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Keep Em Running

18 Mar, 2001 By: Jim Intravia imageSource

Keep Em Running

A good technician can usually keep certain copiers running, more or less forever. There are times that this is in your best interests.

Many customers will never buy from you, although they use you for service. This is not because they don’t want to do business with you, but because of certain purchasing policies. It is quite common to pick up service on an older machine that has been purchased elsewhere. This is most beneficial in the case of large companies with branches in many parts of the country. These companies often buy machines on national contracts. They will go out to bid or strike a deal with a manufacturer or national distributor who will deliver and initially service the machines for the entire nation. It might involve dozens, hundreds or even thousands of new machines. For various reasons, some of these machines will outlast the servicing company. They may close a local branch or refuse to offer contract after x amount of years. In some cases, national companies are encouraged to find local sources of supply and service, even though the mother company does centralized major purchases. There are also certain other organizations; schools, municipalities, etc. who frequently choose local service over purchaser service for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the supplier will offer a service contract, but will discourage chargeable situations.

I know of one school district that appears to have a policy of never taking service contracts on machines under 50 cpm or so. They have a high-end machine in each building, which is handled differently. I believe they have found that it is in their best interest to do it this way. They have learned that based on the life cycle of the machines, their usefulness, and cost of chargeable repairs, dealing with an honest and reliable service provider makes more sense (it costs less money) than a service contract. This is apparently true for them over the long haul, though in the case of some machines it is not. But their overhaul costs are down, at no loss in service. However, when it is time to replace (based more on school budgeting than on specific needs) they go to bid and/or state contract. Local dealers are often not even considered.

These types of customers are a little frustrating. Your normal “It’s time for a new machine” or “Rather than putting all this money into this….” speech is your enemy. You must bite your tongue. If you encourage a new machine, you are killing your cash cow. There may come a point when there is no other choice, and you do, presumably have a conscience to keep clear. But for the most part, you have to consider these as service only customers.


There is no need to feel guilty about keeping these running. Suppose they have a good solid 10-15 year old machine such as Canon 1820, Mita 152, Sharp 7320, or Toshiba 5110. If this machine is serving their needs nicely, but needs a drum and fuser rollers, why not do it? You do an hour or two of work, and gross about $600, with about $100 parts cost. Six months later, a fan or lamp might fail. They have a $200 repair bill. They probably go another year or so with only a service call or so. You are making some money without working too hard; old machines are often easy to keep running for several reasons. There are no more surprises; all the bugs have been worked out; other people have figured out the tricky problems and they are easy now; aftermarket parts are available; the customer is used to the machine. If it runs well, they like it (which in copier standards means they don’t know it exists.) As long as the status remains the same, they will be content. The local branch will expect you to keep the machine running. You let them know you have to order parts and will be back in a few days. You do the job in one afternoon. They send the bill to their main office, and about 30-60 days later you get paid. One day, after about 8-9 months have gone by without a service call, you stick your head in the door out of curiosity. A new machine is there, because someone upstairs decided to replace the entire fleet. You let them know that you are available to service that, and wonder what dumpster that perfectly good 10 year old machine is sitting in. You also wonder if you will ever get them back as a customer again. The answer is, probably not. In some cases, the local operations will have input into these decisions, but don’t count on it. If the machine is a constant problem, they may complain to management and request a replacement. In some cases, the performance of the equipment is far more important than the cost of maintenance or cost of replacement. Theoretically, that is true in all cases, but in the real world, it doesn’t always happen that way.


My experience with these types of customer leads me to the following conclusions. The user wants the machine to run properly. Long term decisions are out of their hands, and are not directly in yours (though you can have an effect.) Having the machine run properly when you are done is a necessity. When you are called to these machines, go prepared with likely things; wiper blade, drum and rollers if you stock them. Whatever it takes to put the machine in tip-top shape, go ahead and do it (without being unreasonable.) You will find that this is what they want. The $600 bill that gets sent to home office will not be negotiated or disputed. If there are quite a few bills like this in a short time period, it might be a different story, but it may not be contingent on your work. If the machines in another state are all running poorly and/or costing a lot to maintain, the entire fleet may be replaced, regardless of what you do. In some cases, I have told such customers that the machine cannot be fixed for a reasonable price. I recently gave a quote of $800 on a machine that, in perfect condition, could not be sold for $500. They will probably have a $4000 replacement machine in 6 months. Nerveless they gave me the approval. They need this machine running properly. It now has a new drum developer unit and PM.

In that case I gave a quote. This depends on the situation. I am not implying that you have a blank check with customers like this. Keep a clear conscience, but remember that it is the survival and prosperity of your business or your employer that you are primarily responsible for, not the customer’s.

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