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Imagine taking an idea in your head and turning it into an object in your hand. The possibilities are endless – for manufacturing, architecture or the creative arts. And if you don’t have a three-dimensional printer on hand, you can just go to 3DPhacktory, a 3D printing and design studio in the Leslieville neighborhood of Toronto.
Since 2012, the storefront operation has provided high resolution, multi-material 3D printing to clients such as tech-savvy engineers with print-ready projects, movie people who want 3D models and the guy on the street. with a sketch on a napkin.
3DPhacktory is doing well, with expected annual revenue of $ 350,000 this year. But its managers are faced with a challenge: explaining what they do and how they do it is to hamper the conduct of business.
Three-dimensional printing has been around for a while, but people have misconceptions about it, says Laurie Mirsky, founder of 3DPhacktory.
The staff – three full-time and two part-time – spend more than half of their time talking to people who call or pass through. The store welcomes people interested in 3D printing, says Mirsky, but explaining them takes up labor time.
“We depend on people’s curiosity, and educating the client or potential client is essential for us,” says Mr. Mirsky, who has a background in film production. “But we would like to shorten the education process and turn that curiosity into more sales.”
Printers work much like inkjet copiers, but you can’t just insert a sketch and produce a three-dimensional version. First, customers need to sit down with a digital designer who can translate a concept or drawing into digital instructions for the machine using special software.
A computer then sends that data to the printer, which begins depositing micro-thin layers of the material of the customer’s choice – rubbery or stiff or somewhere in between. As the object is built layer by layer, UV light hardens or solidifies it, until the product is finished.
The process can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as three days, depending on the size and complexity of what you want to build.
3DPhacktory has an educational website with how-to video and blog. The company also organizes workshops, seminars and open days, often targeting specialist groups such as industrial designers or artistic directors. The goal is “to have 10 people in the room to answer all their questions at the same time, rather than having these 10 people come individually and spend an hour with each of them”.
3DPhacktory spends around $ 1,000 per month on marketing, mostly internet based, focused on Google AdWords.
“There are really two things we’re trying to do with education,” says Mirsky. “To educate people who are already working in technology, and the other is trying to bring 3D printing to companies who do not yet know how to use it to their advantage.”
The Challenge: How can 3DPhacktory show and tell its revolutionary technology – and sell its services – without saying it’s blue?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH
Tony Vlismas, Marketing Manager of the Mobile Software Company Polar Mobile Group Inc., Toronto
How do you encourage questions to engage the customer without wasting sales time, while still being able to turn that into a lead? Content creation is a good start, and 3DPhacktory is already doing it. By becoming thought leaders, it will be easier for people who know their stuff to find Mr. Mirsky’s business, and this can make up for the time it takes to find new clients.
One suggestion is to use in-store marketing materials for FAQs (frequently asked questions) that people can take home. It would also make it easy for people to visit their website or contact them again in the future.
Mr. Mirsky can also create a user group atmosphere by organizing tours and meetings once a week. So if people have a lot of questions, he can recommend that they come back on that date to meet other users. Suddenly he is encouraging and building a community of like-minded individuals, of which he is the primary sponsor by association. This will make it much easier to separate those with questions from the serious prospects who may turn into customers later.
Michael Denham, Senior Managing Director of the Business Consulting Firm Accenture Canada, Montreal
They are focusing on a good market and their timing is relatively good. The global 3D printing market is set to take off over the next few years, growing from a few billion dollars globally to $ 15 billion to $ 18 billion by 2018. Recently, Google, Apple and HP have all announced their intention to enter 3-D. D printing as well as manufacturing, which will create much more awareness and interest.
So I think there is a window for this business that will not last forever. Because as big players get into this business and the cost of these printers drops to $ 250 to $ 500 per unit, no one will need to go to a third party for manufacturing any less. It’s probably four or five years from now, but now is the time for this company to seize its moment and establish itself – get the brand, grow – so they can survive.
They would benefit from a more precise focus on which end-use market to focus on and more specific tactics on how best to connect with buyers in each of these segments. I suggest they focus on a subset of the markets, particularly consumer, fashion, art, and film. There is a vibrant film industry and fashion industry in Toronto, and few regulations or barriers.
I am a firm believer in the value of trade shows for small businesses because they bring together relevant people to connect with entrepreneurs. There could also be a very interesting market for 3D printing in terms of seasonality, especially around the holiday season, for innovative gifts.
Michael Hyatt, executive chairman and co-founder of the IP address management company BlueCat Networks Inc., Toronto
3DPhacktory is new to a new category of business that is not well understood. I guess they try to be everything for everyone. It may be better for them to do less well. They should consider serving only their top two or three customer types and selling only to those categories. Yes, that means saying no to some business. Customers who know what they want and understand the process are likely to be the best – less time to explain and more deals done.
The company should also select customers based on the highest margin and easiest replication process. By turning down business and only selling in a high margin market, they can probably sell more with more gross margin dollars in their pocket.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Use in-store marketing materials that people can take home
This would encourage people to visit their website for more information and allow them to easily contact the company in the future.
Market it and measure it
Spend highly targeted dollars on a few higher paying customers. Carefully measure dollars spent and qualified leads inbound.
Focus on trade fairs
This can produce a winning combination of retail chains, distribution channels, and wholesalers.
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The interviews have been edited and condensed.