The Factory vs. The Workshop

Allen Clements

January 25, 2018

Every business is as unique as a fingerprint, yet, our minds still try to categorize. We categorize businesses as to what sort of customers they serve, what their annual revenue is, what their industry is and in so many other ways. I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between factories and workshops and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you.


Factories are mass producers. One definition of factories is, “A building or group of buildings where goods are manufactured or assembled chiefly by machine.” A factory is very good at producing. So good, in fact, that most of their goals are based around producing more and more. Higher revenue, wealthier clients, and more projects remain at the top of their aspirations. A factory’s strength lies in producing copies of the same thing. The factory model finds the most value in small, repeatable savings. In the factory model, we can appreciate consistency, and from that, form trust in that consistency.



Let’s take a trip back in time just before the industrial revolution. This is an exciting history of entrepreneurship in the new world. People flocked to the new world to start fresh, and in the early 1700s, a large percentage of colonials were small business owners. These were the innovators! Sure, the big companies also arrived, but they had to take their time integrating into the new politics and undeveloped land. So, it would be a while until you saw a town where one company employed a large percentage of its workforce. Diversity in business and industry.

Imagine a blacksmith stepping off of a ship and building his business from nothing but a sea-soaked tool bag. Now, imagine a conversation the blacksmith is having with an independent builder who needs some hinges made. That blacksmith would ask the builder how many he needed and what size each hinge needed to be. He had conversations about strength and style and in some cases might go to the site to take some measurements himself. He would stop by to see his handiwork when the job was done. This is relationship. This is customization. This is artistry. This is form-fit rather than one-size-fits all. This…is the workshop.



Throughout the Industrial age, which spans several centuries, people began to associate the size of a business with the quality or the effectiveness of the goods they produce.  

Between the early 1700s and the information age, the decline of small firms, artisans, and craftspeople was evident, and the rise of big business made way, and, don’t get me wrong, made huge opportunities for technology breakthroughs and the way our world traded and worked. Big businesses still create those sorts of opportunities. The image of the soot-spewing factory of 1801 and the large businesses of today are very different. But the information age has created a resurgence of the workshop, and the workshop has become among the biggest innovation drivers of our day. You don’t always see it because they are quickly purchased by the big businesses as soon as their innovation has produced something mass-replicable but even their fleeting existence is palpable.


So, what’s wrong with replication? Many businesses are finding that doing the same thing as someone else, utilizing a copy of their widget or ad or process, won’t necessarily drive the same results. These aren’t interchangeable standard parts. We need custom messaging as well as strategy and medium. Furthermore, we need it to be form-fitted to our businesses. We need nimble partners in media who can adapt to our needs and adapt that messaging as time goes on to tune it for maximum effectiveness. We need a workshop.

Derek, Creative Director/Founder of MAKE and client discuss adjusting a shot on set at an EBY shoot.


Workshops are not very good at producing large numbers of things. It’s part of their nature that makes them falter when they take on too much work, but makes them strongest when they are presented with a challenge…like producing something that has never been produced before. So the workshop needs to remain exclusive so they can do what they are good at. Exclusivity is defined as, “a state of being limited or hard to access.” Why on earth would you want your business to be hard to access? By taking on a few select customers at a time, and working extremely closely and collaboratively with those customers, the workshop crafts custom solutions with character and personality. When business is done right, workshops will be more responsive to the customer and their needs and the custom solutions will be more streamlined to those needs. The result is a reputation that precedes the quality workshop.


The workshop can do more with less. Much of their innovation and even some of their creativity comes from constraints. Constraints are embraced and used to create wonderful things. The blacksmith may not have access to a particular tool, but by making his own tool to get the job done, he just innovated again and, in the end, probably made something better than the standard tool. This is because now, he can show a unique product to his client.

Aaron Dienner, DP/Editor at MAKE, captures the perfect shot on set at an EBY shoot while Derek monitors the shot using the Teradek Serv Pro.


Regardless of industry, you can find versions of the factory and versions of the workshop. Emerging consumer choice revolves around customization, relationships, and accessibility. This choice becomes a challenge to existing large businesses encouraging them to create relationships with their clientele, listen, and cater to needs or requests and think small even as they think big.

MAKE is proud to be a workshop. If you want to find out more about what it’s like to get out of the factory and start working with strategic artisans, give us a call.