Online Sample Hub Revolutionizes Material Discovery

By Clare Tattersall

Material samples are an important part of an interior designer and architect’s toolkit. They’re integral to the design process and used to effectively communicate the project concept with the client so they can envision what the space is going to look and feel like upon completion.

However, sourcing material samples can be tedious. Precious time is spent sifting through endless options on multiple websites, setting up accounts and tracking down sales reps’ contact info. (Maintaining an in-house sample library is another matter.)

Thankfully, there are now online material marketplaces that offer one-stop ‘shopping’ for product samples. The most comprehensive sourcing platform for architectural, design and construction materials is Material Bank, the brainchild of Adam Sandow. He first conceived the idea after seeing the massive inefficiencies and waste that designers faced when specifying materials for their residential and commercial projects.

“There was no single platform to discover, search and sample materials and it would take days waiting for samples to arrive in multiple packages,” says the company’s founder, chair and CEO. “After years of research and numerous conversations with the industry to understand its pain points, Material Bank was created to eliminate the friction that existed between design professionals and brands by providing a single, powerful solution.”

Launched in 2019 in the U.S. and a year later in Canada, the innovative platform houses a massive sample database, digitally and literally. Material Bank represents more than 375 brands worldwide, including 150 makers of flooring like Armstrong, Tarkett, Daltile, Porcelanosa, Mohawk, Milliken and Interface, and stores samples in a 380,000-square-facility in the southern U.S. It is five times the size of the original location. The company relocated this past February to support its tremendous growth.

“As you would imagine, the pandemic made it extremely difficult for architects and designers to access showrooms or conduct in-person meetings with brand representatives,” says Sandow. “(So), Material Bank went from being a tool that allowed design professionals to do their jobs more efficiently to a tool that allowed them to continue doing their job. For brand partners, they were able to continue to serve their clients through Material Bank as the pandemic disrupted showrooms, fulfillment operations and sales networks.”

Material Bank’s new, state-of-the-art facility is built for the sole purpose of ultra-high efficiency and overnight sample logistics. Robots help warehouse employees collect and sort samples so that Canadian orders placed by midnight Eastern Standard Time arrive the following business day by 12:30 p.m. via FedEx, whose global shipping hub is nearby. Every night, Material Bank processes tens of thousands of orders for members above and below the forty-ninth parallel.

“What used to take hours of work and days waiting for multiple packages to arrive has turned into minutes,” says Sandow.

The cost of the service is free for trade professionals. Each member must go through a vetting process to ensure the integrity of the marketplace. Once approved, members have access to the entire catalogue of samples, which is constantly growing. In addition to flooring, design professionals can specify textile, wall covering, stone and paint samples, among others. Recently, Material Bank expanded into new categories, such as products, accessories and finishes.

Brand partners are charged a flat fee for each sample that is ordered — a small price to pay to be connected to more than 65,000 design professionals who are actively working on projects in Canada and the U.S. The manufacturer is informed every time a sample is requested and provided with the designer’s contact information, allowing company representatives to follow-up directly. This helps the two parties to easily connect on project needs.

Material Bank not only makes the sourcing and delivery of samples effortless; unneeded samples can be returned with ease, too. What’s more, it’s encouraged and there’s no cost to do so. Material Bank has simplified the process by providing prepaid postage. Samples are returned to its single facility to be reused rather than recycled, eliminating waste and keeping them out of landfills.

Aggregating samples from multiple manufacturers into a single, reusable box also supports the company’s sustainability efforts. In doing so, separate shipments are avoided, reducing packaging, energy and transportation. Since the platform’s launch, Material Bank has eliminated more than a million packages from being needlessly shipped.

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