Monday, March 4, 2013
The Maker's Marketplace
Globalization has both constrained and empowered small businesses and entrepreneurs with increasing regularity, no longer enabling a small regional craftsman to maintain a regional business without at least some form of global competition. Similarly, local small businesses can now utilize the power of the internet to expand their sales reach to almost any corner of the world. On such company helping to foster this innovation is Etsy.com, an online marketplace primarily aimed at skilled craftsmen, such as furniture makers, artists, jewelers, and other small batch producers formally limited to selling out of small stores or marketplace booths.
As described in “The Kitchen-Table Industrialists” by Anand Girdhardas of the New York Times, there is a resurgence in America of craftsmen competing with the might of Chinese manufacturers to “make things” for domestic consumption. While many of these small new-world industrialists are producing things with new technologies such as 3D-printers, tabletop CNS’s and other personal fabrication machines, many of the “makers” on Etsy.com are using traditional methods such as wood carving and hand-painting to create simple yet elegant wares. Typically the items being sold are comparable to works of art, and are far to delicate and detailed to be mass produced in a factory setting.
Etsy’s model can be compared today to the more robust manufacturing capabilities of the “makers’ on Alibaba.com, a Chinese marketplace that connects small factories in China to designers and producers all over the world. In a Wired Magazine article entitled “The Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms are the New Bits”, Jack Ma calls the Alibaba model, “C to B” (Consumer to Business”, which is “ideally suited for the micro-entrepreneur” movement. Similar to Etsy, both companies are enabling small, entrepreneurial manufacturers to thrive in the competitive global marketplace by vastly expanding their potential customer base and including a platform that creates both accessibility and trust.
One of the differences between Alibaba and Etsy is that the former relies almost entirely on the customer to specify the product’s design, while Etsy’s venders usually provide examples of either pre-made or prior designed items available for order. However, in a nod to the increasingly varied demands of customers, many of Etsy’s craftsmen are opening up to more user input in the customization of desired products. This follows a trend of companies such as “Black Label”, discussed in a New York Times article entitled “Putting Customers in Charge of Design”. By allowing customers to have the ability to customize a product, craftsmen are able to increase their abilities to meet customer demand, giving them an advantage over the large-scale industrial manufacturers.
Etsy’s craftsmen can also be seen following a trend of sustainability and material recycling. As predicted in “Manufacturing Resource Productivity” printed in the McKinsey Quarterly, manufacturers looking for future cost cutting strategies will need to be more conscientious of ways to reuse either their own discarded products or the waste created from the manufacturing process. Many of Etsy’s craftsmen are already taking advantage of this strategy, using refuse and recycled materials to create new forms of artwork, remolding old jewelry into new designs, and even using reclaimed wood in the creation of new furniture. By utilizing forward thinking manufacturing techniques, offering higher degrees of customization, and using the internet to remain globally competitive, the small craftsmen, in collaboration with essential marketplaces such as Etsy will remain competitive in the future markets of tomorrow.