ALL3DP interviews Mihail Tanev, Marketing Manager at the Doob Group, on their strategy for the competitive market of 3D printed figurines.
The Doob Group is the undisputed market leader in the business of 3D printed figurines.
They’ve got a range of high-profile partnerships in the worlds of sports and retail, and their patented “Dooblicator” is popping up on high-streets in every major city worldwide.
There are other players in the market, most certainly, but Doob is making the biggest impact.
ALL3DP met with Mihail Tanev, Marketing Manager for the Doob Group, in their home town of Dusseldorf last month.
Mihail was manning the Doob Group stand at the Euromold 2015 trade-show, but was kind enough to answer some questions about the Doob Group’s ambitious plans for the future, and the continuing evolution of the market.
Q: Can you give us some background on the Doob Group?
We are a company from Dusseldorf. Our headquarters are here, but we have subsidiaries in the US and also in Japan. We operate our main business right now as 3D figurines. But we offer a lot of other services and products in the B2B segment, such as architecture, medical technology, virtual reality, and augmented reality. We also work with media and communication agencies to create innovative campaigns (including 3D figurines for their clients).
So, last month, we opened new stores in Berlin, Barcelona and Sydney, and we are expanding very quickly. And recently we rolled out our franchise concept. We are looking for partners who want to buy our in-house developed hardware and software, to open their own 3D stores worldwide and to enter the 3D printed figurines business together with us.
Q: You mentioned these different locations where the Doob Group operates. What’s the selection process? Because it’s quite diverse range of cities you have, whether it’s New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Barcelona. What’s the rationale there?
The idea is to cover every continent of the world. We started from Europe, of course. Then we wanted to go to North America and then to cover the Asia market, so we opened a branch in Japan. And right now we are talking with partners who might help us to bring Doob to South America and Africa. We are also in Australia, so we also cover that continent as well. And that’s the process: we simply wanted to be everywhere in the world, so we started with Europe, US and Asia.
Q: And this franchising strategy will play a role in the expansion of the Doob brand? How stringent are you going to be about your franchising partners?
We are looking for partners who want to open in cities or countries where we’re not still represented, as there are still a lot of them. For example, big markets like India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Dubai and China.
Q: What about London? London’s missing from your list of cities.
London, of course, London is huge. And Paris. I mean, there is a lot of potential cities, huge metropoles with tens of millions of population. Our first store was opened in Dusseldorf. Dusseldorf is like a big city but in comparison with London or New York it’s really like a village because it’s only 700,000 in population. And we are satisfied with the revenue numbers that we get. But of course, if you have a top location in like a big metropole like London or Moscow, the market potential there is huge.
Q: Okay. And so the core business is about these 3D figurines. We can see that you have diversified quite a lot in that realm with tons of sports and other partnerships, such as BVB Borussia Dortmund, Vodafone, Dr. Oetker and UNIQLO partnerships. Where does that come from? Who’s driving these partnerships?
Basically, those strategic partnerships are done on a management level. For example, UNIQLO’s “The Selfless Selfie Project” campaign was done together with the help of our DOOB US CEO, Michael Anderson. The BVB Borussia Dortmund cooperation was done by our Chief Marketing Officer, Miki Devic.
But actually, in the last month we are getting a lot of inquiries directly from clients who saw our previous campaigns. They could imagine running a similar campaign for their own brands or clients. So they just Google us, visit our page and send us an email or call us. They say, “Okay, we could imagine doing this for our own brand. What are the possibilities there? How can we come together?” and stuff like that, so actually, we are not looking for them. They are coming to us right now, which is perfect.
Q: So would you say you’re in a strong marketing position right now in the 3D selfie business?
When we started the Doob Group here in Germany, we were one of the first companies that who were doing 3D Figurines. And there were maybe three, four, five companies in all of Germany one year ago. And then in the last year, there are nowadays more than 50 companies — alone in Germany — which offer 3D printed figurines of people.
Everyone sees that this business is going to be really huge in the next few years. 3D printing is a really hot topic right now. Everyone is writing about 3D printing, 3D scanning, publications for the future of 3D printing, and also from industrial point of view. Boeing, for example, is already 3D printing thousand parts for their airplanes. And in the future it will be like 50 percent of all parts Boeing planes consist of will be 3D printed. It’s like the next industrial revolution.
We are really excited about the announcements from Hewlett-Packard and other big players that are coming together in the hope that they will just revolutionize the whole 3D printing in terms of cost, efficiency, and quality. HP announced that they’re launching at the end of 2016 a new printer that will be ten times faster, ten times cheaper, and provide ten times better quality than the current ones available on the market. This could really bring the whole 3D printing business to a new level by lowering the costs of the final product by ten times.
That means that if a small 10 cm 3D printed figure today costs like, 100 Euros, next year it could be just ten Euros. Anyone can afford that, and you can make more spontaneous buys with such products. You don’t have to plan, okay, how much can I spend this month for 3D printing products or stuff like that. You just buy it. And this potentially opens up a worldwide mass market for us.
Q: Tell us a bit more about your partnership with the BVB Borussia Dortmund football club.
As far as I know, every football club has different relationships between the club itself and the players that play in the club and the management/commercial rights of all those players. So for example, if you want to sell a 3D figurine of one player, you have to clarify first with the club if this is okay for the club, and then secondly, to which company or to which manager does the rights of this particular player belong.
It’s very complicated because you have a lot of contact persons in this whole process, and there is not just one player on each team. There are a lot of them. And if you have to launch a similar campaign like we did with BVB Borussia Dortmund with another club, you have a lot of difficulties, I think, regarding clarifying everything with the rights of those players. In our case it was very lucky for us because the club has all the rights for all the players that play in the club.
Basically, we just had to deal with the football club’s management itself, and didn’t have any contact with the players or with their managers or stuff like that. Everything was done centrally by the club, and it was very easy to execute for us in terms of merchandising rights. Soon the figurines of the players will be online and available for purchase at BVB’s online shop. So everyone can go the website and order a figurine of their favorite player or also order a connected figurine of the fan and a player of their choice – we call it a “Twindoob”.
Q: And you have a deal with Major League Baseball in the United States the Detroit Tigers, and you’re talking about further partnerships with the MLB?
We’re in talks right now with Major League Baseball, and the goal is to install our Dooblicator 3D Scanning System which is, of course, mobile, to install it on every stadium of MLB where games are taking place. You can imagine that a lot of fans – tens of thousands of people — are going to every game. And there is a huge potential to scan those persons there at the stadium in their baseball outfits of their favorite teams, and with their families.
Q: You’re also exploring ways to use this 3D modeling technology in interesting ways. Can you tell us a bit more about the augmented reality projects you have going on?
Everything starts with a scan of the person. As long as we have the scan, we process the two-dimensional data into a high-res 3D print ready model, which could be printed out on a 3D printer.
But we can also use that as a digital avatar of the person. And this digital avatar can be then embedded in virtual reality environments or also displayed as an augmented reality avatar. For example, you have a sheet of paper with something like a bar code on it, just a printed sheet of paper with some information coded into it.
We have developed an app which is currently in beta and demo version still. And then when you launch the app on your smartphone and point your phone towards the printed marker, you can see in the app a projection of that digital avatar of someone or some object (e.g. architecture models of buildings etc.).
One application of this could be business cards. A lot of business cards are still being used nowadays, so for example, you take the business card of someone and by using an app you could point your smartphone towards the business card and you can see the real person as a hologram standing on its own business card. And we could also animate the person’s body or make him like shortly introduce himself by making him talk, like, “My name is,” blah, blah, blah. I’m the X position at the company Y, stuff like that. So this is one application that comes to mind when we talk about augmented reality and scanned persons.
Another thing is, of course, virtual reality. We’ve experimented with the Oculus Rift glasses which is still a development kit, because they haven’t brought out a ready product to the market yet. This will happen in 2016, I think.
The thing with virtual reality is that when the person is scanned in a certain position with their arms and their legs a little bit stretched out of their body, we can then animate those body parts in the post-processing. The arms, the head, the legs can be set in motion. And we can make that person jump or walk or run or clap with their hands, stuff like that. We can also create virtual environments and we can embed those scanned persons and animated persons in those virtual environments.
It’s interesting because for example you can recreate, for example, a museum with some famous art pieces and you can make a virtual walk in this museum with the virtual glasses on. So you can just be there virtually without having the need to fly, like, 10 hours maybe to some different country and see this for itself. You can just see it virtually while sitting on the coach at home.
And if you like it, you can of course then buy a ticket for that museum and go see it live. If you are a museum who wants to represent itself worldwide, then this is something that can bring more new customers to the museum. This is similar to when you Google some place that you want to go to before you go there. With glasses on, it is kind of the evolution of the previous.
Q: Where do your customers come from? Do they find you or do you find them? Do they come to your physical store or do they find you online? Or do you go to them at trade shows and sports events?
Mostly, it’s a combination of all the things that you mentioned. We of course have a presence online. And a lot of websites like ALL3DP and others are writing articles about us. So if you just do a Google search about the Doob Group or 3D printing or 3D scanning or scanning system, the probability that you see us in the results is high.
A lot of customers and partners are doing their initial research online and afterwards they select like two, three providers of 3D scanning, 3D modeling or 3D printing services in their location, or maybe from the same country that the customer comes from. And then they come talk to us, mostly via email, via our website. They just send an inquiry, “We want to do this and this. Is this possible? How much will it cost? Can you please send us an offer? Can we please make a Skype or a phone conference call to discuss everything?”
And so, slowly more and more customers and partners are finding us online or offline at trade fairs and other events.
Q: Where do you see the Doob Group in, like, say, five years’ time? Do you see yourself moving fully into 3D scanning and leaving 3D printing behind? Because it seems like you have a diverse portfolio of activities happening.
3D printing was never part of our core competencies. Of course, it is a big part of the whole process in producing a 3D printed figurine. But we use external hardware for printing, we don’t have that much to do with printing.
We concentrate on scanning (the hardware) and 3D modeling (the software) and those are the two main competencies of Doob. We developed our own scanner and our own software for post-processing. We’re working right now in making our 3D modeling process fully automated. So this means from the scan to the ready-made 3D print ready data file, everything will be automated. And we hope that this will happen in the next six to 12 months.
Q: So you’re looking to simplify the process by which you go from scan to print?
Yes. At the current moment I think our process is to 80 percent fully automated, so which means the remaining 20 percent has to be done by hand by our 3D specialists. And our goal is to fully automate that process. So everything will be done just by our software. And it will be much cheaper in the production from cost perspective, and much faster as well.
This would also have impact on our figurine prices for the future. So the price will drop when we have that full automation. And of course, we hope that from the 3D printer point of view, there will be some new printers coming to the market which will be cheaper and faster, etc.
Q: It seems that a company goal is to make figurines more affordable. Is that right?
Well, we are aiming at the mass market. So currently, the figurines that we sell and actually the prices of our competitors are more or less similar to ours. So we are not selling them at a high price – we’re covering our costs right now. That’s what our competitors are doing as well. And our goal is to lower the costs and to make this product affordable for everyone.
I can imagine that if the smallest figurine does not cost 95 Euros but just 9,99 Euros, everyone can afford it and they can buy it more regularly and spontaneously. So we make then less profit probably per piece, but the amount, the quantity, will be that much bigger. So at the end point everyone will be having more figurines. We are just having the same profits and yeah, everything will be better for everyone. It’s a win-win situation.
Q: The technology can only improve.
Definitely, in the last two years or three years, I have seen a lot of improvements in the printers and also in the scanners on the market. And nobody can say what the future of 3D printing will look like in five or ten years because right now we are like in the beginning of the internet. So no one can really say how much – like when you were in the ‘90s, nobody could say how fast the internet speed will be in five years’ time.
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