Sharp is expanding its AV portfolio to address new growth opportunities
Foxconn’s investment in Sharp Corporation almost two years ago has re-energised the company and given added impetus to its AV business, epitomised by its expanding product range and innovation in areas such as 8K technology.
At Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2018, held in Amsterdam in February, Sharp was showing its largest ever selection of flexible signage solutions, including two smart display ranges with System on Chip (SoC) or Mini OPS options (see page 22), and an expanded choice of third party signage applications from CityMeo, Easyscreen, Grassfish, Signagelive, Stino, Navori and Videro.
The previous month, at the Sharp Inspire 2018 channel event in Edinburgh, it was showing other display products integrated with on-premise and cloudbased applications and Sharp MFPs in complete solutions for the ‘smart office’.
These included the first 4K Big Pad interactive whiteboard, enabling more precise annotation; a smaller digital flipchart and stand; and a variety of Big Pads built into furniture to meet the needs of huddle rooms (Sharp Plug and Meet), small teams (the Collaboration Station) and primary school children (the Sharp Big Pad Interactive Table).
Another highlight was Sharp’s 8K Studio, which brings together an 8K camcorder and 8K display to capture and display life-like images in incredible detail. In China and Japan, where the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are due to be broadcast in 8K, Sharp has already launched 8K TVs.
While Inspire Expo 2018 was mainly targeted at MFP dealers, which Sharp is encouraging to diversify into other product areas as a way of developing new revenue streams and deeper, more strategic relationships with customers, its expanding product line-up is also attractive to AV resellers.
At Inspire Expo 2018, Technology Reseller caught up with Sid Stanley, General Manager Europe – Visual Solutions, to discuss developments in the company’s AV channel.
Technology Reseller (TR): Much of the focus at Inspire Expo 2018 is on MFP resellers, but Sharp also has a separate AV channel. How is that side of the business developing?
Sid Stanley (SS): AV distribution is where the volume is and where most customers buy their AV products. Our growth in this channel is in line with the market and in proportion with the new products we have brought out as a result of the Foxconn investment. We had a big wave of new products at the beginning of last year (2017), six to eight months into our relationship with Foxconn, and I expect to see a big step-change at the end of this year and in early 2019 as a new wave of products comes through.
TR: How has the Foxconn Investment benefited Sharp’s AV business?
SS: Sharp positions itself as a premium brand and for a long time, because of that and the fact that we had no money, we didn’t enter the volume categories where the numbers are generally great, but the profit margins are very slim. If you have a high-touch, well resourced sales operation, the numbers just don’t stack up.
What we were able to do very quickly with Foxconn is introduce a volume range (the PNQ range of large screen monitors). Because we had the right product at the right price, we instantly went from zero to 15% market share. Cost efficiencies from Foxconn meant margins were reasonable too.
At the same time, Foxconn said ‘Let’s be innovative and enter the emerging huddle space’, so we launched two huddle screens and that was 100% incremental business. The huddle concept is still emerging, but that’s an application we have decided to back and will continue to back as users adopt it. Neither of these things would have been possible prior to Foxconn.
TR: Has Foxconn helped in the development of future technologies like the 8K camera and display or is that the result of Sharp’s own capabilities?
SS: That’s 100% Foxconn. Which isn’t a comment on where the innovation comes from, but simply recognition that once you introduce fnancial stability to an organisation, it can start re-investing in R&D. You also become energised and move from defence and survival, which is where Sharp was prior to Foxconn, to attack and proactivity. You start seeing strategic intent and vision coming through, both in terms where you are heading and how you will get there with your products.
8K is classic leadership statement: ‘This is where we will be in the 2020s, but let’s become brilliant at it now while it’s an emerging technology’. There’s a big cost and we are not going to get our money back for a long time, but being a leader in 8K, I think, is the basis and foundation for a lot of future success. And it looks amazing.
TR: What proportion of Business Solutions revenue comes from AV?
SS: It’s still around 90% print. That’s more of a comment on how big the print side is, because the AV side has grown 150% since I started running it in 2014. That expansion is due to channel expansion – we now operate through three channels (direct, MFP dealer and Pro AV dealer) ; road-map expansion; and entering new categories.
TR: What are the main challenges facing Sharp on the AV side?
SS: We still have a lot of catching up to do from when we were on the defensive. There were many gaps in our portfolio and markets that we weren’t active in, which we are now redressing. Secondly, even if you have the budget and the ability to invest, you have to make the right decisions as you move from survival into proactive mode. We have to think hard about what we bring to market, what choices we make, what to prioritise. There’s still a lot to do there.
TR: And you are operating in a very crowded market.
SS: Yes. We have some very, very good and established competitors, but we feel there are opportunities in three key areas: education is still consuming whiteboards and displays at a huge rate across Europe; we are the market leader in the corporate meeting and boardroom space, because businesses want a higher quality product, and we will need to defend that position; and then there’s signage, which is probably half the addressable market and a new area for us.
We have started to introduce our first signage products and intend to offer real choice in that area. Not only have you got to build the right product at the right price and with the right features, but partners expect a solutions eco-system. We’ve now got all those fundamentals in place.
Probably our biggest challenge is balancing areas that are in decline with fast growing markets – balancing those different trends and ensuring we remain on a stable footing.