Ricoh Aims at U.S. Market for Office Products

Associated Press

For years Ricoh, one of Japan's leading copier makers, was content to sell its equipment in the United States to other copier companies that resold Ricoh's products under their own brand names.

But by 1981, Ricoh found that the strategy had left it an also-ran behind such aggressive Japanese rivals as Canon. In addition, Ricoh found other firms were expanding their shares of the U.S. market with several new products and their names were becoming as familiar as Kodak and Xerox to American offices.

Now, Ricoh is making up for lost time. It has targeted the United States as its most important market and is rushing out a host of new office products that carry the Ricoh name.

Kubo Leads Assault

Leading the assault is Hisashi Kubo, president of Ricoh's U.S. subsidiary, Ricoh Corp., and one of three executive managing directors of the Japanese parent company.

From his office at Ricoh Corp.'s headquarters in West Caldwell, N.J., Kubo is directing the expansion of Ricoh's copier line beyond the mid-volume range that has seen intense price-cutting in recent years.

Ricoh is joining other Japanese companies in producing high-volume copiers that carry loftier profit margins, and in July it plans to enter the burgeoning personal-copier market as well.

"Our strategy for the copier business is to cover all product lines, all segments," Kubo said in a recent interview, adding that he was not worried if the desk-top copiers do not carry sizable profit margins. Those machines, he said, "are seeding the market" for future purchases of larger Ricoh copiers.

But Kubo said Ricoh (pronounced REE-co) is not relying on copiers alone to lift its presence in the American market. Last year, the company brought out 12 other new products, including laser printers, facsimile machines and an electronic typewriter.

"We'd like to become a full-line OA (office automation) equipment and systems provider," he said.

Kubo also believes that a strong dealer network, and not just advertising, is needed to promote increased awareness of Ricoh and its products. Since it began selling copiers under its own name in 1981, Ricoh has enlisted 250 dealers.

Strategy Pays Off

The strategy already has paid off. Since 1981, Ricoh's sales of U.S. copiers has soared tenfold to about $325 million.

However, Kubo's company faces several obstacles to maintaining such growth, including a set of rivals--Canon, Sharp, Xerox and Kodak--that are well-established and that carry hefty marketing resources.

Kubo, 53, is undaunted by the challenge. In fact, he harbors a goal some might consider too lofty: To make Ricoh's U.S. subsidiary, which now accounts for about a quarter of the parent's $2 billion in annual sales, larger than the rest of the Ricoh's worldwide operations.

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