Retail Packaging Has Arrived

SparkFun starts to package up items for retail sale. We even got our own UPC! Let us know what you think and what we should package next.

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First, just to get it out of the way - SparkFun will be closed on Monday, July 5th in observation of Independence Day (and no, we aren't closing because we'll all be watching the decidedly awesome while also terrible Will Smith movie by the same name...although...not a bad idea).

People have been asking us for years to be able to buy some of our products locally. Since we don't live in your neighborhood (most likely), you usually have to order online or from one of our international distributors (currently at about 90). But there is really no place to go and physically 'shop' for the toys that feed our projects.

Let me be clear - we don't plan on purchasing the Radio Shack chain. As much as that might be fun, we don't actually have a plan. Instead, we're packaging up a few of the most beginner friendly items, Arduino based for now, in fancy clamshells.

GPS Shield with EM406 receiver

These clamshell packages are easy to open, recyclable, and show off our product as much as possible. Our MarComm (marketing and communication) has been working hard along side Casey our mechanical engineer to get the packaging as professional as possible.

Protoshield kit in retail packaging

These packages are created for our current distributors that may need them, and for future retail establishments that need a UPC and price tag. We're sort of going with the 'build it and they will come' approach. So if you know someone that should carry our products, please let us know:

packaged up and ready for the big time.

While the plastic clamshells are recyclable, we want to limit the amount of extra plastic generated in this world. To limit the excess of plastic as much as possible, you'll find that many of these packaged items are a few dollars more than their equivalent 'bare' items.

with all the fixin's

I believe the general user won't need/want the extra packaging, but I do think that the packaging adds a level of 'finish' that may be appreciated when a gift is given. So instead of making these 'retail' packaged items available to only a select few, we've made them available to anyone, just like any other product. This way folks who want to give a gift to someone, or for any other reason we're not thinking of, can get these products in the fancy packaging.

Joystick Shield Kit

Something we always have to remind ourselves is to think like a customer. If I know nothing about soldering or programming, and I buy the Joystick shield kit and take it home, how do I put it together? How do I use it? So with these packaged products, you'll find they have easy to type short-links ( that take you to a landing page. The landing page acts as an easy to start entry way to the product. There is a quickstart guide and an assembly guide for each product that help noobs get going quickly. 

microSD Shield

It's been a ton of work to get this far, but it's also been amazing to see people react to the packaging. It's like we're a company that's growing up a bit and getting their first real suit. We may look fancy on the outside, but it's still us underneath.

XBee Wireless Kit

I've always wanted to get to this point! The point at which I can hand a friend, or my nieces or nephew a gift and say 'Here you go. Now you can begin to learn to build stuff like I do.'

We're far from done. We've got a long list of other items to package. Let us know what you think so far. Also, what other products should we be packing? The top of my list is the Simon PTH Kit and possibly some LEDs.

Comments 54 comments

  • MaxSeeley / about 13 years ago / 3

    SparkFun just went down a couple notches in my book. In my opinion, this kind of waste goes against the DIY mentality.

  • WhoKnew? / about 13 years ago / 3

    Great job on the packaging! they look great. I really hope the plastic is anti-static. ESD? anyone?

    • dRudRu / about 13 years ago / 2

      The packaging looks really nice, but I second the question about ESD? Standard plastic clamshell packaging is not on the happy face end of the ESD safe scale.

      • nibbler / about 13 years ago / 2

        Agreed. Packaging that lacks adequate ESD protection looks unprofessional and lazy to anybody who knows about the effects of ESD on electronic components.

      • Kevin Vermeer / about 13 years ago / 1

        Agreed. I'd much rather see a little ESD baggie (with warning sticker) inside, on sensitive components, than to see the item clearly. Looks more expensive and techy that way, too.
        The current setup invites-no, begs-no, demands destruction when Junior reaches into his gift bag, arm hair sticking out from all the styrofoam toys and tissue paper and balloons: Bzzt! "Aw, Mom, why didn't you put the XBee in a static bag?" "What, honey? I'm sure it's fine."

    • The ESD issue was raised just after we got the first batch of packaging in. Since then we have worked with the supplier in creating packages that are ESD. So in the future any items we pretty up will be nice and protected.

  • phishinphree / about 13 years ago / 3

    Are you sure about the Radio Shack thing? It would be pretty awesome if some company bought them out and turned them back into the hobbyist utopia they once were. Didn't I hear somewhere that sparkfun was the largest hobby electronics supplier. If not you guys than who? Maybe in a few more years?

    • Well...Radio Shack's revenue is a bit over $4 billion a year and they have 35,000 employees.
      We have 90-something-odd employees and a bunch of dogs. I think they're out of our league for now. :)

      • phishinphree / about 13 years ago / 3

        I know its completely unrealistic but a boy can dream can't he? lol.
        My employer allows dogs at his workplace. Unfortunately for my dog, I am the employer, the only employee and my workplace is also my apartment. On the plus side, she's yet to eat any of the components I've dropped on the floor. :-/

      • Shadyman / about 13 years ago / 2

        @Emcee Grady: So... next year, then?

      • BigHomie / about 13 years ago / 1

        Well how about stock? I know the Radio Shack's by me stock some Parallax stuff (which is how I got into microcontroller's to begin with btw), I would love to have Sparkfun parts at my fingertips. How awesome would it be to finish up with one shield and get another the same day from right up the street? I once knew them as a hobbyist's place to visit also, but lately all it's been is cell phones cell phones cell phones, and most of the people that work there can't tell me anything about they're components section. Ahh, well I would like to see that day, if there's no Fun Shack or Sparq Shack in our future. If there is, first stop CO second stop southeast MI!!!!!

      • And replying to myself...I have to post this article from The Onion if we're on the subject of Radio Shack. It's pretty dang funny.,2190/

  • CVBruce / about 13 years ago / 2

    I could see this at Fry's,
    They have lots of customers that would buy this kind of thing. They already sell discrete components, breadboards, PCBs, and they have two Arduino kits from Make. What they lack are all the toys (shields) that make the Arduino do something useful.
    They have 34 bricks and mortar stores, as well as a website. It's kind of the default store for geek stuff in silicon valley.

  • KillerSpud / about 13 years ago / 2

    I just gotta weigh in on this one. Yeah, there is a little bit more packaging, but that is off set by the absence of the anti-static and heat sealed bags. If SFE where seriously concerned about landfill waste they would stop shipping things in the red cardboard boxes (even though I never throw those away myself).
    It really isn't much more waste, its just different.

    • Kevin Vermeer / about 13 years ago / 1

      Those anti-static bags and cardboard boxes are there so that the electronics inside don't have to be recycled. Better one well-packaged item than two - One dead component in the trash/recycling, and one in the mail!

  • Scott14 / about 13 years ago / 2

    Oh Noooo, that's all I need. I suppose I'm going to start running into these products in the grocery store checkout line now . . . like I could resist that.
    Well, on the bright side, maybe my wife wouldn't let me go grocery shopping for fear of me coming home with too many toys.

  • mark4 / about 13 years ago / 2

    These would be great for university book shops. I can see a lot of EE, ME, architecture or industrial design students wanting to add these to their projects.

  • ratatosk76 / about 13 years ago / 2

    Just my opinion, but I prefer the boxes and ESD bags to typical commercial packaging. I can assemble everything, put it back in the ESD back, and back in the box, and mark the box with a sharpie.
    It just helps me stay more organized, instead of having a rat's nest of PCBs lying around.
    And for what it's worth, your 90 employees could easily out think Radio Shack's 35,000.
    The people who work at Best Buy, Radio Shack, etc don't know jack. But it is pretty fun asking a technical question and watching every employee in the place scurry around finding all the managers because no one knows the answer to your question.

  • OldFar-SeeingArt / about 13 years ago / 2

    Thanks for being cognizant of the impact of more plastic packaging waste. Here's another idea about it: Every time I get something handed to me in one of those blister paks, I open it carefully as not to distort or maim the blister. Then I turn it around in my hands and my mind and think about what it could be a good enclosure for or a good mold for making something.
    Once I made a camera pod to hang under the wing of a plane from an oblong aerodynamic blister pak a computer mouse came in. It worked great and was quite sturdy. I've used other paks for making molds for urethane resin.
    And with a larger one, a little paint made a nice halloween mask.
    So here's the idea: think about running a contest to see who can make the best use of a sparkfun blister pak with extra points given for it continaing the original sparkfun parts that came in the pak.

  • Conrthomas / about 13 years ago / 1

    I may even stop my boycott of radioshack if they seel them there...maybe...
    And by the way, isn't it a hoot that radioshack is now trying to be known as "The shack" Maybe their karma produced by selling cell phones and overpriced batteries caught up to them and they are trying to escape it.

    • Conrthomas / about 13 years ago / 1

      And on the subject of "radio-sham" as I often call it, I was in one (ohh I'm so sorry I was...I only wanted a switch!!! Please forgive me!) Anyway I was digging my way through drawers full or overpriced everything, when I heard this conversation between a radioshack employee (E) and a customer (C):
      E:"Yeah, the whole LED thing is a load of [expletive"
      C:"Really? I thought they are better than regular lights?"
      E:"No, don't believe that. Everyone will tell you they last longer and are brighter. Thats a bunch of crap. The LED Christmas lights only exist o make companies more money for selling the same [expletive] product. They says it's all better and everything, when its the same thing as a regular string of Christmas lights. It's all a trick to get you to buy them. They feed you this [expletive] to make you believe it's worth spending twice as much to get them"
      C:"Yeah, I kinda thought so..."
      E:"Yeah, so don't believe anyone that tells you LEDs are better."
      And I left at that point, thoroughly dissatisfied with my day. I ended up ordering the switch from mouser, in spite.

  • Smerky / about 13 years ago / 1

    Looks like a waste of money/materials unless you guys plan to open a physical shack.
    Actually I'd rather if my products didn't come with that extra wasteful plastic retail packaging crap.

  • tinkertoy / about 13 years ago / 1

    I do like the professional look of the hard plastic packaging, and if this is what it will take to get the products into more stores, so be it. I still prefer the soft plastic bags and cute red cardboard boxes though. I'm storing most of my projects in those boxes 'cause it makes them easy to spot when I need them.
    I'm really looking forward to seeing Sparkfun products in more brick & mortar locations. Hobby shops are a perfect place, and it would be one more reason for these shops to stick around in an ever more competetive market. The world needs more young scientists, and thus more hobby and electronics stores to present them with opportunities for inventing!

  • Jamreb / about 13 years ago / 1

    Ok, you don't need to necessarily take over Radio Shack to help get your new 'retail' products out there, but how about 'partnering' up with them and selling some of your products at the physical stores? I would totally buy your products in their stores! It seems like a win-win-win situation to me. Just my $.02.

  • Java1Guy / about 13 years ago / 1

    Speaking of local availability and the lack threreof... I think it would be cool if McGuckin Hardware starting carrying your stuff. We have no Fry's here, and JB Saunders is almost a RS... but McGuckin - 1) they already have everything else, 2) seems like they carry locally sourced stuff. Hey - they have Estes rockets! Get on that and let me know! :)
    Thanks, Mark

    • That's an awesome idea, McGukins would be a great shop to get into. And also, cheers to being in Boulder!

  • I just wanted to add this general comment about the designs. First off they are recyclable, of course, if recycling is available in your area.
    Next - I understand all of your frustrations about not being able to open these types of super sealed packages. These were created with 'ease of opening' in mind. Let me know how we did!

  • ubrch / about 13 years ago / 1

    I think I'm going to buy one of these so I can leave it on my desk and yell at people when they pick it up,
    Then I will place it in a glass case behind a meticulously posed Boba Fett figurine and scowl at them.

    • Haha, nice! We should even have small runs with minor errors in printing which could be exceptionally valuable to the astute collector.

  • FastEddy / about 13 years ago / 1

    MarCom did a good job!
    Anything that gives you guys a shot at higher volume is good for us guys who are just waiting for the next break-out board.
    I will smile when I see these on a rack at Fry's Electronics - but I'll still be buying the bare bones package direct...
    Stay the course, guys!

  • tinkertoy / about 13 years ago / 1

    I was pleasantly surprised to see an Arduino section at a local computer store in mid-Ohio. They had most of the items packaged as a plastic-bag-within-another-plastic-bag, with the store's SKU placed on the outer bag. That didn't make a lot of sense to me but I guess it was the fastest way for the store to get everything into a standard-ish pegboard-friendly package with their SKU on it.
    The clamshell packaging will certainly jazz up their store display, although there is something to be said for the simpler packaging in terms of looking more hobbyist friendly and grassroots in origin.
    I wound up buying a couple of Arduinos there, not because I needed them at the moment but just because I could grab them now and have them available when the inspiration strikes.

  • Kevin Vermeer / about 13 years ago / 1

    Agreed. These papers also discuss the dangers of thermoformed clear plastic enclosures - Even coated with antistatic treatment, they can be ineffective.
    I'd much rather see a little ESD baggie (with warning sticker) inside, at least for sensitive components, than see the item clearly. Looks more expensive and techy that way, too.
    The current setup invites-no, begs-no, demands destruction when Junior reaches into his gift bag, arm hair sticking out from all the styrofoam toys and tissue paper and balloons: Bzzt! "Aw, Mom, why didn't you put the XBee in a static bag?" "What, honey? I'm sure it's fine."

    • Kevin Vermeer / about 13 years ago / 1

      Whoops! Edited what I thought was a preview and subsequently double-posted. This was supposed to be a reply to dRudRu. Can a mod please move it/delete the old one (and delete this)? Thanks!

  • CHaskins / about 13 years ago / 1

    Just remembered your Ultrasonic Ranger Info Video ( ) I'd buy a kit in retail packaging. One kit with an arduino and one without? my idea was for the digital tape measure on the rear of a car for backing up. Maybe include the DC/DC Converter Breakout ( with two resistors, one for 5v and one for 3.3v depending on the arduino for use with higher voltage power sources?

  • ChipC / about 13 years ago / 1

    Hey, how about a retail package for the beginners tool kit? Its no use to get someone started in this stuff if they don't have a soldering iron and some basic tools to put it together with.

    • coopersnout / about 13 years ago / 1

      Well, if this was to be sold at Radioshack, they already have all those tools (though not at the wonderful price Sparkfun has them), and a place like Radioshack would definitely frown upon having that kind of competitive product in their store.

  • tj / about 13 years ago / 1

    These packages are really distracting. I shiver to see this...the clam shells give the feeling of closed corporation culture..just the extra steps to get to good components. Hopefully, we don't see them regularly.

  • BB / about 13 years ago / 1

    Now what I would like to see is a Sparkfun brick and mortar shop that puts Radio Shack out of business as an overpriced parts store. Radio Shack is more of a computer and electronics shop than a parts shop these days, and their sad selection of overpriced components is just an afterthought of their business. I cringe every time I hear that some person has been suckered into buying from Radio Shack and has paid an arm and a leg for their parts.

  • DB123 / about 13 years ago / 1

    While the packaging looks all cool and "consumery", I have wonder if you have thought through who the target market is for this packaging. I doubt I am going to find these in some big box stores mostly visited by people who can barely turn on their computers. I would think the people who purchase from you regularly are hard core geeks who are going to prefer the basic antistatic wrap to some to kind of shallow consumer marketing ploy. Of course I may just be speaking for myself.

  • CharlieH. / about 13 years ago / 1

    One of the things I like best about Sparkfun is that its unique. Messing around with microcontrollers is kinda like a diamond in the rough and adding plastic packaging to parts will make it feel too "commercial" if you know what I mean. It gives it too much of an industrial/prepakcaged/one-size-fits all kinda feel when really your products are the focus of many original and creative efforts.
    I believe that was one part of the downfall of radioshack...they took a specialized interest and field and tried to turn it into an every day deal where it was no longer special.

    • Ffejery / about 13 years ago / 1

      I believe that was one part of the downfall of radioshack...they took a specialized interest and field and tried to turn it into an every day deal where it was no longer special.

      That may be, but I know that as a kid, one thing that held me back was having to order everything (grossly overpriced LEDs and resistors from RS aside). Being able to just walk into a store and buy a hobbyist-friendly GPS module or Arduino makes this sort of tech much more accessible to some people. I do like the other comment about making modular displays, by the way. At any rate, in Vancouver we have several good electronics stores that aren't consumery chains like RadioShack, where I think these sorts of products would have good appeal without losing anything as the poster suggests. I actually mentioned this article to someone at one of them today, and I think they were going to take a look, at least.

    • CharlieH. / about 13 years ago / 1

      oh but btw, the part where you said you were going to offer introductory documentation to some of your products is GENIUS. Getting started as a noob is difficult, not knowing things about I2C or SPI or TTL or what-have-you but giving tutorials on all those basic subjects would definitely be a plus in my book.

  • Chinwah / about 13 years ago / 1

    I personally dont like the plastic packaging. It takes scissors or tin snips to open them and sharp edges are a pain. Unfortunately there is no other way to package it in a retail environment.
    I love the red boxes, great for storage. I have all the ones I got from you. You might have a checkout category so we can select what size we want to complete our collections. :-)
    Your local distributor in Taipei does not carry very much of your product line.

  • Joe3.3 / about 13 years ago / 1

    Just don't get rid of the little red boxes! I love them for storage. They seem to be the perfect size for organizing all my stuff. I'm tempted to buy more things from you guys just to get more red boxes :)

    • Mac.C / about 13 years ago / 1

      Hmm, I smell a new product category - "boxes" anyone? I think that's be great, receiving a big red box in the mail containing nothing but lots of little red boxes... :)

  • rmeyer / about 13 years ago / 1

    That's pretty cool...but also scary in a way. I hope you don't "grow up" too much. I mean you can be successful and take over the world and everything, as long as you keep it real and open source/grass roots and don't become too much like the other guys.
    I believe Sparkfun's success comes not only from what it is, but perhaps more from what it is not. (Get it?)

  • zhanx / about 13 years ago / 1

    I prefer bare components also, why add more waste to the system. But its good to see you guys moving up in the world

  • mjkuwp / about 13 years ago / 1

    guys, I am a fan - but must say I am a bit sorry to see this packaging. while it is professional - it does not offer anything new or better than same-old. I don't know how recyclable this material is - it's technically more descriptive to call it down-cyclable.
    The comment about Radio Shack... I went there days ago - marched in and headed to the resistor cabinet. An employee stopped me and said "what brings you to the shack?" gee... couldn't you tell? after I got there he came over and told me he "might" be able to help "some".
    too funny. I just said, "no, I got it, thanks"

  • fotoflojoe / about 13 years ago / 1

    Great Idea!
    How about taking it a step further and designing a self-contained store display concept? Make it configurable to allow showcasing any number/combination of your products.
    Brick 'n mortars could set it up to retail whatever they chose, so as not to create direct competition with any house-brand stuff. (cough, cough, Radio Shack, cough)
    I believe O'Reilly/Make did something like this last year in a partnership with Fry's.
    You guys may not take over Radio Shack, but imagine having a presence in all their stores.

  • NKT / about 13 years ago / 1

    That is brilliant!
    Now for you to find a UK distributor. Preferably one that doesn't leave it cheaper to buy direct from the USA, even with the shipping!

  • R0B0T1CS / about 13 years ago / 1

    Their shield are up... for sale at a location near you.
    The packages will hang in the store showcase.
    Simply "take them down, take them out and do your stuff".
    Sorry, I had to. :)

  • OldMan / about 13 years ago / 1

    Is Sparkfun going to have a booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC in October? It would be a great place to sell those packaged kits along with some of your soldering classes.

  • Ya right, you guys are not planning to purchase the Radio Shack chain, you guys want to create your own retail store and call it the SPARK SHACK!!
    SPARK SHACK is a registered trademark of Jerome Demers Technology Incorporated in Canada.All Rights Reserved.
    ... oh wait... I think I just receive a cease and desist letter.

    • Skimask / about 13 years ago / 2

      Then just maybe they could call it:
      Why get a cease and desist letter from one, when you can get two!!!

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