Mike Salguero, Founder and CEO of artisan marketplace CustomMade.com says “custom” is a service, not a product. In his business, the sale of furniture and other wooden products, the statement is fair, but in the broader world of “Custom” the value creation comes from many parts of the user experience.
Custom IS a product - I don’t think anyone would say the “service” of getting Invisalign braces, dental bridge work made with a 3D scanner/printer, or orthopedic inserts made by Amfit are services that makes them feel good or special. In this case the product is paramount and service a necessary means to an end. These examples aren’t sexy, but are big economic successes.
Custom is a Service - Like treating yourself to a trip to a spa or a safari, buying a custom product is an experience, and many times an indulgence. You are paying to have your voice be heard, to see your vision become a reality, and to experience working with talented individuals. Nike begins to address this with their 225 Forest concept.
Custom is a Story - After the service is complete, the value lives on. Owners of customized products now have a story to tell about the artifact. How they found the creator, what special process brought it into being, and importantly, what decision or advice the patron provided that made the product “work” in the end. A funny example, however unintentional, was Jonah Peretti’s attempt to have custom Nike’s made with the embroidered message, “Sweat Shop“. While the shoes were never made, a meme was crafted that got an MIT grad student on national television.
Custom is a Community - Custom products are often made by a talented individual or group with an idiosyncratic vision that the market can’t serve. Southern California’s “gear head” low rider culture and the techno-artistry of the MakerFaire crew are examples of sub-cultures that make products to create an identity.
Custom is Invisible - Amazon famously serves up different pages to individuals based on shopping and browsing history. This is probably one of the largest and certainly most successful stories of customization. Pandora is a more recent example that makes use of “data exhaust” to tailor a radio station to suit a unique taste.
Custom products provide value to customers in many ways and the team at CustomMade is right to focus on the service aspect, but there are businesses and products to be built along each vector.