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TechShop Raleigh-Durham is closing, effective Saturday, April 20, 2013.

In an email to MAKE, Dan Woods, chief operating officer and VP of business development at TechShop, said “In the final analysis, it is obvious that the location is not convenient enough to the vast majority of the maker community in the Raleigh-Durham market.”
Image (1) techshopclass_1.jpg for post 46064

TechShop Raleigh Durham opened in 2008 as an independently owned maker space, and was later acquired by TechShop, Inc. in late 2011. In the sixteen months since TechShop, Inc. took ownership, the company said it made significant investments to upgrade both the building and equipment in an effort to attract more members and increase revenues. However, after five business quarters, “the store continues to be unprofitable and shows no signs of turning the corner,” Woods said.

Jon Danforth, the founder of Maker Faire North Carolina, which was created at TechShop Raleigh-Durham in 2009, said the hackerspace, referred to as TechShop RDU, was “a rallying point for all of the Triangle Makerati and it holds a very dear place in my heart.”

Danforth said, “TechShop RDU didn’t fail. TechShop RDU sparked a fire in the Makers of North Carolina the likes of which I’ve never seen. It launched projects, products, careers, and grand ideas. It will be sorely missed but the spirit lives on in the forever-changed lives of those it touched.”

What do you think of the news Triangle makers? Are there new makerspaces in the making?

DC Denison

DC Denison

DC Denison is the editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

The former technology editor of The Boston Globe, DC is also interested in ebook experimentation and content management systems.

One of the places where DC can be found online is Google+ (which I’m adding here only because I want to see if by adding “rel=author” and “rel=me” to those two links I can get Google to display my picture in its search results.)

Hey, it works!


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Comments

  1. dang says:

    There goes the welding lessons I just paid for…

  2. If the problem is location, why don’t they relocate? It doesn’t seem necessary (from this little tidbit of info) to just shut it down and walk away.

    1. Kevin Gunn says:

      Good question! I live in the Research Triangle area and was one of the original members of TechShop here. The challenge here (I think) is that Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill is sprawling. It sprawls like the San Diego area. Originally TechShop RDU was in a central, but expensive area. I could get there in about half an hour. TechShop then moved to a much more affordable location — but I needed 45 minutes to get there *if* traffic cooperated.

      There is a real need for Makerspaces here in the Triangle, but finding a location that is “affordable and accessible” for Makers across the entire area is a tough nut to crack.

      1. Exactly what Kevin said. For those who don’t know, the area is really three towns (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) that form a triangle. The middle of said triangle is where all the major businesses in the area are located (IBM, Quintiles, various Biotech firms, Cisco, etc), as it is mutually convenient to everyone. In order to find affordable space, you’ve got to go to the far side of one of the three cities, which effectively cuts the other two cities out of the picture.

    2. grumpygus says:

      To really serve this area, you would likely need to put a TechShop in both Durham and Raleigh (e.g. American Tobacco Campus and Seaboard Station or something). IMO you’d need to focus on classes for parents to do with their kids (or homeowners to do misc. projects like have it next to a Lowes as in Round Rock) rather than gear it towards ambitious entrepreneurs. People seem to gravitate to RDU to raise families and the ambitious entrepreneurs tend to gravitate to other places. I was a member at the RDU location and I’ve visited other TechShops. RDU could work if you put a lot of time, energy, and money into cracking the code for this area, but I can understand why corporate was unwilling to invest right now when they’re busy setting up new TechShops elsewhere. I’m definitely sad about it; it was one of my favorite places.

  3. Thorne says:

    I am here contracting in Raleigh and was going to join so I could do some woodworking in my spare time. I just took a tour of TechShop this past Sunday. Shame to see it go as it had all the equipment I could ever use.

  4. Brett says:

    I know we have Artisan’s Asylum in Boston, but it’s a pain in the butt to get there if you live south of the Charles.

    Hey Tech Shop….COME TO EFFING BOSTON. Set up by Northeastern and BU and offer the students/school discount membership.

    1. RW says:

      Brett,
      I agree; Boston should have more maker shops in close proximity to the Back Bay or RT 128. I don’t believe TechShop is going to be opening one anytime soon but I’ve heard rumors of a new company starting up that might. Stay tuned.

      This next part I’ll post separately.
      RW.

      Re TechShop, they appear to be opening shops where it can partner with an entity—Ford, DARPA, ASU in AZ and Lows in TX—that either jumpstarts their membership or reduces rent. A good business moves for any company relying on member revenue.
      The TechShop PR talks about $ from DARPA and Ford which makes sense however, I don’t get the Round Rock partnership with Lowes. I don’t see the synergy.
      Any Tech Shop member out there ever go to a Lowes for a maker project?

  5. I had a membership to TechShop RDU when I first moved to the area a few years ago. It’s a neat space, but didn’t make financial sense to me. By the time you combine the monthly membership fee and all of the safety courses you have to take to use the stuff there, you can buy some decent equipment to have at home. I was very interested in the welding equipment, but there were too many hoops to jump through.

    I understand insurance company requirements, but it’s hard to cough up money for a safety course on table saws when I own one and have used one for decades. In the end, I just put the money into my own shop. Given the recent news of that location closing, I’m glad I did.

    1. BobAtWork says:

      I would be interested to see how many memberships lapsed. I was a former member and opted to allow my membership to expire due to expense, lack of convenience, and a feeling that it wasn’t quite up to my expectations regarding the “feel” of the place (ymmv). I really wanted the TechShop from the glossy.

      I’m sad to lose the potential – maybe some phoenix will rise.

      1. BobAtWork – I think you captured it with the “feel” being off. It felt less like a co-op / hackerspace and more of a commercial endeavor.

      2. Tom says:

        I let mine lapse too, for a few of the same reasons. I, like many others around the area, have a young family and a tech job and whatever free time is leftover is very precious. The location required a 25-30 mins drive each way, time I could be working on projects rather than driving. Also, the membership costs were a bit higher than I was comfortable with given my schedule and what I wanted to do there, and unless you are using the larger or more advanced equipment, it made more financial sense to buy good tools and do all of my work at home. Working at home loses the community aspect of Techshop, but given the schedule I have, I wasn’t getting a lot of that anyway.

        Techshop RDU didn’t work out for me, but I do want a spot to work with others. Perhaps a space with lower capital costs could open in a more convenient location and get the membership levels needed to be sustainable.

    2. drewberto says:

      The hight cost is the only reason I never joined. I remember when I first started to hear rumblings about this place before it ever opened. Once it came time to sign up I just could not justify the cost. It was way too high. I know there was a lot of expense but I and many of my friends could not afford the price tag.

  6. JCB says:

    It’s worth noting something the article fails to mention: The announcement Techshop would be closing Saturday was sent out to members *yesterday*. Before that, classes were being run, tours were being given to prospective new members, people were buying materials and equipment to complete projects. In the end, the Techshop corporation gave the RDU maker community five days to get out, with reduced hours to boot.

      1. JCB says:

        That link has some relevance, but Techshop didn’t (and doesn’t) have a gift relationship with its members. Yes, it’s a for-profit company that charges a fee for the use of its facilities but it has also built its brand in the maker community as being part of that community. Based on that, it seems reasonable for members to expect a bit of professionalism and consideration in terms of how something like this would be handled. The thing that rankles most about Mark Hatch’s letter to the membership is this:

        “We consider the RDU members and staff to be part of the TechShop family, and we would like nothing more than to have you continue the pursuit of your dreams at a future TechShop location near you.”

        Yes, we are part of the Techshop family. We’re the part the company kicked out with minimal notice while it continued to sell SBUs in the weeks prior. We’re the part that learned second-hand all the equipment had been sold off to a DARPA project in Maryland rather than giving the community an opportunity to purchase it and keep it local. And finally, rumor has it we’re a part that can’t easily leave. Someone close to the shutdown has written that lifetime members will not be receiving refunds because the Techshop company still exists even if the RDU facility doesn’t. The next nearest Techshop is in Pittsburgh so the first dream we’ll need to build is an inexpensive high-speed rail. We’ll just have to hope that facilty keeps making enough money that they don’t close it before we finish.

        All of the rhetoric around Techshop is warm and fuzzy but a move like this bespeaks either indifference to their members or incompetence in the organization. If you know for five quarters that a branch isn’t making money, you have time to plan a soft landing. They simply didn’t bother.

  7. KP says:

    ^I think JCB really hit the nail on the head. The reason it is so upsetting to me is that I had a big project planned for this weekend. Instead, on Tuesday I find out that they will be closed as of Saturday. I understand that they need to close the location. The news doesn’t even come as much of a shock to me because it was clear that their membership numbers were down.

    I just wish that they would’ve given people a few weeks or a month to finish up projects and the like.

    Anyways, I have heard a rumor that techshop corporate is going to start scouting the triangle area for a new location to open, hopefully within the next year. I have no way to verify that it’s true, but from the source it came from I’d say it’s a definite possibility that it’s true.

    In the end, the location was probably its downfall. Not only because it was fairly remote for a large number of people (and against the flow of traffic from most places to boot), but because it was tucked away in a little corner with ZERO exposure. I mentioned it to guys working at the Bicycle Chain on the corner of the road who are VERY much into DIY projects, and they had never even heard of it, despite it being a quarter mile down the road from them.

    So let’s just hope we get a new one, I guess. Or a hacker space of some kind.

  8. Location is certainly a big part of it. However TechShop RDU was also the last of the continuously operated TechShop locations that started under the franchise model. In that model, franchisees paid TechShop $50K for the TechShop ‘blueprint’: the brand, co-marketing, assistance with leasing equipment, reservation systems, etc. The idea was that the individual franchise owner would then crack the local market using these tools, and TechShop would grow most quickly this way. Scott Saxon tried to do this: but I’m guessing the location selection (first, too expensive to support; second, too unattractive to draw new members) did it in. When TechShop bought back the struggling branch, it kept the former owner on as manager of the location. Something about the RDU location remained ‘different’ during all the time it was there (I visit San Francisco, Menlo Park, San Jose, Round Rock locations as well): I don’t think TechShop RDU ever really went under control of the chain, and a lot of the vibe was a local creation. Therefore it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that TechShop is closing and reopening with new local management to align mission and vision with corporate.

    A corporate umbrella won’t save TechShop RDU, however, since I think the corporate level has its own problems. The biggest problem they face at a corporate level is hiring enough people who know how to build things, are familiar with the equipment, and who want to help. TechShop as a whole needs to look hard at the number of people staffing their facilities, compared to the number of successful interactions their staff have with members.

  9. Michael says:

    I actually was looking into teaching at the Techshop locations in the Bay Area, but after sitting through a couple of SBUs realized that I disagreed with the overall premise. This was happening when the SF location was just opening, and there were some majors things that really turned me off to the place.

    The first of which, and this is probably the biggest problem, is that Techshop isn’t trying to teach you how to use the tools. The entire idea behind the majority of their classes is how to let you use the tools without hurting yourself or the equipment. This is a laudable goal, but it’s severely lacking in something that is trying to become the focal point of a making community. I was going in as a machining instructor, and just being in the shop for 20 minutes of the class I personally saw a dozen different safety violations/equipment abuse occur. From minor things like people grinding immediately beside an unprotected lathe, to (in my mind more egregious) a staff member walking into the restricted safety area without glasses claiming it was okay because they worked there.

    Another problem I ran into, and this was a bigger deal in Menlo Park due to legacy, was that members who had been around a while acted like they owned the place. It’s kind of an inbuilt problem with businesses like this; you can’t tell customers they’re doing something wrong because you can’t risk alienating them. It’s really easy with metal working tools to put yourself in a hazardous situation without realizing it, but when someone ignores a safety warning it’s time for them to leave. It shouldn’t matter whether they’re a customer, that kind of behavior leads to poisoned shop environment.

    I really like the idea of Techshop. I’ve worked in a number of communal shops that provide access, and it’s great getting a community going where people share knowledge and experience freely. I just never experienced that on my visits to Techshop, and it left me kind of cold to the whole thing. The management is just too far removed from the actual operation of the shops, and that doesn’t work in the long run.

  10. Craig says:

    I wonder how much longer the Round Rock location has? Everyone in Austin that I thought would be excited was, like me, completely put-off by the 30 minute commutes (without traffic) or the 45-65 minute one if you wanted to go after work.

    On top of that, the incredible was cost and time of classes to use basic tools meant it would be months before your could even use that pricey membership.

    I joined a local woodworking coop instead.

  11. Glade says:

    Does anyone know of other alternatives in the area? I already miss the smell of burning acrylic and I am really depressed that I won’t be able to do my MakerBot SBU.

    1. There is SplatSpace [http://splatspace.org/] over in Durham, but it doesn’t really offer much in the way of tools. The last time I was there they had a drill press and lots of junk (old computers, etc) to pull components from. The upside is members have 24×7 access to the space. If you’re looking for someplace with a mill – this isn’t it. The people are really great though.

      1. Mark W says:

        I visited SplatSpace a couple months ago, like you said a drill press, maybe a bandsaw and 3d printers in various states but nice group. I think there’s another group currently in Durham called Fab Lab Carolinas (http://www.fablabcarolinas.org/) but haven’t tried to visit them yet and don’t know what they have. I also know there’s a makerspace at NCSU, and heard about one at UNC Chapel Hill, but I don’t believe either of those offers membership to the general public

  12. Cash says:

    I also was on board the first year, but it was the commute that killed it for me. It wasn’t any better when they moved to North Raleigh. upwards of 45 minutes each way just isn’t enough to justify only a couple hours of time to work on a project.
    I’d like to think that the rumors are true about corporate re-opening in a better location, but I find that hard to believe if they sold evrything off. It will be much more expensive to re-equip now than if they just put stuff in storage for a while.

  13. Chris Nack says:

    My level of disappointment is pretty high. I’ve been a member at TechshopRDU for years. Because my job requires a significant amount of travel, I was never able to utilize the facilities to the degree I would have liked. But I continued my membership precisely because I wanted this place to succeed. Like others, I’ve recently purchased materials for projects that will now be difficult if not impossible to complete. For me it was never about the specific projects anyway, but rather the opportunity to get out of the house, learn and dream about big stuff I would get to “one day”.

    I have never visited any of the other locations, but I would have liked to see more of a community vibe at RDU. For example, teams coming together to enter contests, build group projects, etc. I think that’s where a lot of learning takes place.

    Finally, if it’s true that lifetime membership will not be fully or partially refunded, I’ll be pretty steamed. I didn’t purchase a lifetime membership, but for Techshop to argue that lifetime memberships still have value due to the availability of other locations is laughable. And even if there might be future plans to resurrect Techshop in the Triangle, we’ve just been given a demonstration of how quickly plans can change. Having been forced to close it doors in the Triangle, Techshop is taking a considerable hit to its brand in this area. If they have any thoughts of coming back, I would think that they would be bending over backward to leave their bridges with their customers unburned. Unfortunately I smell lighter fluid.

  14. 313projeckt says:

    we need one here in Stockton, CA!

  15. Damian says:

    They really did need two locations, but larger problem was the extremely expensive membership(~$1000) for the year and the class were also expensive . I help out on few project and the place was usually fairly empty. the pricing structure was only aimed at those in higher income brackets, much like whole foods. The business model just didn’t make sense and ultimately limited accessibility for larger customer base

    1. RW says:

      Damian, what reasonable price point would have brought more people in…$65/month?
      Lower pricing for students or just a pay for shop/machine time model or was the LOCATION just wrong? If it were in the middle of
      I’m asking because I’d like to create another maker space in Boston that has machining capabilities/classes on par with TechShop.
      I’d love to hear more from/about the membership of this particular TechShop such as would members have used it more if location was downtown Raleigh?

      Thanks for any feedback

      1. JMT says:

        I have to interject in here that I thought the membership charge was a bargain at $1000/year. At $83/month, it’s less than a lot of people pay for TV (which you don’t have time to watch when you’re busy making things). The safety classes added up if you took all of them, but I felt they were worthwhile. But what you get for that money, if you enjoy making things, is such a better value than some alternatives (TV, movies, bar tabs, etc). If you’ve already spread yourself thinly then it’s hard to come up with the money but I always planned for it and I was an annual member for years.

      2. Glade says:

        I have to agree. I would have paid 2x that if they had asked for it. Having access to that range of equipment was unparalleled. And I feel the same way about the location. I thought it was perfectly centrally located between the triangle. I drove out multiple times per week from Greenville (about 3 hours round trip) because it was such a bargain.

  16. Josh Leone says:

    Nothing like being teased with possibilities only to have the rug pulled out from under you because someone on the other side of the country decided it wasn’t worth investing in our community. Thanks Techshop.

    Seriously, there was no advertising, no attempt to spread the word about Techshop RDU at all. Did anyone contact the dozens of major companies located in the Triangle for support? Did anyone contact the N&O to do something like a weekly, “Look what Triangle makers made!” Did anyone contact schools or colleges to get groups to come in or to provide discounted memberships to students? Not that I could tell.

    Yes, when you put the shop on an out of the way street, that’s off of an out of the way street, in an out of the way part of town, in an industrial development that no one is ever going to see unless they’re already looking for it, you’re not likely to attract a large membership. Really, it was like the Techshop de Muerta. Can’t find it unless you already know where it is.

    If Techshop were just some company created expressly for the purpose of making money, then fine, do what you want. But when you present yourself as something that is for the purpose of encouraging innovation and creativity, you really should make more of an effort and have a little more staying power. It’s like leaving an egg on the counter and then wondering why it hasn’t scrambled itself.

    Sorry if I sound bitter, but there was a lot Techshop could have done for my community and a lot my community could have done for Techshop.