For more information visit https://www.swatchbox.com/
Jessica: Hi, this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green and today we have a repeat guest, Benjamin Glunz with Anguleris and BIMsmith and Swatchbox. Hey, Ben.
Benjamin Glunz: Hey, thanks for having me.
Jessica: Yeah, no problem. No problem. We’ve had you on here before when we were talking about BIM (building information modeling) and that was an interesting conversation and now we’re talking to you about a new project, program, product that you’ve launched called Swatchbox. Which we’re really excited about and I think the introduction has been very timely and it’s just a great platform. So can you tell us about Swatchbox and what it is and then I’ll dig in a little deeper and ask some questions about how it’s connected to the design and architecture world.
Benjamin Glunz: Sure. Swatchbox is really a platform designed for architects, designers and contractors to be able to do building product research first and foremost. But then obviously be able to order samples all in one box from multiple manufacturers. And so it really comes out of our experience as architects, myself included having been in practice. It can sometimes take days if not weeks worth of time for individuals to be able to order all the samples they need for a project. So we wanted to make that a lot easier and just really streamline that process in a more intelligent way.
Jessica: So we’ve had a lot of success as CaraGreen of late when everyone started working from home and you know that issue that, I guess I’ll call it an issue, it’s bigger than an issue but that pandemic issue. And coupled with the fact that architects and designers were already starting to go to this digitization of the library. So you know for our listeners when you’re an architect and designer you basically have this giant room filled with binders and samples and they’re trying to be organized and you have a librarian who’s in charge of making sure the samples are all in the right places. And firms were starting to try to digitize everything but designers are very tactile and you know they need to touch and feel and see and put things next to each other, so it was really challenging to kind of get away from those physical libraries. But when the pandemic hit, you didn’t have a choice. You couldn’t bring the library home with you. So you know we’ve seen a massive shift to online sampling, whether it’s through our own website or through a program like Swatchbox, a platform like Swatchbox.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, absolutely and I think programs like ours and programs like yours that are reliable ways to order samples have enabled architects and designers to shift away from what we jokingly call sample hoarding to more of a “just in time” approach and what I mean by that is the reason that a sample room was absolutely crucial pre-pandemic and before programs like ours is that you couldn’t reasonably count on the fact that you could get a sample when you needed it.
Jessica: Miss that.
Benjamin Glunz: And when you have a meeting with a client or you have a meeting with a developer or you’re needing to just make a decision, to have to wait 3, 4, 5, sometimes six weeks just to receive a sample is just completely unreasonable. And so you have to essentially hoard these in these giant sample rooms so that they’re there when you need them but now with a service like yours or a service like Swatchbox, being able to know that you can get a sample within a day or two is honestly freeing. So instead of having to hoard and stack these things around, you can just order them when you need them and send them back when you’re done with them. And so it is a game changer from that perspective and there’s so much that can’t be achieved by just looking at your phone right? You can look at a digital swatch but it only goes so far and when you’re making a $1000000 decision on a material selection or specification, that’s not going to cut it. You want to feel it, you want to touch it.
Benjamin Glunz: One of my architect friends likes to say he likes to smell it and…
Jessica: Well I have some, I have one of our products that is made out of coffee. So this is coffee. So I always have this…
Benjamin Glunz: There you go, exactly, exactly. But you know you’re using all of your senses with a physical sample and you know I don’t think there will ever be a day where we can fully replace that with anything digital.
Jessica: Yeah I don’t think so either and when I say that we do sampling I just mean that someone goes to CaraGreen’s website and they want, you know, a sample of one specific brand that they were looking for. You have an entire infrastructure and you know like a cataloging system and a database that’s allowing someone to really dial into exactly what they want. I want a countertop with an HPD, that’s made in the USA, that has recycled content. You’re really allowing people to get down to the specifics of their project needs and you know, reducing the field from this many brands to this many online, not in a library. All that stuff is not standardized in a library physically.
Benjamin Glunz: Um, right? No, it’s not and it’s often just kind of in heaps and boxes and you never really know what is current and what was 10 years old really, you know, and it just starts to pile up.
Jessica: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Benjamin Glunz: But the intelligent selection aspect is really the important part. That yes, visual is very important but before you can get to the visual and tactile portion you still need to know if it’s the right product for what you’re trying to spec. So you know, visual is great but it also is crucial to get those performance items.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s becoming more and more important and I want to just jump back to one thing you said because obviously at CaraGreen you know our product portfolio, the brands that we carried, we have a real focus on sustainability. So that’s kind of the core value of my organization and one of the things you mentioned about just getting the samples that you need for a project instead of binders. This is the first year that I’ve cut my sample budget back because I’m not sampling these huge binders, I’m sampling for projects. So the absolute number of project leads is gonna go up substantially because of platforms like yours but the cost, I’m not sending out full sets of everything because those already exist on your platform. So that is a huge reduction in wasted samples, unnecessary samples. You know, binders and packaging that I don’t…
Benjamin Glunz: Ah, right.
Jessica: I don’t need to spend, other major brands don’t need to spend because we’re getting these project based leads. And one other aspect that’s really important: 80% of my project leads last year were from sample platforms, not in-person meetings. In the year before, I would tell you it was more like 90/10 in person versus online. So it’s been a massive shift.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, and when you start to consider how you can then use that to then kind of bore deeper into a spec and and pair it with, you know, you all as we’ve discussed in past episodes are investing in BIM as well. So being able to move from a BIM spec to a 3 part spec to a sample spec and tie that together is really the root of what we’re getting at here.
Jessica: Yes, so I think it’s important that you talk about that. So whereas other online platforms, online sample platforms, are places where designers go to kind of peruse blue wallpaper and you know blue glass, black backsplash, and so on. It’s kind of you know, visual and aesthetic. You’re coming at it from a technical architect 3D modeling environment. So you’re getting, BIM has started to grow, and you’re connecting your sampling to that end of the process. Can you talk a little bit about that and why you guys have invested in that space versus simply just trying to build an online sample platform.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, because just sampling on its own doesn’t really get us very far so as architects we know that you have to be able to land this back right? So you have a design intent that you’re trying to communicate to contractors, owners, subcontractors and you know as architects and designers we have to work really hard to make that actually come to fruition because our name goes on the building. Our name goes on the stamp on the drawing and if it doesn’t perform the way we intend then you know it’s a ding on our credibility as well. So from our perspective, sampling is just a part of the journey to getting a product selected but then also installed and ultimately maintained properly across that entire lifecycle from the initial idea where you’re inspired to use. Xyz marble or xyz solid surface, that’s just an idea and you have to get it all the way through to the execution and so that’s really our job as design professionals; to every step of the way continue to clarify how and why a product should be used in the way that we’re saying it.
Jessica: So understanding it, and this is near and dear to my heart because I just had a call with a fabricator in your area, and one of the things that happened was there was a performance requirement for the material that was not communicated to them and it was kind of a one-off thing and it wasn’t our fault or anything like that. But if it was embedded in the model or they had known about it or there was a way to include that type of information to eliminate that human error, you know and it would have just been so much nicer. And I think that’s why when you say we’re investing in BIM, that’s a big piece of what we’re doing and what we’re thinking is, “look, if I can put these characteristics and requirements in the model and it’s there, they know and so it’s just another failsafe in the process.” But you know, just the idea of everything being created in this 3D environment so you can see it and you can see that “oh this door can’t go here because there’s a window over here” and things like that. It just eliminates so much error that can happen all along at the beginning of the process.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, exactly. And when you start with a model and then work that all the way through to seeing something physical in the real world like a sample you’re making both decisions with more complete information and that’s really the crucial thing there.
Jessica: Yes. So, as an example, on Swatchbox we have Durat solid surface and we have people trying to use it and all of a sudden I’ve got someone calling me and telling me they’re doing column wraps out of it and I’m going “Oh My God” you know, it doesn’t thermoform that tight. So, if there’s a way to build that in and eliminate that from happening, you know it really saves so much headache and wasted time and, honestly, wasted material. Sometimes they’ll go ahead and order it before they even tell us what the application is. But if you can build those limitations into a model, that sample’s never going to end up in their hand for submittals because it can’t do what they need it to do.
Benjamin Glunz: Exactly, and that’s where others miss the mark is it doesn’t matter how many samples you get out there if it’s not the right fit for the project.
Jessica: Yeah, okay, so that’s that’s an interesting take on Swatchbox. So what are your guys’ plans for expansion, I mean you guys are based out of Chicago so you know your sample warehouse is pretty centralized. Is there any reason to build other locations in the US or what are your kind of plans to expand? Because this is not a you know a US based problem or solution.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, so we’re able to offer samples all across North America and the caribbean. So yeah, that’s already in place and we have a really robust logistics network you know, not only for the actual shipping of the samples, but also the intake from the manufacturers that we do business with. So there will be lots of exciting news over the coming year as we expand that. And, you know glad to have Durat and and CaraGreen as partners as we do that.
Jessica: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean we’re really excited about it and you know it’s rare for a distributor with the number of brands that we have to really kind of get into these platforms. But you know I just think it’s such a service right now because I maintain and have been pretty vocal about this: that I think the outside salesperson has changed forever and you know I’ve challenged my own outside people to tell me what they’re doing with all that time that they used to be meeting with people in person because there’s there’s still gonna be some of that. But what are you…
Benjamin Glunz: Um, right.
Jessica: What are you backfilling that time with? Because I’m investing in all these online resources to bring project leads in. I’m investing my headcount in inside salespeople that are tracking those projects and my outside people are becoming territory managers. I want them to know which school bond passed, which government resources are being allocated to your territory but you understand your whole geography. Not just how many architects offices you can go into this week.
Benjamin Glunz: Um, yeah, exactly, yeah, right? And that’s where you know layering information from BIM projects and sampling projects and specification projects looking at places like Dodge Data and analytics or construct connect and starting to layer that information. That’s where you can really start to get a more complete picture.
Jessica: Yeah, and you guys have some some big names on Swatchbox and I’m watching. I think I saw you announced Durasein the other day as well. Um, and you know I think these platforms, you know, it’s critical mass and then when designers know they can go there and get a solution for everything they need. You know that it’s imminent and it’s kind of preordained at this point. And transparency, that’s another thing we’ve invested in this year. People want to know about circularity. They want to know the embodied carbon. They want to know that you have an HPD. Those requirements are not going away and platforms like Swatchbox are bringing all that together and letting them sort and filter on that is going to be invaluable to architects and designers.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, it’s absolutely critical that we just make that easy because you’re right. It’s no longer nice to have, it’s becoming permission to play for many firms to work with them so we need to be able to put that information front and center.
Jessica: So can you tell us as we kind of wind up here, just tell our listeners where to find Swatchbox and how manufacturers you know, kind of apply to get on there? What is it and maybe just touch on the business model a little. I didn’t have you do that yet.
Benjamin Glunz: Yeah, so for architects and designers, it’s totally free to order samples. As you might expect, manufacturers pay to syndicate their products through our platform. You can learn more by going to http://swatchbox.com but we’d love to chat with you if you’re looking to add products to the lineup. As Jessica said, the more brands that we see on here the better everybody does. So one thing that’s worth noting is that it’s not limited to just interior finishes. We also work with a number of exterior companies. We work with even companies that go in between the sandwich of the wall, you know, like insulation and studs and things like that because, at the end of the day, when you’re looking at materials, you really do want to feel it regardless of whether it’s an exposed finish at the end of the day. So yeah, we would love to learn more about your products as well.
Jessica: That’s awesome. So it’s the complete package. So if you’re interested check out http://swatchbox.com and thank you, Ben. This is Jessica with Build Green Live Green.
Benjamin Glunz: Thanks for having me, Jessica!