Cambridge-based ASL is one of 29 print-specialist resellers featured in CRN Essential's Meet the Specialists report (abbreviated version viewable here).
This Q&A, with ASL marketing director Nigel Allen is taken from that report.
How has COVID-19 changed the demand landscape for print, particularly given you sell and support office equipment?
NA: We are still installing kit into some of our customers - the food industry generally speaking is still going. But I'd be lying if I said the revenues haven't been affected. We have invested heavily in IT and unified comms to diversify our product portfolio and have focused on those quite a bit last couple of months, and although we've not won any huge bits of business it has helped things tick over.
Barclays' CEO recently intimated that big offices may become a thing of the past. Post-COVID, what will the typical office look like and how will that impact print specialists like you?
NA: I think he's right.
Particularly if you're looking at the main conurbations, I think people will be hesitant to go back into those offices, and I think those companies will have to change the way they work. Our portfolio of 7,000 SMB customers probably won't change as significantly, but we know people will still work from home.
Because managed print services are focused on the office, it is key that companies do not overlook the cost and security of home printing - and even potential fraud. Come 23 March when everyone shut down, PC World was probably very busy with very cheap printing devices going out the door. But people are paying four times per page more than in the office. For one or two people that's fine but suddenly, if you've got 200 people doing that, are they buying right? Are they monitoring what Doug is buying at home? Suddenly you're buying toner and selling it on eBay!
So there are things companies like ASL can do to help manage home printing - via centralised purchasing and having a unified product portfolio. If the home user has a printing problem, they can phone up and [we will] know exactly what they've got and the common problems.
Businesses like us need to adapt. Outside of what I said about investing in IT and UC, managed print businesses have to adapt, or they won't survive. If you took an estimate of the printing in the next 18 months getting back to 80 per cent - which is a pure guess - there's 20 per cent of revenue there to fill.
There will be more demand in the office for social distancing. So whereas for years people have been pushing [for cost reasons] to use one MFD in the office, people may now want more desktop devices, which are more expensive to run. There will be more demand for software and proximity cards to release your print, rather than touch devices. So there are some revenue opportunities and an opportunity for increased management of those devices, which hopefully ASL and others will be able to capitalise on.
ASL is a private equity-backed buy and build. Have you had to pause your M&A strategy?
NA: Our strategy is still the same. We are a buy-and-build strategy and, of course, our ability to buy has been affected in the short term. But, also, people may not be as willing to sell because if you look at their last six months trading it's not so great and the banks will look at it and say it's not worth that. So the timing may be affected.
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An important message from CRN about the eagerly awaited Channel Awards 2020
Have a look at the 34 categories available to enter, including six new one-off categories that acknowledge channel achievements during the Covid-19 Pandemic