Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thoughts from the ELFA

I recently read an ELFA presentation (Equipment Leasing and Finance Association) titled, “As the drum turns….The World of used Copiers.” Can you picture 300 – 400 leasing company representatives in a large room listening to this stimulating presentation? The world of used copiers—where was I for this one!

IDC’s research was referenced throughout the presentation—and along with InfoTrends and Gartner—I consider IDC a reputable research firm. Clearly the point of the presentation was to highlight changes in the used copier space. That aspect of the presentation was eye opening for me simply from the perspective that used color MFDs from the same vintage as mono MFDs actually sell for less on the used market.

The presentation had numerous examples but I’ll simply take one that is representative: A Canon iR5570 with a list price of $17,100 had a “remarketer sale price” of $1,350, or 8% of the original equipment price (OEP) and a Canon iRC5870U, with a list price of $19,100 had a remarketer sale price of $300, 2% of OEP. With the lower lease approval rate driving increased rental of lease end devices I assume the remarketer sale price will continue to decrease, forcing leasing rates higher since residual value is part of the equation to determine lease rate.

Increasing lease rates won’t be any fun for those companies that still rely 100% on the “bigger better faster same price” model of moving your year on year aftermarket price increases over to the funding side of the lease to sell a new box and take care of the buyout, reducing your aftermarket revenue and generating a commission for a rep. But for those companies that still work on this zero sum game the good news is that according to IDC, as reported by the ELFA in this presentation, average unit sales prices (AUSP) have dropped precipitously. That drop will allow you to continue to fund the buyout of the swap and maintain the “bigger better faster new price” suicide march [not the point of this post but think about it….you are selling a MFD at a lower price than you did four years earlier, reducing the aftermarket rate to below what the current placement started at four years earlier (and far below the current rate with three years of compounded increases) and probably paying your sales rep the same amount as you did four years ago to place the other unit since it probably has about the same amount of “GP” in the deal….how’s that work financially?).

Just how big is that AUSP decrease? Let’s first talk about mono-connected boxes and use the seven year look that ELFA used in their analysis; this is an absolute seven year decrease and not a compounded annual decrease—in other words, it is the decrease from seven years back until 2009. Segment 2 (43%), segment 3 (30%), segment 4 (24%), segment 5 (27%) and segment 6 (12%). Even scarier was color, using the same methodology, segment 1 (49%), segment 2 (54%), segment 3 (55%), segment 4 (25%) and segment 5 (61%).

Strategy Development has spoken about using environmental information in your planning and in previous posts on this blog we have already highlighted some of the year on year unit placement decreases. Now you have information on unit placement decreases, there is indication that lease rates will rise (interest rates can’t stay at zero forever and used equipment pricing isn’t holding), and AUSP is decreasing. Juxtapose those issues against more and more non-contract devices moving to contracts (MPS) and your ability to reduce your general and administrative expense and increase your service margins and you have some great environmental issues on which to build a solid business plan.

We will be running our BTA Business Planning Workshop in October in the Miami area—hope to see you there so that you can seize the future!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are You Maximizing Your Business Potential?

Greece’s fiscal crisis is a clear indication that the global economy is not totally out of the woods. The “Great Recession” came in with a roar after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September, 2008, and by most economists and Government accounts ended in the second half of 2009. Today, the US appears to be experiencing some level of recovery in almost all sectors, albeit against week comparables from last year.

Strategy Development’s copier company clients are experiencing year on year equipment growth and year on year click growth, although against weak comparables from last year in the copier segment. The big question is sustainability—does the short-term growth result in a sustained growth run.

Unfortunately, many companies react based on what is occurring today rather than on sound planning. If business is down—throw some bodies at the problem and when that doesn’t work, and you’ve needlessly drained cash—take an ax to expenses. If business is going well don’t take the time to understand “why” simply enjoy the ride. Yet history demonstrates that without planning and innovation the good times end and the bad times usually get even uglier.

I would suggest that now is not the time to be euphoric about your growth against weak comparables. Enjoy the additional revenue, operating income, and cash flow, but take the time with your senior team to understand where the industry is headed and how your business can properly invest today to be a leader tomorrow. Moreover, don’t assume that “better” is “best,” look for areas to increase revenue, improve gross profit, and reduce general and administrative expense (G&A).

Those of you that have heard me speak on business planning know that I use a concept of “air cover,” where I look for short-term gains in high leverage areas to provide me the investment dollars to grow the business. Service and back office operations were always two of the areas I looked to leverage. Both back office operations and service are quasi production environments. Without deep understanding of these areas of the business it is difficult to maximize gross profit and minimize G&A; yet they usually provide the greatest opportunity to provide the “air cover” you need to invest in growth.

MPS adds complexity to back office operations and service because many aspects of the MPS agreement are foreign to employees of a copier company. E.g., there were 100 devices on the initial assessment, 104 at the first quarterly read—plus three totally different from the initial assessment—then on the second quarterly read there are 103 devices, two reappeared from the initial assessment, and two others are different from the prior reads. And oh yea, the rep added four devices, changed the minimum and CPP rate, and extended the lease out six more months! Service has to deal with five different vendors and 18 different models.

Let’s say service represents 40% of your revenue and with the correct processes you can improve margins by 5%: That added 2% to your bottom line. Let’s assume you are in the 19% - 22% G&A range of most dealers and with the correct back office processes you can reduce that by 2%. You now have 4% operating income improvement to invest in sales. Isn’t that a lot more logical than hoping the new sales employees can outrun their expense? After all that expense coverage from sales never happens but by taking the “air cover model” you now you have money to invest in growth without feeling the severe pinch of cash flow.

Unless you have a team of analyst to run off and research back office operations and service—or you want to go down the trial and error route—you’ll need help. Fortunately for you Mike Woodard, service consultant and Jim Boulden operations consultant from Strategy Development have the experience to help you get your air cover. Every dealer engagement Mike and Jim have entered has had a three to four month payback period with ongoing savings that could be invested in growth. These two guys provide you the air cover!

If you are nervous about entering a consulting engagement enroll your team members in one of the classes they put on through BTA: MPS Operations and Service or Service Management University (SMU). Jim also instructs, along with Ed Carroll and me, BTA’s business planning workshop.

What about MPS? Where do you think you’re going to make those investments! Our MPS clients also experienced year on year click decreases on a comparable basis (same customers) during the recession (keep in perspective we’ve been consulting in MPS since early 2006); but they experience substantial overall growth because they were continuously adding new customers. How is your MPS program going—honestly? I add that qualifier realizing that it is hard to be honest when everybody you speak to says they have an MPS program, and at least in public, tell you it is going “GREAT.”

Strategy Development consults for the most successful MPS providers in the country so we know what great looks like. You want the first indication that “GREAT” may not be that good? When you are quoted a quantity of prints they manage (our start-up MPS clients did that until the figure was bigger than McDonald’s hamburgers sold). Let’s be realistic here: That “3,000,000 print” contract actually means 50,000 prints per month or $750 per month (most companies use 5 years as the multiplier even if the contract is for 3). And “we’re managing 60,000,000 prints” means they manage (maybe) 1,000,000 prints per month or $20,000 per month: Decent revenue for one rep 12 months into the MPS business.

What is good? Hyper growth to simplify the answer but here’s a quick financial look. After 12 months—from dead start—a good MPS specialist will be managing $24,500 in monthly recurring aftermarket revenue. After two years that same single rep will be managing $64,500 in monthly recurring revenue and will have sold $360,000 in equipment the second year; in other words your single rep will be a $1 million plus business by the end of year two. Use these figures to really get successful in the space! If you want to realize these results attend BTA’s Managed Print Services Workshop or download licenses from InfoTrends MPS Sales eLearning workshop through the BTA website (at a discount to members) or directly from InfoTrends.

What about copiers? According to the research firms you will continue to see year on year unit decreases. That doesn’t mean you cannot grow; you will need to increase your market share with better programs or processes than your competitors. Attend our BTA Sales Management program, or if you are a KMBS dealer the KMBS Sales Management Workshop, subsidized by KMBS and instructed by Strategy Development.

Finally, to tie it all together BTA has the Business Planning Workshop.

You probably see a theme here in that Strategy Development and the BTA have a training program for every ailment. Believe me SD didn’t invent the ailments we simply developed training programs to help dealers/resellers overcome the issue they face. We are in the business of helping you achieve success. Primarily, Strategy Development accomplishes that through our consulting engagements but the seven of us cannot possibly think we can touch all 2,500+ dealers with our consulting. BTA is also focused on helping the dealer community achieve success and we choose each other as partners to help dealers thrive.

Things are good now because most companies have very easy comparables from last year but don’t take long-term success for granted. Whether or not you work with Strategy Development, take the time to put together a business plan and take into consideration the environmental issues affecting the industry.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Should You Acquire Companies To Grow

There is a common belief that acquisitions are the sure fire method to growth: Are they? You first need to analyze logical reasons to acquire another company:

To enter a new geography: You want to expand geographically and your analysis demonstrates that acquiring a company will provide a faster return on investment (ROI) than a start-up operation

To gain new customers for your offering: You are in the copier business and believe that if you buy a company in an adjacent space you will be able to continue to sell them the products or services of the company you acquire as well as gain their copier business.

To expand your portfolio: This is the opposite of the gaining new customers for your offering in that you buy a company with the expectation that you will be able to sell their products or services into your accounts.

Selling into the acquired customer base and selling the acquired technology into your customer base are the most common and logical reasons to buy companies. You see this all of the time in the tech world, with examples including HP’s acquisition of EDS, Google’s acquisition of Double Click and AdMob, and Oracle’s dozens and Cisco’s hundreds of acquisitions.

The most common acquisition in the copier space today is undertaken with the goal of acquiring to gain base. At one point, when unit sales were increasing year over year that made a lot of sense— but does it today? If your only goal is to replace the MIF—and you aren’t a manufacturer so you aren’t gaining any economies of scale at the factory—I think it is difficult to justify. You are paying for 1,000 units of MIF to hopefully, and it is a risky assumption today, to sell 1,000 units over the next (four) years.

Price always matters, but in a declining year over year space price is paramount. If you buy a MIF of 1,000 units today you can almost bet it will be 800 in two or three years so make certain you take that into consideration when calculating out the value of the base you are buying. Don’t overpay or your payback period may stretch into a decade, which would be an unacceptable ROI.

If there is a small but competent MPS company in your area they may make for a good acquisition so you can bring their expertise into your copier base, assuming you have the correct type of companies in your base. If you are an MPS company you may consider acquiring a copier company that has the proper mix of customers. For an MPS company acquiring a managed services company for their expertise in the desktop IT space and remote monitoring and resolution is also a consideration.

The bottom line—acquisitions may be a great growth strategy for your company. Like all major business decisions give it careful consideration before jumping in.