Dealers--More Than Middle Men
"Customers are no longer buying a single-vendor solution; they're picking and choosing from a number of manufacturers and integrating them in an overall solution to satisfy their needs," Demharter says. "Distributors are in the ideal position to handle that, because our role of handling multiple manufacturers puts us in the position to sell one single source of supply from a multiple manufacturer configuration.
"The challenge it puts on the distributor is that we now have to support that configuration," he adds. "Not only do we need to provide the applications and expertise to configure it properly, we also have to go in and install the components and train the customer to support the equipment in the long term."
In order to accomplish that goal, distributors increasingly have employed applications support staff and brought in service technicians and service engineers. In the process, dealers provide a broad spectrum of solutions, from pre-sale technical support to installation, training and post-sale support.
FitzPatrick counts London Litho, The Tripp Co. and IS&E as among current leaders in digital workflow integration. He believes there could be more participants in this facet, but the market has not yet financially accounted for these services.
"There has simply been an inadequate amount of money in the industry to provide the service," he remarks. "In some ways, the customers have attempted to get these services on the cheap, and they've done this by asking for it free."
Whereas rebates are available on the purchase of volume supplies—either as a front- or back-ended check, or as a credit applied to the leasing of equipment—the payment for services for the knowledge base needed of a systems integrator has not been provided for as it has been in other industries, FitzPatrick contends.
"The printing industry, up to now, has not been paying for this," he says. "As a consequence, there's a real lack of knowledge to support the customer base in making the transition to digital imaging. Survey after survey that's been done on this reveals that customers are unhappy both with the manufacturers and the distributors. They don't feel like they're getting adequate support, partly because systems integration is inadequately financed and, in some cases, not financed at all. It's being paid for out of existing profits, or is being provided at a loss. Nothing works well when it's financed that way."