Do you tinker, craft, invent, design? Would you like to make money from your creations? Perhaps start a business—whether a small business or giant enterprise? Then, you may be part of the growing breed known as “makers.”
America seems to have become a nation of consumers—with far too few creators. We import too much; make too little. But there are a couple of overlapping movements aiming to reverse that—the “made in America” movement to help support American manufacturing—and the “maker movement”.
The concept behind the “maker movement” is to get more Americans using their hands as well as their heads—whether it’s inventions, crafts, small manufacturing. The “maker movement” celebrates the small business person—the individual entrepreneur busily creating the next big thing in her garage or his basement.
This weekend, the maker movement convenes one of its most important gatherings: the 10th annual Maker’s Faire in San Mateo, CA, hosted by the company that publishes Make: Magazine. Another major Maker Faire and conference will be held in New York City in September.
Fueling the growth of the maker movement have been many developments:
Crowdfunding: enabling individuals to share new product ideas, gather support, raise funds
STEM: increasing recognition of the need for Americans to be better educated in “STEM” fields – science, technology, engineering, math—leading to more emphasis on creative learning experiences
Maker Spaces: the opening of co-working “maker spaces”, especially in larger cities, where inventors and tinkerers have access to tools, share supplies, inspire and be inspired
Makers Faires: over 131 Maker Faires were held globally in 2014
Marketplaces: online marketplaces have developed to enable makers to find customers
There are wonderful services coming out (for makers),” said Jules Pieri, CEO and co-founder of The Grommet, an online marketplace for innovative products. “They’re helping people who you’d never think of making products—lawyers, doctors, others—putting them in a position to make competitive products.”
Pieri outlined what a creator needs to consider if they want to successfully scale their products:
Price. “The biggest mistake a first-timer makes is they don’t layer in the 50% the retailer needs.” She advises that cost of goods should be about 20% of the final selling price to allow for your overhead and profit.
Clear need. Is your product meeting a clear need or desire of potential customers? “It’s even better if it’s something people are already Googling for.”
Retail packaging. Novices underestimate the importance of packaging. Retailers need packaging that attracts the attention of customers and looks good on a shelf.
Your story. “The millennial generation is interested in the people and values behind a product,” Pieri advised. She suggests making sure customers understand if your product is made in America, if you contribute a portion to charity, employ disabled workers or vets, and so on.
Product line extension. Pieri warns that large retailers have challenging systems for taking in new vendors, so they don’t want to go to the trouble for a vendor with just one product. “Assume success and have a plan—how you name the company—how you position it.”
Here’s how to begin if you’re just starting as a maker—or want to become one:
1. Work on your product. This is about being a “maker”—so start making something. If you’re spending weekends shopping or on the couch playing videogames, get up and start creating. Aim toward creating at least a prototype.
2. Attend events. Besides the big Maker Faires, such as the one in California May 16–17 or New York City September 26–27, many communities hold events to help makers learn how to get their products to market, show off prototypes, share ideas, find partners.
4. Find a sales platform. The Grommet is a marketplace for product creators who aim to scale and sell their innovative, manufactured products through retailers. Other marketplaces are for handmade goods, such as Etsy, Artfire, and ShopHandmade.
5. Find working space. If you want to grow your business, you’ll eventually have to move it out of the garage or kitchen table. See if you can find a “maker space” in your community. One of the biggest networks of such spaces is TechShop.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 15, 2015