HP Inc has acquired print giant Apogee in a deal that values the channel firm at £380m.
Apogee has itself been on an acquisition spree since taking on private equity investment in 2016, but will now operate as an independent subsidiary of HP.
In his only interview with the UK press Enrique Lores, president of imaging and print at HP, said the deal has been made to bolster HP's offering in managed print services.
"This is part of our strategy to advance and make progress in the contractual office business," he said.
"For some time we have led the transactional business, and with the acquisition of Samsung's [print business] and a lot of investment we have been building our internal infrastructure and building out partner programmes to win in the contractual space.
"Apogee is the largest independent print provider in Europe and it is a very well-managed company… we were attracted to the capabilities that they have in the services and solutions space. They are a great platform for us to expand our business."
Lores stressed that Apogee will not be given preferential treatment over HP's other print partners.
He said the firm will continue to work with its other vendor partners, but that over time he expects "the majority of sales" to come from HP.
"It is a big complement to our current channel strategy," he claimed.
"We remain committed to growing our business through value-added resellers and this is a complement to this strategy.
"We think that it will help us grow faster and achieve more scale, and we really want to make sure channel partners know that this is not an alternative [to them]."
Apogee has itself made a number of acquisitions since it took on private equity investment from Equistone in 2016, in a deal which valued the firm at £185m.
A string of takeovers across Europe followed, perhaps most noticeably in the form of fellow UK-based print player Danwood.
Lores said that initially the newly acquired Apogee will focus on the UK - where 90 per cent of revenue is drawn from - but added that an increasing focus across Europe will follow.
He also said that over time, it is likely that Apogee will broaden its portfolio to hold other HP products, particularly around HP's device-as-a-service offering.
The Apogee leadership team is set to remain in place, with HP also putting plans in place to create a board of directors.
Compared with other areas of IT, the acquisition of partners by vendors has become relatively common in the print sector.
Over recent years Xerox, Sharp and Kyocera have all snapped up resellers from their partner ecosystem.
"In this space it has been fairly normal," Lores said.
"If we look at most of our competitors they have this dual strategy of owning a few resellers and working in an open way with the rest of the resellers.
"If we see an opportunity for Apogee to offer alternative solutions in the device-as-service space then we will do that, but the focus in the short term will remain in the printing space in the UK."
Despite the precedent, the acquisition will raise some eyebrows in the channel, and DTP boss Howard Hall said that HP needs to manage the situation carefully, with the news likely "coming as a shock" to partners.
He said HP has informed him that the acquired firm will not be overseen by HP's UK business, which he said will "be interesting for Apogee".
"I can see the logic but how it works out will need to be governed carefully, otherwise you'll see HP UK resellers getting very upset," he claimed. "But Apogee was up for sale, so if you're HP what do you do?
"We believe that Apogee has around 110,000 machines in the field [as managed print devices] and we believe that about 20 per cent of these are HP [devices].
"We think that Apogee was talking to other vendors that could have come in and taken those HP devices out over time, because the first port of call when you replace a device is with the preferred brand.
"It's a protective measure on one side for HP and a big opportunity on the other."
James Kight, CEO at £30m-plus reseller Printerland, added that he does not expect the market consolidation to end here.
"It is just the way it's going to go and it wouldn't surprise me if there is more consolidation among the vendors as well," he said.
"The problem for the really big firms is that it is hard to grow, and this is the easiest way to do it. In a market such as print it is probably the only way that they can diversify into profitable areas.
"It doesn't really bother us because we are flying with HP. We've had massive growth with them over the last five years and it has become ridiculously busy, so it doesn't worry me or surprise me."
Kight added that there is a tendency for some partners to panic when acquisitions of this nature are made, but said that the dynamic in the print space is different to other areas of IT.
"After the event they try to reassure you and say that it is not going to affect anything, and it never does," he explained.
"The Danwood acquisition [by Apogee] didn't make any difference to us whatsoever, so it doesn't worry me.
"I'm sure it would worry people in other areas, but it is a different model for us [in the print market]."
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