I spent a few moments with Local Motor’s owner Jay Rogers, Jr., CEO and co-founder of Local Motors and Mitch Menaker, Senior Vice President of Retail Sales to learn what’s happening with the company and the store at 11 Market Square. The location re-opened yesterday after being closed for several months.
The centerpiece for customers as they enter the totally re-vamped space is the world’s first 3-D printed car. The original prototype, it has been replicated several times as the company prepares to ramp-up production. Mr. Rogers said the company wants to put people in direct contact with cutting edge technology. The retail store surrounds the company’s innovative products with its branded merchandise.
The idea is similar, he said, to the Tesla stores opening in malls. He pointed out that Amazon is also launching brick-and-mortar stores, reversing the trend of online-only sales. The most exciting news, perhaps, for downtown is that sometime late this year not only will the original automobile be on display, but the company will roll out its “neighborhood electric vehicle,” and will have one available downtown for test drives. The store, essentially will be the automotive show room.
The plans continue, with the highway version of the car (also electric) being available early in 2017. The manufacturing center on Pellissippi will be one of the locations the car will be turned out and that connection explains the company’s presence on Market Square. Mr. Rogers told me the cars haven’t been priced, yet, but he expects the neighborhood car to be, “in the tens of thousands,” and the highway vehicle to be “in the 50’s.”
The merchandise now in the store is very different from what you’d have found had you entered the store earlier. Mr. Menaker explained that the company, of necessity, had to focus on development and production initially, but that the long-range plan was to grow the retail space. Under his guidance, the focus has shifted from products which need an explanation (cool tech) to more common objects, which are often made from recycled products.
Among my favorites was a t-shirt which listed Phoenix, Las Vegas, Berlin and Knoxville. Each of the cities are part of the growing list of cities hosting production and/or retail space for the company. A new 22,000 square foot lab and retail facility will soon be opening just outside Washington, D.C. The company also hopes to soon ink deals with South Korea for production facilities.
Many of the items for sale are common; sunglasses, shot glasses, t-shirts and button-ups for men and women. So much of the product line is devoted to motion and traveling that flasks seemed a little out of place, but they were made with recycled inner-tubes. Swell bottles (keep liquids hot or cold for twenty-four hours) are available in numerous designs. The robot and smaller robot art are made by a New Mexico artist from production waste from the plant there. Bracelets, koozies, purses and coasters are similarly designed with recycled materials.
They haven’t left tech-oriented gadgets behind, by any means. You’ll be able to find a fancy wallet which blocks any attempt to electronically steal your credit card numbers and ID from your conventional wallet. You’ll also find portable pocket chargers for you cell phone/i-pad or other device ($24.95). Blue-tooth speakers and earbuds are available. You can even purchase your own electronic car-charging station, if you’d like (~$10,000).
Dominantly, however, you’ll find common products made from cool materials. I like the “Loyal to Local” shirts with their double meaning. There are throws and cushions for couches. You’ll find travel mugs and water bottles. Some of the water bottles come with a center insert for lemons or limes to infuse your water. You’ll find coffee mugs with the cities I mentioned earlier listed on the side.
Bottom line, you’ll find more everyday necessity and home products than before. So now you not only get cool, you get useful. It’s one of the coolest, most forward-thinking companies we have in the city. Go by and check them out. If nothing else, check out the first 3-D printed car on earth. The company is so open-minded that when I asked if it was the first 3-D printed car in the universe, the sales-person would not commit. Who knows what possibilities the universe holds?