The Importance of Samples in any Stone or Tile Project
Some things can be bought sight unseen – that cool looking hat you found online, a new cast iron skillet that has great reviews on Amazon, or new tablet you’ve researched that meets your needs. Other things such as that new guitar you want to get a chance to play before buying, some accent pillows you really need to make sure fit your color scheme, or a new vehicle that you’ll want to take for a test drive and check out the trunk space are examples of items better suited to be seen, touched, or experienced in person prior to making the decision to buy. Having spent the last decade working with our customers to supply stacked stone to projects all over North America and the Caribbean we have a wealth of knowledge about natural stone and can definitively state that tile and stone are one of those things that you want to see in person before buying. Let’s go deep into some of the reasons why and what are the pitfalls seeing samples in person can help you avoid.
The main reason most clients request samples of our stacked stone panels or natural stone mosaic tiles is to get an in person understanding of color. Most product research today is done online, so our clients might be experiencing dramatically different views of a product or color on our website depending on what type of monitor / screen they are viewing it on and the settings of each of those devices. If you’ve never thought about the difference this can make, open up a new tab and navigate to our home page, and then take out your smart phone, do the same thing and put it next to your monitor. Many laptop screens and desktop monitors, while larger, aren’t as high performance as phones and tablets, resulting in images that can appear darker and have less contrast.
Ordering a sample of a stone or tile product gives you not only the opportunity to eliminate the variability of your computer screen, it also allows you to see how that product will look in the actual lighting conditions and next to the rest of the color palette in the space its intended to be used.
One pitfall to avoid when specifying stone or tile for your next project is making selections based off of printed materials alone. Printed materials can have more variability than online versions of photos based on the paper used and printer performance. We sometimes hear from customers that might be in a rush or don’t want to bother with the hassle of a physical sample, which can be bulky for a product like stacked stone veneer, and instead prefer only to receive printed literature, whom we counsel on the benefits of getting that physical sample. Too often in an attempt to expedite the process a customer can end up creating a longer overall project timeline and a bunch of chaos along the way when a product comes in that doesn’t match what they are seeing or expecting.
Another important reason to get samples of any stone or tile before ordering is to make sure as a customer you’re aware of and understand to what degree that product can vary from batch to batch. Natural Stone is a great example of a product that varies over time, but even man made products in this category like ceramic and porcelain tile are going to be subject to batch variation, so if you’re looking to match up against an old installation, or just want to get an understanding of what the current batch of material looks like, samples should be mandatory.
A great, and perhaps the most prominent example of batch variation in the natural stone is the Washington Monument located in Washington, D.C. The original section built between 1848 and 1854 has a distinctly different tone to the marble than the top two-thirds of the monument built between 1876 and 1884. In fact, three different quarries were used for the construction of the monument and if you look close enough you’ll see three different shades of marble throughout the monument, the original stone used on the bottom section, a browner toned small section about one third of the way up, then a third shade making up most of the top half? Did the committees in charge of the monument’s construction not get samples to review prior to building? They probably did – this just highlights the inherent batch variation in natural stone, so if you’re working to match some travertine tiles from a pool deck to a new patio or some stacked stone from a mantle place fireplace and extend it up the ceiling, receiving samples and understanding how batch varies within all natural stone is an important thing.
The cost of samples should be small, yet still planned for in a comprehensive project budget. Most tile and stacked stone manufacturers, Norstone included, offer samples at no charge, with minimal and / or heavily subsidized shipping options to meet their client’s and project’s needs. We view the sample process as a two way street – as a manufacturer, it’s our opportunity to be transparent with our clients about exactly what the product is we’re manufacturing, and for the clients its an opportunity for them to have something tangible to represent the product beyond digital or printed matter. This is part of what makes Norstone different in the tile and stone industry. If a manufacturer in the tile and stone industry is reluctant with samples or doesn’t have a clear program to execute on sample requests either directly or through their wholesale network red flags should go up about their willingness and ability to stand up for the products they are creating.
In conclusion, samples are an incredibly important part of any natural stone or tile installation. They allow you to get a better understanding of color and color range of products and also to compare against previous batches of the same product if you’re trying to match an old installation. Most importantly, they help keep a project on track, both on time and on budget by avoiding costly re-selection, return, and restocking fees that can be created by selecting and ordering a product that doesn’t meet the project’s expectations.