New distribution channels for the new economy

Want to buy unique goods? Subvert the traditional corporate distribution channels and go online

Yesterday I wrote about the flourishing Maker community in Detroit–engineers and artists tinkering in their garages re-inventing the rust-belt economy. In addition to innovations in the technical sphere, the Maker community is responsible for some fundamental changes in how inventors are handling product distribution.

Jules Pieri, CEO of Daily Grommet, calls it Community Commerce. Daily Grommet is an online marketplace where inventors and designers can sell products directly to customers without the intermediary of a physical store. Daily Grommet features “wonderful product still waiting in the wings, just ripe for discovery.”

Pieri sees this as more than just a convenient way to buy goods. “There’s been an innovation explosion in recent years,” she says, “spurred by the bad economy and people’s access to technology.” The public’s erosion of confidence in corporate culture has meant that people prefer to do business with individuals, and that in turn has led to citizen financing platforms such as eBay, Kickstarter, or Nimbit.

Etsy is a peer-to-peer marketplace for handmade goods that has become a multi-million portal

She points to online craft store Etsy as another successful example. “Etsy raised $45 million in venture capital,” she says. “There’s a new normal in consumption patterns.” (The term “new normal” was first used in this way in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Nancy Koehn. The article analyzed the changing purchasing climate in the post-recession US.)

Koehn argues that consumers are now looking to give their hard-earned dollars to companies they trust, not just to the company with the cheapest offering. Consumers are also using their social networks to evaluate possible purchases. Networks will quickly ferret out a better product or more socially responsible company–online, the barriers between corporate messaging and consumer knowledge are starting to fall.

For entrepreneurs with good ideas, the start-up costs for businesses have never been lower. “That creates a real opportunity,” says Pieri. She adds, “People are not doing business in the same old ways. Each purchase is an act of citizenship.” In other words, it seems inventors would prefer to bypass the traditional distribution methods of corporate culture.

If you’re a self-described entrepreneur or inventor, you might want to explore these channels as a low-cost mode of distribution.