Next Big Thing

How This 3-D Printing Startup Is Pushing the Boundaries of the Retail Experience

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With the convenience and variety of ecommerce pulling shoppers online, the traditional retail store has suffered a significant setback in recent years. That tension has sparked a debate over just what the future of retail holds and how offline can compete with the online world. Amidst the tension, one innovative new 3-D printing startup has built a brand that depends on both its online application and its brick-and-mortar location.

New York City-based company, Normal, a company that designs and manufactures custom 3-D printed earbuds, has brought transparency and customer interaction to its brick-and-mortar space. Located in Manhattan’s trendy Chelsea neighborhood, Normal's space is a combination of its headquarters, factory and retail store. The spot offers quite an experience. Consumers learn about the product, get fitted for their own earbuds and watch the 3-D printers in action.

“We built a factory in the middle of Manhattan. That happens to be a store,” says founder Nikki Kaufman, who also happens to be a founding team member of the consumer-product company Quirky. “We want to celebrate the fact that we are 3-D printing. We want to educate the customer who may never have seen a 3-D printer before and explain to them our process.”

While the space allows for an in-depth consumer experience that people can't find online, customers can also order the personalized earbuds without stepping foot in Normal’s retail store. With the app, customers are directed to take pictures of their ears, and they can have the product shipped directly to their home. Either way, the earbuds will set you back $199.

By creating this sort of online-offline experience, Normal has caught the attention of a lot of bigwigs. The company has raised more than $5 million from VC firms including RRE, Maveron, Contour and Tony Hsieh's VegasTechFund, along with a handful of angel investors.

Watch this video with Kaufman to hear about how Normal launched and why the retail concept for Normal is ahead of the curve. Or perhaps, given the lackluster pace of innovation in the retail space of late, Normal is right on time.

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Edition: December 2016

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