By Andy Slawetsky, Industry Analysts – Sharp held their dealer conference at The Wynn in Las Vegas Oct. 1 – 4 and about 1,000 people were in attendance to find out What’s Happenin’ with the Japanese (Taiwanese?) technology manufacturer.
It has been nearly two years since the last major US conference was held in Phoenix AZ and a lot has changed with Sharp in that time.
Most significant was perhaps the appointment of Mike Marusic as president and CEO after Doug Albregts moved on in May 2018. Since then it’s been the Marusic show and they haven’t missed a beat. Sharp is moving forward, acquiring dealers, increasing dealer spends with them and of course, developing new and innovative technologies that were widely showcased at this year’s conference.
As Tuesday was a travel day, the first night was a cocktail reception at an onsite club, a great way for everyone to get together for a casual evening before the event really kicked off the next day. Prior to cocktails, we were treated to a Press Walkthrough of the product fair where Marusic and his team (Shane Coffey, John Sheehan and Bob Madaio) took us through the floor. This pre show walk through has become a nice custom at Sharp events and it’s great to get a glimpse of what the dealers are going to see before they see it and while we can ask questions.
Sharp typically has one of the nicest product fairs in this industry when they hold dealer conferences and this year’s didn’t disappoint. The colors, layout and organization were nicely done, breaking down the room into distinctly different areas like solutions, hardware, production and the centrally located Smart Office area where Sharp showcased their newly announced Synappx platform.
People came from all over the world to this event, including 10 of my Aussie friends who I met at the last Sharp dealer conference and then again when I spoke at their dealer meeting last Nov. in the Sunshine Coast. Others hailed from New Zealand (the deal is still open to you Kiwis!), Europe, Japan and virtually everywhere as Sharp customers, vendors and employees came to Las Vegas for this epic event.
The next morning began with John Sheehan, fresh off his promotion to SVP taking the stage to welcome his dealers to Vegas. Unlike the last show when John was thrust on stage with very little time on the job, he now had a couple of years under his belt and his confidence and comfort level were considerably higher as he got the crowd fired up before introducing his boss, Mike Marusic.
Mike took the stage in his first conference as president and CEO, opening his session with news of 11 consecutive quarters of growth for Sharp. “All divisions are up,” he told listeners.Mike told the crowd that Sharp finished 2018 up 12% with their highest marketshare ever. They had 116% YoY growth with dealers. Mike went on to say their business has been “amazing across the board.”
Following Mike came VP of marketing “Twitter Bob” (Bob) Madaio and VP product management Shane Coffey to announce Sharp’s biggest news of the conference, their new Synappx Smart Office Solution and to give us a breakdown of the product fair. The Synappx solution was located dead center in their product fair, well lit and had what seemed like dozens of Sharp employees in red shirts teeming all over it. The area was constantly mobbed the entire show and was without a doubt the part of the conference dealers were most interested in.
So what exactly is Synappx? I’m going to tell you what I think it is. I could be wrong, but here’s my understanding; Synappx is an overall platform designed by Sharp/Foxconn to make the work environment seamless and productive. Today, the Internet of Things, the office, your phone…everything is out there but most of it isn’t talking and working together. Synappx seems as though it should be a behind the scenes solution to fix this.
Example: Today, you walk into your conference room, you plug in your laptop, look for the clicker, you dial up the number for the conference line and you do all the things to get the meeting started that people normally do – a process that Sharp says takes about 12 minutes on average. When you only have that conference room booked for 60 minutes, customers are wasting 20% of the meeting time just trying to get everyone on the same page so they can begin.
Synappx aims to simplify this. People will authenticate onto the calls when they walk into the conference room automatically via their mobile device. Everything will (eventually) be voice activated. Start the meeting by saying “Start Meeting.” The bridges are automatically connected (and terminated upon completion of the meeting), the whiteboard is shared and is capturing the notes, there’s a clock running in the corner showing everyone exactly how much time is left, even the temperature of the rooms is being monitored and controlled to ensure optimal conditions for the call. Your phone is the key to all of this from what I can tell; authenticating, controlling print jobs, releasing them scanning to it, allowing collaboration tools to access files, it all starts with your phone.
Sharp’s Synappx wants to do to your office what Google Home and Amazon are doing for your home. More than anything, Synappx is another example of how Sharp has a seat at the big boy table and is helping to set standards rather than following them. In fact, Sharp executives love that “big boy table” comment as they peppered it throughout their speeches and conversations with analysts and dealers alike. They’re not wrong; Sharp is owned by electronics behemoth Foxconn, the largest electronics manufacturer in the world and we saw an example of this occur during the last Sharp dealer conference in Phoenix 2 years ago when Amazon announced their Alexa for Business program – Sharp was the first MFP manufacturer to be part of this program and the only one at the time of the initial announcement. It happened because Foxconn works with Amazon. Nepotism sucks right up until it doesn’t!
The keynote session moved along nicely as Sharp kept the presentations relatively short, with lots of their people taking the stage for a few minutes to discuss everything from displays to Synappx to hardware; not just any hardware, but laptops!
Yes, Sharp is getting into laptops. With their partial acquisition of Dynabook (formerly Toshiba laptops), Sharp dealers will now be able to offer a family of very capable business laptops to their customers. Will this program work? Who knows, but customers are going to buy their laptops somewhere, why not from the company providing their office technology and managed services? Just another thing you can bundle in with your printing devices to muddy the waters on that monthly invoice.
As soon as the session ended the Aussies descended on Mike to bestow a gift upon him for the hospitality and invitation. The Walkabout hat and the presentation of the Sharp US/Australia commemorative lapel pin (did he just get engaged?) were one of many great moments from the show!
After the general session, the crowd headed over to the product fair where they spent time seeing the Sharp solutions and partner solutions. With about 50 partners on the floor, walls full of displays, whiteboards and collaboration tools, laptops, production gear and more, there was plenty to keep the dealers busy!
Sharp’s 8K program, while not something that dealers will probably sell, made for some amazing demonstrations and Sharp had a large area dedicated to this technology in their product showcase.
Taking a lap around the room I started on the left side where I got a demo from Karl at Ringdale on their FollowMe printing solution, a print management product that integrates nicely with Sharp copiers, printers and MFPs.
Not far from there I spent a few minutes with Dominic from ecoprintQ learning about Umango connectors they were showing to dealers.
Drew from FORZA gave me an overview of their vendor agnostic SAP Business One ERP solution customized for office equipment dealers.
Mike and Jenna Stramaglio were there as well chatting with dealers of all brands about their powerful dashboard that lets dealers see “everything all in one place.”
I got the chance to meet Steve from Elatec, the print industry’s great RFID manufacturer. Headquartered in Germany, Elatec has offices here in the US and recently expanded their Florida location with the announcement of their new US CEO.
A little further down the line was an interesting company and relative newcomer to the dealer imaging channel, RingByName, who has clearly taken focus on dealers that might be moving towards managed services. RingByName was relatively unknown by most dealers a year or two ago but over the last 12 months they have been everywhere, showing up at BTA, Sharp and other industry shows. This PBX cloud phone solution offers dealers an easy recurring revenue solution to complement their MSN offerings.
Coming to the end of the row we saw PaperCut and ACDI co-hosting a booth. ACDI has a dealer summit of their own coming up next week in Lexington (see you there). I got to spend some time with PaperCut’s Joe Rubino, chatting about their Print Management solution and the success they’ve been having with Sharp dealers.
NEXERA was around the corner, just past the popular 8K showcase. I got to chat with Bud Karakey and Ed McLaughlin about their data driven products and services. No one has as many copiers and printers in a database as these guys. This information is gold to a service department trying to understand where their profit opportunities may lie.
Not far from there was Michael Amiri and the Contiuum booth where dealers looking for MNS help can come for programs, services and access to some of the best partners an IT company could need.
Down a bit further I saw Dean and Georgann from ESP AMETEK, the power protection company all dealers should know about. You can’t control the power your customers use, and dirty power can make a copier or printer fail. Maybe it only happens when someone opens the fridge while the microwave is running in the break room just as someone hits print…ESP can not only fix this, they can help pinpoint the problem so that you can show your customer it’s not your hardware failing, it’s their dirty power that’s causing the issue!
There were several leasing companies on the floor as always and I stopped by to chat with Stacey and the team from GreatAmerica! Stacey talked with me about how they were there helping dealers improve their sales processes, among other things!
Around the corner was Clover where I spent a few minutes with my friend Charley discussing Clover’s new Silver Bullet Program designed to save dealers up to 30% off regular pricing.
There were dozens of other partners on the floor, too many to mention here.
After perusing through the product fair, I checked out some of the breakout sessions such as one covering the Smart Office, another “expanding opportunities with the new Dynabook computers,” a production session and several more that you tend to see at most shows.
The second day was more of the same with additional time spent at the product fair after morning presentations, which were hilarious as Sharp had some juggling comedians weaving a performance in and out of their presentations. While it was really funny to see Sheehan laying beneath a guy juggling a taser and two other things worse than a taser (I can’t remember what the other 2 items were) right over his head, the highlight had to have been Marusic helping with the grand finale, seen below.
Not only did we get a quiet press-only walk through by senior executives, but we also had the opportunity to sit with them for lunch on the second day. We were able to ask them pretty much anything we wanted for over 90 minutes! It’s an honor to receive this kind of time from these guys, especially considering their busy schedule at a meeting like this, it’s greatly appreciated.
The day ended with an awards banquet where a great number of dealers were honored for their success with Sharp over the last year. Sharp started a new string of awards at this meeting, recognizing not only their biggest and best dealers, but also some of their smaller yet up-and-coming dealers. Great move! Who doesn’t like an “attaboy???” Once the awards were done we were treated to the music of Blues Traveller, which some of the attendees loved (me) and some just didn’t. Not everything can be Sinatra, Mr. Stramaglio! 🙂
Speaking of biggest and best, One only had to look around the room to realize Sharp has some pretty big dealers and many of them were in Las Vegas. I saw a Gau from Marco I saw a Pitassi from POA I saw a Knepper from ACP…these are the industry legends and they were all in Vegas to hear what Sharp had to say.
Overall it was a great meeting. Frank Cannata made the point at the press luncheon that he couldn’t remember hearing so much laughter amongst the execs at an event like this, meaning that they seemed super relaxed and everyone was just having fun and enjoying the moment and I have to agree. The leadership seems to all get along great, they have fun together and they’re succeeding.
Their office strategy makes them one of only two companies in the imaging channel that have focused on not just print and copies, but on running the office. The new Synappx platform is a firm commitment to moving further down this path.
Last meeting they showed a hardware collaboration device they were working on that is now gone. They realized other companies were working on this and they decided to aim higher, creating the collaboration platform instead of the hardware that ties into it. They also showed a security vehicle they built that would allow companies to monitor areas remotely. This too is now gone. Sharp’s ability to try things, then modify them or even abandon them based on the feedback from their dealers (and their own research) is always fun to watch as you never know what you’re going to see (copier/air purifier….what??). It does show that they’re always thinking, although they probably blew a boatload on that security vehicle if they really did just walk away from it instead of selling the technology off to someone else.
There was a ton of hardware at this meeting, maybe the most they’ve had at any show in recent memory. Besides their full production portfolio, their A3 and A4 MFP lines were refreshed over the last year and many were on the floor tied to solutions. Although they didn’t talk about them, they were there. I have to say it was impressive seeing a full line of A4 products, especially considering 3 years ago they didn’t have a single Sharp-Manufactured A4 MFP and now they have a pretty nice line of both black and white and color models.
Of course, Sharp is still a big Lexmark partner and Phil and Greg were on hand talking to dealers at their Lexmark booth on the floor.
All in all, it was a great show. Dealers had an excellent time and although there was very little focus on copiers and printers, they were very excited for the collaboration software. Sharp continues to evolve as a brand for Foxconn and the B2B partnership between Sharp and their dealers will be invaluable going forward to Foxconn. I mentioned before that there are two imaging channel companies that are going after owning the office, not just the office print. Sharp is one of them and they’re potentially better funded than all of their competitors combined. It doesn’t mean they’ll succeed, but it certainly gives them a running start!
Sharp went through some tough times and to an extent, they’re lucky they’re even here at all today. However, they made it through and they’re now in the best position they’ve ever been in. It’s an exciting time to be a Sharp dealer after lingering for so many years.
As print begins to decline to a point where dealers feel it, those who find opportunities in peripheral fields will be able to offset the loss. Sharp is doing everything they can do to make sure dealers have what they need to be here for the long haul. Whether it’s Smart Office or collaboration tools or White Boards (or computers or water coolers…) Sharp is certainly thinking outside the (copier) box to keep try to ensure they’ll be working with their dealers far into the future.
I appreciate being included in this event and commend Sharp on a job well done. Their dealers are excited and they have good reason to be.