Offering Customers More

Hong Pan, sales director of Anno’s, the leading, China-based blade manufacturer, talks about the company over the years and commitment.

Many manufacturers know that specialization is a good strategy to withstand competition from within the market. Indeed, specialization enables employees to focus better, work more efficiently, and to be more productive at the same time. However, the leading, China-based blade manufacturer, Anno, has chosen a different path.

“Output is not our major pursuit,” claims Hong Pan, sales director of Anno. “Instead of simply providing products, we are more focused on offering solutions to our customers,” he explains. Offering more to customers has become Pan’s modus operandi since he joined Anno in 2008.

Kick Off

Pan launched himself into his career at the most iconic Aftermarket brands in China. Following his graduation, he joined Print-Rite in 1999. The young mechatronic graduate spent four years in Print-Rite’s laser engineering department, keeping up with the emerging printer technologies of the day. “I learned so much in those four years, either on techniques or on problem-solving thinking patterns,” he reminisces.

Then he worked at Ninestar as an engineer from 2003, developing its first laser cartridge together with other engineers. In 2006 he also worked for a well-known toner manufacturer in Guangzhou for two years. According to Pan, “All these experiences laid a good foundation for what I am doing now.”

Quality is Missing

 In order to take care of his family, Pan moved back to Zhuhai in 2008, which at the time, was being named the world’s capital city of print consumables. One of his old acquaintances, Anno’s CEO, reached out to him for collaboration. During that period, imported components were dominating the growing Chinese market.

Pan explains, “There were only a few Chinese manufacturers that could produce components in China at the time, and, unfortunately, their quality was very inconsistent.” He sensed that the components would have a solid future if quality could be guaranteed. He accepted Anno’s offer and started to explore the world of printer cartridge components.

Anno’s Growth and Development

Initially, Anno was a manufacturer of copier components. In 2002, it began to manufacture blades for printers as well. At that time, the blades market in China was dominated by Taiwanese brands that were known for their consistent quality. Components being made in Mainland China had a very uncertain quality. With that background, Anno spent six years developing and building trust by focusing upon quality. As customer awareness grew, so did Anno.

“By the time I joined Anno, it’s plant had been expanded to around 5,000 square-meters, ten times bigger than it used to be back in 2002. It was also employing about 200 staff,” Pan explains. Then, in 2008, the global financial crisis hit. “As a result, more manufacturers, more distributors, more retailers and more consumers began to accept compatible, Aftermarket products,” Pan says. From that time, Anno saw a two-fold increase in sales volume, not once, but every year.

“Now, our total output sees some 6.5 million individual components being processed every month!” he adds. “This includes molded-blades, glued-blades and welded-blades. Anno’s welded-blades alone enjoy around 50% market share in China due to consistent quality and good service,” Pan claims. In order to maintain blade quality, raw polyurethane (PU) and stainless steel strip (SUS) materials have been imported from Japan since 2012, despite the higher cost.

Earlier this year, in February, Anno moved to a huge, new campus that covers 24,000 square meters. “We are grateful to the support from our customers, including our dutiful team which has taken ownership seriously by making suggestions that inspire us to keep making continuous growth.”

Becoming More Flexible

Not long after he jumped on board, Pan noticed the need to adjust product strategy so as to better meet customer demands. “Previously, we produced blades for remanufactured cartridges as the main core activity. Those blades were comparatively easy to manufacture, as the specifications were exactly the same with those of the OEMs. However, with the advent of new-built cartridges, the specifications varied greatly creating new demands.” It was Pan who suggested the company include new-built cartridge blades into their product range.

“As there were big differences between each new-built cartridge model and brand, it was impossible to meet all the demands with a single specification. So, the traditional method of molded-blades didn’t work well. We had to innovate,” Pan says.

To that end, it struck Pan, “It would be much easier if the PU strip could be pasted onto the bracket rather than molded as a whole.” That eventually turned out to be what they now call the glued-blades. “With this glued-blades, we can customize PU length, width, thickness, hardness and bracket shape to match various customer needs.

Thanks to its flexibility, the glued-blades perfectly solved the headaches molded blades couldn’t resolve, such as cleaning excess toners off the OPC drum and adjusting the proper gap between the blade and the OPC drum,“ Pan explains. “Instead of replacing the toner, a better alternative is to change a blade if the toner doesn’t match the primary charge roller,” he added.

Despite the simplicity and convenience, Pan says the glued-blades idea was not as complicated as you might think. “Others could have come up with the idea too,” he humbly admits. However, customization to this extent could increase management, manufacturing and storage costs, so not many were willing to try. Pan took the risk and Anno led the industry for three years.

“Our main hurdle was the need to manufacture plenty of blades with different specifications for just one cartridge type,” Pan admits. “And, on top of that, our manufacturing customers were hesitant to try this new innovation. Many only agreed to try the glued-blades because replacing the toner was too inefficient and troublesome. To our delight, our customers quickly accepted the glued-blades solution after testing,” Pan claims.

“It was well worth all the trouble to offer more choices to our customers,” Pan says firmly. “We seek to meet different demands with flexibility. We don’t even mind adjusting our production in order to match our competitor’s specifications in order to solve problems for our customers. In a word, satisfaction is the standard we follow for each customer,” he added.

Rolling Out New Ideas

In 2013, Anno took another business leap, setting up a new plant to manufacture developing rollers and primary charge roller. According to Pan, he found focusing on blade improvement only partially solved some customer problems. “Rollers also played an integral role,” Pan says. “I realized if we could manufacture both, we could offer a package solution,” he added.

“Rollers are more specialized and have their own set of technical barriers. You can not manufacture rollers without heavy investment in R&D and equipments,” Pan explains. To date, Anno has invested almost ¥10 million RMB (US$1.5 million) in roller manufacturing equipments, with more than ten R&D staff.

“Following some painstaking effort, our roller output has increased steadily and our new plant reached an output of 50,000 units per month in 2017. We have doubled the investment in 2018, and expect to soon be producing one million units per month,” Pan claims.

“I believe quality is the best sales pitch there is. We will continue to offer quality rollers to customers in the future. We take all factors into consideration that might affect quality during R&D, such as the equipment, raw materials and mass production processes,” Pan says.

Future Strategy 

Pan believes prices on blades will undoubtedly face fierce competition in the future. To meet any such challenge, Anno has strategies in mind to make a breakthrough. Setting up the new manufacturing plant for rollers is part of the strategy to boost future development. “We will promote our developer rollers and primary charge rollers to markets outside China,” Pan says.

“As always, we will never sacrifice quality for quantity at any time.” In the future, Anno also plans to intentionally scale back on its customer numbers which will allow it to devote its energy to the needs and demands of a select group of customers and to provide them with better solutions and services.

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