The UPS Store: Personal Service for Small Businesses

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20151021_150154Inside 3D Printing Santa Clara was buzzing this afternoon as I walked among the booths of all the exhibitors and sponsors. With dozens of companies and organizations represented, it was easy to get distracted by all of the whirring 3D printers and seriously cool creations sitting near them at booth after booth. Among all the hubbub, I found my way over to The UPS Store‘s booth, where I had the opportunity to catch up with Daniel Remba, Small Business Technology Leader, ahead of tomorrow’s Ask the Experts panel.

The UPS Store is growing its presence across the country, and offers 3D printing services in an impressive number of major cities–now with 62 locations across the US, with several added to the lineup just in the last week. 3D printing offerings, Remba told me, are targeted at metropolitan areas with a major engineering presence (though, he mentioned with a smile, not in Boston–yet–although they have recently held 3D printing training sessions there with Stratasys). These locations, all run in a franchise model, are targeted largely toward those who might benefit most from such services: small businesses.

“We have one objective,” Remba told me. “To let small businesses know to use us–we’re a service provider for small businesses.”

20151021_150112The UPS Store has noted a rising trend in the 3D printing arena, as many businesses are gearing themselves toward consumers. This leaves great opportunity for development of both technology and operations. One major barrier, too, that exists in the consumer market: consumers don’t want to spend a lot of money for services. While there is a lot of fun to be had in the consumer market–3D printed selfies come to mind–development is more likely to arise from investments in creations that are functional.

For this reason, The UPS Store looks to focus more on the industry side, and (you’ll notice a trend here) small businesses, as well as consumers who are looking for more from their builds than they might be able to achieve on their own desktop 3D printers. Remba told me about five major areas of focus for The UPS Store:20151021_150240

  1. Marketing items
  2. Prototyping
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Architecture
  5. Home/one-off builds

He showed me models of all these types on the table at The UPS Store’s booth, from logos to prototypes for functional parts to a jig 3D printed using ABS that offered the same functionality as the original metal one to architectural models of a house and a UPS Store location to a tool that Remba used to adjust the Stratasys uPrint 3D printer at the booth.

The UPS Store favors uPrint machines due to their reliability and regularity. Remba noted that a key benefit of using these machines in their locations is that they are professional, high-quality equipment that aren’t necessarily affordable for a small business or prosumer–but these are just the users who can often benefit most from access to this hardware.

20151021_150237Next, I asked Remba what sets The UPS Store apart in a busy marketplace. Here, he had a big smile: there was no pause for thought, and he was excited to share with me his views on this front. His key points here included:

  • Local: The UPS Store locations are physically near customers in areas that have demonstrated demand for these services. The retail store availability appeals here due to accessibility and, frankly, novelty–a customer can come in and watch their part being made on the spot.
  • Locations: Many locations offer flexibility and availability.
  • Fast: Right now, there aren’t exactly long build queues at The UPS Store, and each order can be printed as it comes in. The order process thus takes only as long as the printer (and the soaking to remove soluble support structures). Additionally, because of the previous two points, most customers at The UPS Store are local, and don’t require shipping, which can represent notable savings in time and costs. Of course, shipping is available. “We’re great at shipping!” Remba noted.
  • Franchises: Stores are run by people who care. This is “not a faceless website,” he told me, it’s a “more personal, one-to-one service level that’s hard to find these days.”

ask expertsTomorrow, I’m looking forward to attending ‘Ask the Experts,’ a panel that The UPS Store is sponsoring, where Remba will be joined on the expert panel by Terry Wohlers (Wohlers Associates) and Richard Garrity (Stratasys). Questions can be sent in ahead of the panel (there’s still time!) using #3DPWeek. Remba told me he hasn’t seen any of the questions yet–but he’s hoping to see plenty about small business.

While Wohlers and Garrity bring incredible experience and expertise on the industry side–Garrity’s keynote this afternoon, “Meeting the Future with Additive Manufacturing,” was impressive to listen to as he demonstrated a great grasp of the latest in aerospace, automotive, and health care applications–Remba will be on hand to answer questions that arise from those interested in initially becoming involved in the industry: where to go, what is needed, what to do, whether to design from scratch or 3D scan an object.

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