There is no better time than now to start bridging the gap between buyers and 3D print product designers. While there are a handful of reasons why the 3D print industry isn’t tipping as fast as it should, there are also a handful of reasons why product designers, manufacturers, buyers and even students still studying the trade need to pool together and start bridging the gaps on design, skills, labor, product and marketing. Learn more about 3D print disrupting retail and ready signs like showroom, last mile delivery and inventory costs.
3D Print Disrupting Retail: FB Live
I am coming to you with something that we promised you, and that was that we’d actually do a Facebook Live again. I am sharing with you the presentation I did at Inside 3D Printing San Diego. It was a presentation on disrupting retail. This is not a one-on-one presentation. This is a little bit more insider information. It’s the kind that I normally would give to retailers or to others in the product design and development industry about retail. I just wanted to start sharing that with you. I really want to set this up for you. There are a lot of people who said, “Retail, we’re going to be buying 3D print products at Target and Walmart.” While that’s happened occasionally, it’s not tipped. It’s not mainstream. It’s not where we thought we would be by now. We thought that by 2020 it’d be like you were just printing stuff on demand both in-store and at home. We don’t really see that happening right now. Why is that and what is it really going to take to make that happen? That’s what I want to talk to you about.
The retail problem today is really that products fail all the time. Fourteen out of fifteen fail on HSN. We have seven out of ten consumer products fail in the marketplace. This is not just individuals. This is what happens at mass market. It happens when Target launches something. They don’t have a really high success rate. That’s really one of the reasons why I think retail is primed to be ready for it. Those of you who are inventors out there who are using 3D printing to make your prototypes and other things, only 2% of inventions ever make money. The odds are really stacked against you on this. It’s not you. It’s also the consumer access though. This is really where those big leaders have the advantage. If you think you’re going to disrupt it and you’re going to build a whole brand new store and all of that, it’s just an expensive proposition. I really want to talk a little bit about that because these guys still have the advantage. If we can use them as startups, if we can use them to really disrupt themselves within that and leverage what they already have, which is this fabulous consumer access, then retail is going to be the way to go to make this happen faster and really make a tip.
Here are a few of the retail-ready signs. Showrooming is already going on. This is an example of Target. They’ve been doing some things where they’re really planning on you to do just more of an order pickup and exchange and returns and you would showroom. You would actually look through all of their various products and you just test it out. More like an Apple Store model and you would never actually see the products all out on the shelf and things there. It’s quite a different model and they’ve accepted the fact that showrooming is happening and a lot of ordering is then happening online. There is this site-to-store advantage and both Walmart and Target are seeing that. It’s part of the reason why Amazon has also bought Whole Foods because that’s the ultimate site-to-store. You want to be able to just pick up in the store when it’s food and it’s something fresh.
There are also a lot going on with last-mile delivery and while drones is an exaggeration of it, it really is more than just drones and other things. It’s the fact that there’s a warehouse within a few miles of pretty much everyone in the US. When you think about that from last-mile delivery, you really have a place by which you’re getting so close that they’re just really poised, but they also have a tremendous amount of warehouse space. That’s something that we’re going to talk about.
We also have this idea of the rising cost per SKU. Costs are skyrocketing. These are just some of my examples of the cost per SKU. For those of you who aren’t in the lingo in the industry, SKU means Stock Keeping Units. The costs are going up. They are high-carrying costs, which means how long that piece of inventory is in there requires insurance and security and shelf space and all of these things cost on a product. As long as it’s there, it’s costing them. That’s also really important to think about. If inventory costs are so high, then maybe the disruption is just right for it. I hear the same things all the time. Why hasn’t 3D printing taken off? It’s because consumers aren’t ready yet. It’s not fast enough yet. It’s still less expensive to traditionally manufacture but I pose the question, “Is that really true when we look at those high costs of inventory and the high failure rate? Is it really?” That may be absolutely the case on certain types of products. Furniture might be one of them, although they’re high and expensive, they’re too big. There are various places at which this doesn’t work. For the majority of products, it’s really ready for these disruptive gaps to be exploited.
Here are some of those disruptive gaps. We have right fit design, skilled labor, product continuity, CPSC which is the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s safety issues, and shopping integration. These are some of the gaps and some of the reasons why we’re not tipping as fast as we could be. This is why we have some issues with right fit designs because crap like this, junk like this have come into the market as a test. They’re failures. They’re just not good examples of 3D printing. They’re not even examples of stuff people really want to buy. They cheapen it too much. They don’t really make it custom and personal. They don’t even make it just so that it’s on-demand but it’s an amazing choice that you have. You might have all sorts of design choices and all sorts of color choices because they don’t have to carry the inventory on it. The design is a gigantic gap and this is what we have been talking about again and again for more than 500 episodes we’ve been talking about on WTFFF and we’ve been talking about 3D print design.
It’s a huge problem and they don’t know how to do it and they really can’t handle it at retail. Walmart, Target, none of them have in-house design staff. They haven’t had them in years. They hardly even ever use design in any of the process. They rely on their vendors to bring them that. If you’re looking at the way that the model has been going, there are less and less designers in the process over the last decade, and more direct shopping in China or in Malaysia or other places where they might be finding these products. They’re going direct to the factory. In the decade that I’ve been going to China myself, I have yet to see a female designer who’s designing in those factories. When you look at mass market retail and you have 85% of consumer purchases that are bought or influenced by women and there’s zero female design sensitivity happening in that process, then we really don’t have a representation of what will sell. These kinds of products have been a huge miss and it leaves a bad taste in the retailer’s mouth that 3D printing is just not going to ever work for them. That’s a mistake, so this is a huge gap that needs to be filled in order for retail to truly be disruptive.
Crowdsource design has been a huge failure as well. They’re not paying enough is really the idea. These are not professional designers. They’re kids out of school. They’ve never made products for mass market before. They don’t know what consumers want to buy. They’re not being guided by the retailers because the retailers don’t know how to guide you. They don’t do that type of 3D print product by plan so that they tell you what to make. While some of them are very cute and whimsical and all of those things, they’re not going to become mainstream. They’re much more Etsy-level product at best. That’s really a failure and it’s not working. If you don’t pay professional designers to help you pull together a design catalogue in this particular market, it’s not going to work.
We also have this idea that we have to bridge the buyers. I was talking about that there are buyers there that are in control of the design process and in control of what products get placed. We have to bridge them because they don’t understand how to buy 3D print products, how to buy designs that way. It’s not in the way that they work. It just is not in their measurement and how their job is measured. I think a way to do to that is to start talking about lower inventory costs and that may be the best way and maybe going from test product into mass-marketed product. Then you have to have a design that not just is 3D printed but perhaps could also be mass produced as well in some other method. This is an area that we really have to touch on and a lot needs to be done to help buyers understand how they’re going to be buying these products and these designs in the future.
We know we have a skilled labor gap mostly because it’s being done within a box. I’m going to say that because education has its own box and it’s just a mismatch between where we need the skills and where we’re learning the skills. They’re not in the same place. We need to stop having silos. We need to stop having these boxes. We need to have product designers who’ve been designing for mass market retail and/or buyers and all of those people who are educated in that world of actual product design that’s happening today to start talking to the 3D designers. We need 3D designers to get out from behind their computer and walk into factories and understand how something needs to be made in order to make it future manufacturably. At the end of the day, volume still counts at mass market retail, so while there is a place and there’s definitely a starting point for it, we really have to move that along.
In that, we need development continuity. This is a huge problem we have found as we’ve been working with some clients. We’ve been trying to design product where we 3D print them in the design process, we make small runs, maybe we use Shapeways or Sculpteo and we use a service bureau, and we zero in on these great colors and these great designs. Now we want to test them in the marketplace. We want to go from this level of quality of print to the higher quality more of what I’m going to call volume-produced 3D print versions. When we go to that, we can’t go into production in the same colors because the people who do these larger 1,000 plus runs, 10,000-piece plus runs, tend to not do color. They just want to make it white. That doesn’t work in this.
We need to have a better continuity through the whole development process and understand how to design a product that can go from our 3D print and the design side of things to test runs on slightly larger volume, and then even be mass manufactured after that in larger volume when they really work. That continuity is missing as well as what I would call the development management or SKU management, Stock Keeping Unit management. We don’t have a management of the complexity throughout that process as well. It’s coming and there are various softwares and other things working on that right now, but it hasn’t come along far enough to really being in the hands of the designers, developers and buyers in the process and becoming integrated into retail. That’s a big opportunity gap.
Another big gap that we have is the colors, materials and finishes. When we can’t have any color we want, when we can’t match a Pantone or a corporate color or we can’t have glossy and matte and we can’t have these multiple finishes and there isn’t post-processing available, then we really don’t have an ability to print on demand. It’s not going to work unless we can actually finish products to a level that a consumer expects. This is where we’re falling apart a lot here. There are lots of companies who have been working on that. I’m really excited about Formalloy and their metal finishing capabilities and their metal overprinting and other things that they do, so they’re getting a lot of capability there. You combine that with some traditional polishing or other things and now we have something that can be mass-produced. There are other people like Lucy Beard from Feetz who are doing some great things with just reengineering materials to make them better. We need a lot more work here in order to really satisfy and do a broader gamut of products.
Of course, we have safety and testing. This is an example. We were called in on a client’s project where they had a CPSC recall on bean bags. These are the little pellets that are in your bean bags. Two children died from suffocating with those little pellets. That’s horrendous and horrible but at the same time, the manufacturer had an issue. There’s a little zipper there. That zipper should not be able to come apart and they were using just a big old staple, like an industrial staple that was attaching the two pieces together, so of course kids were able to defeat that. The client was going to be losing a placement of over $20 million to their bottom line every single year and that they were no longer able to make these bean bags that their whole company was built around. They came to us and we redesigned the zipper portion of it.
These are things that if you weren’t in the industry, if you haven’t been doing this a long time, if you don’t understand the testing model, we can’t just make 3D print products, push them out in the market, and not have an understanding of the safety concerns. We can’t. We have to have test protocols. All of those things need to happen and they not only need to happen on the design level. They also need to happen on the product production level because if at the end of the day you can produce a product that has a problem in the production of it, in the manufacturing of it, in the on-demand printing of it, we need to be able to check for that. We need to be able to check for flaws and all of those things. That part of the process also is a very big opportunity gap for someone to be really pioneering something and
Retail integration, the biggest gap we have going for us and the most important. If we can integrate straight where people are already shopping and you don’t have to get them to come to your store, I think that’s the idea that people are going to switch over and start shopping at Shapeways or shopping at any one of these new retailers that are popping up. It’s an expensive proposition and especially if it’s only 3D print products. People aren’t really in that. They want to shop for convenience, women especially. If I’m already in the store, it needs to absolutely be integrated.
One of the huge failures we saw over the last couple of years was when Amazon separated out and had the 3D Printed Products store. I understand why they did it logistically. It was problematic because it was a whole custom interface that they were designing in terms of a user interface, so I understand that. When someone can’t just search in their normal search model on Amazon and just find a 3D print product and it doesn’t matter how it’s made. We do not label our products injection-molded, rotationally-molded, aluminum cast. We don’t label products like that, so why do we want to label them 3D printed? No one should care. It should just be that this product is being delivered to us. We bought it from the place we wanted it. It’s being delivered to us in Prime, two-day shipping, whatever that is. Who cares if it’s not coming off of a shelf, it’s coming off of a machine? All the better. It’s a more sustainable solution. That’s really the ideal way that I see that if we get to that stage, then it’s going to tip into retail. It’s going to be really easy.
This is the other reason why. I want to just use an example that I use all the time. This is someone who came to me and they were making this amazing aquaponic lettuce. This lettuce was grown with 50% less water and it just had all these amazing features. They were scaling this up and they were trying to go for a venture capital and they were giving me this whole pitch about how wonderful it was. They were like, “We’re going to be able to sell it for cheaper.” I looked at them and I said, “You’re not going to do that from the get-go, are you?” They said, “Of course we are.” I said, “Let’s think about this.” It is the same problem we saw when we looked at that $16 rose being sold on Walmart. If you put side by side something that’s new, that people don’t understand, that they haven’t tried yet and you put it next to something that they trust and you make it cheaper, people think it’s less quality. If I looked at these two, if I’d be on the shelf at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or something, I’d be looking at it and I’d go, “It’s grown with less water. That sounds cool. It’s $1 cheaper, so I bet it doesn’t tastes good.” When you can’t sell head to head and provide value, I’m not saying you have to be more, but being the same then you can’t get a proper test of whether or not people are interested in your product. That’s what we have to do. We can’t keep relegating 3d print products to somewhere else and keep them separated and force them to be cheaper. It’s just not a model that will work, not with consumers.
That was really what I presented there. It’s not a lot of time and there were lots of questions. Some of the questions were about typical things that we talk about all the time like, “Is 3D printing fast enough? Why aren’t there enough designers? What’s going on there? How can I help?” What I’ve been hearing lately that I’m really excited about as I keep presenting these gaps and these other things that we’ve been talking about various things, some of you are coming up with some great business ideas to fill these gaps. I’m so thrilled with that. I don’t expect to fill them. I expect everyone else to group together and us to build that together, then we’ll really get through this. We’re going to get through the right fit design. We’re going to get through that skilled labor gap and we’re going to help each other train and get that cross-functional training that’s required. We’re going to get all that production capability we need to really make 3D printing a retail reality. I’m telling you out there, I’ve been doing retail for25 years, designing products for this, and they need the potential of what 3D printing can do.
It is up to us on WTFFF listeners and @3DStartPoint Facebook Live people who are listening. It’s up to us to make this happen. Keep plugging away with your business ideas and your great designs. Please send me some feedback. Let me know what you think. Let me know if this was valuable to you. We’ll try and do this maybe on a monthly basis. I would love for that. Thanks so much.
Listen | Download | View
Hear the episode of the WTFFF?! Podcast by using the player above OR click to download any episode.
Help Us Help You!
Have some feedback? Leave a comment below. We will read and respond
Please also review us on iTunes and share via the social media of your choice.