We sat down with Maker Media Vice President Sherry Huss and RadioShack Tech Senior Buyer Terry McGill to find out how the collaboration between the two companies came to be and what kinds of amazing things they’ve cooked up together.
As far back as 2008, Make: magazine and RadioShack worked together, first through media buys and advertising. As time went on, the Maker Movement became a significant force in the marketplace. From this recognition of the maker audience to want to create more and more things on their own, and RadioShack as a long-standing supporter and supplier of items with which to create those things, it was a natural progression for RadioShack and Maker Media to work more closely together.
Make’s audience – and by extension the RadioShack customers – tend to be more educated and more sensitive to community needs as a whole. Through Make’s experience with this community, it was clear to them that RadioShack was already a brand that was important to the Maker Movement. In 2011, Maker Media extended the invitation for RadioShack’s participation as a Goldsmith Sponsor of the national Maker Faire events. This widened RadioShack’s appeal to the Maker audience and gave RadioShack the opportunity to directly engage with makers as a whole.
Around the same time as that invitation to Maker Faire, RadioShack also started sponsoring the Weekend Projects produced by Make: magazine. Each weekend project features at-home instructions, printable PDFs, a how-to video, and a parts list of the items needed to create it (many of which are found at RadioShack). Adding to the partnership, RadioShack decided to carry Maker Media’s line of products and sell their Maker Shed “Getting Started” kits in all of their store locations. The success of these products helped lead deeper into their collaboration. The latest result of their alliance are the Make: It kits, which include Learn to Solder kits, deluxe tool sets, and many robotics kits.
The Make: It Robotics Starter Kit requires an Arduino Uno REV3 controller board, and once a maker has worked through that first set, there are multiple expansion kits to explore. Make: It robots can be modified into bulldozers, drill cars, or programmed to follow lines. They can be fitted with clamping arms, sweepers, and all kinds of sensors. They can even receive upgraded motors and be controlled by an IR remote control.
The idea was to make inclusive kits that could take someone from a beginning to intermediate level of expertise on a subject – robotics or soldering, to start with – and yet also include enough exciting materials to inspire those who already have an intermediate or even masterful grasp of the concepts.
Ultimately, the goal is to appeal to the three levels of makers that Maker Media has identified. They recognize the Zero-to-Maker, those who are newly inspired to get into making, as needing all the instruction, parts, and support they can get. Then there are the Maker-to-Makers who have been making for a while and enjoy improving on designs and building a lot of community. Finally, there are the Makers-to-Market, the new army of tinkerers and inventors who believe that their ideas could improve more than just their own lives or immediate community.
The recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, was a great example of how the maker community has responded to RadioShack’s efforts to educate and supply new makers. RadioShack sponsors and runs the Learn to Solder tent at each major Faire, and Sherry and Terry both commented on how popular it was. Lines ran out of the tent and all the way to the thoroughfare with families waiting as long as forty-five minutes at its height of traffic. Once they got in, though, and were taught how to solder, they made their own rocket-shaped pins with LED lights and a battery. The pure joy on the faces of young and old alike at realizing that they had made these pins that light up, that they had learned to do something new and wonderful, was the greatest payoff anyone could ask for.
Sherry closed with her own observations about the senior executive staff of RadioShack also being in attendance and helping out at the Learn to Solder tent. “They were out there doing what they’re saying they’re doing and meeting the community. That’s something that rarely happens, where you have the level of engagement, and I think that was just another really great and positive thing for not only the Maker Faire but for RadioShack – and ultimately for where RadioShack is going in the future.”
You can find all of RadioShack’s current Make: It Kits here.