At a recent training session at the MakerBot headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, I happen to sit next to Vincent Colaianni, the Director of Sales Development at TGI Office Automation, a leading office technology provider that has been in business over 50 years.
Vincent was there with a number of his sales representatives to learn more about the MakerBot solutions and how to sell them. As an experienced sales manager for over 25 years, he knew this product was going to be different from anything else in his bag of tricks. Learning more about them is one thing. Trying to sell them is a different story all together.
“It’s still a little early in the product life cycle for acceptance of this product with our customers. It is seen more as a novelty at this time,” Colaianni said. “Only a few customers have asked us about 3D printing and we are not involved in that many transactions as of yet. However, we have sold some printers and related supplies in the last few months.”
As a national provider of hardware, supplies, and services, one of TGI’s main focus is providing managed print services and document management solutions that revolve around copiers and 2D printers. Recording page counts and replenishment of ink and toner cartridges is a typical daily routine for the sales and support team at TGI, and at many other service providers nationwide.
Whenever a manufacturer came out with a new device, it was simply a matter of getting the supplies and parts in stock to support the device, getting trained on how to manage and repair the device, and tracking the usage for the customer. In the 3D world, things like number of copies or managed print services aren’t applicable and some dealers are struggling on how to approach the technology.
“Currently 3D printing seems more of an incentive to our customers and prospects then a viable product to offer on its own. Recently we placed a wide-format solution with a client and offered a 3D printer as part of the total package. The addition of this added functionality seems to have made the overall agreement more attractive,” Colaianni said. “Currently, the role of 3D printers appears to be a greater asset to us as an incentive rather than a stand-alone solution,” he continued.
TGI is patiently waiting to see if this market will mature into a viable business requirement of their customers and prospects. In the meantime, they are taking steps to explore this new technology. “The possibility exists that 3D printing will take off in the emerging markets that we serve. We decided to enter this market at this time as well as attend MakerBot training to get educated so we can offer the appropriate answers to problems our customers may need to address in the future.”
This sentiment is echoed by many of the legacy copier and print management dealers in the US. 3D printing is a new technology to most of them, and they are discovering that a little education on the product is necessary to be successful.
A recent, un-scientific survey of about a dozen computer products resellers in the Northeast confirmed that many are taking a “wait and see” approach to this new technology. They don’t know enough about it to invest now and many don’t see how it impacts them.
Will the legacy dealers and resellers of copiers and other printing solutions be the key to raising awareness and driving sales of 3D printers and supplies? No one is for sure. But if the projections on 3D sales over the next 3-5 years are correct, someone will benefit from the millions that will be spent. Perhaps it will be the dealer you buy your copier paper from.
Chris Carroll is the owner of TDF Industries LLC, a 3D printing consulting company that provides industry research and reseller training. Chris has twenty years of experience in the printing industry with Hewlett-Packard and holds a BS and MBA from Rutgers University.