Craft and fabric retailer Joann has invested in startup Glowforge, which uses a 3D laser printer technology to allow do it yourself customers to laser-cut, print and engrave on a variety of materials while in-store to help customize their projects, according to a Joann press release. Joann didn't provide any further details about the investment, and did not immediately respond to Retail Dive's request for comment.
Joann has placed a 3D laser cutting kiosk in its recently launched Joann Custom Shop in the Natick Mall near Boston, with further plans to expand the technology to select stores in the coming months. The kiosk also offers custom framing capabilities.
Customers visiting the retailer's Joann Concept store in Ohio also have been able to use Glowforge machines prior to this week's announcement. The machine allows users to start with their own hand-drawn images, Photoshop files or clip art, and drag images onto their chosen material and position them before seeing a preview.
Joann is betting big on customization. If that wasn't already clear, it certainly has become so in recent days. Last week, the retailer launched MyFabric, a service that allows shoppers to customize designer patterns on different fabrics, which eventually will let customers upload their own designs to be printed on Joann fabrics. Investing in and working with Glowforge brings customization to another aspect of the retailer's offerings.
The investment is an interesting move by a retailer not necessarily known for investments, acquisitions or — until now — technology. The previous exception was in early 2017, when Joann acquired Creativebug, a subscription-based provider of how-to videos. Later that year, the company embarked on a rebranding and later furthered its reinvention by opening its Ohio concept store.
Glowforge is something of a hot property, having set a crowdfunding record three years ago by raising nearly $28 million in 30 days, according to the release. Glowforge made its first 3D laser cutting and printing machine available earlier this year, and now with the investment, Joann will collaborate with the startup "to develop supplies and tools to help optimize machine capabilities," according to the Joann press release.
That makes it sound like Joann will have some influence over how this technology evolves, perhaps even as it gets rolled out to other clients. That's a strong position to be in as customized production processes like this take off in retail. This kind of customization could very well be the next expression of how the sector seeks to further personalize customer shopping experiences, and Joann is embracing the movement ahead of most retailers.