredibly capable, they also tend to be a bit pricey because of their large, beautiful touch screens.
Brother MFPs do have touch screens, but they’ smaller and simpler than many competitors’, allowing them to often achieve a lower price point. This is huge in MPS engagements and can lead wither to lower costs for the customer or better margins for the dealer (or maybe a little of both).
Brother is also a unique brand in many markets, allowing dealers that sign up with them to often be the only one in the deal pitching Brother hardware/software. When two or three of your competitors are selling the same brand, it’s nice to offer an alternative, especially if it’s less expensive.
The mix of Brother’s affordable yet reliable hardware with their expertise in scanning gives imaging dealers a strong partner that offers a variety of products that their customers need, often at very affordable prices.
It was a quick briefing, but well worth the travel. I appreciate the invitation and look forward to watching Brother continue their expansion into they channel!