On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrials (^DJI) reasserted its upward track, climbing more than 111 points to leave the Dow just a dozen points below its all-time record-high levels. The vast majority of Dow components moved higher, as positive earnings news from the financial industry raised the chances that the earnings season will go better than many investors had feared. Despite the broad-based move upward in stocks, Home Depot (HD) failed to post gains, even though it announced an interesting initiative with Stratasys (SSYS 1.23%) today that could help the home-improvement retailer benefit from the rise of 3-D printing.
Home Depot said it will start selling Stratasys MakerBot printers in a dozen locations across the nation. The experiment will allow customers in California, New York, and Illinois to buy MakerBot printers more easily, and MakerBot believes that 3-D printing has countless applications to help both do-it-yourself home-improvement fans as well as professional building and construction contractors.
Of course, Home Depot is under no illusions that selling MakerBots will immediately translate to a huge gain in sales. In some ways, the move is just as much defensive as forward-looking, as Home Depot doesn't want rival Lowe's or other companies successfully tapping into the 3-D printing market and leaving Home Depot behind.
Yet a more important long-term question that Home Depot shareholders have to ask is whether 3-D printers actually pose a future threat to Home Depot's entire business model. Many customers visit Home Depot and other similar store chains because they need specific parts or components to help them with their home-improvement projects, and one of the great promises of 3-D printing is that in the future, consumers might be able simply to have those products produced directly by their 3-D printers, keeping them from having to visit a Home Depot or other store location. Given the current limitations of consumer-level 3-D printing capabilities, it's unlikely that consumers would be able to replicate many products on MakerBot printers right now. Still, if 3-D printers become ubiquitous household tools, then Home Depot needs to figure out how to position itself as a retail supplier of the raw materials necessary for 3-D printing.
As many investors wonder about the sustainability of the rebound in the housing market, Home Depot has traditionally moved in innovative directions to try to sustain its growth even when conditions in the industry were less than favorable. Even if its MakerBot partnership doesn't immediately make a dramatic impact for Home Depot and therefore didn't move the stock higher today, the move shows that the home-improvement giant is staying ahead of the curve and remaining aware of long-term competitive threats.