What is the ‘maker movement’ and should retailers care?

Pokemon-inspired 3-D printed planters -Photo: Etsy/Bazingapop
Oct 06, 2016

Brian Kilcourse

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

At the recent SAP Retail Forum, a fireside chat, “Henry Ford Was Wrong — Delivering Experiential Retail,” explored how 3-D printing could enable consumers to have access to all kinds of custom-built products at very low cost.

This in turn raised the topic of the “maker movement” and its potential impact on the retail ecosystem going forward.

A 2014 article in Adweek describes the maker movement as a “convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans” that is tapping into a yearning for self-reliance. It’s being supported by the emergence of open source learning, contemporary design and personal technology like 3-D printers. Adweek states, “The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise.”

While it might be tempting to try to limit the scope of the maker movement to 3-D laser printer-armed DIY inventors, I think it would be smart for retailers to look at the bigger landscape of consumers who have chosen for one reason or another to build-rather-than-buy.

Look no further than etsy.com, which is full of handmade craft items from everywhere. My daughter is an example of someone who uses Etsy as both a buyer and a seller of girls’ party dresses. Her biggest tech investment — a serger, a machine to finish off hems.

I’ve found myself joining the maker movement, too. Failing to find the exact electronic gadget I wanted, I decided to make my own. My technology? A solder gun.

The big winners are the stores and websites that supply the materials needed for makers.

Increasingly, consumers don’t just consume; they collaborate with each other to find the best solutions to fit their lifestyle needs. While (as the old saying goes) “a can of peas is still a can of peas,” consumers want more choices for a vast number of discretionary products, and increasingly that choice is, “I’ll make it myself.”

Instead of losing the people of the maker movement, enable them.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you rate the potential impact of the “Maker Movement” on retail and its likely boost with the arrival of more accessible 3-D printers? Do you see this as an opportunity more for niche retailers or for a wider spectrum of mainstream chains?

" Retailers would be wise to recognize that training will be important to these makers."
"I think the maker movement increases the awareness of how goods are made for those who aren't crafts builders."
"...futurist author Alvin Toffler ... wrote that home-based and small craft businesses would proliferate in the post-industrial world..."

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11 Comments on "What is the ‘maker movement’ and should retailers care?"

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Jasmine Glasheen
Jasmine Glasheen
Contributing Editor
1 year 2 months ago

The “maker movement” is a positive for retailers who cater to customer demand. I recently interviewed a sampling of Millennial men for an article on holiday gifts for their demographic.

When I asked this sampling what they really wanted for the holidays there were two prevalent answers:

  1. Something utilitarian, that they’ll use in their daily lives.
  2. Time.

The “maker movement” enables customers to step away from the influx of products and information to create something themselves. It is sustainable and cost-effective. Forward-thinking retailers supply customers with products that enable them to create.

Remember that saying, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?” Modern customers get it. They want to be taught to fish.

Doug Garnett
Retailers need to take this movement seriously (of course I’d say that — my specialty is retail tools and hardware). It is real and I expect it’s more than a fad. Making is a very human activity — but one that has been lost in today’s job market. Most people spend their work time fighting for some kind of political success and stability (making the bosses happy or getting good reviews). So many love the opportunity to have control of something in life. And a great outlet is making for themselves and their family — a task where they are in control of the satisfaction (much less that making is fundamental to human experience). That said, I encourage retailers to not fall for the romantic version of making. Most people will continue to be hobbyists — partaking more sporadically than their grandparents would. Retailers would also be wise to recognize that training will be important to these makers. Where my father could learn from his father who worked in a mine, that passing down of… Read more »
Ken Lonyai

As a former manufacturing engineer, I’ll spare my critique of the buzz around 3-D printers and simply say that they will never achieve the hype surrounding them (dozens of reasons abound). The maker movement is clearly growing (a throwback to magazines like Popular Mechanics in the ’50s and ’60s) but the retailers that will profit from it most likely already exist in the materials space — like a Michaels. The idea of a Target or Home Depot showing any real profitability from selling maker supplies and offering 3-D printing services is just pure fantasy.

Tom Redd

Let a few retailers have it. The problem with this supposedly amazing direction is the focused minds of the young kids today who are the retail shopper of the future. They are trend-driven, with instant new hobbies that die fast (I wonder how many Etsy accounts start with one or two items and then fade and die.) Personal time beats the 3-D printer. Most people do not have the time for 3-D printer-based dimensional projects nor the patience.

For my shop I don’t need 3-D to fix my Yamaha. It’s easier to order it and get something else done.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Retail and Marketing Expert; Former IBM Executive
1 year 2 months ago

We all want our personae and surroundings to reflect our individuality! Smart retailers will encourage the maker movement and find the right mix of customization tools to give consumers freedom of expression.

Shawn Harris

Industrial, commercial and personal 3-D printing will compress the supply chain, bad news for China. From being able to print many hard goods to food, there are a lot of great advancements that are taking place in the 3-D printing space. I do not believe that individuals will, at scale, become digital artisans. However, as printer and material costs continue to drop, this will create net-new marketplaces comprised of people who sell “recipes” for immediate printing in-store or at home. These “recipes” will be the intellectual property needed to print items from basic housewares, tools and other parts to tasty meals. The ability to print certain items would be bound by the capabilities of the printer, creating ranges of possibilities. A 3-D printer is on my 2016 holiday list. Forget keeping up with the Joneses, it’s time for the Jetsons.

Ralph Jacobson

The sputtering existence of 3-D printing over the past few years reminds me of the infancy of PC adoption by the public. Once viable uses and affordable printers become mainstream, retailers and CPG brands will very much have growth opportunities. I don’t believe this will take a measurable portion of the pre-made product market in the foreseeable future.

Vahe Katros

A retailer can participate in the maker culture by finding ways to collaborate with their local community. I am sure some of your staff — especially those who love what they sell — are makers. You might encourage those people to host a maker event, especially with local schools. It’s a way to get publicity and a give back to the community. You might even try a hosting a maker competition or hackathon, perhaps around solving a problem that effects the community around the store. Maybe the competition could be chain wide and you could have a national championship.

Being authentic and involved is a good for the country and good for business. A retailer might even try to help others become retailers by showing folks the nuts and bolts, and perhaps even teaming up with other retailers to build pop-up stores whose profits benefit local matters.

Kenneth Leung

Having been to Maker’s Faire and met the founder Dale Dougherty, I think the maker movement increases the awareness of how goods are made for those who aren’t crafts builders. Certainly there are opportunities for retail suppliers to the maker movement, like Michaels or Home Depot (would love to see them put some spin given they have the tools for DIY), but I think it also increases the general awareness of sourcing/ingredients and construction of things we buy and for that trend, retailers have to take note regardless of segments.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m confused about what we’re discussing here: (strictly) 3D printing — in which case what does a hemming machine have to do with it — or DIY in general? Obviously, the latter is a larger potential market than the former, but however defined, I still think the market will be limited. Are the same people who are so impatient/rushed for time that they demand two hour delivery on a can of shaving cream really going to spend all weekend making a piece of plastic that they could have bought for a dollar somewhere, just for the sake of saying “I did it myself”? No doubt makers — and wholesalers — of 3D printers like to think so, but I’m skeptical … but then I drive a Ford.

James Tenser

I’ll do my best to summarize a relevant observation from futurist author Alvin Toffler: He wrote that home-based and small craft businesses would proliferate in the post-industrial world he defined as “The Third Wave.” Certainly the Maker Movement may be a manifestation of this prediction.

3D printers offer a remarkable means to accelerate this, but it’s extremely early in the game. Outputs are so far mostly limited to individual parts or solid items made from a single plastic material. Mind-bending fun for hobbyists and tinkerers, but not ready to be turned into a home-based profit center.

For retailers, on the other hand, I’d like to propose a scenario that’s a bit sci-fi, but also could be crazy smart. Image a tiny kiosk shop with a large and advanced 3D printer that can fabricate numerous items, from multiple raw materials, one at a time from an electronic catalog. Bam! 100,000 SKUs available in a 250 square-foot space. I’m claiming the trademark now: FabStop. ETA: 2030.

" Retailers would be wise to recognize that training will be important to these makers."
"I think the maker movement increases the awareness of how goods are made for those who aren't crafts builders."
"...futurist author Alvin Toffler ... wrote that home-based and small craft businesses would proliferate in the post-industrial world..."

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