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Guest blog: Never look a gift horse in the mouth

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This blog post has been written by Midshire Senior Account Manager Martin Hill. Martin has 30 years experience in the industry and explains how times have changed since he first started.

If it looks too good to be true then it normally is! Nothing in this world is free.   

What have the quotes above got to do with Photocopiers I hear you ask?

For me to explain I need to take you on a personal journey of mine selling photocopiers in the Midlands and North West for the last 30 years.

As with most things in life selling photocopiers was never on my radar. I arrived at a small photocopier business, selling Sharp and Ricoh copiers in Stoke on Trent in 1984, and 30 years later I am still here in the industry.

I have, of course seen many changes in that time, many that now we take for granted: Auto Document Feeders, Auto Duplex, Auto Sort and Stapling Auto Booklet Making. All are now standard on modern copiers that Midshire Business Systems supply from both Sharp and Ricoh.

That’s one thing I should no longer say, Photocopiers – Copiers from now on it’s got to be Multi-Function Printer or Multi-Function Device.

In the last five years, development has changed the photocopier industry beyond recognition. 

Now we have full-colour multi-function printers that will scan documents at high speed that can connect to iPads, iPhones and tablets. Secure follow me print and paper management systems such as PaperCut, puts the customer in full control of managing print and print costs, by for example, diverting print jobs to the most cost effective printer on the customers’ network.

Then we have 3D printing, which is now becoming affordable for the small –medium business. From September 2014, 3D printing will be a must for schools and education design departments as it will be on the national curriculum.

We are also seeing the importance of connecting Multi-Function devices and printers directly to other technology, including the Sharp Big Pad, a 70-inch totally interactive screen, which is ideal for business presentations.

Traditional suppliers of photocopiers are therefore having to develop their business and employ not only fully manufacturer trained photocopier service engineers but to expand into IT and offer networking and solution engineers so they can service and support the modern office copier effectively.

So many things have changed in the last 30 years but one thing unfortunately as remained a constant, unethical photocopier salesmen and the scams they invent to make their proposal look that more attractive than the ethical proposal offered by the majority.

Once again, a classic example of the few who spoil it for the many.

Having arrived on my first day selling Ricoh and Sharp photocopiers for my new company.

So when I arrived and asked what I should do I was told:

‘You’re the salesman what do you expect to be doing?’

Prior to this I had only ever been in retail sales when customers came to you and handed over their cash for something they wanted or needed.

So what a shock my first few months selling (trying to sell) Ricoh and Sharp copiers in and around the Midlands and North West were. Armed with my photocopier site seller and a Sharp Z60 copier in my car boot, off I set full of youthful enthusiasm. How difficult could it be; I had a great product in the Sharp and Ricoh range of photocopiers. All I had to worry about was did they want to copy in black and white, did they need A3 and did they want to reduce and enlarge an optional extra in 1984.

When asked did we provide Facsimile machines I had to go back and ask.

No one in the office knew and so we asked the manufacturers. They believed it was a fad that would not catch on, something I had no difficulty in believing when they cost £5,000 each and if you did buy one who would you fax? No one else had one, not in the UK anyway. No these would never catch on, stick with the post and telex machines it was a safer bet.

Although I knocked hundreds of doors and found interest, even getting to demonstrate my Sharp and Ricoh copiers I always fell at the last fence. Three months later and no sales. I had contacted hundreds of businesses just as they had told me to on the training course. I had made appointments.

I had the correct number of calls to appointments to demonstrations but no sales. What was going wrong? I had great products, Ricoh and Sharp are market leaders in their field. I had leasing, I could rent a photocopier but could I make a sale – no!

Then one day I asked a lost customer:

‘Why, when you told me I had a great product in the Sharp, that I had done a great job, did you place your order with someone else?’

‘Because Martin, they offered me a deal.’

‘A deal, what’s a deal?’

I had offered a deal. They had the option to buy at a big discount off RRP. They had been given options to lease and rent their copier, surely that’s a deal? Unfortunately it appeared not. Here I was offering straight down the middle, no frills, no hidden extras contracts, when some of my competitors were offering everything but a straightforward deal.

Which brings me to: Never look a gift horse in the mouth…

…If it looks too good to be true then it normally is

Since that day in 1984 I have been amazed at the scams dreamt up by dishonest photocopier salesmen (now MFP salesmen) who would sacrifice their whole family to get one more copier deal.

I have been even more surprised by not only the customers who fell for these scams the first time around but continually fall for the copier salesman’s spiel and now have contracts on copiers that could clear third world debt forever.

How would a naive, honest salesman ever compete against this?

Some contracts appeared in the first instance to be considerably less than my £5 per week on the Sharp Z60. My £5 per week was for a maximum 60 month term while some of my competitors offered £4.75 per week but hidden among the small print was a 10% annual inflation clause and a minimum 72 months contract.

So in year six the customer was paying 60% more than the quoted £4.75 per week and what’s more they were paying it for at least 12 months longer than they believed. In some well documented cases 24 and 36 months longer.

And yes, 70 – 80% more than the quoted £4.75 per week.

I also found they were telling customers, why buy, lease or even enter into a contract on a copier when you can simply pay for the copies you use?

What they forgot to mention was that having offered the customer a nice round 30,000 free copies per quarter, even though they never exceeded 5,000 per quarter. The customer suddenly had to pay for every single copy, 30,000 for every quarter, and God forbid that the customer questioned or even wanted to cancel the contract.

Suddenly the contract that never was became a contract a 72-month minimum term and the free copier became a copier the customer had to pay for.

720,000 copies in advance to cancel on a machine they could have purchased for hundreds of pounds or leased for just £5 per week if they had not had their head turned by the OFFER of a FREE COPIER.

Then when things were tightened up and the maximum term a copier contract could run was 60 months what did some copier companies do? They gave away a copier with a telephone system or a whiteboard.

What their super slick salesman never told the customer was that a telephone system could be leased over 9 nine years. So suddenly customers and schools found having taken up the very attractive proposal they were stuck with a cheap phone system and an old copier. A free copier that had to do a job for not five years but 9 years. If they wanted to get out of the contract then there were tens of thousands of pounds to be settled.

Some organisations are unfortunately falling victim to unscrupulous dealers . This can be prevented by taking a look at our ‘Fair Guide’.

Which brings me to 2014. 

Full-colour multi-function products sales now account for more than 80% of UK copier – printer sales.

There is no hiding the fact that full colour copying is 10 times the cost of standard black and white copying. That’s the truth and one that should not be hidden, or disguised in any way, shape or form. It’s a fact of life. Just as a colour television licence is considerably more than a mono licence. If you want to watch your new HD 3D wide screen smart multi-channel TV in colour, then you need a colour licence. If not, stick with your 15 inch, 5 channel black and white set.

From now on, you will look a Gift Horse (certainly a Gift Copier –Multifunction Printer) in the mouth, and that if it appears too good to be true…

What should you be looking for?

A fixed reasonable market cost for your full colour copying, no matter if you lay down. You know where you are and what you need to budget for.

You don’t suddenly want full copier bills arriving for hundreds of pounds more than you had budgeted for because you used more than a postage stamp of coloured toner.

What is it that you should look for when considering the purchase of a MFP?

Look for a company that:

  • has been established for more than 20 years
  • is very financially sound
  • currently holds many local authority contracts supplying hundreds of local schools
  • is BSI Accredited Company ISO 9001
  • is BSI Accredited Company ISO 14001
  • has dedicated Customer Account Managers