What Happened to the Sample Library?


For the last decade, designers and architects have been purging sample libraries and summoning reps to come reclaim their outdated, heavy sample boxes and binders as they went “digital.” The loathsome email subject “Come get your stuff” was a salesperson’s nightmare as they realized that after slogging up two flights of stairs with 150 lbs of samples (I’m looking at you, Charleston), they had to lumber back down with nothing left behind but some cookies and a smile.

Many of us scoffed at the idea of a “digital” library, knowing full well that designers MUST touch and feel samples, interact with them like some sort of energy flows between the two. 

NO WAY does the tactile tester relegate themselves to online swatches and PDF documents

And we were right and wrong…and COVID.  


A lot of things happened at once, the sample platform Material Bank was just hitting critical mass when COVID relegated the entire design world to the home office. A common library chock full of sample binders, organized by division, became a thing of the past. The digital library was now a godsend and you could only hope your firm was far enough along to have created a functional online library. Many firms were successful but I know others struggled. 

The major outcome of this was the industry transition from a sample set to a single sample.

If I need PaperStone Slate? That is what you send me.

Durat 012 Confetti solid surface? You got it. No binder, just the sample.


Personal space.


I suddenly have three part time school age roommates who don’t respect a “sample library” of organized binders, etc. I don’t have a big office in the city where Sample Sandy organizes everything by Division and cleans house on a daily basis. I have three home schooled animals with backpacks full of manipulatives and rulers and erasers that are crowding out my cork and acoustics samples. Plus, we all just decluttered our spaces, no one wants to bring useless stuff back in.

Designers working from home want what they want and nothing more.

Save your full set budget and get on a single sample platform like Material Bank, Source or Swatchbox. Instead of spending $50-80 to send a full set of samples, you can spend less than $30 for a project specific opportunity.

Outside of these platforms, your sales team needs to stop upselling the client to a full set. If Jumpsuit Gina wants greens, you don’t send her a $65 binder. You send her a $9 package with greens in it.

This is a major mental shift. Before 2020, the Lunch and Learn was the entree into a firm, the value added way to show designers that you cared about them. The days of impressing them with vegan entrees and skipping the utensils are gone. So are the days of oversampling the customer.

Let’s break down the benefits of smarter sampling:

  • Less waste
  • Customer gets only what they want
  • Lower freight costs 
  • Material Bank, Swatchbox, Source, & Mortarr have shifted the expectations
  • Your cost goes way down in terms of packaging resources
  • Sample sendouts are indicative of projects, not just prospects


So let’s stop oversampling. Design teams are over sampling.

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