Lexmark laser line gets high acclaim

A major lineup of laser printers released last fall by Lexmark International has garnered nearly 80 awards but came at the most unfortunate of economic times.

With a recession in full swing, businesses are cutting back on technology at rates not seen since the 1950s.

But Lexmark, the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in Lexington, has taken a positive outlook, noting the dire financial times just reinforce how their printers help save companies money. Plus, even if customers aren't spending, they're taking notice, reviewers say.

The 38 models include everything from low-end monochrome lasers to color laser multifunction printers that look more like copiers than traditional printers. Released in one giant swath last fall, the models were possibly the company's largest product launch ever and focused on building Lexmark's reputation as an environmentally friendly manufacturer.

"You always wish you had different timings on things, but you can't control the economy," said Greg Survant, who oversaw the teams responsible for researching and developing the products.

The Commerce Department said recently that businesses cut spending on equipment and software nearly 30 percent in the fourth quarter, the most since 1958.

Among the money-saving features on the products are dual-sided printing to help reduce paper consumption, as well an eco-mode, which reduces power consumption, that comes standard on the entire lineup.

With those features, the economy "actually plays extremely well into our products, telling our story," said Survant, who has since retired. "Companies need it now more than they ever did."

And there are more subtle touches, he said, like the nearly 75 percent reduction in cardboard usage for packaging the products, which also saw technological leaps in speeds and smaller sizes.

"The technology that we offer our clients is extremely important, but that's really only the first tier of the relationship," said Ron Binkauskas, vice president and general manager for the laser printer business in North America. "We help our customers drive costs out of their business."

That cost proposition has resonated with reviewers.

"Their big competition is Hewlett-Packard, obviously, and they've managed to undercut HP at nearly every point in the product line," said Steve Hannaford, editor-in-chief at Better Buys for Business, which gave the line nearly 45 awards. "HP is sort of the standard right now, and Lexmark has to be better to get any mindspace — cheaper, faster, better. And they're doing it."

Buyers Laboratory, another reviewer, honored the line with about 20 awards.

Marlene Orr, senior printer analyst, emphasized a low cost per page and improved image quality in explaining why the monochrome printers received Buyers Lab's line of the year award.

She said the lineup also included low-end color lasers that will qualify Lexmark to submit future products for the color laser line of the year, which was won by HP.

So what does the future hold for Lexmark's laser lineup?

The company doesn't discuss future product introductions, but marketing executive Keith Jones said "the whole industry is soft in workgroup color multi function printers."

"There's a lot offered below a thousand dollars and a lot offered at much higher price points, greater than $4,000 and really in the $10,000 to $15,000 range," he said. "But letter-size color MFPs in the $1,000 to $5,000 range, it's just a light area in the whole industry."