The use of 3-D printing in small business environments is certainly something that has been gaining traction as the technology has become more easily available as well as more affordable. It has moved beyond something reserved for hobbyists and advanced technophiles and many industries have found a use for it. We recently had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Brian Spindel, co-founder and COO of PostNet, a company that franchises postal and business services centers across the country and around the globe. Below is the transcript from our interview conducted via email.
1)Where did you get the idea to found PostNet and what prompted you to do so? How long has the company been around? Is every branch its own independent franchise?
Steve Greenbaum and I were involved in the retail package shipping industry before we founded PostNet in 1992. We owned and operated a small business shop in 1983 and offered a business opportunity in 1986. This wasn't a franchise, but it is where we built our competency in the industry. We founded PostNet in December 1992 and signed our first franchise agreement in July 1993.
We are a fully franchised company and each PostNet location is independently owned and operated.
2)Whose idea was it to start the new center in Minneapolis and what was it that was especially attractive about 3-D printing?
PostNet has more than 700 locations worldwide and pursues all markets for new locations. We were approached with the idea of providing 3D printing services by Dave Thorsen, PostNet's new Minneapolis franchisee who is passionate about the business. With an engineering background, he was also enthusiastic about the 3D printing potential for small businesses. Right now, PostNet is in the evaluation stages to learn about potential applications for the service and who would use it. PostNet strives understand and provide what the people who use 3D printing need. This evaluation period also helps us determine pricing structure and marketing strategy for other franchisees. We are confident that there is a need for 3D printing in the market based on what we've seen so far, and are looking forward to evaluating the ways this service could potentially be incorporated into our system.
3)What is the 3-D printing setup like and how will it work? As in, what type of printers are on site, what are the costs, the materials, etcetera?
If we decide to roll out 3D printing in additional locations, the setup will likely differ from what is currently in Minneapolis. I imagine that for the next few years 3D printing services will be available slowly and only offered in select centers; however, everything is unknown at this point because we are still in the learning process. We are evaluating what it will take to service the vast majority of consumers. I look at 3D printing like any new technology—take fax or the internet as examples. At first there is a narrow market, the technology is slow, difficult and expensive to use. But as the cost and complication eases and the speed of service increases, the market becomes wider.
4)What do you think are the biggest challenges facing small businesses and the printing environment today?
The biggest challenge facing small businesses in the printing environment today is having the best possible messaging and creative designs/art/graphics on their printed materials. Small businesses do not often have advertising or marketing agencies to help them determine what will work best for their product or service. The solution to this problem comes with PostNet's consultative approach to our business. We work with each client to determine what results they want from their printed materials and help design something that will reach that goal.
The biggest challenge facing small businesses when it comes to the 3D printing environment is that the market is still very narrow. In order to expand, the 3D scanning industry will need to be developed because not everyone knows how to create a file that can be printed in 3D.
5)Are there other plans to open more 3-D printing centers down the road if the one in Minneapolis is successful? Are those types of choices left up to the franchisees?
Yes, there are plans to open additional PostNet locations that will offer 3D printing services. Franchisees will not be required to offer it, but if we decide there is a definite need in the market, it will be an option. The option to offer 3D printing will be up to the franchisee.