The art of the copier deal

Scott Cullen

Buying a copier can be ripe with frustration, uncertainty, and unexpected twists and turns. Nevertheless, if you know what questions to ask and have a knowledgeable copier sales representative who works hard to win your business, is up front with you about what the deal involves, and matches you with a machine that meets your needs, then you’ve mastered the art of the copier deal. When we say, “mastered the art,” it means you’ve purchased the best copier for your business at a fair price. With that premise in mind, here are the steps for mastering the art of the copier deal.



Do your homework

You don’t need to be a copier expert, but it helps to know up front what models are available, who makes them, and who the dealers are in your area who sell them. In addition to articles found in OfficeSOLUTIONS, consider a subscription to Better Buys for Business ( These helpful low-volume, mid-volume, and high-volume copier guides provide information on who makes the machines, the various models available, buying tips, and rankings of the machines its editors consider best buys. Other organizations such as BERTL ( Buyers Laboratory Inc. (, and Industry Analysts ( are known for extensively testing many of the leading copier models on the market. Some of these organizations publish newsletters, specification guides, and reports on copiers and other office equipment. Subscriptions to these services can be pricey but are extremely useful if you’re looking to acquire a more than passable knowledge of copier technology and want to stay abreast of the best performing models on the market. Because there are so many models available, not all models are tested by these organizations. In addition, some of these firms are paid by the manufacturers to test the equipment, so not all results–particularly negative information–is made public.

Pick your dealer

There are two schools of thought on this issue. One says, narrow your selection of copier, then find a dealer. The other advocates selecting a dealer first. Either way would work out fine. Look for a dealer with a solid background selling copiers. Remember, you are not just buying a copier; you’re also forging a relationship. The relationship between you and the dealer is usually more important than the copier itself because the dealer will be the one who provides ongoing service and support to your organization. After all, copiers are not infallible, and you’re going to be dealing with your dealer frequently over the three-to-five-year lifetime of your copier. Things to consider include how long the dealer has been in business and how long the dealer has been selling a particular manufacturer’s machines.

Ask about discounts

Discounts of 25 to 30 percent are common in the copier market, so make sure you know the current list price of the copier so you’ll have a better understanding of how much of a discount your dealer is offering.

Do you need to connect?

Connecting the copier to your network will add anywhere from $1,000 to approximately $4,000 to the cost of your machine. As we’ve noted in this magazine before, connecting your copier to the network allows you to print and copy from your desktop. Be sure to find out if the dealer will connect the copier to your network or use a third party, and if the network connection is included in your installation fee.

Should you lease or buy?

If you’re going to lease rather than buy your copier, ask about the lease rate. This typically affects your monthly payment as a high lease rate means a high monthly payment. When you lease a copier, you’re financing the loss of value of the copier over the lease period. You’re also funding dealer administration costs, dealer profit, and the cost of capital. All of those things factor into the lease rate. When leasing, be sure and ask about the capitalized cost of the copier being leased. This is often higher than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. If this concerns you, it may be more prudent to take out a loan and buy the copier outright. Moreover, avoid all-inclusive lease/purchase plans that include supplies and service because in effect, you’re also financing the service. Should you ever be unhappy with the quality of service, and it’s been paid for in advance, you’re locked into that expense for the length of the lease. Remember, there’s no rule you have to accept your copier service from the same dealership that sold you the machine, although it’s a common practice to get service from that dealer.

What is included and excluded within the service contract?

Sometimes photoconductors and preventive maintenance are included, but not always. Response time is another issue you should address. How long will you have to wait for a service technician to come fix your copier when it’s down? Some contracts also guarantee a certain amount of uptime. If the copier is down for more than a specified time period, you may be able to negotiate a credit toward future supply orders or receive a credit on your next invoice. Some dealers provide a loaner should your copier be unavailable for an extended period of time.

Think about a cost per copy program

Cost per copy (CPC) programs are common for mid-volume or high-volume units. With a CPC program, you pay only for the number of copies you make each month. The biggest benefit of a CPC program is you only have to deal with one bill from one supplier each month. There are different types of CPC programs. With some CPC programs you pay for the copier up front and then pay for each copy. In others, the price of the copier, service, and supplies are bundled into the CPC. Most CPC programs require you to produce a minimum number of copies per month. Pricing will then be adjusted upward if your monthly production falls below a certain number of copies. Note: paper is not considered a supply item.

Not all CPC programs are a good deal. Compare purchasing service and supplies separately versus purchasing them all together. Generally, CPC programs tend to favor the customer because the CPC is based on clicks (the number of copies made) not the yield (the amount of toner on a page). Most copier manufacturers base yields on 6 percent coverage (the size of a brief, two-paragraph business letter), others 5 percent. If the copies you produce are typically in the 8- to 10-percent range, supply yields might be significantly more than the manufacturer’s specifications. Some dealers have learned some hard lessons over the years when it comes to yields and CPC programs, so don’t be surprised if they bring your yields into the equation.

Ask about the service contract and supply increases

Your new copier should last five years or more. Because service and supplies represent a copier’s biggest operating costs, it’s not unusual to see a 6-to 10-percent annual price increase in these areas. These costs may be negotiable, particularly if you’re buying or leasing a fleet of copiers.

Find out where your dealer sources parts and consumables

Some dealers may try to trim costs by using alternative sources for these items and not pass the savings on to you. If a dealer uses third-party parts or consumables, it could result in inferior copy quality or damage to the machine, although many reputable third-party consumables perform just as well as those sold by the manufacturer. If your dealer uses parts and consumables from a third party, ask the dealer to guarantee in writing that they are equal or of greater quality than the manufacturer’s own brand.

Ask about warranties and guarantees

Warranties in the copier business are brutally short–typically 90 days or a specific number of copies–and they are usually set by the manufacturer, not the dealer. Length of warranty is another negotiable point, but longer warranties come with a price because it costs money for a dealer to honor a warranty. The way the warranty or guarantee is worded is also critical. Some warranties use the word” at the user’s discretion” to determine whether the machine meets the specifications. If it doesn’t, then you may find the problem you have is still within factory specifications and you’ll have no recourse of action.

Ideally, you want the warranty to extend throughout the life of the lease–the longer the better. Another issue is the type of replacement machine you’ll receive when a problem occurs. If it’s an identical replacement and your copier has already produced 200,000 copies, you may receive a replacement copier that’s also produced 200,000 copies. Some contracts and leases will provide you with a brand new copier in the first year, and that’s what you should look for.

Although some contracts guarantee a certain percentage of uptime, the definition of uptime for the buyer and the reseller may be two different things. For example, if the document feeder or stapler-sorter isn’t working, but the copier can still make copies even if you have to feed originals in manually, that copier may be viewed by the service provider as up and running.

Check references

Talk to the dealer’s or manufacturer’s other customers. Most dealers are happy to give you the names of satisfied customers, harder to find are dissatisfied customers. No matter who you speak with, ask about how the dealership resolved dissatisfied customer’s issues, and try to gauge how you’ll be treated when things go wrong. Service is critical in the copier market, and most dealers focus an amazing amount of effort in this area because there’s something extremely important in it for them–your business.

When it comes right down to it, mastering the art of the copier deal isn’t about taking advantage of the dealer. It’s all about negotiating a fair deal that works for you and the dealer.

Scott Cullen ( is the managing editor for OfficeSOLUTIONS.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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