Eric Hawkinson is the VP Marketing, Canon Solutions America, and in this, Over the Skype session we get a great insight not only about new products, but also how Canon and their people get input from the industry by visiting printing companies, and from the user-conference thINK Ahead. We also get an insight into how Canon position themself to a future after the corona – GREAT conversation, really fun.
As with all our ‘Over the Skype’ interviews, quality is limited to bandwidth, web-cams, and ability to literally LIVE mix the conversations. However, it works, and with Over the Skype, we will bring you more than 20 exciting people, and angles on the industry as it is right now.
Good evening or good morning. It depends a little bit on where in the world you are. This is Morten from Inkish TV and we are here, this is going to be my very last over the Skype session for at least some weeks because we have other projects that we’re working on. I am honored, very honored actually to talk to Eric Hawkinson who is working for Canon Solutions America. I always tell people where we are because we have been all around the world and this time we are in Florida and I’m jealous at you Eric. That is a nice place in the world. I like it a lot. Welcome to the show.
Hey, Morten, thanks for having me again. You said you’re honored. I’m the one that should be honored.
Well, okay, we don’t have to fight over that. I think that one thing that is actually kind of a little bit fun is that I’m out of Denmark. You are out of the US but you actually have actually told me before that you have relatives in Sweden, right?
We do. Yeah. This is way too long of a story, but my grandparents actually came from Sweden. They were lumberjacks and when they came over, they crossed the Atlantic ocean on boat, went through the St. Lawrence Seaway up to the Great Lakes and landed in the great state of Minnesota, which has a football team known as the Minnesota Vikings.
There is actually a lot of Swedish people in Minnesota. I know that because I was once in the airport in Minneapolis and then I was just stopped by somebody saying, “Are you Swedish?” I said, “No, I’m Danish.” “Oh, okay. Okay.”
What’s interesting about that is that they ended up becoming a lumberjack. They moved to Northern Wisconsin. In some ways I could say that the printing industry one way or the other through paper or otherwise has really been in my life well before I was born.
Well, and now you are with the Canon Solutions America. What is it you do there?
My title is vice president of marketing for all of PPS. The best way to describe that is that I cover both the go to market activities as well as the product marketing activities for the inkjet division. Canon is a large company. Again, we do a tremendous amount of work with copiers, large format, PPS specific is the production inkjet that focuses on your traditional transactional, direct mail, commercial print and publishing markets.
Cool. Do you get a chance in your position to get out and visit a lot of printers?
Oh my gosh. Yeah, that’s probably one of my biggest joys of my life. It’s one thing to go ahead and sit in an office and the another thing to actually meet with people and see what they’re doing. I’ve been in this industry for about 15 years and for me, to see where we’ve gone, even in my short tenure here is nothing short of amazing. The innovation that a lot of our customers and printers in general have toward their craft, toward their skillset and what they’re doing to drive communications to me is nothing short of amazing.
I think that you’ve been pretty fortunate because, hopefully also because of skills, but the fact that you’re working with a company like Canon, because I remember when I started working in the first printing company I used to work in. That was the first color printer ever made. That was actually a Canon printer. It was extremely slow and probably from today’s measures, extremely bad, but Canon has been like a fore runner in almost everything that is related to digital print and both in black and white and color. Right?
Yeah. Here’s what’s funny is that a lot of times we’ll go out and talk to people, new customers and they’ll say, “Where do you work?” I’ll say, “Canon”. They say, “Oh, the camera company.” I’m kind of quick to remind them that we’re actually doing more printing than ever before. If you take a look at the volume growth on the Canon side, printing is really a stalwart and it’s the bedrock of their company. It’s something that when I came on board I was very fortunate because there’s a values structure that exists that goes beyond just your typical, we’re the vendor, you’re the customer. There’s a collectivity and there’s something that they refer to as [Japanese 00:04:14] which is a Japanese word meaning the harmonious bringing together of people, environments, customers, et cetera, et cetera. That value system consists throughout everything we do. It’s something that, again, I’m very fortunate to be a part of
I think that I would like to talk to you in a moment about how it is to be in a Japanese company because I know that you are of course a 100% or not a 100%, but a truly American entity. I guess that you operate quite anonymous from that perspective. Let’s talk about that in a second, but the reason I was asking about if you get into all the printing companies and to your customers and maybe even prospects from time to time, is because with such a wide range of products that you offer, I know that you represent inkjet, but I guess that you basically have offerings for all sizes of printing companies, right?
Absolutely. Yeah. I think in whether it’s, we’re very unique in a sense that whether it’s continuous feed inkjet, which we led to the market with. If you’d take a look at the ColorStream, which is I believe 11 years old right now, there are more ColorStreams that are placed today throughout the world than any other inkjet device. It’s not even close. I mean, it’s massive. We’ve built upon that ColorStream platform with the ProStream most recently. The ProStream goes after high end commercial print, premium direct mail markets. We’ve had tremendous success and that’s on the continuous feed side. But altogether, if you just think about our industry, our industry has thousands of Kuchi boxes. Something that we introduced about seven years ago was the VPI series, which is a sheet feeding jet product, one of its kind was able to essentially print 900 sheets per hour and it revolutionized the market.
Just about a month ago, actually almost a month to the day, we announced the successor to that product called the VPiX series. Very similar in many senses, but it opens up new doors because it can do things like print on coated sheets. It could print 1200 DPI. Going out to customers and being able to share this level of portfolio, knowing that maybe they never used continuous feed, but they have enough volume to support it. Then getting them to embark on that it’s awe inspiring. Or seeing people that are saying, “How are we going to go ahead and compete?” Well, we have all these toner boxes and we’re going to convert into an IX series. For them be able to create different margins and opening doors for those customers for small business owners to me is, has been really amazing to be part of.
I like what you’re saying, but I have to teach you a little bit because I actually spoke to your European colleagues when you introduced the IX series both in Europe and in the US. [inaudible 00:07:07] your colleague in Europe, he promised me that we are the media in the world that had the first live footage of the IX series. I’m way beyond you in that part.
No, congratulations. You got the scoop as they say. That’s great.
I also did an [inaudible 00:07:23] on Inkish news about it. I have tried to study it a little bit and I also been in [inaudible 00:07:30] last year, so I saw the previous model and I’m a big fan of your technology, so don’t worry about that part. Eric, to be honest, I always kind of intrigued because when I talked to Americans, especially people that work in marketing, I get a little jealous because you have the English as your mother tongue and you express yourself so greatly. Here I have to translate every word before I can ask something and maybe sometimes it comes out stupid.
I was just wondering because your approach to my question was like kind of a product presentation speech, which is totally okay. But I was just wondering the reason why I was asking you is because you also have all the toner based devices you have. You have desktop printers in all sizes, so you have equipment that goes from the mom and dad shop to the largest corporations of America. I was just thinking that just the fact that you’re representing Canon as a print manufacturer and you have that total range of products that itself, you having a business card saying Canon, that must be something that opens a lot of doors for you.
Well, no question. Again, I do focus on inkjet because that is what we sell predominantly. If you take a look at our ColorStream, or I’m sorry, our imagePRESS C10000, from that category of equipment, there are more C10000s than any other device in the world. We have them, we even sell them in PPS where we’ve sold not dozens but hundreds of toner engines to one singular customer. It’s a hugely impactful piece of equipment for the simple reason that it could print on any stock, it can print tremendous, unbelievable color. It can really pop. For really small companies that imagePRESS has everything that they need and they could be successful as a result of it. I don’t mean to diminish that.
No, no, I know that. I just wanted to bridge that actually to the fact that when you introduce the IX series, you have a even higher density of callers. You are inventing new technologies to make the product even better in competition may be even with the Indigo’s in the market and all these kinds of things. That was what I was actually intending to lead into conversation that the market is developing and a lot of things with inkjet started like transactional and transpromo, but now we are into full fledged commercial print and the highest quality that you can imagine. That broadens the perspective of Canon also as a supplier in high volume print. Right?
No question. Again, just to kind of speak to your earlier point, being able to have Canon on a business card, the benefit is twofold. To the customer, they know that we bring quality. I mean Canon is known as one of the best brands throughout the world. That red logo is iconic. You see it at sporting events, you see it everywhere. But what’s nice from a customer standpoint, let’s say they’re not interested in country toner or inkjet, but they have a huge need for, in this day and age a sign, right? They have to have a sign that’s going to go in front of their building that says “We’re offering takeout.” It’s a restaurant. They’re trying to find ways to keep their businesses.
I can go ahead and connect them to our large format team, which uses a combination of whether it’s the Colorado, which is a UV gel technology or the Arizona, which is a really amazing piece of flatbed machinery. I like the ability to be able to open up those doors and bring people in because what print means to one person means something completely different to another. In many cases you work in one company that covers a wide swath of different opportunities and Canon, just by the nature of who we are and what we’ve been able to accomplish in our 80 plus years on this planet, we’ve been able to do a lot of good things for a lot of good people.
I know that. I think that was a good telling from your side. One more question I have is that when you go into the printing companies and you talk to the owners and the operators and all the people that you meet there, when you go to customers, is it also like your opportunity to investigate what are the needs for the future? And having some feedback from potential customers about the future so you can return to your desk and write an email to Mr. Cannon in Japan and say please make an IX 400 as well?
Yeah. Actually that’s a great question. Let me take it a step further. The feedback from our customers is constant. If you’re going to get me and my boss, Francis McMahon who runs the division in a room and we’re going to come out with what’s the future of printing, you are talking to the two wrong people. We have a really good idea, but it’s the printers who were on the ground who were actually saying, “Here’s what we’re seeing. Here’s things we have to deal with, with the United States postal service. How are you going to work around that?” What we do to kind of get a better sense of where they’re at is we actually bring together a digital printing advisory council. This advisory council, and I can’t share the names, I wish I could. There’s 13 people who come together six times over the course of two years and then we literally walked them through our entire product portfolio. More than that, we allow them to say, “Listen, what’s your pressing need?” Maybe other people in that room will go ahead and give some ideas.
We walk them through kind of what’s going to be happening with Think, which I know we’re going to talk about before too long. The purpose there, like I said, is that we’re getting from them, from the horse’s mouth as they say in the US what is being done-
In Denmark as well.
Yeah. What’s nice about that is in our advisory councils, we bring our factories. We’ve had people from Japan and the Netherlands and Germany who come and get to hear from our customers. These are some of the largest printers in the United States. Find out what they need to do, go back and have agile development to go ahead and create equipment that meets their needs. Again, this is going to sound like a Canon commercial and I apologize, but there’s a reason that for 10 straight years we’ve led the world in market share. It’s because we have this back and forth with our customers that it’s not just us dictating to them, “Here’s what you’re going to print and you’re going to like it.” No, no, no, no, no. “Tell us what you need. We’re going to build it and then we’re going to grow it together.” Again, the PPS division and under the leadership of Francis, we’ve grown this business tremendously for Canon and they’ve noticed and they’ve invested to get this world class technology in front of customers.
One of the reasons why I was trying to have that path around our conversation was, of course, you mentioned it yourself, that the Think Ahead conference that is now yesterday announced to move to a virtual conference due to the COVID-19. That is also an opportunity because that is like user conference where you can really share information among users and gather information and learn from the industry. I guess that from a Think Ahead perspective, when your advisory that you just spoke about is like the 13 printers and you said some of the largest printing companies in America, I think that just Think Ahead is all sizes of customers, right?
Is the idea with the conference like Think, is that like both doesn’t maybe sound right but both to push information and get information?
No, for sure. Right. Again, so the big thing with Think and again not to go into my history because no one really cares, but I started in the industry with user groups. We found that was something that was very important-
I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you have been with [inaudible 00:15:01] right? That was the HP community, right? Similar.
Yeah. Francis again, my boss, we founded it. It was created based on his idea and I just implemented it. Right. [crosstalk 00:15:13].
… that smiles again, right?
Yeah. By the way, there was a ton of other people that were involved. It wasn’t universally the reason for it, but I played a big role in it. Then when Francis came over here, he explained the role that inkjet has to play and he’s like, “One of the things we’re going to want to do is create a user community where people are taking this emerging technology and finding ways to make it work for them.” We created this user group five years ago. It’s had tremendous success. Last year we had well over 600 attendees, which for a market, which is way smaller than a toner market, I mean there’s only so many people that can actually afford inkjet equipment, it’s an amazing number. We have a customer run board of directors, which is led by Bob [Ratza 00:15:52], supported by some really incredible customers that come up with the content. It’s not Eric Hawkinson coming up with the content. It’s, you guys go ahead based on your customer’s needs. Then as a result, you’re going to have industry analysts lead these sessions and have other customers sit on it right now. They’re going to go ahead and have 30 sessions regardless. Then our benefit is, we want them to come to our customer experience center and I do want to share that we have a brand new customer experience center. We’re renaming it the customer innovation center, CIC.
That’s cool because, sorry to interrupt.
Yeah, go ahead.
It’s just because that was another reason why I was a little disappointed that it becomes virtual. Because Tonya also told me that you got like this new experience that I’m not part of the fun. That is unfair.
You will be part of the fund in the future, I promise you. We’re in the process of moving buildings. We grew out of our old building and we wanted to have a space that had equipment laid out like our customers. Big, wide open spaces, not kind of pushing things in, didn’t make sense. As we speak today, they’re building it and it’s going to be ready to be occupied the second we can occupy it within about three weeks. We’re going to have this. Through the virtual event, it’s going to get the best of both worlds. We’re going to have the sessions and they’re going to be simulive, meaning the people who are delivering the sessions are going to do it live. They’ll be able to answer questions from around the world for what it’s worth, which I think is fascinating.
We anticipate to have over 50. There will still be a keynote session. We don’t have the keynote speaker yet, but we will have one. We will have our executives from Point who we’re going to talk about our product portfolio, a lot of which I discussed, but then there’s going to be some additional surprises. They’re going to go ahead and present from Germany. Francis will be presenting from the US. Then on top of that we’re going to have the virtual fair where all our partners, some of the largest in the world, we’ll be able to face to face conversations the same way that I am, but from their houses or from wherever their place of employment with customers. The way that I would ask you to think about this and just to know why we made the decision. You and I talked before we started, we’re about three weeks after Europe, right? It’s unrealistic for us-
You’re right because we need to be serious because health first, right?
I think we spoke about that as well, is that when you are in a position like the world is in right now, a lot of people may not even be willing to take the risk of traveling. Regardless if you did it right, maybe no people would come anyway.
That’s exactly the point. We talked to our board of directors and we said, “What do you want to do?” They said, “Well, it’s too important not to have the event because there are a lot of printers out there that over the last two months they’re not pulling a profit.” They’ve got to find ways to make money and the ideas and the innovation, that’s what os going to drive their profitability in the future. They wanted to have it. We just happened to have a tremendous solution that I can’t wait for you to experience. We think ultimately it’s the right thing by the customers. We’re going to send our teams out to customer sites and facilitate this.
The best thing about it, and I’ll leave it at this, is that rather than having one or two people come down to Boca, you’re going to be able to get 10 to 20 people who participate and sessions that are great for sales, the salespeople can go to and they don’t have to spend all day. They don’t have to spend all their time. The operations people can go to operations and we think that we’ll get well over 1,000 people, which if you think about where we were in the last one, that’s going to almost double our attendance.
It’s nothing that we want to do. We are very much pro face to face. 2021 you will be coming back to Boca Raton. I promise you that. But at this time, day and age, we just felt this is the safest thing and the best thing to do for our customers.
Yeah. The one question that of course pops to mind when you’re explaining things is that seems that you are doing what you can to make a virtual event that will actually be both engaging and interactive and very well executed. That is,, of course interesting. Doesn’t that also to some extent in Canon, you’re a marketing person. Does that also kind of question the value of a physical trade shows and user events in the future? Because basically if you have the setup for this one you can essentially do as many as you like, right?
We could. Right. I think you make a great point. I think this can be a component in the future. The nice thing about us is that we work daily with our European colleagues. I work with my Japanese colleagues. It’s not easy for them to get on a plane to come down to Boca to listen to 50 Americans talk. It might also not be completely relevant. Some might be, some might not be. We will fully have a face to face event because there’s nothing like talking to someone face to face. I know shaking hands seems like something that’s totally unrealistic right now. Hopefully that will come back. We’re going to want people to take a look on our show floor and say, “Here’s what that IX series can do for you. Here’s some of the things that we’ve done to improve our already award winning list of equipment.” We think that will happen. But if anything, this virtual trade show, we’re kind of the first to the market with it. We’re going to go ahead and show why you want to partner with Canon because we do things like this in times of great need. We’re going to be able to give you the things that you need to find ways to grow your business. That’s something that we’re committed to and I think it’s going to be a tremendous first event.
Another reason why I’m asking is because during all these sessions we have done over the Skype, we have talked to quite a few industry leaders, both in Europe and the US and to be honest, some of the people I’ve talked to are maybe questioning a little bit the business model where you develop around a trade show rather than an event is built around when you have something ready to the market. I think that may be you’d end up having a better competitive situation and more diverse market because people will release products when they are ready and where they could see a market opportunity rather than there’s a [inaudible 00:21:53] or a whatever trade show you want to attend.
Here’s the tough part. Again, not to give away any secrets, but trade shows are expensive. They’re really expensive. When you have to do them, there’s things that puts you behind the eight ball. Someone who runs a pretty large marketing department and has a big marketing budget, we have to choose very wisely. What we do probably more, well I wouldn’t say any more or any less than anybody else, but we look at the return on investment and we come back and say, “Does this make sense?” Think is one of those things that you can’t place a value on it for us because in many ways these people are learning from other customers to drive their volume. At the end of the day we want to find ways to get volume on these machines. It’s going to help them employ more people. It’s going to help them get better accounts. It’s going to make them better businessmen and women.
But it also makes a loyalty commitment. I think that one of the things I’ve learned from both Canon Europe and from Canon US, especially in the relationship we started building at Printer United last year is the fact that the customers that we have talked to from Canon, you have a very, very high rating from them. At least the ones we have been talking to see you are way more a partner compared to just as a supplier. I think that also user conferences, I know people pay money to go there of course, but I guess you still invest a lot of money in making sure that an event like that can take place and give back to your community.
Yeah. There has to be a return on that investment. Again, we invest a lot into Think but it’s paid huge dividends in the form of customer testimonials saying, “You guys opened doors to me with other customers that I could’ve never gotten, had I not been able to meet them at Think.” It’s our job to be good corporate citizens, to bring people in that same area, whether it’s virtual or whether it’s face to face and get them having those conversations so that they’re going to push their business forward. That’s something that we’re committed to. I’ll share one last thing with you, and again, it’s not Think related but one of the things we’re doing right now is we’ve got a professional services organization that’s created a program called Project 360 where we’re going out to review customer’s volume and how can you make more money on it. We know, especially in these times when their profit stricken, there are people who it’s been a struggle. What are you going to do over the last six months of this calendar year to go ahead and turn a profit? We’ve got teams of people that are going out there to do it. I know it’s not unique to us. We just happen to have a flow. We’ve got a design and we’re executing it, I think better than anybody in the industry.
I tend to agree. I don’t know all of the activities in the US but I know that the people I know about that knows about Canon always rate your very highest. When we look at the market, of course the Corona crisis is influencing everybody a lot right now. What is your perspective on the market? How will it look when this hopefully soon is getting more to normal times?
You’re putting me on the spot. I think whenever you have times of tragedy, and I don’t think there’s another way to describe this, this has been very sad time in our era. In my lifetime and your lifetime.
It’s the people who are innovative and who can come up with better ways of doing things that end up getting stronger. You have to look back to what in the US they referred to as the great recession and all the companies that were born out of that very desperate time here in the States dealing with the housing crisis among other things. We’re hearing from a lot of customers, they’re using this as an opportunity to acquire companies. They’re looking to find ways to get stronger so that coming out of it, they’re going to have a wider array of tools that actually they can go ahead and have at their disposal. Maybe that’s adding large format, maybe that’s adding inkjet. There’s opportunities. I have no doubt, and I hate to say this, but this will come to, some companies will close up. It’s going to happen. I think what people have to do is evaluate now and what do I need to do to be competitive and whether that is an acquisition or otherwise.
Yeah. But that also, of course, have to put a question that you may not want to answer, but I ask it anyway.
I think that it seems that Canon is in a very strong position in the market both when it comes to the technologies that you can deliver, but also from the fact that seems that some of your colleagues in the industry are less strong in the market right now. I think it’s also an opportunity for you to see if you can gain even more and more market shares in the market because this uncertainty also from the vendors. One thing is that we talk about merchants and acquisitions and closures of some of the printing companies and the print service providers, but that I guess to some extent also relates to some of the vendors, right?
Yeah. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. What I would ask any potential customers or even our existing customers is look at what we’re delivering for you. Whether that’s a very wide portfolio, whether it’s the programs or the tools that we’re providing, whether that’s the access to the executive team or the leadership team. I stand by behind the fact that Canon is out to advance printers across the world. That’s something that we want to do because it’s in our nature, it’s in our business. What I said at the beginning is just as true right now. [Japanese 00:27:37] is something that drives our business and let’s be honest, if there’s no printers we’re going to lose. I won’t be talking to you if there are not any printers. For us we have to find ways to drive value and if people are going to go look at who to talk to, start there. What will they do for me? How will they advance my business objectives? I’m pretty confident to say they can and will check all those boxes.
I’m totally sure that you’re right at that part as well. Eric, to be honest, I think it’s been wonderful talking to you-
… now we spend half an hour in elaborating a little bit on a lot of different issues, which I found very interesting. I want to thank you very much for spending some time with Inkish over the Skype and I hope to see you soon in person. That would be awesome. I’m going to talk to Tonya next week about the actual conference, so I will get an update from that side as well. I look forward to that and once more saying thank you very much for your time here.
Yeah, thank you. It’s been a great honor. Let’s hang out in Boca Raton next year.