How Maker Geeks became the only U.S. 3D filament manufacturer operating at its level (Elon Musk is a customer)
How a Thrill-Seeking Geek Is Set to Triple His B2B Ecommerce after Migrating from Yahoo
Years before he found himself working on the North Slope of Alaska’s oil fields, Joshua Smith’s dream was to become a high-altitude ice climber and scale the world’s most prolific peaks and valleys.
But Mount McKinley, the world’s tallest land-based mountain, would have to wait.
Immediately after quitting his job testing oil pipelines in Prudhoe Bay, Smith launched a sports supplements company from scratch. It’s a competitive space, but Smith grew the business into one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing businesses of 2007 and eventually sold it after receiving multiple offers.
Smith is a doer; a maker. He loves to get his hands dirty and take calculated risks in high-pressure situations with the prospect of outsized rewards.
“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” he says proudly.
Turns out, a life lived tinkering would be exactly what Smith needed to rescue his latest business venture from the day a million-dollar piece of machinery blew up, reduced manufacturing capacity by 25%, and prevented Smith from fulfilling thousands of orders on time.
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Keep reading to find out how Smith’s company, Maker Geeks, just six months after migrating to Shopify Plus …
- Doubled their year-over-year sales
- Increased conversion rates nearly 350%
- Lifted abandoned-carts rescues from 0 to 26%
- And are on track to triple their sales in 2018
Or, if you’re ready to see similar results, discover everything Shopify Plus’ B2B ecommerce platform has to offer.
Elon Musk is a Customer (Really)
It was at 20,310 feet that Smith found the passion he had lost …
Having just sold the supplements business he founded, Smith was able to pursue some of the passions he lacked the time for while building the business. Climbing Mount McKinley was one of those and Smith turned his dream into reality in 2009.
|Maker Geeks CEO Joshua b Smith|
“It was unreal,” he says of the world’s tallest land-based mountain.
However, it was only after Smith climbed down from Mount McKinley that he’d unknowingly begin to scale another mountain; a new business endeavor that bloomed from Smith’s passion to tinker and make things. Smith happened across someone online who had built his own 3D printer and offered to help Smith make one of his own. There were no kits at the time — it took Smith six months and much toil.
That’s when the entrepreneurial light bulb went off …
Understand, as a child Smith dismantled the doorknob just to see how it worked and had a treehouse workbench where he planned to build lasers and robots. So, as a handy adult, Smith figured if he had trouble building a 3D printer, others probably had the same problem.
“I was hooked,” Smith says. “Actually, I was beyond hooked and I wanted to be able to share this new passion with others.”
It’s why Smith founded Maker Geeks, which offers one of the largest selections of 3D Printing filament, 3D printing kits and 3D printers in the United States. Since launching in 2010, the company has manufactured and sold more than one million pounds of 3D printer filament and is creating manufacturing jobs that were once thought dead in its hometown of Springfield, Missouri.
Maker Geeks caters to three types of customers:
- Business giants like Tesla, SpaceX, and GE whose engineers use Smith’s filament to print test parts
- Small-businesses who print items like cookie cutters and duck calls that are sold via Etsy and online stores
- Hobbyists that are makers like Smith and include high-school science teachers and others interested in using 3D printing to create new things
It’s great that companies like Tesla buy from us. But it’s actually more fulfilling we are helping high school teachers inspire the next generation of makers.
Today, Maker Geeks is the only U.S. 3D filament manufacturer operating at this scale. The company runs four large-scale, high-speed, high-tolerance extruders — those are the 95-foot long machines that melt the raw plastic and turn it into filament needed to print 3D objects like toys, tools, or even life-size superheroes.
“We white label too,” Smith says. “There’s a good chance that if someone is advertising 3D filament that’s made in America, it came from our shop https://www.makergeeks.com/.”
If you exclude Smith …
The multimillion-dollar extrusion machines are the backbone of Maker Geeks. But as word spread that 3D printing enthusiasts could now get high-quality filament made in the U.S. for as much as 80% less than they were paying for foreign-made filament, Smith began asking more and more of his equipment.
“We push the machines harder and harder to keep up with demand,” Smith says.
In this instance, Maker Geeks had sold 20,000 pounds of filament in 24 hours; a quantity that would normally take several weeks to sell. Instead of the customary 200 orders, Smith was staring at a 3,000 order backlog.
It meant pushing the machines even harder.
That’s when one of the four shorted out. The ceramic heater band that melts the raw plastic would have to be replaced with a brand new one. The part would take 4–6 weeks to be made meaning Maker Geeks’ capacity would be cut by 25% during peak demand.
Do Nothing (Almost) and Triple Your B2B Ecommerce
The reduction in capacity during peak demand meant fulfillment delays were inevitable …
Importantly, Smith had just migrated Maker Geeks from Yahoo ecommerce to Shopify Plus which allowed him to instantly identify each customer whose order would be impacted and email the segment notifying them of the delay.
“That was something we just couldn’t do on Yahoo,” Smith says. “Shopify Plus made the customer service aspect a lot easier by allowing us to easily and quickly notify customers in bulk.”
Miraculously though, the news Smith would deliver to customers would be much better than originally thought. Instead of taking six weeks to receive the new part, Smith says he received the part he needed to fix his machine in ten days meaning customers would be getting their orders much sooner than originally expected.
It was the first of many blessings Smith says Maker Geeks has received since replatforming. The company launched its new store in September 2017. With just a few months left in the year, Smith says that:
- Abandoned-cart recovery increased from 0% to 26%
- Conversion rates increased from 1.1% to nearly 5%
- Sales have increased 100% since launching
Most important, Maker Geeks is on track to triple year-over-year sales in 2018.
“We didn’t run our business or do anything differently when we moved to Shopify Plus and our sales doubled immediately,” Smith says.
The growth and success is all due to the platform. It has to be because we didn’t change anything.
To grow even faster, Smith credits Shopify Capital for providing two rounds of funding and stimulating sales such that Maker Geeks was able to repay the advances in weeks rather than the customary 9–12 months.
“Shopify Capital is responsible for a lot of our expansion,” Smith says. “We’re growing so quickly now that we can pay it back in record time.”
Separately, Smith credits Plus’ ability to easily integrate with third-party solutions for allowing Maker Geeks to assemble a collection of tools further accelerating growth:
- AdRoll: a retargeting platform Smith says has yielded a 19X ROI
- Smile.io: a rewards platform in which members reorder 85.6% more often than non-members and has yielded $294,000 in additional revenue
- ReCharge: a subscription platform Smith says is adding 200–300 new subscribers each month and yielding predictable recurring revenue while supplying thousands of members it’s 3D Geek Box monthly program
“Shopify Plus is amazing,” Smith says. “We’ve invested more than $1 million extra in 2017 alone just to keep up with demand.”
It’s a fortune on track to grow exponentially. So, why is Smith planning to eventually give it away?
High Altitude and a Higher Calling
The 3D filament industry is a baby…
In fact, Smith says globally it’s a $40 million dollar industry that is forecast to grow to $5 billion dollars in the next five years. “It’s really in its infancy,” Smith says. “It’s so early we believe whoever puts out the most filament will be the winner.”
Maker Geeks is looking for a larger facility and contemplating the purchase of a fifth extrusion machine. The company currently employs five people and has plans to make four new hires in the near future.
“I can see the shop quadrupling the number of extrusion lines,” Smith estimates. “The goal is to one day have fifteen lines and run two shifts.”
Remember, these are manufacturing jobs in a part of the country where manufacturing was pronounced all but dead.
If it all seems a bit unbelievable — this niche manufacturing success story in the heartland — you may find it more believable after examining Smith’s strong beliefs. Specifically, Smith credits his belief in Jesus Christ on the Maker Geeks website as the reason underpinning the company’s success.
The admission has both cost and gained him business …
But business is simply a means to a bigger end for Smith. Ultimately, Smith wants to become what he calls a reverse tither and give away almost everything he and Maker Geeks receive.
“I believe in the blessing of the tither which is the Biblical principle of gladly giving at least 10% of your income to the Lord,” Smith says. “It has always been my goal to become a 'reverse' tithing company and individual in which my company, Megan (my wife) and I would give 90% to the Lord and His work and keep and live on the 10% portion.”
It’s certainly a lofty goal no matter what you believe …
It also gives new meaning to Smith’s pursuit of high-altitude climbing.