Don't Forget About Thermal Transfer Ribbons
Wax/resin and resin thermal transfer ribbons may be able to open doors for VARs seeking new markets with high margins.
As an AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) VAR, how do you view thermal transfer ribbons for bar code printers? Are they just another consumable item that provides you with an ongoing revenue stream, like labels? Or, do you view them as a catalyst for finding new bar coding business?
Choosing the right ribbon for a bar code printing application is one of the oldest value-adds a VAR can offer. Sure, end users can buy thermal transfer bar code printers from online warehouses. But, if they want those printers to work effectively with their particular application, they'll need to choose the right ribbon.
Hopefully, all of this sounds elementary to you. Sometimes, though, we need to be reminded that a product we take for granted every day might be the key to unlocking a new market.
Don't Look To Wax Ribbons For Growth
One thing is for sure: wax thermal transfer ribbons are probably not going to lead you to new applications. These are the basic ribbons used most commonly for compliance labeling and shipping labels. "The wax ribbon market is very saturated," said John Heinz, western region sales manager for thermal transfer ribbon manufacturer Dynic USA Corp. (Hillsboro, OR). Nick Mandrycky, senior VP of marketing at another ribbon vendor, IIMAK (Amherst, NY), agrees with Heinz. "During the last 10 years, manufacturers of thermal transfer ribbons have raised the bar on wax ribbons by making them more durable and capable of being printed at higher speeds," Mandrycky commented. "I think the envelope has been pushed and these products won't evolve much more."
Wax/Resin And Resin Offer Higher Margins
Both Heinz and Mandrycky said the real opportunities for VARs lie in selling wax/resin and resin ribbons. These are the kinds of ribbons that can print onto different substrates and are better for harsh environment labeling. "It's not that companies now using wax/resin and resin ribbons weren't labeling in the past," Heinz explained. "It's just that they haven't been labeling with the certainty [i.e. more readable bar codes] they are today."
Mandrycky said customers in need of wax/resin and resin ribbons typically are looking for more of a bar code solution rather than just shopping for prices. "VARs can command higher prices and obtain better margins for these kinds of ribbons. But, wax/resin and resin ribbons are also a tougher sell because the VAR needs to provide more education and needs to test the ribbon/substrate combo for readability."
Take Advantage Of Vendors' Labs
"Not matching the right ribbon to a particular substrate is one of the most common mistakes VARs make," stated Heinz. For example, if a customer wants to mark warehouse slots with a bar code label, it's imperative the label has a sharp image that can be easily scanned. If a wax ribbon is used in this scenario, the image could be smudged or left unscannable from oil or dirt. And although it sounds basic, VARs also need to know how to optimally configure (e.g. adjusting printhead heat and speed) a bar code printer to work with a particular type of thermal transfer ribbon.
Dynic and IIMAK both offer in-house labs to their VARs for testing specific bar code applications, yet Heinz and Mandrycky admit this is an underutilized service. "We wish VARs would use us more for the education and training services we provide," Mandrycky said. At Dynic, Heinz said approximately once a week they receive a request from a VAR to test a ribbon/substrate combo. For instance, he listed a VAR with a client in the photo industry that had an environment where a wax or wax/resin ribbon wouldn't work. "The customer's labels had to go through a chemical bath and withstand high heat [300+ F]," Heinz explained. "The VAR asked us to test a resin ribbon along with the labels being used to determine what the optimal configuration would be for the customer."
Bundle Ribbons And Labels
Another way VARs can make more money with consumables is by bundling ribbons and labels together as one solution (this is not normally done with wax ribbons). By doing so, VARs simplify the purchase decision for customers. In other words, customers know they have a ribbon that will optimally mark a particular label or substrate. Bundling is especially useful when selling to markets such as healthcare or electronics in which there are specific industry labeling standards to meet.
"Price points for printers have come down significantly from five years ago, and companies are finding more new substrates to print on," stated Mandrycky. "Therefore, I think there is still a lot of opportunity for VARs to profit from thermal transfer ribbons."