In today’s competitive office equipment market it’s vital to make the cost for repairs of equipment as low as possible to make it reasonable to fix vs. selling a new machine. Servicing a small to midsize machine is definitely more profitable then selling a new machine. Therefore, everybody is searching for parts and consumables that are high quality and sold at a low cost. Large manufactures are more interested in selling new machines with lower cartridge yields realizing that they will make their money selling consumables for the product vs. selling parts. If you try buying parts from most manufacturers you soon realize the parts, if available, cost half the value of the machine. In this article I will discuss the difference between the variety of parts and consumables that distributors are providing so when you decide to make a purchase you have a better understanding of what you are getting for your dollar.
Unlike with office equipment manufacturers, manufactures in other fields receive their profits when they sell new equipment or products and they see minimal future profits from that product; so the price stays pretty consistent and, really, there are only a few large manufactures making the product, which keeps the price relatively stable.
Office equipment manufactures have closely watched as consumable profits have sky rocketed for giants like HP. Major manufacturers that specialized in other electrical equipment are making the change to join this highly successful market. The market has become so flooded and competitive that manufacturers are practically selling equipment at a lost to insure that the other more profitable side of the business, consumables, will continue to increase.
I was servicing a machine the other day that I believed was a $1,500 to $2,000 machine. After checking the price on the main board and seeing that it listed at $650 I decided to find out what the machine sold for to present my customer with their options. What I found was that the machine sold for only $700 on the manufacturer’s website. Needless to say, I called into the manufacturer’s support to see if I could find a more cost effective solution only to have the tech support representative tell me straight up that the manufacturer sells this machine at a lost to compete in the market place. After seeing that cartridges, four used, sold at around $200 a piece it became obvious were the money was being made. At that point, my only option was to start searching for a refurbished board, which was available for $250 from a parts distributor. In the end, the machine wasn’t repaired but it was yet another example of the trend that is happening to all of us techs trying to repair office equipment. Frequently, the cost of the repair exceeds the perceived value of the machine and the repair is not made.
The demand is still there for parts and repairs. Actually, the demand has increased because service companies and users are searching for other, cheaper sources than the manufacturer for parts and consumables. Fusers, Preventive Maintenance Kits and feed rollers have become easy to replace and a lot come with instructions for installation. Service manuals are easily found on the Internet, and due to the lower cost of machines, end users have become more comfortable with trying to fix machines themselves. They figure at the point of being broke, what do they have to loose? If they can’t fix it they will buy a new machine. It’s not like in the old days where the machines cost a few thousand dollars and they didn’t want to cause further damage by trying to fix it themselves.
Parts and consumables vendors are popping up all over the place. Parts from manufacturers that once were impossible to find are becoming more available. The pricing continues to drop on parts as the competition increases and the quality of aftermarket parts is improving. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there really are no standards to which these companies are being held to. Everybody is telling you pretty much the same thing, “We are selling you the best quality product at the lowest cost. We tested it so we will show you our results. Read our comments from our satisfied customers.”
These classic phrases don’t always mean too much if you’re reading it on that company’s website. Week after week we get calls on imaging problems and feed problems related to inferior parts used in machines. There are a large number of companies selling a good product but it’s important to understand some key words before you start dealing with them and deciding to make a purchase.
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. Another keyword used a lot for this category is “genuine”. Pretty much this is top of the line. OEM parts and supplies come from the manufacturer who makes the product. They’ve been specifically tested and designed to allow your machine to run at peak performance with the least amount of failure. The upside is you know exactly what you’re paying for. The downside is, generally, these items cost the most. The key here is to shop around. Large parts distributors and/or authorized resellers and service providers usually are the best sources. Parts distributors buy in large quantities from the manufacturer, giving them significant price breaks and authorized service providers usually buy from these distributors at discounted prices. So, typically the larger the company the better the deal which, in the long run is good because these companies have reputations to keep and most likely policies and guidelines are set in place to make sure customer satisfaction is at its highest level.
Aftermarket or 3rd Party Parts and Consumables
Typically this means a new product but not made by the original equipment manufacturer. On some machines new parts from the manufacturer have now become obsolete, certain parts were never supplied, or the market is so great that parts were made to compete with the manufacturer. These are parts made to work in place of the OEM parts, at a lower cost, with hopefully close to the same quality.
Reconditioned and Refurbished
These are two terms that aren’t clear or consistent and depending on a company’s practices can actually mean very little with regards to quality. Reconditioning or refurbishing can range from taking a part out of a junk machine, putting it in a plastic bag, and shipping it out the door. Or from testing the part, replacing worn electrical components, replacing worn mechanical items like gears and rollers, updating firmware, re-testing the part, packing it into a static controlled bag, and leaving install and return tips inside the box to verify the equipment is handled right.
When considering reconditioned or refurbished parts, verify with your supplier what you will actually be getting. Do they do their own work? Do they rebuild using OEM parts? What kind of warranty do they have on their parts?
Compatible and Remanufactured
Mainly used to describe toners and drums but is also used to describe fusers. Pretty much these terms can mean all new parts but in most cases the majority of the items are new and the product has been rebuilt with quality in mind. Typically you get what you pay for. The better built products usually cost more because more parts are being replaced to make it as reliable as possible. Some companies have two versions: Remanufactured items with either OEM parts or with aftermarket parts. I typically go with OEM parts because at least you know that some of the parts used are the best quality items available so the success rate should be higher.
Understanding the True Cost of Non-Genuine
Consider, when using refurbished or aftermarket product, what happens if the part you get is DOA? Some of my customers are about two hours round trip from our store so it’s especially important to make sure a repair is done right the first time to avoid extra travel expenses and technician time. If an OEM part doesn’t cost too much more it could be in your best interest to sell an OEM part in these situations. With refurbished parts, in general, you’re going to get more defective parts right out of the box than with OEM parts. The main thing here is to inspect the first few parts you get in.
With fusers, check the film and pressure roller to see the quality of parts your vendor is using. Check for new gears, bushings, and a clean overall product. I’m pretty picky. I would say that I’ll find problems with about two out of ten fusers. Usually you’ll have the old unit, which you are replacing, to take parts out of. Most times the defects are quite simple to fix, like a broken exit guide on a 4200 fuser, and rather than calling in for a new replacement fuser, I typically just replace the broken guide with one from the old unit and move on to avoid a return visit and to save the customer’s impression of our company. Still if you do find defects, let your vendor know so they can resolve these issues. Again most companies are labeling their parts so they can go back and see when it was refurbished, who did it and what exactly was replaced.
[Editors Note: Failure rates of reman/refurb products are generally 5-10 times higher than with that of OEM products. Print quality, user satisfaction, and useful life are all reduced when non-genuine products are used. When calculating the true cost you must consider your customer, your technician, and your company’s reputation.]
Exchange or Outright
This just indicates whether or not a core needs to be returned. There is no difference in the parts. With the exchange you get an item at a reduced price because you return the old item that you are replacing to the supplier so they can restore it and resell it. Buying parts on exchange is environmentally friendly and helpful to others as you continue to provide low cost parts for customers in the future.
Who to buy from?
The key here is to check your sources. Google the supplier and see what other sources have to say about them and their product. Do they have a website? Is their website easy to navigate and is pricing right on the website? Are phone numbers and addresses easily found? If you call the place do you get someone right away? Are they easy to understand and have a clear knowledge of what they are selling? What are their return and warranty policies? Are they relatively close to you? How long will it take to get your product? Ask what the difference is between the different types of parts and how they are put together. If they do their own work and do a good job they typically don’t have a problem sharing this information with you. Do they have a service department and tech support? If they have techs then they have someone on their end complaining when parts don’t meet their expectations.
The biggest thing I can say is to start small. Don’t pick someone and decide to fill up your stock room with inventory. Use them for a few months to see how parts work, how billing is handled, and how replacements for defective parts are taken care of. If you have any doubt move on to the next provider and see what they can do.
It took me about six years to finally decide on a reliable, cost effective supplier for our HP parts. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. If you’re unsatisfied let them know and see what they do to resolve the issue.
I’m personally not a big fan of aftermarket or third party feed rollers. In the past I’ve had too many issues with them myself. Feed rollers provide a vital roll in the main operation of the machine. I’ve taken on several new customers who have been dissatisfied with their previous service provider based on the fact that they were installing poorly made aftermarket rollers, and cheaply refurbished, over priced fusers. So beware, aftermarket products can result in lost customers. A few extra dollars can go along way in your company’s reputation.
In the past I was always against third party toners but in recent years I’ve seen a drastic improvement in quality across the whole market place. As I said before, you typically get what you pay for. I typically go for something in the middle of the price range and stick with one or two brands that I can count on. I will say though that ink, color toners, and solid ink stick third party products are still far away from being close to the quality of OEM products. If you care about your machine, image quality, and avoiding unwanted service calls then avoid putting third party color products in your equipment.
Refurbished fusers, feed assemblies, and electrical components bought from some of the larger parts distributors are the best they ever have been. Many provide a 3 or 6 month warranty on their products. A few years ago most rebuilt fusers would not make it to their full 200,000 duty cycle. Now most are meeting or exceeding that count.
Parts like the HP P3005 main boards are being reconditioned and updated making them more reliable than the parts being manufactured by HP and at a lower cost.
The future looks promising for refurb and aftermarket parts. Just be cautious when trying out a new source. A little investigating will go along way. The nice thing that I’ve found is that a lot of the large distributors selling reconditioned parts are putting stickers on them for warranty purposes. I like them because it is easy to tell when servicing a machine that another company has serviced who they were buying their parts from and how well the part held up in that machine. It can tell you a lot about your competition and their company practices.
Buying aftermarket, refurbished, or remanufactured parts and consumables can be a risky venture. Having a great service team with skilled technicians, customer service, and quick response can only go so far. If the parts you install require repeated visits because of quality issues then everything you have done up to that point is a waste of time.
With a little research you can greatly improve your chances of supplying the best quality item to your customers. Try to find a company close to yours so getting in items doesn’t take more than a couple of days. Once you’ve settled on a company get to know their practices. That way, if a customer questions your pricing, you can point out the advantages of your product vs. some of the others available.
When dealing with reconditioned or aftermarket parts it’s typically best to avoid the cheapest product out there. If the supplier can’t inform you of how their product is refurbished or tested then move on to the next company. Start small. Avoid making large purchases without first testing a few items in the field.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight on the differences in parts and suppliers to help you know what questions to ask and what to look for before you make your purchases.
Kevin Gumpp is a certified printer technician and freelance writer for Market Point. If you have a question for Kevin regarding this topic or have any other printer repair related questions or topics you would like more information on, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.