A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca
When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part II in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part I here and part III here.
The SEG Electronics Market – The Pulse Of The Maker Movement
I go to SEG once per quarter to look for trends. You can tell which way the market is going by seeing what new shops have opened, what new products are being sold. – A Shenzhen CEO
If Shenzhen is the Maker Mecca, the SEG Electronics Market may be the Kaaba, the center of the attraction, the entire point of going. There are ten thousand products, every maker device, every screw, every LED and every new trendy gadget piled into stacks and arranged into squares. Entering a side door in the building (which is labeled Huaqiangbei), a visitor is greeted by throngs of vendors selling the tiniest of components, cables, wires and more.
For me the first floor was the most interesting as this is where the makers seem to be able to acquire the many minute components they made need. Some vendors specialize in microcontrollers, others in resistors and still others in screws. Notice the piles and piles of wires and cables on this vendor’s table on the right.
One way to survive the tremendous competition (many, many of the stalls sold nearly exactly the same products) is to go deep in one area. This vendor “got the memo” and decided to specialize only in screws. Lots and lots of screws of all types and descriptions, a true marketer.
After ambling around the first floor (of ten), it was time to proceed upstairs to the next floor. As you move up in the building, the products become more complex. While the first floors are all about components, the upper floors sell more integrated products such as laptops and motherboards.
On the second floor, bored merchants seemed glued to their phones. I am not quite sure what their sales strategy is but most took little notice of passers by. One man handed me a card indicating that he builds custom product boxes. I found much more pushy sales tactics outside of SEG, it was relatively surprising how idle most of the sales people seemed. Perhaps they are so busy there is no need to expend energy given the volume of customers.
Like the head of Medusa, curious web cameras sprout out of vendor’s tables peering to get a look at passers by.
Certain vendors specialized in components from specific manufactures. Motherboards from NVIDIA, Intel, AMD and their derivative knock-off brands are stacked in piles at “fell-off-the-back-of-the-truck” prices. Single microcontrollers and microprocessors pressed into plastic holders proliferated the middle levels along with Intel NUCs and GPUs.
Other people’s brands may not be as protected in China as they are in the United States. I ran across a clandestine “Intel Store” on the third floor which offered all manner of Intel products for cheap. Outside in the streets I passed numerous “Apple Stores,” sometimes four in a single block. The Apple brand carries tremendous weight with the Chinese. One way to demonstrate your commitment to quality as a store owner is to plaster the outside of your shop with such logos.
If you happen to need any type of flashlight, SEG has that too. A Flashlight Forest?
Given the tremendous noise about VR over this last year, it seems the big trend (or at least emerging trend) happens to be VR equipment. As mentioned in the quote at the top, SEG may be used to test the wind about which direction things are headed. While still in early phases I would say that VR is the topic of growth. I did not recognize many of the brands, it seemed that some were cheap knock-offs, copies or duplicates of other designs along with some new products and innovative ideas.
Speaking of trends, hoverboards were also hot (probably too hot, given the numerous reports of fires and explosions caused by defective batteries). Given the stacks of merchandise, hoverboards seemed at peak saturation and were probably either cresting or about to dive in popularity. Hoverboards are one example of a true innovation that China has provided to the world (battery issues aside).
Towards the top of the SEG Market things seemed to get repetitive. Having passed laptops, PCs, LCDs, mobile phones and other products on the lower floors it felt as though the same products kept coming up over and over again. I found myself getting lost in the nests of stores on the top floor without seeing much differentiation.
Finally, upon exiting the building there were a few drone stores. The area around the SEG Market contains numerous other shops and accessories. I was told that there are newer versions of the market elsewhere in the city. It was my hope to find more 3D printers and robotics but I did not happen to locate those stalls. Maybe next time.
Thanks for reading, I highly recommend making the trip (clear your afternoon) if you happen to adventure to Shenzhen yourself. Looking forward to exploring more of the city when I return.