Member or Customer?


With the recent news about TechShop closing and the more recent news of TechShop reopening, I’ve been following the discussions around what TechShop did right, what TechShop did wrong, and what it should do in the future. All of this is colored by my experience at Milwaukee Makerspace over the last 6 years, including being on the Board of Directors and helping to run the space. I should note that Milwaukee Makerspace is a community-oriented space for adults and focuses on providing a space and equipment for people to learn new skills and make things.

TechShop always came across to me as a more “commercial” space where people who wanted access to tools to create products could go to use the machines. While some spaces do cater to entrepreneurs and people making commercial products, other spaces are not equipped and not as friendly to commercial activity. At Milwaukee Makerspaces we’ve had a loose set of rules/guidelines for people producing commercial work. It’s basically follows the “Don’t be a Dick” rule: don’t hog machines, don’t blow through consumables, and make donations to help cover the cost and maintenance of machines.

There’s a common explanation of a makerspace as “It’s like a health club, except instead of treadmills and exercise bikes we have tables saws and laser cutters!” This falls apart when you think about the equipment in a health club versus the equipment in a makerspace. While someone might use an elliptical machine for 30 minutes, or maybe a treadmill for an hour, people can easily use a laser cutter for hours at a time, and can tie up a 3D printer for multiple hours very easily. While health clubs may have a dozen ellipticals and treadmills, most makerspaces may have only one or two laser cutters and 3D printers.

Besides the issue of how many machines and their availability, expectations are an issue. One of our members, in giving an orientation to new members said “Everyone is here to have fun, just remember that and you’ll have a good time”. While some do believe that to be true, there are definitely members who consider the space an extension of their business, and their “machine shop” to use as needed to create products. (This isn’t to suggest people running a business can’t also be awesome members, but there’s always a chance of some conflict due to expectations.)

So what are expectations? We’ve had members who make demands to the Board of Directors (who volunteer to help run the space) and typically we explain that “no, you are not a customer, you are a member like everyone else”. As a member of Milwaukee Makerspace you can expect being able to get into the building (if you paid your dues) and well, to some degree, not much else. There’s no guarantee the machine you want to use when you show up will be available, or working, or in some cases, still in the building! You have to be okay with that. It’s how we operate.

I’ve read a few accounts of TechShop members (customers?) making demands, and having expectations that since they are paying X amount per month, it entitles them to Y amount of Z. Some of these people do indeed run businesses, and TechShop should provide them with what is promised. Maybe? I mean, I don’t know what exactly is promised by TechShop when you are a member/customer.

I’m not going to say that one way is right and one way is wrong, because there’s room for all sorts of models. A friend of mine joined Milwaukee Makerspace and was hoping to use the CNC router for a project. When he joined the CNC router was down for repairs, and then he wasn’t able to attend the training class, and then months had passed and he didn’t get to do his project. (He told me he totally understands that everyone is a volunteer and he wasn’t upset it didn’t work out. All good.) I do hear this quite a bit. Someone joins and gets really excited, but then has to get trained on the equipment they want to use, and that takes time, and then they get frustrated with the process. To be fair, I’m sure other spaces have this figured out, and maybe we don’t… I don’t know.

Occasionally I wish we had a TechShop-type place in Milwaukee I could send people to when all they want to do is get access to a machine to make something, and maybe be able to take a class fairly quickly to learn a new skill. My friend who failed to use the CNC router said he called a few places about having the job done and it was way over his budget. This is where I see the TechShop-style place fitting in. I have no delusion that Milwaukee Makerspace (with nearly 300 members) is for everyone. There are some people who will want something different in their “makerspace experience”, and I respect that.

At this point I should mention Hammerspace in Kansas City. Dave Dalton is always quick to point out that a space can be both things, a community makerspace and a commercial entity with staff and the ability to do jobs for hire. So yes, there are many models, and some work better than others in various ways.

I’ve talked to others about how their spaces run, and there are so many variables that it may be difficult to replicate something that works in one place to other places. Cities and people and culture are so different depending on where you go, as are… expectations.


Interstate Music (Cascio)

Many, many years ago… when I played in bands, and all my friends played in bands, we’d go to a few different music stores… Lincoln Music was on the south side, and Record Head was a pawn shop where you could get a cheap guitar, but one of the coolest places was Cascio. It was huge, and they never seemed to mind that we’d want to play every instrument in the store.

Since I had to get a trumpet for my daughter recently, and I’ve been dissatisfied with a previous instrument rental with The White House of Music (which took over Beihoff Music) I ended up asking a question on Twitter:

Any recommendations for school band instrument rental? people tell me @interstatemusic is good... comments?

…and with a few people telling me Interstate was good, I went there… and I remembered how much I liked it!

And yes, Interstate Music is on Twitter, and I do follow them, and about a week ago, they held a little contest on Twitter, and I happened to win it. (Though I was worried @Pezzettino might beat me to it!) They let me know that I won a Josh Rouse CD, and when I talked to them on the phone, they also mentioned a gift card they would throw in. (Good way to get me into the store, eh?) When my package arrived, there was also an Archer hat in the box. Nice!

Josh Rouse CD / Archer Hat / Cascio Gift Card

This is a good lesson in how companies can use Twitter (or any social media) to interact with it’s customers, or potential customers. I know it may seem like a small and simple thing, but it’s a conversation instead of a broadcast, it’s a company getting involved in a dialog with people, and not just blatant promotion of a brand, which some companies tend to do. Striking a balance is the sweet spot.



Our friend to the north, Marcus Nelson (the guy behind such things as hyperlocal site Citizen Wausau, and co-working space Citizen Desk) is involved in the launch of a new product/site, it’s called UserVoice.

UserVoice The idea behind UserVoice is that trying to talk to your customers and users to find out what they want is too difficult to manage using things like email and forums, so why not leverage the idea of a collaborative site where users vote, similar to Digg, so that the common and popular issues float to the top.

They have an example site at you can look at to get an idea how it works, or even better, take a look at and see how they are eating their own dog food.

If you’re dealing with user feedback right now using a forum, or trying to manage email requests, this thing looks like an ideal replacement that would be 10 times better for all parties involved.

See Also: Mashable had a good writeup a few weeks back: UserVoice: Vote for Features You Wanna See


The Blogging Effect

I’ve been thinking about the effects of blogging, specifically on business. There’s a reason for this…

Last year we went camping at Bark River Campground. It sucked. I wanted to let people know this, because I didn’t want other people to have the experience I did, so I did what any self respecting blogger would do… I blogged about it.

The result was: Bark River Campground: Worst Campground Ever, which described my experience. I sort of knew where things were headed. Their site sucks and within a few days, my post was the second result in a search for “Bark River Campground” I was slightly pleased.

Fast forward 9 months, and I get a phone call. It took me a number of “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” to get to the part where I heard “internet” and “post” and “worst campground ever” and I then realized who I was talking to. Yup, they called.

I talked to the folks at Bark River Campgrounds. The man I talked to said he understood that I had the right to say what I wanted, but he also said they try very hard to make things nice at the campground. I wasn’t convinced of that, but I did thank him for opening a dialog about the issue. I did get the idea that he didn’t actually read the post because he asked me questions that would have been answered if he had read it. But then again, bloggers tend to think everyone reads their posts…

So, what is the responsibility of a blogger? What is the effect of what we write? On businesses? On people? Like I said, I knew what I was doing, and I had some clue what the effect would be. I honestly did not expect to hear from them, but was pleasantly surprised by them saying that I had every right to say it, and they didn’t expect me to take it down.


Bark River Campground

Disclaimer: This was written after a bad experience at the Bark River Campground in July 2007. I’ve actually gotten attacked by people for sharing my experience. The campground may have improved by now, I really hope it has.

In July 2007 we went camping at Bark River Campground and it sucked.

I suppose I should elaborate. First, a disclaimer: I do not operate a campground, or know how to, but I do have common sense, respect for the land, and for others, and have been camping before.

With that said, I will say that we did have fun. It was the first camping trip for the kids, and they had fun, despite some harsh conditions. With that out of the way, I’ll get into why the campground sucked.

When we arrived, we pulled up to a camp site, and after surveying the area for a few minutes, one of the jerkwads at the next site says very loudly “It’s gonna get loud! It’s gonna get wild!” which I guess was his way of warning us they planned to be jerkwads and we shouldn’t camp there. So we moved on, but it was difficult trying to find a spot that was far enough away from them.

Eventually we settled just over the top of a hill, where we hoped we wouldn’t be able to hear them too much. (Oh, little did we know…) On the sites near the top of the hill we managed to find plenty of empty beer bottles, a diaper, dog poop, and part of a tent someone decided to burn and leave there. Get it straight, I ain’t no hippie, but I have some respect for the land, and as I remember, you’re supposed to leave nothing but footprints, and take nothing but photographs, right?

Bad Campers Camp Trash

Anyway, we had a good time, even though many of the clientele seemed a bit, uh, “questionable” at best. This was the first time camping for the girls, and we spent a lot of time trying to explain how “real” camping works, as opposed to the “outdoor drunkfest party camping” we were witnessing. They’re excited to try it again at a better location.

Camp Pancake Two Tents

So many other “campers” were just plain inconsiderate, it was incredible. At one point, 3 guys in golf carts drove up the hill and parked 20 feet from our tents and just sat there for 20 minutes. Oh, and a woman drove up in a golf cart, got out with her dog, and then let it poop about 20 feet from our tent. When Dana asked if she brought a bag along, she looked at us like we were crazy, so I asked if her dog pooped, and she said “yes” and I asked if she could at least tell us where so we could avoid stepping in it. I ended up burying it, and two others we found, right after I placed the diaper in the nearest outhouse.

Oh, and the jerkwads who warned us? We couldn’t even hear them, because at about 9PM two large pickup trucks pulled up, drove right past us, and then ended up camping down the hill, and spent all night long blasting their stereo, drinking, and swearing. Fun time for all! Seriously, this was the worst-case definition of what anarchy could be, a small group wrecking it for everyone else. I considered getting their license plate and reporting them to the management, but I doubt they even registered, and if they did, would anything be done? I also didn’t care because I wasn’t returning and I already saw the “NO REFUNDS!” sign when I first arrived.

While the “campers” sucked, the management of this place seems to be in need of improvement as well, or maybe they just didn’t care. Maybe they just like being handed $20 to rent an “anything goes” party space for the night.

My recommendation to you is to avoid this campground. Instead, try one of the many state parks that offers camping. While I’m not always fan of the government, at least they know how to run a campground.

Update: Please see the follow-up post: The Blogging Effect