On Friday, some 20% of MakerBot staff got a nasty surprise: They'd been fired. The same day, the company announced that they are closing all three of their retail locations. "All my friends at MakerBot just got laid off," wrote an anonymous Redditor. "They say there is currently private security escorting about 100 people out of buildings in their industry city complex in Brooklyn."
Rather than being a sign that the company's in trouble, the upheaval appears to be bean-counter-related; since being acquired by Stratasys in 2013, MakerBot has been due, a pragmatist would say, for some corporate pruning. Friday's press announcement stated that "We've grown more than 600% from 2012 to 2014" and have "achieved market leadership," but apparently there was enough redundancy between MakerBot and the parent company that new MakerBot CEO Jonathan Jaglom saw fit to drop the axe.
The lay-offs are thus not surprising, but the shuttering of the retail outlets is. While MakerBot only had three locations—New York, Boston and Greenwich, Connecticut—the stores were meant to introduce the general public to 3D printing, breaking out beyond the maker-geek barrier. That the company has grown so rapidly, yet are willing to close the stores, indicates the brick-and-mortar locations played a negligible role in the company's growth. Whereas Apple, for instance, has turned their stores into both showrooms and revenue machines, which has proven to be important to that company's bottom line.
One thing that MakerBot has that Apple doesn't is the Thingiverse. And while it still sounds small—just 100,000 3D models have been uploaded, and we'd have thought it'd be millions by now—apparently that community has been strong enough to grow MakerBot so tremendously in such a short amount of time.
It is interesting that Apple's easy-to-understand products—phones, computers, now a watch—have benefitted from having a physical showroom where people can see and learn about them. Whereas the more complicated 3D printer, which you would imagine buyers would want to learn about by seeing and trying first, apparently requires no brick-and-mortar at all.