Mass customization is defined online as a marketing and manufacturing technique that combines the flexibility and personalization of “custom-made” with the low unit costs associated with mass production—sometimes with the qualification added that the customization is intended to take place at the last possible production stage before the product meets the customer. The concept started gaining ground roughly 20 years ago, as a new way for 20th century mass-production companies to stand out in customer service. At times, the process involved actually customizing a product; more often, it involved customizing the packaging.
It’s a less widely discussed development that manufacturers of custom products, in turn, have been and are pursuing technologies that give them the ability to produce their products faster and for a wider market, and still retain that custom cachet that resonates with discriminating buyers.
In our July issue, we look at how developments in equipment and software are fostering productivity for specialty fabrics manufacturers. In this issue, a special focus on digital printing and custom graphics highlights possibilities on the creative side: catering to “D.I.Y.” (Design It Yourself) customers in the market to add personalization to their surroundings. State-of-the-art digital printers, inks and fabrics combine to offer high quality at an affordable price; and with the customer supplying the artwork in most cases, custom-designed interiors are starting to become as popular for homeowners as they are for businesses—and for fabricators.
Last weekend, I attended the local “Art-A-Whirl,” the 21st annual Open Studio Tour in “Nordeast” Minneapolis featuring hundreds of local artists and many thousands of local enthusiasts looking for quality handmade artwork, sculpture, photography, pottery, jewelry, metalwork, clothing, fabrics and furniture. (And local brews.) The attraction of having their own designs or photography translated into upholstery or wallcoverings or window coverings or rugs (or awnings or banners or sails, for that matter) seems a natural extension of the pull of a one-of-a-kind product.
Marketing tactics might have to change a bit; but if you go through a neighborhood, take pictures of all the pets (or all the graduates in the high school yearbook) and then offer a free customized pet pillow with every upholstery or wallcovering job … how can you miss? Digital printers can handle ever-larger substrates and run unattended for longer periods of time; other models have the capability to produce samples and shorter runs on demand. The new motto: If you can think it, you can print it.
So find me in Charlotte and let me know what you’ve been thinking. I’ve got some pages with your name on them.
A century ago, “custom” was just another word for business.