A new vendor entering the mature copier market is about as rare as Halley's Comet. Only instead of 75 years, we just had to wait one year for Samsung's first internally developed A3 MFP to orbit over North America. Although the U.S. launch of Samsung's first A3 line does not come as much of a surprise, the industry should brace for impact, as the Korean consumer-electronics giant's entrance could be significant.

Up until now, Samsung has carved out a notable presence in the A4 printer space with a respectable line of SOHO-oriented laser printers, strong OEM engine supply relationships, and a fleet of well-liked enterprise-class A4 MFPs. However, with its previous printing portfolio, Samsung was unable to truly support a single line dealer or meet the requirements of most major enterprises or MPS deals, forcing the vendor to accept its role as a supplemental printing solutions provider targeting primarily SMB accounts. It has also become increasingly clear in recent years that copier manufacturers are no longer interested in letting A4 vendors such as Samsung "supplement" their lines, as each major A3 player has either expanded, launched, or is planning its own enterprise A4 products. While the addition of four low-to-mid volume A3s does not immediately change Samsung's enterprise printing market positioning, especially given its current channel reach of roughly 150 dealers, this launch is a step in the right direction towards the vendor becoming a full-line provider and bolsters its wider-reaching goal of becoming the world's leading IT manufacturer.

However, Samsung's new A3 line does face its challenges, as the vendor has achieved much of its enterprise printing success by exploiting the A4 holes in most copier vendors' lineups. Most of Samsung's current channel partners already carry at least one far more established copier brand in addition to their current Samsung A4 MFPs, and a large number of these dealers would likely be hesitant to add a second or third A3 brand without notable product-based differentiators, assurance of the models' reliability, and attractive margin incentives.

With that in mind, Samsung adopted an overwhelmingly dealer-friendly message in statements surrounding its new A3 line:

• Samsung emphasized that, unlike most competing copier vendors, it does not sell directly and therefore will always serve its dealers in a support role, rather than as a competitor.

• The vendor highlighted the oversaturation of existing copier brands in some markets, suggesting that its new A3 models could at the very least provide its dealer partners with brand-based differentiation.

• Samsung addressed the models' profitability, suggesting that the new A3s are easy to maintain and install, come with a dealer-friendly 36-month warranty for parts, and will be supported with special pricing when sold into major accounts.
Each of these claims were made at the Samsung dealer meetings that preceded the A3 line's launch and should be viewed in the same objective light as any dealer meeting statements. However, Samsung is certainly correct in addressing the discontent that many dealers feel regarding their adversarial relationship with their own suppliers' sales forces. The vendor is also wise to reinforce the new line's ease of maintenance qualities and overall profitability, which once proven, will be the key influencers in the line's adoption by Samsung's current A4 resellers and the wider independent dealer channel.

But the question remains: How will Samsung's A3 MFPs affect the copier market?

Given the new line's channel challenges, in addition to the overarching theme of falling page volumes and (ironically) the buzz surrounding a shift from A3s to A4s, Samsung surely maintains realistic expectations for the new line's first year on the market. Samsung's market share in the above-$1,000 MFP segments has grown in recent years, but remains in the very low single digits, and it's unlikely that the new A3s will significantly affect that figure right away. However, it is clear that the new A3 MFPs hold both financial and strategic significance for Samsung and the vendor has certainly proven doubters wrong in the past when it successfully entered new and perceivably mature consumer electronics and IT markets. With that, much of the next year will likely be devoted to building the A3 line's distribution and reputation across Samsung's current office machine dealer partners in hopes of expanding its dealer network, market share, and possibly its A3 portfolio in the years to come.

While many details regarding Samsung's premier A3 MFP line are still unavailable, information regarding the new models' capabilities, in addition to the emphasis that Samsung is placing behind their launch, suggests that the new copiers' impact could be significant. Although the most immediate change will likely be felt on a micro scale, as the models capture sales that would have gone to their dealer partners' other A3 brands as well competing dealers' copier brands, the line's possible success would likely have much more far-reaching consequences, as it would elevate Samsung's role and capabilities in the office printing space and likely lead to continued investments and expansion from the emboldened vendor.

Jake Fishman is a senior market analyst for Gap Intelligence, a San Diego-based independent technology research firm with emphasis in helping product manufacturers and resellers understand current market trends in order to respond to customer demands as they occur. He can be reached at Jfishman@gapintelligence.com.

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