July 2009

Used Vs. Refurbished Printers

Refurbished Printer: As Good as New, Or Is It?

By: Lorrie Delk Walker

Why do some companies settle for inferior products when better products are out there for a minimal cost difference?

That is the question Todd Roisum asks every time he sees companies marketing used printers as refurbished printers. “Those of us who genuinely do provide refurbished printers are constantly battling against the perception that a refurbished printer is a used printer,” says Roisum, president of ValStar Printer Solutions in Eden Prairie, Minn., which sells refurbished laser printers.

When Roisum speaks with customers about the topic, he commonly finds that they don’t understand the difference between used and refurbished in general. Therein lies the problem, he says. “Selling printers doesn’t have to be a disaster as long as you’re working with the right company,” he says. “Education can go a long way toward ensuring you work with the right company.”

Used Vs. Refurbished

Generically speaking, a computer, PC or server is an electronic device. Vendors can sell this type of used equipment and call it refurbished.

“If they plug it in and it works, they can move on it,” Roisum says. “Over time, what has happened in the printer industry is that people think that same testing holds true for printers, and it categorically does not.

A used printer that works is simply a used printer, he says. There has been no preventative maintenance done to it, it is unknown how much wear and tear has been incurred on the used printer parts, or how much longer they will last.  “A used printer could fail in one day, or a month from now,” Roisum says.

Unlike computers, which are electronic, a printer is a mechanical device and many of the mechanical parts have a finite life cycle. If used printers are to be expected to hold up during their secondary life once they are resold, those parts need to be replaced.

When ValStar makes a refurbished printer available for purchase, it has undergone a series of tests and a complete internal overhaul, Roisum says. There are various diagnostic tests for each component of the refurbished printer as it goes through the refurbishment process. It is stripped down to the chassis and cleaned properly. The high-wear parts are replaced, including rollers, fuser assemblies and separation pads. The company also repaints a significant portion of its refurbished printers so that cosmetically, they appear new.

A series of technical diagnostic activities is performed to ensure that the refurbished printer is brought back to original factory specifications, he says. One of those steps often includes updating firmware so that older, refurbished printers can communicate with newer computers.

Conducting such a thorough refurbishment process means that companies in the industry have labor and parts costs. They employ expert technicians who must be compensated for their expertise. That means a refurbished printer cannot be sold as cheaply as a used one.

Used equipment sellers, by contrast, have employees who run a few test sheets of paper through the machine to determine if it works, and they call that printer refurbished. “They sell a far inferior product and that gives the true refurbished market a bad name,” Roisum says

By spending a bit more on a printer that can legitimately be called a refurbished printer, companies get a product “that is far superior, quality wise,” he says. “They don’t have to roll the dice by buying a used printer that is called a refurbished printer and hoping it works. “At the end of the day, that’s the significance,” Roisum continues. “That’s the value proposition- for an extra 20 to 50 percent; the net result is that we minimize the risk of their customer getting a bad product.”

Another major difference is the warranties that accompany used and refurbished printers, he says. A used printer typically comes with a 30 to 90-day warranty, while a refurbished printer has a one-year warranty, which is equivalent to the warranties offered with brand new printers.

Combating Perceptions

There is a dearth of formal standards in place for companies that claim to sell refurbished printers and as a result of that, the players in the printer refurbishment market have been given less credit than they are due, Roisum says. “There are very few companies that actually provide refurbished printers,” he says. “There is an increasing number of companies selling used printers and calling them refurbished.” The end result is inferior products being sold by the companies that have misidentified them.  “The trickle down has been that they’ve given a bad name to the guys that actually do the work properly,” Roisum says. “For the few of us who are in the business, we all understand the requirements for a printer to be call refurbished.”

Part of the reason there aren’t a lot of formal standards is because the printer industry isn’t a “very sexy industry,” he says. “It’s always been an afterthought.” There are fewer vendors in the aftermarket printer world than in the aftermarket computer and networking world, for example. “To me, it’s connected,” Roisum says. “Since it’s not as sexy and since there have been some shady players when it comes to how they classify products, many dealers have a bad taste in their mouth as a whole when it comes to refurbished printers.”

So, how does a company such as ValStar combat that?

 “We seem to be giving the same speech day in and day out about the difference between the two,” Roisum says. “At the end of the day, it is a monetary decision on the buyer’s part; are they willing to take the gamble, and do they understand the gamble they are taking in buying used?” Some do, and some don’t, he says.


For companies such as ValStar, their products speak for themselves at the end of the day. “We have a warranty that is four times longer than those of most of the used printer dealers,” Roisum says. “We put our money where our mouth is and we stand behind it for most printers for one year. Now, how many people care about that, I couldn’t tell you.”