Goodbye, TechShop

The CEO of TechShop, [Dan Woods], has hit the legal E-stop and declared Chapter-7 bankruptcy for the business. All ten US locations were shuttered on Wednesday with absolutely no advance warning. You can read the full statement from [Dan] here.

We are deeply saddened to hear of TechShop’s closing, and while it wasn’t implausible that this might happen someday, the abrupt shuttering must come as a painful shock to many for whom TechShop was an important part of their personal and professional lives. We owe a lot to the work and effort they put forth; they led the way as a pioneering makerspace and for more than ten years, TechShop provided access to tools, taught classes, and created opportunities for the DIY world that are still as important today as they were in the mid-aughts.

Leading the Way

Jim Newton, founder of TechShop, originally wanted a space to tinker with his pet projects. “I’m a frustrated inventor who needs to have access to this kind of stuff. And people always say that the best companies are the ones where the founders are passionate about what they are creating, which is exactly what I am,” Jim said in an interview in 2007, at the beginnings of TechShop.

It turned out that there were a lot of other tinkerers who wanted to work their pet projects too.

TechShop took a risk. All new business ventures are risky and most fail quite quickly, but in 2006, this whole movement, this idea that people could build things and take advantage of new technologies, personal fabrication, ad-hoc manufacturing, and rapid prototyping outside of universities and commercial R&D labs, was just a dream.

Adafruit was incubating in Limor’s dorm room. Arduino was just the name of some pub in Italy. Eben Upton was wiring prototype Raspberry Pi’s by hand. Nathan Seidle was still reflowing Sparkfun’s boards with a toaster oven. Maker Faire, “The World’s Largest Show and Tell,” wouldn’t even launch until the following year.

In the fading light of high school shop classes, people often were shown the ways of woodworking, light metalwork, and maybe how to fix a car or two. Filling a business with a smorgasbord of advanced machinery and teaching people how to use it, was, and still is, a relatively new concept. TechShop had a dream and made it real with the dedication of hardworking support staff and instructors around the country.

Getting a makerspace off the ground and keeping it in the air is no small feat. We know firsthand how much time and effort it takes, not to mention the deep financial investment required, to open a fab space. Unlike most other spaces, TechShop was a for-profit business, which put them in unique constraints. Investment from outside sources, maintenance of machines and the professionals with the knowledge to teach them, liability insurance when you have not one, but many machines with high-speed blades, powerful lasers, and extremely pressurized water systems in the hands of the public, meant charging appropriate costs.

TechShop was fundamentally a service, and unlike other makerspaces where a strong volunteer culture exists, and people might show up to just be around, the nature of TechShop meant that once people had accomplished their goals, that’s it. They’re gone. Building a strong community that keeps coming back while also trying to provide a consistent service is a tough line to walk. They did partner with universities and team up with major corporations to work on joint initiatives, but ultimately, the numbers didn’t match up and their financial options had run dry.

Rebuilding Dreams

TechShop will leave a hole in many communities. There are still the Noisebridges, the NYC Resistors, the Artisan Asylums, and a growing list of hackerspaces around the world. There really aren’t places like TechShop, though. We can count on one hand the number of spaces that will even allow amateurs in the same room as a water jet cutter, let alone operate one. Most makerspaces a lucky to have even a single laser cutter, not to mention the countless other amenities and machines all under one roof that TechShop provided.

These tools are opportunities, ones which many of us cannot outright own or acquire, but at the end of the day, they’re just that, just things. The Tormach didn’t offer you words of encouragement when you broke your 3rd end mill. It wasn’t the Epilog who stayed up all night with you and cracked jokes while you were on a deadline. Those 3D printers didn’t brainstorm with you day after day and spend the time to show you how to get good prints…

It hurts to know that one of the pillars of our community is gone, but the people who built it, grew it, and shared it with the world, are still out there. The curiosity for design, passion for sharing knowledge, and organizations that work tirelessly to support the growth of the DIY are still burning bright.

Tools are just the kindling, but everyone carries the spark.

112 thoughts on “Goodbye, TechShop

  1. A lot of people have been saying this is what RadioShack should have done, imagine what an enormous failure that would have been when you see how this venture run by someone who knew what they are doing has come to a grinding halt.

    1. Nah. It’s the $5-$20 Purchases that keeps a small business going which radio shack had in spades. Combine that with brand recognition and access to a pre-exiting talent base for running a nationally sized business. RadioShack could have pulled it off easy.

      1. I agree with at least the last sentence there. I would’ve LOVED to see Radio Shack embrace the hacker/maker movement and put some tools in there. Lord knows I’d just about commit mass murder* for access to a drill press, a few (other) common-but-expensive power tools, and a medium-size CNC machine with a half-decent paper-diagram-to-3dCAD service (I can do 2d but not 3d). The $600 eBay ones, awful as they are, may as well come with a free trip to the moon, for all I can pay… literally, I’d have to save up my entire monthly disposable income for a few /years/ for that to happen… which means it’s simply not in the cards. I could do SO MUCH if I had access to something that could cut 1/8″-1/4″ acrylic and an occasional bit of thin-ish aluminum sheet.

        If Satan himself popped up in front of me and offered me such a place in exchange for my soul… well, no guarantees in either direction, but let’s just say there’d be some significant negotiation going on there for a fairly substantial period of time. Seriously.

        * Law enforcement: do not take me seriously, I’m not interested in actually killing people IRL, promise :)

          1. Indeed.
            Look out for someone locally who could help you. Or, if you’re a prolific maker, pick one of your simpler, cheaper ideas as a starter, to bootstrap yourself – get it going for $100 then bank the money you make from it towards the next bit of gear you really need, for the next profitable endeavour you plan, and so on.
            Easy to say, harder to do, but you can do it!

      2. espectfully self absorbed persons who believe that their $5–$20 purchases can keep business large or small afloat is one of the reasons businesses fail. Perhaps a retired lone person or mom & pop that have a base retirement income could be able to keep a “hobby” business going. A larger retail establishment would have to have minim of six employees to keep the store open when customers expect them to be open, and to prevent employees leaving for a better employment experience. On of the problem Radio Shack had is that the small purchase customers would go elsewhere to purchase component audio systems, IBM compatible computers, and yes mobile phone contracts.

        1. It’s just math, someone who spends $20 a week on bits and pieces will spend $1000 a year, and instead you want to court the guy who spends $500 in one chunk in something that’s only bought every 2 or 3 years?? So you piss off the “small potatoes” guy and dump more into advertising to remind those occasional higher ticket purchasers you are still there every blue moon when they get the whim to buy something.

          Then also you need to give yourself a slap if your tech savvy customers are turning their nose up at your larger ticket products, it means you don’t have good products.

    2. Nah. It’s the $5-$20 Purchases that keeps a small business going which radio shack had in spades. Combine that with brand recognition and access to a pre-exiting talent base for running a nationally sized business. RadioShack could have pulled it off easy.

      1. When RadioShack had a battery of the month club I’d always get one Christmas present from my Dad from RadioShack, once RadioShack quit giving him free batteries, he quit stopping by once a month.
        I think the company was doing better when they had several of those $5-$20 purchases every day. Even if it only paid to keep the lights on, it did mean they could remain open to make a bigger sale.

      2. Right I’ve seen a lot of hobby shops go the wrong way, forgetting the “small stuff” and going big ticket, high spender only, with not enough of the little bits and pieces to service that either. They basically took the one thing internet sales had them beat on… big variety of big ticket items, and beat themselves over their own fricking heads with it, because $50 is $50 and if’s that much cheaper online, then that’s where people get it. They are not gonna quibble $2 vs 1.59 for a stick of balsa when they’re collecting up bits to make something on a Saturday morning so they can make a weekend of getting stuck in. Every place that did that was a ghost town in months, and if you went inside, they were shoving the high ticket stuff down your throat, what every you came in for “Nah you don’t want that, this is where it’s at now..”

    3. Though actually, in the case of RadioShack, if they maintained, even increased stocking of components and personal tools, then it would have driven revenue in those areas more symbiotically.

      In comparison to how that could have gone, it would have made Techshop look like a coffee shop that doesn’t sell donuts or baked goods.

      1. In fairness to RS, they did try that: in about 2000 they opened a small number of places under the name of TechAmerica, where you could walk in and say “I want an A/D converter” and the sales associate would say “how many bits?” They lasted about a year and a half, before closing due to lack of business, because Digikey ate that business before the internet ate brick&mortar.

  2. It’s kind of interesting that you can make money with products or services, but not by providing capability or facilities. Like the prevalence of open-source code in our infrastructure, it seems that the most viable model for “maker” spaces is as voluntary efforts.

    1. The biggest thing in my opinion is that TechShop seems like it has a more… commercial feel to it.

      Everything in it seems to cost money (like classes to use some of the equipment), and TechShop’s pricing always seemed much higher than other hackerspaces. Here in Austin, ATX Hackerspace has membership for $75/mo, and last time I looked at it, TechShop here in the Austin area was something like 120/mo IIRC.

      In my opinion the community support is VITAL to keeping a makerspace open. Without that community engagement, they don’t have the income or infrastructure to keep the doors open.

      I do think the idea of marrying a Makerspace with public infrastructure is fantastic. One of the neighboring cities here in the Austin Metro has opened makerspaces in their public libraries. They are more craft/electronics/3d printing oriented, but not bad. They’re also partnering with interested members to offer STEAM related classes, such as e-textiles, 3d printing, etc.

      And my son’s school is now introducing a “Maker Monday” event into the school, where they do STEAM activities once a month, up to 3d printing and design in the 4th & 5th grade classes.

      I think that could, and should, be something more libraries and schools should venture into.

      1. Commercial maker spaced like TechShop are expensive, that is true. Non-profit, community hackerspaces however can be much less expensive and tend to foster stronger maker communites. Before writing off purpose-built makerspaces in general I would suggest trying one.

        The library and school spaces are nice and I’m not sure I want to discourage them however they do make me nervous. I don’t think libraries will ever really fit with the 24×7 noisy maker hangout that a good healthy community hackserspace can be. As for schools, I have never seen one that opened it’s doors to more than just their students and faculty.

        My own city has no publicly open makerspace. I have to drive quite a way to reach one. There did seem to be some momentum building towards one opening some years ago. Many of the people interested though were college students. That momentum pretty much died when the university opened up their own space, only for their students. We still have adults who would like to have a space however without that youth and vitality that the students once brought to the group… I’d say it’s a lost cause.

          1. Some universities are hardass about only full time students allowed on bits of the property after 5pm…

            I had a similar problem back in the day…. The set up was, two loosely associated universities, with more closely associated student unions through which all clubs must be organised, and there was supposed to be no duplication between the two. So the club I wanted had it’s space at the OTHER uni, accessed through a teaching lab, i.e. you couldn’t get to it if there was a class in session. Then also nobody but students directly registered there allowed in that part after 5pm or on weekends. So basically I could never get in there, and those of us from my uni who wanted to form their own club instead were not allowed by student’s union because there already was one.

          2. I don’t know. That’s a good question. Would it really make a difference though? Would it actually be practical to always be enrolled in a continuing-ed class every semester for life just to get makerspace access? I’m all for continuing to learn but that makes for quite an expensive membership! Not to mention that when one has to work full time for a living, and then study for a class too… that doesn’t leave much time to actually use a makerspace!

          3. @RW, no, this one is pretty open, there is no fence, is surrounded by city and has a public walking trail that cuts across it. I can’t imagine how any keep out rule would even be enforced if they wanted to. It’s a great place to go to take a walk. The people running the makerspace even wanted it to be a community space but the university was concerned about liability.

            Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with them not letting everyone else in. It IS university property. It IS a great thing that they do this for their students and they don’t owe the rest of us anything. (although maybe some argument could be made considering they do receive tax dollars) I was just commenting that such things which only serve a certain part of the population can have unintended consequences by removing that part of the population from the rest of the community.

            Taking it back to a reply to @ajford’s original comment, I think it’s better to work for opening a community non-profit makerspace than it is to encourage schools to form their own. Otherwise you risk satisfying some people’s needs thus reducing the potential support base for a more open makerspace while still not addressing others.

            We can’t all be students forever!

      2. I think there is room for both models.

        In a hackerspace, it’s often more about the community. Tools are donated, loaned, and scrounged, often broken, and sometimes taken back by the lender for personal or drama reasons. There can be a complex network of unspoken rules about various pieces of equipment, where members will point to a loaned piece of equipment as evidence of their generous involvement, but quick to yank back control and claim ownership if they want to use it and someone else already is. A hackerspace is best when most of your work is done on a laptop and a small bag of personal tools, and you spend most of the time talking to other members rather than working.

        Techshop and other commercial makerspaces had/have a clear mission. You have staff, and you have members. You have clearly posted rules regarding equipment, the equipment is expected to be available and maintained, there is a scheduling system for popular tools, there is check-in and check-out and a chain of accountability. The answer to “x tool is down” is “we’ll fix that ASAP and let you know” rather than “this is a do-ocracy, don’t complain about the tool just fix it” and the laser cutter waits 6 months for a new tube.

  3. What a loss for the DIY community. Someone should study the price-demand curve for such businesses. It seemed to me that the prices were high for an individual (occasional user), but just right for a small company to pay. Without a big volume base, the business looks like they had a hard time making ends meet. I’m sure there are other businesses that have the same pricing dynamic. Hopefully there will be some reincarnation of the effort.

        1. Plus, looking at the shiny, big shop in the picture at the top of the article, I suspect they were paying a good sum of money for rent, Whereas, some maker places are glad to find an old abandoned building to move into.

          1. @REN – I know I have read about hackerspaces that obtained their locations through squatting. I don’t know if any actually obtained ownership of the building that way or not. I think that is something that works in some countries but not others and is very unlikely to happen in my own country so I didn’t give it a lot of attention.

            I can’t really imagine doing this though. Even in countries with squatter-friendly laws… is it safe to load all your expensive tools into somebody else’s building? If the owner shows up, especially if you aren’t there at the time can he/she just take it? Yikes!

          2. The Austin TechShop (actually in Round Rock) was in a strip mall adjacent to a Lowes and had a door opening directly into Lowes. I’m sure that wasn’t cheap. And regarding the discussion above about small purchases keeping a place afloat — it was Lowes that was getting all the profits from people needing just one more 2×4 or whatever for their project.

    1. You don’t need to calculate a price-demand curve to figure out why they went under. Cash flow.

      There are two types of people that sign up for these services. Tire kicker techies and noobs.

      Noobs don’t have a clue, sign up imagining they will invent the moon, then just stop showing up because they lack the time/ability/perseverance to see anything through to completion.

      Tire kicker techies are the ones who have an idea of what its all about, but they are too cheap to fork out any serious cash because they expect a free ride on someone else dime. They are also quick to tell you what you are doing wrong and what you should be doing to fix things. They just won’t be there when it comes to rolling up their sleeves and helping out.

      You can’t run a business without cash flow. Rent/heat/cool/electricity/insurance/security/taxes/maintenance costs constantly bleed you dry.

      The people who understand and appreciate what they are getting are willing to pay – but generally they are also willing to buy their own tools, shop space etc to support their expensive hobby. They are also generally to anal to want to share their stuff with noobs and tire kickers.

      1. What are you talking about?!?!

        There are two makerspace models that I have seen. The non-profit hackerspaces where dues are pretty much just high enough to allow the space to scrape by on rent, utilities and insurance. In these places few if any tools have usage surcharges and most of the good stuff is either donated or on semi-permanent loan from members.

        Then there are the tech-shops which are run for a profit. They must profit because they have actual employees taking home actual paychecks. They tend to look nicer, have better tools and those employees should be more dependably there to perform maintenance or help members with questions. There most of the good tools have per-use or per-hour surcharges on top of the membership dues which are usually higher than the hackerspaces to start out with.

        I don’t know why you are complaining about what you call “kicker techies” in response to an article about Tech Shop. It is totally within reason to expect people to contribute in the non-profit hackerspace but in a “Tech Shop” that support is something the user is paying a premium for. It isn’t being cheap, expecting a free ride on someone else’s dime” It’s expecting to get what you are paying for.

        The most frequent analogy that I hear regarding the for profit makerspaces it to compare them to an exercise gym. It’s actually a pretty good analogy in more ways than are usually intended. Exercise equipment, much like tools undergo a lot of wear and stress during normal use and excessive wear when a noob misuses them. Do I expect to go to the gym and have to repair the equipment before I use it? No! It’s part of what I am paying for!

        Now the non-profit hackerspace I mentioned earlier is an entirely different beast. It is much more like a commune where everyone has a part in ownership. It makes much more sense to expect a higher level of participation within such a space. But that is not what Tech Shop was.

  4. Their location in NC closed years ago. I like the idea, but could never justify spending the money. If the training classes were cheaper and I could bring an assistant without paying for two memberships, I probably would have paid for a few days of shop time once in a while.

    1. I never went inside, but I remember hearing about them… I think my father went to the NC one once or twice.

      I’m in Siler City, BTW, and would love to see a local-to-me make/hack space. I know at least one other person in town who’d be at least slightly interested, as well.

    2. I could never justify the cost as well. I liked the idea of running a mill or a lathe, but i didn’t like the idea of a mandatory class. I would have preferred a demonstrate proficiency model. Either way the rates were too high to justify making it to the shop maybe once or twice a month on the weekend.

    1. Membership programs are generally created for the purpose of raising funds ahead of providing service on the bet that the member won’t use as much service if they aren’t writing a monthly check. The Terms and Conditions usually outline the rights of the member and the company, so you should review to see what you are entitled to under the terms of your membership.

      1. Terms and conditions basically went out the window for the purposes of that when they declared bankruptcy under US law. It’s now a relationship between different entities (mostly creditors). You might be entitled to more but if they don’t have more to give you (which is what it sounds like here), there is only so much you can do.

          1. Well, if it was the customer’s property and therefore never TechShop’s property to begin with (but was just being stored there), that’s somewhat legally different. The machines loaned to TechShop on the other hand are a different story.

  5. “Most makerspaces a lucky to have even a single laser cutter” should read makerspaces are.

    Is there a better way to present them then? Public library 2.0? Not all non USA TechShops are closing.

  6. I have a TechShop down the street from me and I toured it and went to several meetups and classes there just to see what it was about.

    What always struck me was that it was designed as a maker space, but sold to customers as a space where inventors should come to get their ideas prototyped and produced. Those two are different things. Maker spaces are largely for personal enjoyment and tinkering. An inventor or small business owner should not necessarily get into the weeds of that stuff and would be better served learning good design.

    A much lower cost and much more productive invention space would be essentially a computer lab with a few 3d printers.
    The space could have mechanical and electrical engineers on hand as mentors to help people learn basics of design for manufacturing. CNC parts should be outsourced to a place like protolabs, PCBs should be outsourced. Guide people on how to efficiently get their idea to a working prototype and guide them through the process of transitioning to production.

    1. I enjoy HackADay’s various blogs on prototyping or build processes (such as Benchoff’s recent badge build).
      Inventors would do well to follow HaD (if for no other reason than the “Fail of the Week” (FotW) series.

  7. Didn’t have a Tech space near me but wouldn’t have been able to justify being a member if one was near me. I always loved the idea of TechShop but given a choice between being able to afford materials OR shop time but not both I’d choose materials and be more creative in how I do things.
    I think open shop time at local schools would be a better option.

    1. I went to the TechShop website and I’ve got to say that is the most informative, open, honest and positive attitude I’ve ever seen from a company going through the steps that no company ever wants to go through.
      Losing a job is one level of pain. Losing a company is much, much worse because a company was create as an outgrowth of some part of you that you felt others would want to share.
      The character the leaders of TechShop is showing makes me want to sit down and have a beer (or other beverage) with them, on me🙂

  8. Not enough grass root marketing, advertising and diverse community engagement to inspire the future and current generations? I mean… Camel Joe had to Joe cool the future. Similar to Alex Rich and Internet notes above… I can make some components at home… some at the Library (certain ones do have 3D printers), some at machine shops I have connections with and others (even 3D printing) can be done via file transfers and online ordering then mailed. Seems Universities have R&D fab shops… at least the highest ranking for the States I’ve worked with. Maybe TechShop was looking at markets with timing issues if there wasn’t enough lag time or schools that are not as well engineering developed and other options. Maybe, they can use the equipment for an occasional “large job” for a revenue stream budget gap fill and operate in a re-organized 501c operation..

    1. TS even helped sponsor the ‘americas greatest makers’ TV show that appears on TBS prime time, last year (2016, march, iirc). TS closed down for 3 weeks (on one of their floors, in san fran) for the taping and ‘work’ that went on as competition for the $1M prize. (ob disc: I was involved in that project, and what a fun project that was!)

      but you know, a year later, intel has scrubbed its site entirely of all things curie and AGM and even ‘makers’. they don’t even have copies of that info anymore, they purged it all (poor showing, intel! why spend all that and then just delete it? are you that embarassed by it? oh right, it was curie. I take all that back.)

      still, intel could not make money in the ‘maker’ market and now TS gives up. I wonder if the business guys are really giving up on this idea, now. what a shame that would be; in honesty, we have not given the ‘maker stuff’ enough time to really grow like it should. what a good opportunity – wasted.

      1. I suspect there is room for a “start small, grow organically” model. That way, you can grow into what you’re selling, and vice versa. Even if you’re able to pay cash for tooling, it represents an enormous opportunity cost – that money could have bought either marketing or full-time paid adult guidance.

      2. Sometimes bankruptcy gets rid of debt and provides a fresh re-start capability.

        Sad, the large corporations don’t like to advertise to the future generations. Seems FOV first person shoot em up was propagandized to make drones out of whatever certain groups can child groom to get away with like office jocks that sit in an office and outsource everything all day. I almost think like farming to a certain extent and smaller business operations job shops… the stimulant addicted on maybe depressants too groups megalomania craze adversely impacts the mind there own smaller groups that don’t like to impact so much other than their own… not thinking that the large volume operations were only required to bring price points down to make the large volume. Sad too, that we lose the inventor inventive scientifically propaganda mentality to lead the future large volume operations.

        How can we inspire this into the future more and with a focus on survival required implements with more general health, safety, welfare and well being thoughts and intent? Also, considering mass and energy conservation with cleaner greener systems implemented.

        What is curie and AGM?

        1. They filed the form of bankruptcy that does not allow for restructuring and a new start. They’re gone, unless someone buys the assets at auction with the intent of opening something similar. It’s more likely that the equipment will be sold off one machine at a time to different people.
          (unless someone starts a crowdsourcing effort to buy it as a whole and does it soon)

          1. Unfortunately, sometimes the equipment is sold off to some liquidation firm for pennies on the dollar, and locals who would be willing to place competitive bids are never considered.
            DAMHIKT

      3. TechShop was a blue collar hardware and education business ran by big money software people from the valley. Rather than fight and scrap for profitability at each location they saw their only salvation as raising more angel money each time they blew through the last pile of cash. The few locations that were profitable were having their net profit slurped off the top to maintain a nebulous corporate headquarters. They JUST opened a new location in Brooklyn! You can’t open a new campus and shutter the entire conglomerate one month later without HUGE mismanagement happening at the top.

        Forget the tearful apology in the new front page PDF. This situation pisses me off. Why? I visited a TechShop once but have never been a member. It was great, if I had a local one I’d definitely use it even though I have access to a well equipped hackerspace. However, all of us who founded and maintain local hackerspaces/makerspaces know how hard it is to keep a business running. But it’s COMPLETELY doable if you run the business from the perspective of the underdog fighting to survive. I refuse to believe any muggle stumbled into a TechShop in a strip mall by accident and become a maker. You found it online and HUNTED the place down. Lower cost industrial space can be found, the top-billed machines like the water jets can wait until profitability is achieved. But now these jackasses have now run their ship aground and now have made it seem like the entire eco-system is in on thin ice which is patently false.

        A for-profit facility like TechShop would work fine if it was ran like a real business and not another valley startup.

        1. I’m with you 100%. I belonged for a year and a half and the abrupt Chapter 7 makes me think there’s more going on that meets the eye. If this concept was soooooo great,,,why not Chapter 11 a while ago, maybe get out of high rent leases, likewise equipment contracts/leases etc. and have a chance at a future, albeit a smaller one for now?

          I found that Dan Woods has an extensive background in marketing. Yet there was zilch for an advertsing and marketing plan. Ever seen an ad for TechShop,,,,anywhere? I’ll admit I didn’t subscribe to any maker-type magazines either in print or internet. But just getting hard core makers was a doubtful way to getting a location to stand on its own two feet.

        2. Hi, I’m the owner of a for-profit Fablab in Lille(France), one mile away from a TS.
          Leading such a job is hard, compromising, and ever-day adapting job. I can’t have a community because of the money, but customers have to feel good, find operational machines & answers to all questions.
          IT’s a real job, with lot of things to invent. The more difficult is that TS here get huge subventions from the city -they don’t pay the loan-, and I don’t. But I’m far more free to do what I want. My classes are cheap, my 12€/h free access too. I’ve developped other kind of services around, and it seems to work !
          I’m proud of what I do, and more of what my customers do ! It worse the pain.
          TS decided to kill the small community they made, sad. A lack of confidence.

  9. You know what I think.

    I think that someone with a lot of money that is reading this should help them out and get them to dry land.
    This type of business is more of a school for learning and teaching the young ones to use there heads and hands.

    So so sad. If you can hear this call for help how about you help them.

    1. Help the makers, not the companies hoping to make a buck off of them. I have nothing against the operators of TS (cos we don’t have one), but clearly they didn’t get the volume required to sustain the business.

      As I mentioned earlier, it seems that these spaces do best as voluntary, non-profit associations.

      I agree that teaching/mentoring should be an important part of these spaces, and also a business opportunity for some company should they want it.

  10. Does anyone know if any of the individual locations were profitable? If not why would they open more? Either they were misleading investors and creditors with a “grow now – profit later” story or perhaps they simply tried to grow too fast and had cash flow problems.

    If any of the locations were profitable then this failure isn’t evidence that the model can’t work.

    1. “While a few individual (US based) LLCs have been able to maintain a steady flow of income and cash flow, the
      company as a whole, including the majority of shops, have not been profitable and as a result the
      company as a whole incurred a great amount of debt that could not be sustained any further. While a few
      LLCs have occasionally been cash flow positive, none of the LLCs are nor have consistently been cash
      flow positive.”

      “The TechShop Global locations will not be affected as they are all owned by overseas licensees.”

    2. The Chandler, AZ location was said to be “profitable”, but that is misleading. The city gave them a nearly free rent location and ASU subsidised then with a bunch of student memberships. That’s an awful lot of propping up.

  11. I know a large issue was not just the cost, it was the time table. I started collecting smaller bits of tooling for my own garage, at a similar cost per month. A year later, and about $1500 in pocket lighter. I was not required to take their classes to use equipment. And I don’t have a wait list or schedule (other than my own) to deal with.

    When someone is paying $125 a month, and consistently does not have access to the tooling they are allowed access to, due to scheduling. One will start to consider other options. That’s exactly what I did. Now do I have my own shop with all the bells and whistles, Certainly not. What I do have is a solid tool selection, and the allotment to do what I need to do.

    1. Yes, for the working hacker on “days” there’s probably about 40 free prime hours between evenings and weekends. So you’d reasonably expect to get an hour of machine time on two or three pieces of equipment a week… yahhh turns out that pretty much saturates a “one of each” space with only 40 or so (active) members at a revenue barely paying the rent and utilities, never mind staff costs. Any members you can win for weekday daytime use are practically a bonus though. Maybe there’s economies of scale if you have a huge space, a dozen of each machine, but then that’s a hell of a lot of capital tied up for modest return.

      Probably as a commercial venture, need to manage it on the same basis as those scammy gyms, where they tie you into an expensive annual membership contract, with lots of extra fees, try to guilt you into coming even if it means you only get on the less popular machines etc etc.

      1. The other difference is that people could use a laser for hours and hours. Gym members don’t use a single expensive machine for that long and gyms typically have more than one of a single machine.

        Is it simply better to put capital that would go into this maker type equipment and instead use it to make products and sell those directly as a business that uses those specific types of machines? Makes the economy of scale different and it prevents smaller potential users from, well, being able to use said equipment though. But maybe the economic sense is just different and substantially better for a business versus something that is more community oriented?

        Not sure, I have not deeply explored the TechShop finances except always knowing they were never great and that they didn’t even want to give very early investors any kind of stock ownership or even a halfway decent interest rate either. Even if they were willing to invest substantial amounts into what was legitimately a for profit business. Not just that but the numbers (membership holders) actually required to break even was already a bit of a stretch to begin with at pretty much every (but not all) locations.

  12. Makerspaces should qualify for govt subsidy including tax exemption to make costs for all to drop. US$1000 annual subs to my local tech shop is just about do-able but needs a big commitment from me to attend regularly and get my moneys worth. US$100 per class to learn basics for each discipline (welding/lathe/cnc etc) is a lot considering it’s really just a basic safety induction to cover the schools ass.

    1. Many successful makerspaces are non-profit. As such they ARE tax exempt. I don’t know about spaces getting subsidy just on the virtue of being a makerspace but I believe that many of them get grants from time to time that involve doing things that actually benefit the community whose taxes pay for the grant such as going to schools and teaching kids about making.

      As much as I would like my city, state or nation to decide to use everyone’s tax money to make an awesome space that I can freely use in my city I don’t really think I could justify that to all the tax paying voters who unfortunately just wouldn’t be interested.

    1. I was a TS member from 2011 until the end. Your link is a really good overview of what was working or not.

      Past an initial membership and class promotion, being able to get through all the SBUs needed to make best use of the facilities was quite an undertaking. The wood shop, as an example, needed three SBUs. One for the saws (band, table, scroll), drill press, and sanders, another for the jointer and planer, and another for the lathe. Include the ShopBot and CNC pre-reqs, that totals $500-$800 at last pricing. To make most things more complicated than a shelf, one SBU would not be enough.

      Metal shop was similar, needing a SBU for each of the Metal Shop, Sheet Metal tools, TIG welder, MIG welder, Mill, Lathe, CNC Mill.

      Next is what it takes to become proficient using these tools. It takes time, persistence, time, mistakes, wasted materials, and time. You need several hour blocks of time to be productive much of the time. With an hour to spare here and there, it is difficult to get anything meaningful done.

      This may be a business model that works better in a down economy. When unemployment was higher than it is at the moment, I noticed there were many more regulars than I’ve been seeing lately.

      While having a regular job, I had to make an effort to make my membership useful. But, if I were to lose my current job, I would definitely continue being a member and be there more often.

  13. Many folks could not justify the high monthly membership for access to the equipment especially when so much low end stuff is cheaply available that could get the job done.

    Harbor Freight lathe for $500, mini-mill for not much more. Chinese K40 later cutter for under $300.

  14. I used to live in Denmark for a couple of years (as my then employer had their HQ there). I totally, totally hated the insanely high taxes but I could also see what they were used for: Except for free healthcare, free education, free unemployment insurance, every municipality had workshops that were free to use for everybody. Typically, these would be open until late like 10pm (which IS late considering that very few people there work past 4pm), and were usually supervised by trained professionals or master craftsmen. If you wanted to learn a new skill, you either enrolled in a (free) class or got a 1:1 introduction.

    My point is this: in education and in infrastructure you simply cannot leave things to the force of the markets. Whilst those mechanisms will (always) work in a long time-frame, they will totally fail as a tool when a society needs to evolve and improve structural deficits pronto.

    So, the (commercial) failure of Tech-Shop might be seen as an opportunity for politicians and policy makers to take a look at the educational system as well as for communities and city councils to re-think what they want to focus on in the future. There might be things that are more relevant than 4 types of bathrooms in public buildings (I am looking at you Democrats who partly caused the mess we are in right now by focusing on hypothetical issues that are relevant only to micro-minorities)… Talking of bathrooms: in DK, many (public) bathrooms have always been gender-neutral, clean and comfy with soft, white TP – also a good use of taxpayers’ money.

  15. Techshop had a strange feel to it. Every time I went in, it was roughly the same group of people coming in to use the laser cutters, and a small smattering of other folks there use the other equipment there. The community that a traditional hackerspace is built on was almost completely missing. People were there to do their own thing, and then they were gone again, likely without even socializing or expressing curiosity about what others were making. Folks that were there on a regular basis were somewhat friendly with each other, but nobody was there to figure out a next step in something. It was pure fabrication, and not a whole lot of the proverbial glue was there to hold it together, to speak nothing of the financial aspect.

    1. That’s a very relevant observation and I can confirm this pattern even for the non-profit workshop in the city where I live. Maybe it’s us who have unrealistic expectations or long for the team spirit (in my case) that we had in college when we were all teaching each other tricks and skills we picked up in previous education or in various jobs…

  16. I’ve knew about TechShop but I always thought this was a great business. I’m not sure if they marketed to small business for metal work and the like. Homeowners who needed small jobs done, small companies that needed special parts made, they could charge to train then charge for time on the machines. I’m really sorry to hear that they couldn’t make a go of it. I’m going to read up on their story.

  17. I belonged to one of the TechShop locations for about a year and a half. I had a great time there.learned a ton, and everyone I met was always helpful. The staff was great. I was the type that didn’t necessarily make a lot of stuff,,,but I fixed a lot and saved a lot of money. Thought I’d share my observations. I’m going to remain anonymous as I hope to join a reorganized maker space here and most of my comments are very critical.

    Guys I know in security in very dangerous locations (overseas) told me long ago to trust your senses. We developed these over millenia to tell us when something was wrong. My senses tell me there’s not only something wrong,,,but something fishy.

    1, There’s no way I’m going to believe that with modern accounting systems (that these high tech execs surely had) that they didn’t do a simple analysis of burn rate long, long ago and could forecast when the end was coming. Not only that, but to see where the problems were. I think it was damn unconscionable to open the Brooklyn location, take people’s money, and close it a month later as they ran out of cash. They HAD to know what the financial situation was. At my location, they recently added hours. I know this was only adding a sight amount of variable cost, but if you’re burning cash, and not a clear forecast of profitability, this wasn’t sensible. You’d save every penny you had. I can’t believe that they didn’t have an idea of the problems long ago, and file Chapter 11 to try and reorganize. Hope isn’t a strategy. The fact that they closed things so abruptly and filed Chapter 7 makes me very suspicious. Makes me think the game wasn’t opening locations that were sustainable, but the game was getting investor money. Dotcoms anyone?

    2. I have a hard time believing their program of opening more and more locations when supposedly NONE of the locations were ever profitable. I belonged to one of the larger ones in a very, very high tech city and found out that it was never profitable in its years of existence. Basic MBA classes teach that unless you can plot a clear path to profitability, you shouldn’t be opening more locations until you get the existing ones profitable! Figure out the problems first, get things on the right path, and then expand. This ain’t hard.

    3. I’m reading more and more that some of the equipment at locations isn’t owned by TechShop, like the St. Louis location and perhaps Brooklyn. Hmm,,,,is there perhaps some kind of lease-back deal the execs did with locations where they get the equipment back and the investors get,,,nothing?

    4. I was going to invest in TechShop originally but just thought I’d join first and learn about the business. Thank heavens my guardian angel was watching over me. These San Jose execs impressed me with a complete absence of a marketing and advertising program, another thing taught in a first year MBA program. I’ve never seen an ad for TechShop, have any of you? The way TechShop made money is through members. In my very, very high tech city, there was no advertising. I asked several TechShop employees and they said that’s all organized by corporate,,,which didn’t. How can members join if they don’t know you exist? I doubt a location could be profitable simply with the maker cognoscenti. From a back of he envelope calculation, I think my location needed at least 20 -30% more members to break even. I didn’t see a damn thing being done to get those additional members.

    5. Location, location, and location are the 3 rules of business. It seems to me if TechShop was not profitable, you’d find really cheap space in industrial park like locations. It also seems like most of the TechShop locations were premier, first tier space. That looks great to investors, but not on the balance sheet or monthly statements. Rent at my location was supposed to be either the first or second biggest cost. So if you’re not profitable,,wouldn’t simple business savvy tell you to focus on the big costs first?

    6. I’ve read posts here that TechShop operates on a model of getting more and more angel or investor money to stay in business. Geez,,did these guys know Bernie Madoff? Where were they in the early 2000s?

    I’ll stop now. My suspicions are telling me that the TechShop maker space model isn’t really broken. The execs mismanaged it. I can imagine folks telling me to put my money where my mouth is, but I don’t have that kind of money. BTW, I have run successful businesses and now that TechShop has crashed in Ch. 7, the more information that comes up now makes me think things were run waaay more poorly than anyone thought. I am not saying anyone broke the law, I really don’t have any facts. But I’m having a hard time understanding a company that was started in 06 in San Jose after the tech wreck of the early 2000s didn’t learn some basic lessons of the crash.

    1. I can’t address most of your critique, but I can say that the local TechShop was located between a wrecking yard and a coal fired power plant. It wasn’t in the worst part of the city: you didn’t worry much about someone stealing your car while you were in working. But for a centrally located industrial site, they did a fantastic job of finding a low-priced warehouse.

  18. I really doubt a for profit space could survive.. Just like a non- profit space a for profit space can’r please most of the pe most of a time, and the for profit needs a ROI for it’s failures. During hard times people turn to dIY out of necessity, Anything that requires what a *spaces provide beyond education or specialty machines, is a leisure time activity that may not be affordable during hard times. So even non-profit spaces are going to struggle to pay the operating costs. I see no reason to ivest in a for profit *space

  19. The San Jose location had experienced issues during/after a move forced by their landlord selling the property. The move kept being postponed and eventually ran >6 months behind schedule and I remember hearing it cost $1.2M more than planned. They were able to stay open by getting extensions from their existing landlord but it probably cost heavily. They were fairly open about the overrun and delay, and were looking for people help by investing in exchange for lifetime memberships. I wonder if there were many takers…

    The monthly membership cost was far higher than any gym ($155/month when buying single months of membership) so people will make the effort to cancel if they’re not getting value out of their membership. They had very frequent sales on classes & memberships so I feel members were conditioned to wait for the next shortly upcoming sale to purchase which hurts income/cashflow and is hard to wean people off.

    I thoroughly enjoyed being a member but as a business they had issues.

    1. FRance TechShops are held by a French hardware store, which have a lot of money to loose before they close.But if they do it, it will be with no noise.
      Second, Techshop & LeroyMerlin (hardware Store) used to infiltrate political surroundings (mayor etc…), and those political people get their “DIYers” credits from there. It’s just a political frontend… We are a lot of makers (pro & non profit), but only TS/LM is helped by the city. Ashamed !

      now, LM has spent a lot in a TS license that is not valuable anymore, worse, it’s a Trademark of a failure.

      (I’m not against TS, but only the one here.)

      1. Thank for the highlight.
        I wasn’t aware of the political face of LeroyMerlin’s TechShop, it’s sad.
        But this also mean that they may either bought back the name TS, or create a new label (well, I believe they will not throw away all the machinery…)

  20. I think the business model that works for commercial maker spaces is that they sell access to the tools to craftsmen who have a small business building bespoke items to sell at high prices. The high membership fees are still much smaller than the cost of renting a building, purchasing and maintaining equipment, etc. that one would have to do in one’s own shop. Essentially, you are spreading out those costs over several businesses that share the facilities.

    In that model, it isn’t really economical for individual makers to purchase memberships for one-off projects and camaraderie. It is a very different thing from a public hackerspace.

    Techshop seemed to be trying to grow fast, go after different markets (like education), and sell lots of debt to investors. Evidently, filling the place with kids “maker camp” during the summer months reduces access to crucial machinery for folks that are trying to run a business. Who knew?

    I’d really like to have some Hackaday reporters visit some of the other commercial hackerspaces like MakerPlace (San Diego), Vocademy (Riverside), and HexLab (Northridge) and see what their health is like and what they have to say about TechShop’s demise.

    Actually, I’d totally write that article…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s