Many 3D printers are sold through resellers, but are there enough of them? [Source: Fabbaloo]
There seems to be an imbalance of 3D printer resellers and manufacturers.
I constantly encounter all manner of 3D print companies and often get asked the same question:
“Do you know of any resellers in [geographical area] that could sell our products?”
Sometimes I do, sometimes not.
And it’s not up to me to make such decisions; it’s always a carefully negotiated arrangement between the manufacturer and reseller before transactions can take place. Equipment is to be sold by the reseller under certain conditions, and purchased from the manufacturer at certain rates, etc.
Why 3D Print Resellers?
Resellers are a critical part of the equation for small companies, particularly startups. This is because startups simply don’t have the internal resources to launch sales in broad geographic areas. It’s a huge challenge to build up a sales team, contacts and distribution, so sales are often “outsourced” by manufacturers to well-known, large resellers, particularly in distant geographic areas.
I’ve recently wondered exactly why these questions constantly emerge, and now have some thoughts on why this happens.
There’s a kind of lifecycle of product sales taking place here, which goes something like this:
Consumers, professionals and industry require functionality
Resellers attempt to address their needs by stocking products with that functionality
Manufacturers attempt to supply resellers with needed products
Reading through those three steps, you’d think it is a smooth process, but it is not in many cases. That’s because there are bumps in the system.
3D Print Misunderstandings
One bump is that there are misunderstandings about the required functionality. A end-use company might:
Not realize they require 3D printing at all
Not understand what kind of 3D printing they need
Not realize they need accessories to make their workflow easier
And so on.
Customer requests to resellers are frequently clouded by such misunderstandings. This is why many 3D printer manufacturers continually issue white papers and case studies on how to use their products. They are trying to inform the buyers of what is really happening, or at least the manufacturer’s view of what is happening.
3D Printing Startups
Another bump is that today’s world of 3D printing is still incredibly early. No one believes that the hardware and processes will be the same ten years from now. That’s because there are so many startups exploring the envelope of possibilities that new approaches emerge weekly.
But these inventive startups by definition produce functionality no one yet knows or understands. Thus there is little or no demand from buyers, and hence resellers are not particularly interested. Unless the reseller truly buys into the new product concept and is willing to expend extra effort to persuade their contacts to purchase the new product, there will be few deals for startups with unusual ideas.
Unfortunately, most 3D printing startups don’t have the resources to persuade resellers or clients directly of the benefits of their new concepts. Thus we have a bit of stalemate that is only resolved when clients somehow discover the benefits or the startup fails while waiting.
Kora Seeks Resellers
One such case I’ve run into lately is that of Kora, who we wrote about a short while ago. They produce safety cabinets for 3D printers that dramatically reduce the possibility of various disaster scenarios when a 3D printer is installed in one of their products. Kora is strongly interested in securing new resellers.
However, Kora’s sales depend on end-users understanding that there are indeed safety issues involved in operating 3D printers and that they, as responsible operators, should do something about it. If they don’t understand this, they won’t have any interest in buying and hence reseller interest drops.
Next week, there will surely be yet another 3D print company asking similar questions.
This problem is definitely a barrier that 3D print startups must overcome. But once done, then many possibilities open up.