Don’t Let the 3D Printer Business Pass You By

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Any professional audiovisual equipment manufacturer, distributor, or reseller knows that the key to continued revenue and growth in an ever-changing marketplace is adapting to the technology disruptions that are often driven by pioneers from a different industry.

For example, a small company named Draper started making window shades for schools in 1902 (before most Americans even had electricity). In 1957, a full 55 years after the company was started, the President of Draper, Luther Pidgeon, secured a patent on an inexpensive classroom projection screen. Draper is now one of the largest manufacturers of projection screens in the world. They also make projector lifts, AV furniture, basketball hoops, soccer goals, wrestling mats, other athletic equipment, and even their original window shades!

One big reason Draper has survived for over 100 years is because they are, in my opinion, “quick followers.” A quick follower is never a technology pioneer, or even an early adopter (willing to pay top dollar to get in “early” on a technology trend or fad). A quick follower is not so quick to jump on the train before it leaves the station. They’re pretty quick to jump on the train once it’s already moving, though, before most others embark.

The professional audiovisual and consumer device industries are full of people trying to convince you that their product is “the next big thing.” Your first question to them should always be, “how many have you sold so far?” That’s exactly what Draper asks. They don’t invent the market, they wait until there is a tipping point, see the need, and come in “fashionably late” with competitively-priced alternatives. Since Draper has been in the education business for so long, people trust them.

Which brings me back to 3D printers…

As I was reading this great post from Lisa Arthur about the disruptive nature of 3D printer technology, I could not help but ask myself, “Sure the potential market for these things is huge, but who exactly is going to be selling them?

The next thing I did was Google the term “3D Printer.” There were a handful of eBay and similar specialty vendors at the top of my results. After a few minutes of virtual window shopping, I deduced that B&H Photo Video & Pro Audio had the best variety of 3D printer models at different price points, both online, and in their store:

B&H Photo 3D printers
B&H Photo Video & Pro Audio is selling 3D printers; why aren’t you?

B&H Photo Video & Pro Audio is a perfect example of a quick follower who recognized the online market for audiovisual equipment and has been taking market share and margin away from traditional resellers for years. Just like Draper, they let others lay the rails, then they were the first to jump on the train before it left the station. B&H is now one of the largest retailers of audiovisual equipment, both on and offline.

So what is stopping other AV resellers from selling 3D printers like B&H Photo, Video & Pro Audio? Don’t give me the excuse of “it’s not audiovisual equipment”, because guess what? Its not “Photo, Video or Pro Audio” either! It’s all technology! Audiovisual distributors and resellers need to become the “quick learners” in this equation, demonstrating the 3D printers the same way they demonstrated projectors for the past 20 years.

Most of these 3D printers work over USB or Wi-Fi. So where does the integrator fit in? I think it’s the same way that Draper stayed in business over 100 years: the education market. A 3D printer in a classroom will make kids excited about art projects and computer aided drafting. Learn to demonstrate the product as part of client meetings and lunch and learns. By becoming a 3D printer dealer (a.k.a. expert) and suggesting 3D printers for specialty classrooms, you will set your AV proposal apart from other AV integrators, who just want to sell projectors and screens, forever. Or was it just window shades?

Big Data MarketingIf you agree with me and Lisa Arthur about 3D Printers, you might also want to check out “Big Data Marketing” in which Lisa covers five essential steps to becoming a successful data-driven marketer. Throughout the book she emphasizes and provides examples about how marketing must collaborate with IT about Big Data in order to serve as change agents. Lisa is the CMO of Teradata Applications, the leader in integrated marketing software, and has pledged to give all book profits to The American Red Cross. Win-win!

To purchase a copy of Lisa’s book, Big Data Marketing, click here.