Oki shifts its regional base to the UAE



Spotting Terry Laidlaw in a crowd was not difficult. The eastern region vice-president of Oki Printing Solutions was wearing a plain polo shirt with the company logo – four circles in blue, pink, yellow and black – printed on his right sleeve.

“Oki has this kind of a uniform, and we have them in different colours,” Laidlaw explained, while sipping his coffee in a café.

Laidlaw is now stationed in Dubai after the company moved its eastern region headquarters from London to the emirate on April 1.

Oki Printing Solutions, a subsidiary of Japan’s first telecommunications provider Oki Electric, has joined the bandwagon of multinational companies establishing their regional or main headquarters in the emirate, due to the tax-free and friendly business environment of Dubai.

But Laidlaw said the tax-free environment is not the driving force behind their decision. “Personally, yes it is good for me as there will be no tax. But company-wise the main reason is the strategic geographical location of Dubai,” he said. “For years I had been managing my countries of responsibility from the United Kingdom but it makes sense to have a direct presence in Dubai, which in addition to its strategic location is known for its good regulations.”

He said he is also looking to improve the operations of the company’s Jebel Ali warehouse and inventory holdings as well as enhance customer satisfaction in the Middle East by shortening the supply chain.

Another factor that made them decide to move their headquarters was the fact that most of the countries Laidlaw manages conduct business in the United States dollars. These regions include the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Turkey and the Subcontinent. “We used to be stationed in London, which is dominated by the European currencies, while most of the countries in these regions are dollar dominated,” he said.

“Establishing our presence here is a major challenge for us as the GCC is pegged to the dollar,” said Laidlaw, a former Xerox senior executive. “I cannot forecast anything with regard to the pegging or de-pegging because I am not an expert on that but this situation calls for us to really net a good growth.”

So far, the company, a market leader in the global colour printer market, has seen record growth in its Middle East regional operations. Oki’s Middle East, Indian and Asean markets have seen 58 per cent year-on-year growth since it established its direct Middle East presence in 2005.

However, Laidlaw expects lower growth this year. “I can say we are expecting at least 10 per cent growth for this year otherwise I would be disappointed,” he said.

“Last year, we saw a 58 per cent growth rate due to the relocation of our Middle East and North African office to Dubai in 2005. We cannot expect such dramatic growth, which runs higher than Dubai’s GDP growth, to continue for a long time.” Laidlaw’s presence in the country is, however, expected to boost the growth without clashing with the existing office currently managed by John Ross, general manager for Middle East, India and North Africa.

“Ross’ region is the Middle East and North Africa, while mine is the bigger region that includes, in addition to Mena, the former Soviet Union countries, Turkey and the Subcontinent,” he said.

One of his main aims is to penetrate the small- and medium-size business (SMB) market, while still catering to the corporates. “Since our core product line-up is in the range of $100 to $5,600, we do cater to the SMBs,” Laidlaw, who has been with Oki for 16 years, said.

“Also we are not yet as big as HP, which dominates the corporates, so focusing on SMBs will give us a short cycle business growth that will, in the long term, make big business growth.”

Oki’s strategy has been banked on the growing areas of colour printers, multi-function printers (MFP), which integrate print, scan, copy and fax functionality in one unit, monochrome printers, serial impact dot matrix (SIDM), which are popular for reliability and low cost per page and fax machines.

According to IDC figures, SMBs are driving the growth of the worldwide MFP market in the toner-based printer sector worth $60 billion (Dh220bn).

IDC said the growth of MFP units is particularly strong at the entry level, or small office or home office area of the market, where inkjet printers have traditionally dominated.

Oki does not offer inkjet technology as not only does the technology not fit with its strategy, but it is also nearing the end of its useable stage, Laidlaw said. “The inkjet technology will soon be phased out,” he added.

The inkjet printer market value in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has dropped by 24 per cent, IDC said. Figures also show users are overwhelmingly opting for entry level inkjet machines, with more than 80 per cent of inkjets sold in first quarter of 2007 priced below $100, compared to 74 per cent in first quarter of 2006.

The decline in the inkjet market comes at a time when the total Middle East regional printer market has seen rapid growth from $70.8m to $88.5m. Oki’s expertise in providing solutions for the SMB businesses is complemented by the growth in the Middle East’s SMB market, Ross added.

“Oki’s products have been targeting SMBs by encouraging them to go for the in-house printing option rather than outsourcing their printing needs,” Ross said.

“Our products are flexible, easy to use and are packed with a variety of bundled software applications that assist in managing colour, network, printer resources, and that make designing office documents as easy as possible.”

Laidlaw said: “If you are an SMB or SME and you need to print business cards or banners, then you can just buy one of these printers and print only those that you need. It is not only affordable, it also makes sense to print only those you need instead of printing hundreds but in the end just throwing some of them away as you have to change the phone number or address or title.”

Ross added: “Therefore SMBs are discovering that by purchasing a network capable Oki Printer or multi function product makes a great deal of sense over inkjet printers and provides better value than other office printers in the same class.” According to Ross, Oki has expanded its market share to take a number two slot in the Middle East A3 colour printer market. Worldwide, Oki occupies the No 2 position in the SIDM market.

“Our SIDM printer revenues in the Middle East have grown by a massive 115 per cent from calendar year 2006 to 2007,” he added.  “For the colour printing market, advanced technologies and applications allow Oki to bring to market fast and high quality printing solutions that benefit business not just today but long into the future. Our Digital Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology offers superior results, producing sharper, crisper text and graphics and is the only print imaging system that carries a manufacturer’s lifetime warranty.”