How To Sell Building Materials and Architectural Products: 5 Strategies to Help Your Architectural Product Stand Out in a Crowded Library


Every architecture firm has a library filled with brochures and samples of hundreds of products and materials. The shelves are heaving with binders and boxes. Amidst the clutter sit brochures and random samples that have been pulled out but never returned to their original home. Sample libraries are a necessary evil for architects and designers who love the samples but hate the mess.   

Sample libraries represent a significant challenge to associates and juniors who are often given the task to pull relevant samples and binders under a broad category such as tile or flooring. They are under pressure to select the most appropriate products and materials without the benefit of product performance or brand awareness. They literally are judging a book by its cover.

Binders and sample kits represent a big investment for companies as well, they need to work hard to facilitate specification and have a long shelf life. Ninety percent of companies create binders and sample kits using the same myopic strategy, and it shows; they all look the same. If you want your architectural product to stand out in a crowded library, try these five easy strategies:


1. Use Your 3-Inch Advantage

If you have a binder or a box that sits on a shelf, chances are the spine is the only piece of real estate showing. In essence, the spine is acting as a billboard—messaging that must be easily understood from a distance with a quick glance. Effective billboards follow the same rules. They are clear, easy to read and convey a complicated message in a concise manner. Try this: place your binder or sample kit on a crowded bookshelf, preferably on the top or very bottom shelf to give you the worst-case scenario. Now ask someone who isn’t familiar with your product to stand 10 feet away and locate your sample kit in less than 30 seconds. Bonus points if you just give them the category (i.e., tile, flooring, etc.) instead of the name. How’d they do?


2. Message in Terms of Benefits

You have real estate on the spine to broadcast a message, what are you going to say? For example, a company with a tile that helps reduce the spread of germs could choose one of the following: ANTI-BACTERIAL TILE, TILE FOR HEALTHCARE or GERM REDUCING TILES. Unless you have high brand awareness, the company name should be second to the product benefits in terms of messaging hierarchy.


3. Think Small

Architects and designers want BIG samples to show clients, samples that are too big to fit in a binder or a kit. One mistake I often see companies make is trying to compromise in the middle—samples that are not big enough to use in presentations but not too small to feel irrelevant. Your binder or sample kit should give the specifier just enough of a taste to motivate them to gather further information on the company website or ask the rep for big samples in specific color ways. Another reason for thinking small is to avoid tempting architects and designers to rip out the glued in samples for placement on a presentation board. Sales reps should check library materials regularly to make sure they are complete.


4. Let the Retail World Guide You

Like all of us, architects and designers are consumers, and specifying a product is no different. Retailers know they have to keep presenting merchandise in fresh and exciting ways. A pop-up display is one way to pull your product off the shelves to highlight it for a period of time. Limited edition/small run collections impart a sense of urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out)—a technique used by Girl Scouts to sell millions of boxes of cookies once a year. If you are considering a limited edition collection, let fashion be your guide. For example, if you make insulation, why not try it in the Pantone color of the year? Or roofing tiles in yellow or hot pink? The goal isn’t to sell the limited edition products rather it’s to create buzz around your existing product line. Another retail strategy is to create inexpensive campaigns that can be rotated frequently rather than sinking all of your resources into one annual investment. For example, a company could provide sales reps with stickers to change out the messaging on the spine several times a year.


5. Get Sexy With It

Architects and designers are tactile beings; use this to your advantage. Simple print techniques such as blind emboss, varnishes and unusual paper/board/metal choices can shine a spotlight on a sample kit. In an increasingly digital world, stand out by creating materials that invite touch.

Getting the attention of architects and designers in a library is only part of the journey in getting specified. Once a designer or specifier is inspired by the samples you put out there, it’s important to give them the digital tools to go along with the physical ones.

In part of surveying multiple architects and designers, we’ve found that no matter how beautiful the sample kit, if a company doesn’t publish the tools to incorporate the product into renderings, it is much harder for it to be specified. If a designer has to dig around the web to find photos of your product, or if the only ones available are pixelated and tiny, it will be quite hard for them to sell your product to their clients. Many projects today move straight from paper to pixel, thus bypassing the traditional step of showing the client actual product samples. It’s a shame to put so much work in presenting the product physically and then to have it fall flat because a designer doesn’t want to piecemeal together their vision board with low quality photos from your website.

Growing sales can depend on how often binders and sample kits are being pulled off library shelves and how that inspiration is turned into action. Give your architectural product or material the best chance of success by approaching the library as a living environment to be tended to and interrupted frequently.


Susan Milne

Want to grow your sales by increasing specifications by architects and designers? Click here to download our guide: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GETTING SPECIFIED: HOW ARCHITECTS AND INTERIOR DESIGNERS SPECIFY ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS AND BUILDING MATERIALS. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or would like find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call: 804.377.0106.