In the last two and a half years, our entire world has changed dramatically, and it’s no secret why. While the pandemic has affected our industry in several ways, the greatest challenge we face as designers may be the ever-changing nature of the world. We’re dealing with supply chain slow-downs, price increases, and discontinued items at a breakneck pace. The pandemic has caused us to reconsider the way that we work. One of the processes that many designers have found ineffective is the binder system.
Designers have relied on physical binders for decades as a way of sourcing items. In today’s world, the binder system has become outdated and is hopelessly ineffective. With stock and prices fluctuating daily, the resource binder you may have received last month is no longer accurate. This instability makes it insanely difficult to find items that are still available and priced correctly.
One tool that has changed the game for A&D professionals is My Resource Library (MRL). MRL is a virtual library that enables access to the resources you would typically look for in a physical library. Instead of physical binders, My Resource Library stores all the same information digitally in the cloud. This storage includes products, prices, and specifications. The information is always up to date and readily available with the click of a button.
Recently, we sat down with Jeff Carlson, founder of My Resource Library, to discuss the origin of this industry’s leading virtual library, how it’s improving workflow efficiency, and his plans for future expansion.
The Origins of My Resource Library
As with many ideas that bloom into invaluable assets, My Resource Library started as a collection of scribbled drawings a little over nine years ago. At that time, Jeff had been an independent rep for Coriander Designs for several years. Jeff was made for the design industry. His father and grandfather worked as independent reps in the contract furniture industry, and his wife still works in that field. His great grandfather even worked for a furniture manufacturer in Pennsylvania. The Carlson family was destined to be in the contract furniture industry.
During one of his sales presentations with an independent rep at a design firm in Omaha, Nebraska, the rep pushed back when offered a three-ring binder for Coriander. “Oh, we don’t take binders. Just give us your website.” That kickstarted the conversation that would one day turn into My Resource Library.
Although the firm’s process of sourcing materials and products they sold was inefficient and sluggish, Jeff saw an opportunity to revolutionize the design industry. On the plane ride home, he sketched up some ideas on creating a digital library that was accessible but constantly updated.
After sketching up the initial plan for MRL, Jeff had no idea how to transform his drawings into functional software. Several weeks later, by happenstance, he met a programmer at his daughter’s swim meet who would eventually help turn his ideas into reality.
My Resource Library was created as a digital replacement for the physical resource library. Its design intentionally incorporates uniquely branded binders as a familiar visual aid.
Jeff shares, “When we launched My Resource Library, we went after the actual physical libraries. And so in the binders, we put brochures. And so, you would literally be looking at a virtual binder like you would be looking at a physical binder.
“My Resource Library was designed visually to basically facilitate the old need of the physical library, which was the visual cues that you would get from looking at the binders and then being able to flip through and see all the different products. And then we tag the search engine to it.”
Jeff Carlson, Image Courtesy of My Resource Library
The Ever-Evolving Design Landscape
In the almost decade since MRL launched, the industry-standard has shifted from libraries to brochures, from PDFs to images. Not just any images, but environmental images, white sweep images, and detail images, just to name a few. Through it all, Jeff’s taken it in stride. “We’ve evolved non-stop for nine years, which has been a lot of fun.”
To address the growing needs of MRL users, Jeff and his team have created an enhanced version of their free basic program, called Pro Design. Pro Design is an upgrade for all design firms. To receive this upgrade, you simply reach out to the MRL team and request it. The benefit of upgrading to the Pro Design version is increased customization of your resource library.
“And it’s all free. We don’t charge anything to the A&D community. We also work with independent rep groups across the country. And we work with students. So, we have a program for all the interior design programs across the country for students. And then we work with dealers, and we work with dealers in unique ways. So there’s a pro version for dealers. So we have the free, [basic] version [then] we have the pro for design, pro for reps, pro for education.”
The Different Uses for My Resource Library
It may be one platform, but MRL is used by various groups, from designers to manufacturers.
For designers, both versions of the tool are completely free. In both versions, designers get access to 300+ manufacturers in the library. One significant benefit of using My Resource Library (as opposed to doing a Google or Pinterest search) is MRL team vets all products in the library.
Jeff shares, “Everything that you find in My Resource Library has been vetted by My Resource Library. So, you’re not going to find products that aren’t really available or are not true products.”
With the basic version of MRL, you can search for brands. With the pro version, you can search for products.
Designers who opt for the pro version of My Resource Library can customize their service to make it work specifically for their needs. The MRL team will build out their account to include any group of manufacturers that they’d like in their library.
Jeff elaborates, “For example, if they don’t do K-12 specifications, we can remove all the K-12 suppliers that are on My Resource Library and give them their own custom library, so it’s specific to their focus.”
You can also filter your searches to better target your search. Suppose you’re looking for specific items, such as QuickShip products or GSA products for those working on a federal government job. You will be able to quickly filter your search accordingly. MRL takes a lot of the guesswork out of sourcing.
Image Courtesy of My Resource Library
The Benefits of Using My Resource Library
As we teased in the intro, one of the major benefits of MRL is that it’s always updated. In fact, MRL doesn’t rely on 300+ manufacturers to update their library (a process that would inevitably lead to uneven results), but instead, the MRL team does its own updating.
Jeff shares, “We have a team of about 17 people that do updates, outreach, and talking to manufacturers on a daily basis, talking to design firms, talking to dealers, talking to reps.” The outcome? Designers can rely on the library to have the latest prices and products. When dealing with supply chain issues and non-stop price increases that occur almost daily, this library is all the more crucial. You’d go mad trying to keep up with this information on your own. With MRL, you don’t have to worry about keeping up on your own. Plus, the prices quoted in MRL are guaranteed to be honored by the manufacturer.
Jeff continues, “The reality is we have over 95,000 people using our site with a little over 7,100 logins pretty much daily.” That’s a massive amount of users who are verifiably accessing binders daily.
In addition to saving costs on printing binders, manufacturers enjoy greater exposure by being a part of MRL.
One of the largest benefactors of MRL is smaller manufacturers. Because their binders sit digitally right next to the “big guys,” they have increased exposure and significant opportunities to sell their products.
The Future of My Resource Library
MRL is poised to launch two new programs this year.
The first program is a sourcing service for textiles, wood, and metal finishes. Instead of going to MRL to find the product and reaching out to the rep or manufacturer for a finish sample, designers can order it directly through MRL. While the product won’t be fulfilled by or shipped from MRL, it will remove that added step of sourcing and reaching out to the manufacturer directly. MRL facilitates a two-day turnaround for most manufacturers, reducing headaches and ghosted emails.
The second program is geared towards local reps and aims to help them improve their processes.
Jeff shares, “It’s all about taking some of the complexity out of our industry and working together to better our industry. I believe that when you do that, everybody will be successful.”
Today, physical design binders have gone the way of encyclopedias. Everything is now accessible in the cloud, which frees up time and space, decreases frustration, and increases productivity. Click here to learn more about My Resource Library (and sign up for your free account).