German companies have long played a role in the U.S. reprographics industry, stretching back to the invention of Ozalid diazo paper in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1917. But a new generation of German companies has much more recently entered the U.S. market. These companies, including three equipment makers and a media supplier, are tapping the U.S. market just as it recovers from the recession.
What are these companies bringing to the States that allows them to succeed here?
“There is no doubt that German companies have had the reputation over the years to offer outstanding quality products,” notes Bob Heavey, principal of the Heavey Group in Springfield, Penn. “Just look around your house -- in your kitchen and if you are lucky, in your garage!”
Below are brief profiles of four German firms competing in the U.S. market in scanning, plotting, folding, and media.
Imaging Equipment: ROWE
Heavey’s firm is the U.S. distributor for ROWE, a manufacturer of a full range of wide-format printing, scanning, folding, and cutting equipment located in Niederdreisbach, a tiny town northwest of Frankfurt. ROWE, a 50-year-old manufacturer, has off-and-on sold its equipment in the U.S. but did not have a solid presence here for several years until signing with Heavey in December.
Heavey says the company is re-entering the market now because they are comfortable with the partnership with his firm and because they are launching a new wide-format scanner, the 450i, which the company feels will be a good fit for a large range of U.S. customers.
“One of our first dealers returned from ROWE Headquarters in Germany last week,” Heavey says. “I guess now we are official! Our second and third dealers are scheduled for training in June.”
Scanners: Image Access
Among the most successful recent German entrants to the market is Image Access, a manufacturer of large-format AEC and book scanners from Wuppertal, a small town in western Germany near Dusseldorf.
The company’s scanners compete primarily with equipment from Contex, a Danish company, which has had a strong U.S. presence for decades. Image Access has had dealers in the U.S. for several years, but just opened a U.S. subsidiary outside Chicago last October.
Image Access, which sells the WideTEK line of scanners, is privately held and is still run by its founder, Thomas Ingendoh. A network of 45 dealers covers the U.S. and Canada.
“We had a very profitable OEM business with Kodak for several years, which of course was negatively impacted by their recent bankruptcy,” notes Debra Ingendoh, Thomas’ wife and director of strategic business development for the company. “As a result, we had to refocus our efforts in the United States in 2012. Sales are growing but we are striving to double sales in the next two years. Our market share in the wide format business is unfortunately still not what it should be. In the planetary (book) scanner business, we are the market leader.”
Ingendoh reports that the U.S. market accounts for 22 to 25 percent of Image Access’ sales.
Media: Sihl Digital Imaging
Sihl, a major German media manufacturer, has competed in the U.S. market for more than 20 years, but is breathing new life into its U.S. coating facility in Rhode Island. (The Rhode Island plant was formerly Arkwright, which Sihl bought from Océ in 2008.) Sihl's headquarters is in Düren, a small town in western Germany near Cologne.
Heiner Kayser, managing director of Sihl, reports that the company is close to hiring a new sales manager, marketing manager, and other key personnel for the U.S. market. In addition, the company is seeking new logistics partners to improve its supply chain across the country. And the company plans to raise the profile of the Sihl brand, because many still remember Arkwright better.
“We had some problems, and we understand what we did wrong and are on the way to changes,” Kayser says.
The media veteran feels Sihl’s strength as a major media manufacturer will propel new growth in America. “At Sihl we represent the biggest selection of inkjet media worldwide. We are not the cheapest, but we are very good,” Kayser says. “We believe we can increase our revenue in the U.S. by 50 percent over the next five years.”
Another German company with a strong U.S. presence is Es-Te, which makes folding equipment. Rolling documents is much more popular than folding in the U.S., but the company does find clients among some utilities and manufacturers.
“The North American market (ES-TE as well as OEM products) is still not more than 6 percent of our overall output. Some years even less,” says Ralf Muehle, the company’s managing director. “But we see slow and steady growth.”
Es-Te, which is located in Berlin, entered the U.S. market in 2000 with an OEM product sold by Printfold, and decided to sell its own brand in the country starting in 2008. Its products are distributed here through PhD Imaging in Centennial, CO.
Relationship Extends to Associations
The growing German presence on the vendor side of the U.S. reprographics industry is matched by an expanding relationship on the association side. IRgA managing director Ed Avis attended the 100th birthday celebration of the German reprographic association, Motio: Wirtschaftsverband Kopie & Medientechnik EV in the fall, which marked the first IRgA presence at a German association event in several years. And Achim Carius, executive director of the German association, was a featured speaker at the ERA/IRgA convention in Baltimore in April, completing the exchange.
Considering the expanding vendor interest and association connections, it seems likely the U.S./German connection will continuing growing in coming years.