TechShop’s Not-So-Secret Ingredient

As we announced in November 2013, TechShop – a prototyping workshop, which has seven centres across the US and is looking to expand into Europe, the Middle East and Asia – has selected the Innovation Birmingham Campus as a location where it would like to establish a 20,000 sq ft facility. This article will tell you more about the really exciting TechShop concept:

To achieve its prodigious goals, the marquee makerspace is dialing in a precise method to make each new shop polished and profitable.

Jim Newton talks about the high-powered equipment at TechShop like a car geek talks about fuel injection, horsepower, and torque. Many terms are even the same; as he walks past a Jet vertical milling machine, he mentions its 3-horsepower motor, variable speed, and digital display.

Newton is the founder of TechShop, the (arguably) first and (almost certainly) most well defined makerspace. At 18,000 square feet, their flagship San Francisco shop is filled with his favorite tools and equipment.

He loves the Tin Knocker hand turret punch for its precision and the clean holes it creates, the cold saw (also from Jet) because he always wanted one but could never justify buying it for himself. He calls the manual lathe “one of the workhorses of the industrial revolution.” All these tools — including 3D printers and laser cutters — add up to a big part of what makes TechShop TechShop.

The company stands out among makerspaces, while the “makerspace” category itself remains somewhat ill defined. TechShop tends to be the Platonic ideal. That’s not to call it generic; it’s simply come closest to defining the category, partly because of its standardization and partly because of its scope. With eight stores in strategic U.S. maker markets, they’re the biggest membership-model shop around.

Still, TechShop has bigger plans. According to CEO Mark Hatch, it intends to scale up to between 60 and 100 locations around North America, essentially growing by around a factor of 10. To do so, it will need to depend on a fairly strict set of parameters and methods that will go into every new location, sort of a “TechShop protocol.”

Hatch and the TechShop crew aren’t secretive about it. He doesn’t see much in the way of competitors because he doesn’t think others can do the same — it’s just too expensive. “It comes down to capital, and these are very capital-intensive businesses,” he says. “It’s hard. It’s expensive. The price points are pretty low at $125 a month. This is not an easy business by any stretch of the imagination.” Each shop, he says, costs between $2.5 and $3.5 million to open.

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