The Canadian MFP/Copier market is a mix of peaks and valleys, with some product categories soaring skywards and others at times falling precipitously. Although the market is by and large mature, it is constantly being reinvented. This is what keeps it healthy.

Evans Research Corporation tracks four MFP/Copier product categories: business MFPs, which include multifunction copiers and laser printers, business single function copiers, fax-based laser MFPs and flatbed SOHO laser MFPs.

Three of these four categories are of interest to the IT channel: SOHO MFPs, fax-based laser MFPs, and to a lesser extent, business MFPs. Single function copiers tend to be sold direct by the vendor, through copier dealers, or through specialty distributors like Ikon and the beleaguered Danka, which was bought by Pitney Bowes in July. Single function copiers have evolved into a niche product with negative growth, and there is little incentive for computer dealers and VARs to pursue this market.

The flatbed SOHO laser MFP is the brightest star in the document imaging universe, and the one most likely to ship through IT distribution. SOHO shipments grew by a whopping 68 per cent in 2004, and similar growth is expected this year and next. Unlike the heavily saturated business market, the SOHO market is relatively new and fresh. Vendors like Lexmark, with their popular X215, as well as Brother and Samsung, all targeted the SOHO space relatively early on, and are enjoying the fruits of their strategic foresight. The next hurdle for vendors will involve bringing colour capability to SOHO users, and Canon has a head start here. Canon’s new imageClass MF8170c, the first colour laser MFP with a SOHO price point, is setting an example which other vendors will be eager to follow.

The SOHO market is one, which the channel will want to capitalize on as long as possible. This may prove to be a challenge for smaller VARs, since vendors are starting to ship more and more SOHO product via mass merchandisers like Best Buy and Future Shop.

Fax technology has fallen somewhat out of favour at the hands of email, but by endowing the standalone fax machine with print, copy and scan capability, vendors have kept it alive. For companies that don’t have a fax server, the standalone fax machine is a necessary tool for sending signed documents like purchase orders and invoices- something email has never been good at. Fax-based MFPs have weathered negative growth over the last couple of years (shipments fell eight per cent in 2004), and only about one in ten go through IT distribution. Although many of these machines are functionally similar to their flatbed SOHO MFP brethren, they encompass higher price ranges and aren’t enjoying the same growth.

Business MFPs are currently experiencing strong growth (shipments rose by 27 per cent in 2004), and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Colour is a key driver in this market, and vendors who find ways to bring colour capability to market at lower prices will be rewarded handsomely. Xerox, a leader in research and development, is doing extremely well with its new C2424 solid ink colour MFP. Solid ink technology offers laser quality colour output at a very attractive price point. Right now, few business MFPs find their way into the channel, but these numbers should increase as prices continue to fall.

It is often said that the only constant is change, and nowhere is this more true than in the MFP/Copier market. Although the market seems mature on the surface, it is continually evolving and expanding into new areas. Its future growth will be directly linked to vendors’ creativity in applying new technologies to customer needs.

Ivar Kangur is a Senior Consultant with Evans Research Corporation. He can be reached at ikangur@evansresearch.com.

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