Making and selling a great mass customized product is no easy task. Setting up and maintaining a well-working configurator is usually not a matter of hours either (and if it is, you can usually instantly tell). The need for technical and design knowledge lacking with many entrepreneurs layed grounds for an industry that can be summed up as "configurators as a (web) service".
One player in this field is Citizen Made. The company does offer designers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen or anybody else the opportunity to use a well-designed, professional configuration tool without having to develop one themselves.
FTP: Rachel, you have founded
"Citizen Made". Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your
RB: Prior to starting Citizen Made, I worked in several business and operational aspects of industrial design, fashion, and retail with small startups and major retail companies alike. Most recently, I ran operations for a menswear accessories company that created custom ties, bow ties and pocket squares. This is where I set up a supply chain that supports customization, worked with manufacturers, and worked through the challenges of offering customization as a core part of business.
In looking for ways to extend the in-person experience of ordering custom products, I wanted to incorporate a light-weight configurator on the brand's site. Citizen Made was created from the difficulty my brand and other peer designers face in finding an affordable and accessible way to leverage eCommerce as a sales channel.
FTP: Citizen Made is a service best described as
"configuration as a web service", correct? What exactly do you offer
to your clients?
RB: We provide brands and manufacturers access to a quality configuration tool in an affordable and accessible way. With our configuration tool subscription, users get access to a dashboard where they are able to upload their product variables, images, and define product rules. With this information, a configurator is dynamically and instantly created, and becomes available to install onto any site to sell and accept orders for custom products.
FTP: Customization configurators as an online
service are not an all new idea. What does make Citizen Made special?
RB: Citizen Made was created so that brands that sell custom products are able to accurately and effectively do so online, regardless of their access to development professionals, large amounts of capital, or knowledge of advanced image processing. In creating a standard configuration tool as a service, our proprietary dashboard makes it simple for product managers to articulate their product offering in a simple and beautiful way to the rest of the world, so that they can focus on managing and making products, instead of software and configurators.
FTP: How scalable are your services, especially with large, demanding clients?
RB: Our standard tool was designed for small and medium sized companies that require configuration, lightweight inventory management, sharing capabilities, and analytics on product components performance. This was designed for the purpose of data-driven forecasting and purchasing decisions.
This level of configuration management as a standard offering today is world-class, however for enterprise clients that we speak with today, we have created ways to integrate with select ERP systems and tooling that is specific to these clients. From a configuration standpoint, a front-end experience where purchases can be dynamically designed and purchased is very straight forward. The Citizen Made dashboard today makes it simple for product managers inside of enterprise settings to update and experiment in real time with their products.
The advanced part, from our perspective, is enterprise supply chain support, where our team and network works directly with manufacturers to support the needs of large companies and leverage the benefits of lean manufacturing.
FTP: Do you think that configurators as a rentable service are superior to inhouse solutions? If so, why? And: for which target groups?
RB: Software services are a great solution for brands whose core competency lies outside of software development and management. For the vast majority of brands, developing and managing software that is advanced enough to painlessly sell and receive custom orders is understandably outside of their in-house skill set By providing affordable sales tools for brands that sell custom products, we allow them to focus on what they are best at, while leaving the technical challenges to us.
Just as most product companies don't engineer their own eCommerce CMS in-house, we offer a solution to a growing segment of companies that don't currently have a solution to sell products online.
While our tools are understandably not the perfect solution to all product categories, we best serve products that are built to order and designed in a modular way. Products that require web-to-print software are currently served by other companies; we look to serve those who create beyond the 2D printer.
FTP: How do you think the market for mass customized goods will evolve over the next years?
RB: With the growing access to configuration tools, the evolution of local/small batch production, distributed manufacturing, and even the increasingly availability of commercial 3D print technology, I believe that we are at a critical point in expansion of mass customization. The initial goal in creating Citizen Made was to provide a simple and accessible tool for a company of any size to be able to sell what they are capable of making, while allowing potential customers to have what they truly want. I believe that our approach to configuration and access will help accelerate the prevalence of mass customization.
FTP: In case any of our readers is looking for a job opportunity, are you hiring?
RB: We currently have opportunities in Community Development and Business Development.
FTP: What are your plans for the next 5 years?
RB: Over the next 5 years, we are working toward creating tools and infrastructure that makes mass customization viable across many product categories, regardless of company size or location. We believe in the benefits of lean manufacturing and innovating supply chains for the future. We look forward to evolving our tools to reach further into the supply chain, with the goal of serving and digitizing the supply chain from front end to fulfillment.
Thank you very much for your answers! It will be interesting to follow the development of Citizen Made and see the business evolve!
And last but not least, hear is an overview video outlining Citizen Made's services in a more visual fashion.