Sampling Lab

Everyone around the office (both old and new) knows that I love free things. My coworkers are constantly asking if I want their old appliances, food, or odds and ends. Typically, I do!

Last night, my old coworker posted on my Facebook wall about a place in Portland called the Sampling Lab. It is a local shop where everything is free. Seriously. You go to the shop, browse around, make a selection, and then “pay” for your item in an honest review of it.

I decided to go during my lunch break to see what it was all about. It recently got a good write up in Portland Monthly that resulted in a huge jump in popularity. They only opened on December 6th and already the entire town is talking! I drove up to North Portland and wandered inside.

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The shop itself is very modern. It has a clean, industrial feel with concrete floors and exposed metal beams along the ceiling and walls. All of the products are on metal shelves and there is a huge fireplace and seating area in the middle. I walked in and was immediately greeted by a friendly worker behind a desk outfitted with three iPads. Trying to downplay my naïveté, I simply asked, “So how does this all work?!”

She gave me a great overview: “We operate on the premise that you pay for the items with your wealth of knowledge! Just look around the store and see what catches your eye. Before you begin, I’ll have you sign up in our membership database for free. During your first and second visit, you can only select one item, but during your third and fourth, you can take home two… and so on. Once you check out, I’ll email you a link to a survey where you’ll give your opinion and you can come back as soon as you complete it! We definitely encourage you to come back as often as possible!”

I started to look around – first I saw a couple snack items like sleeves of organic crackers and even a tin of locally caught sardines! There were also handwoven sachets of smell goodies and organic dog food! While I was looking at the dog food, another worker approached me (probably because I was the only person there!) and asked if I had a pet. We chatted about animals and he asked if anything had caught my eye. I said I drink coffee every morning so I was interested in their sample of coffee from a brand I had never seen before. He told me it was called Marley Coffee and was actually grown by Bob Marley’s family members. I decided to give it a try and they checked me out and I was out the door!

I haven’t tried it yet, but I couldn’t wait to blog about this incredible business model. Obviously it is funded by the companies who want to get people to try their products. I told the doctors about it when I returned to work and they all thought it was really unique and likely successful – people love free stuff!

It will be interesting to see what level of reviews the companies expect. I bet it will be more than a simple survey – I will probably have to share it on all of my social media accounts. From what I can tell, Sampling Lab is a local Portland venture. It sounds like it would be a chain, but the Portland location is the only one to pop up! I knew my city was innovative!

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