THE adoption of the Internet, which began just over a decade ago, was supposed to sound the death knell for many traditional industries. No one would read newspapers any more. Books would be found in museums, not libraries. Even paper money was supposed to go the way of the dodo. 

But not everything goes without putting up a fight. Nigel Lee (right), country manager of Brother International Singapore, has succeeded. The company’s core business – printers and their hardware peripheries – has been growing, and Lee projects that it will only expand in the years to come.

We chat with Lee about Brother’s past and future evolution, as well as its current plan to grow the business in perhaps the most unexpected direction.

Nigel Lee is the country manager of Brother International Singapore
Nigel Lee is the country manager of Brother International Singapore

It’s interesting how Brother has managed to change how it is being perceived.

Yes, the older generation will remember us a sewing machine company, whereas people in their 30s and 40s generally identify us as a company that makes printers. I would attribute this shift to our sponsorship of the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. It was the first Games to get a huge broadcast deal, and it garnered the largest audience in history, so we were all over the globe.

Brother also launched a huge branding campaign about a decade ago. Before that, many people thought we were an American company. Now, they know we are a Japanese firm that makes quality hardware.

How about your plans to target the younger generation now?

We are in fact working with a number of kindergartens in Singapore, using a machine that’s called the ScanNCut. What it does is scan and cut out children’s creations for them. It is safer and more precise at the job than most young children can be with a pair of scissors or penknife. It also allows the kids to create freely without being held back by the challenge of cutting it out.

Is this the next evolution for Brother?

Yes and no. We’re still a printing technology company. That’s our core business. But we want to transform the way people think of printing. Today, many people use our machines to simply print documents but we want to look beyond that. We want to know what users are printing so that we can optimise the process. 

Besides working with kindergartens, we are also collaborating with fashion brands. Last September, we worked with Off-White in Singapore during its store opening. We loaned them a commercial embroidery machine to help them personalise customers’ clothing purchases. We also did something similar recently with Polo Ralph Lauren, and we’re working towards doing more in this area.

“Many people misunderstand how prevalent printing is in Singapore. The bulk of our economy is still comprised of small-medium enterprises and brick-and-mortar businesses, with some being just a one- or two-man operation. Many of them still print because they don’t just have the capabilities and resources to cross the chasm to the digital world.”

I guess the printing business is alive and well.

Yes, it definitely is. And I imagine it’s for a couple of reasons. Firstly, legal documents still require physical copies and I don’t think this will change anytime soon. Secondly, there is an upward trend of companies pushing printing responsibilities to the consumer. A good example is the boarding pass. Sure, you can use the digital version on your phone but when you walk around the airport, you’ll see that many people still like to print out a physical version. In fact, for Brother Singapore, the volume of our printing business is growing.

Why do you think the Internet hasn’t killed the printing business?

I think many people misunderstand how prevalent printing is in Singapore. The bulk of our economy is still comprised of small-medium enterprises and brick-and-mortar businesses, with some being just a one- or two-man operation. Many of them still print because they don’t just have the capabilities and resources to cross the chasm to the digital world. Having said that, Brother is helping these SMEs, our clients, to make that crossing and get ready to surf this digital wave once it fully consumes the world.

Tell me more about this assistance.

The printer will be the entry and exit of the document. You’ll be surprised at how prevalent fax machines are at places such as wholesalers, etc. With our printers receiving their sales orders and then sending the confirmation out, it’ll help them to comfortably transition to the digital age with just one machine.

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