Yesterday’s Toothpicks Are Tomorrow’s Toners
This guest blog was contributed by Joe Shulman.
There are so many things today that we take for granted – air, water, cellphones, fax machines, the Internet and toothpicks.
“Toothpicks?” you ask.
The toothpick is among the simplest of manufactured things – a single part, a single material, a single purpose intended for which it is named. The story of the mass-produced toothpick is one of preparation, inspiration, invention, marketing, competition, success and failure. The story is also a paradigm for North American toner cartridge manufacturing.
Patented here in the 19th century, the toothpick has a history of exceeding as many as 25 million units made in the USA at one time in production. Then, a glut of companies rushed in to compete. Companies undersold each other to the point where the price of the toothpick could not meet its manufacturing costs. The toothpick industry had many of its largest companies reach out to many smaller companies and offer an outsource model so the smaller companies could focus on sales and promotions. That process failed, as the lack of U.S. competition allowed the largest of companies to begin to sacrifice quality over price, while the smaller companies decided to move their allegiance to an overseas model based on price alone.
That sounds a little like our toner industry’s history – actually, a lot like our toner industry’s direction today. Many dealers try to compete simply based on price, not on the value that the product presents. (After all, even a toothpick has value, so why wouldn’t a cartridge?) Over the past five years, how many companies have closed due to not being able to compete based on price alone?
We have all seen the merging of companies into the largest ones in our industry, and we were told this was good for our industry. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Our industry can do better, and we must if we are to survive in the long run. In the beginning, toothpicks were made from high-quality white birch (in the U.S.), whereas today, we get wood splinters packaged in a cheap bag that tells everyone the product is made in China.
Our industry started in garages, basements and back rooms. Then, companies started manufacturing in the U.S. to “improve quality” … only to have their dealer base begin to choose offshore products over theirs based on price alone.
Isn’t it time we all focus on performance of the product and work together to have our industry thrive in this economy?
Our focus should continue to be OEM conversion, increasing our market share in the $78 billion print industry, rather than trying to consolidate our market to a few. Let’s not go the way of the toothpick.
Joe Shulman is the senior vice president of Client Solution for ILG. Shulman has more than 20 years of experience in business development and operations in the aftermarket industry. He manages ILG’s operations, first-to-market product introduction and development, and facilitates ILG’s business directions. Shulman also oversees the ILG’s professional consultative sales team and provides business client solutions.
Posted on Jun 04, 2012