An opening ceremony for the first TechShop in France — and in all of Europe — was held on Thursday in Paris. The new TechShop, which was announced in February of this year, is the result of a partnership between DIY retailer Leroy Merlin and San Francisco-based TechShop. The 20,000-square-meter shop, called TechShop Ateliers Leroy Merlin, is located in Ivry-sur-Seine next to a large Leroy Merlin store. It has more than 150 machines over two floors, even more than in the flagship San Francisco TechShop. It’s an impressive array of tools and workspaces.
“All these machines will be more accessible to more people,” said Stéphane Calmes proudly, giving us a tour. He’s the project lead for Leroy Merlin. He stood in front of a large-format UV LED printer from Roland. Leroy Merlin customers might buy materials at their store, he pointed out, and customize them using the tools in TechShop. Calmes showed an example of a door that was covered in a colorful custom IC print produced on the Roland printer. This is something you couldn’t do at home. Another example was a small table bought at Leroy Merlin that had a print of the lunar landscape on its surface.
Calmes walked us through the metal shop and then the woodshop, which featured traditional tools but also a ShopBot, locked inside a cage, which was required by French law. He showed us the water jet, “the most spectacular and most expensive” machine they have. He explained that this TechShop adds new safety innovations such as a set of sensors mounted on poles that can detect if anyone is standing near the water jet and will then not allow the machine to operate. There is even a bike shop.
Mark Hatch addressed the audience gathered for the opening. “The cost of tools has dropped 90%,” said Hatch. Making them available for the cost of TechShop membership drops the end-user cost by an equivalent amount, he added. “TechShop is providing access to these tools of the new industrial revolution for the creative class,” he remarked. “And now Leroy Merlin has brought the tools of this revolution to Paris.”
Thomas Bouret, CEO of Leroy Merlin, began his remarks by asking the question, “Why did Leroy Merlin become involved in this adventure?” He said that they began talking to TechShop in 2011 and visited Maker Faires in San Francisco and New York to learn more about the Maker Movement. He believes that Makers are the edge of a new DIY sector, which will be important to the future of Leroy Merlin. He said that there were three trends that defined the Maker Movement, as he saw it: first, that all this technology is becoming democratized; second, the sharing of ideas, designs, and data globally allows new people to participate; third, the growing, passionate communities.
He said that he hopes that TechShop at Leroy Merlin becomes a place for people “to create, manufacture, and share their projects,” some of which may become innovative products. Leroy Merlin is working on two additional TechShops, one in Lille where their corporate headquarters are located, and one in Grenoble in the French Alps. There are plans to build out a total of five TechShops in France, as well as a mobile shop.
The general manager for the TechShop at Leroy Marlin is Isabella Iglesias-Musachio who held a similar position at TechShop’s Washington DC store. She began working on the project from DC six months ago, working remotely until she got her visa three months ago. “It’s been an adventure,” she said, reflecting on her move with a warm smile that had a hint of relief. She manages a team of 16 that includes nine Dream Coaches, three front-desk admins, and four area leads. She is really looking forward to the moment when the doors officially open on October 30. Her new staff are as excited as she is.
“A TechShop in Paris provides a fully equipped platform for Makers to pursue their interests and develop as professionals,” said Bertier Luyt, who runs Le Fab Shop in Paris and was the lead organizer for Maker Faire Paris last May. “It builds on the work in digital fabrication from Fab Labs but also raises the bar in terms of what machines are available.”
Several years ago, I visited various Fab Labs and makerspaces in and around Paris and most had limited space and budget; the Maker Movement seemed to have a similarly small footprint. This TechShop has the potential to change things, attracting new Makers and giving them the opportunity to experiment and collaborate. Just a few weeks ago, at Maker Faire Pittsburgh, I met many Makers and saw their projects, which became possible because of having a TechShop in the community. A month ago at the TechShop in San Francisco, there was a makeathon on assistive technology that generated 19 projects that addressed specific challenges. It was exciting to see so many Makers come together and apply their skills and expertise to helping others help themselves.
When asked about whether the TechShop was in a good location, one of the TechShop team said “No, it’s not — but people will come anyway.” Certainly, Leroy Merlin has to hope that its customers will find the location convenient to buy materials and gain access to an incredible set of tools and resources. Yet the potential impact is much greater, especially if they do the outreach to build the community. A place is as much the people who are there as how many machines there are.
The TechShop Ateliers Leroy Merlin makes the promise of the Maker Movement real and readily available today in Paris. It expands the capabilities of Makers at any skill level and will help more people become Makers who might not otherwise have had the opportunity. Félicitations TechShop et Leroy Merlin.