Laminate: Manufacturers go beyond style, design to ‘reinvent’

August 13, 2015

Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4 

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.51.08 AM With LVT continuing to rise as flooring’s hottest segment, laminate manufacturers have stepped up their R&D game to keep pace. Some have completely refreshed the category with new looks and textures, while others have specifically targeted the product’s moisture-related issues.

“There are a lot of people crying the fall of laminate because of LVT, but we’re finding that is not necessarily true,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products, Mannington. “When you look at the wear resistance, visual realism and the fact that laminate is still more environmentally friendly than others, there’s still a great market for it. Newer products aimed at hitting laminate harder have some of the same [vulnerabilities] when it comes to dimensional stability and indentations. Laminate will remain an extremely viable category for a long time.”

Moisture resistance

Dealers and manufacturers alike have, in the past, cited moisture as the one Achilles heel of laminate, and a number of companies have developed a solution, allowing it to directly compete with LVT. For example, Mannington has “invested in new technology behind the scenes that will rival LVT,” Natkin said.

Balterio, IVC US’ wood-look waterproof laminate, has become a favorite among dealers because of its moisture-resistant capabilities and affordability. The collection is divided into three style categories—Traditions, Heritage and Metropolitan—and offers varying plank sizes.

Quick-Step’s latest introduction, Envique, which was previewed at The International Surface Event (TISE), comes with a 24-hour spill claim designed to specifically go after LVT and WPC. Envique combines the patented Uniclic glueless installation locking system with a proprietary coating technology, resulting in a product that won’t incur damage from any household spill that sits for up to 24 hours.

“It’s unique because with most laminate floors—depending on how they are made or their locking systems—if you spill something, the liquid will penetrate the joint in less than an hour, maybe even minutes,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Unilin/ Mohawk Hard Surfaces. “It can absorb into the product and create lifting, gapping and other problems. We wanted to add this feature to the product without taking away any benefits to give [customers] that extra level of confidence.”Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.51.01 AM

Visual elements

Quick-Step is also raising the bar when it comes to aesthetics; not only does Envique feature complex design elements but it also has very deep surface structures. “We pride ourselves on having the best looks but are always challenging ourselves to increase the level of realism,” Farabee said. As a result, the feel of real wood enhances Envique’s visuals. With its unique edge treatment using GenuEdge technology, the edge of the product can be completed by pressing rather than milling, allowing the design to roll right over the surface and making the planks “fit the exact profile of the wood species we’re going after,” he continued.

For example, the collection’s Summer Pine option features an unstained pine look with deep wire brushing so the finished product “feels like hardwood in terms of its matte surface structure and subtle roughness.”

At Armstrong, a combination of multi-width and multi-length planks, mixed species and high visual counts take laminate to the next level. “We’ve added various dimensions to the product beyond the realistic print and texture,” said Brian Parker, laminate product manager. “These elements create randomness in the layout on the floor to make it look more like the real product or medium—whether it is stone or concrete—you’re trying to emulate.”

Wider planks are currently on-trend, so a number of the company’s laminate collections feature a mix of planks of different widths and lengths within the same design. Also within one design is the look of multiple species, creating more variation and enhancing randomness and realism. Whereas other laminates typically have six to eight unique visuals before the pattern repeats, Armstrong’s laminate features two, three and sometimes even four times that amount.

“If you have heavy character that’s easy to notice and distinguishable, it may look very realistic, but if the pattern has six to eight unique visuals you will easily notice the pattern repeat,” Parker said. “It can look like wood but once you see the pattern repeat you know it’s laminate.” Woodland Reclaim, the manufacturer’s best-selling product within its entire laminate portfolio, is part of Architectural Remnants and incorporates all three design elements with multi-width planks, a high visual count and nine species.

Technology

Inhaus, the North American sales and marketing arm of global manufacturer Classen, uses high-speed definition digital printing to produce its laminate. The technology saves development time, allowing the company to bring new designs to market at a much faster pace. “It is an art, not a science, and it is an expertise that we didn’t traditionally have,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. “We now have the technical ability to create an infinite number of planks which translates to no repeats. This isn’t quite perfected yet, but it is only a matter of time. It enables us to create designs with more dramatic features that won’t show the repeats when installed.”

Positioning in marketplace

BerryAlloc, which offers a variety of higher-quality product, positions laminate as a category with its “own merits, own pace and own price structure,” said Steve Roan, sales and marketing director, North America, Beaulieu Flooring Solutions USA. Roan believes with all of laminate’s benefits, including its visuals, durability, scratch resistance and ease of maintenance, the product delivers what the customer is looking for in particular rather than acting as an alternative to hardwood.Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.50.48 AM

On the other hand, Kronotex USA positions its American Concepts brand as a value product with a focus on being the best alternative to hardwood for price-conscious families with kids and dogs. “Our laminate is increasingly sophisticated in look and feel, much like hardwood,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “Laminate remains the only hard surface category that truly looks, feels and sounds like solid wood, primarily because it is created from a wood core. When you look at what goes into the planks, laminate is a wood product. LVT is plastic, made from crude oil.”

Merchandising matters

Parker noted three key factors that go into display systems based on feedback from dealers: the right size, large samples and simplicity. Having the right size display is important because if it is too tall, it will disrupt the line of sight for customers and they won’t be able to span the room. In addition, if it is the right size it can go anywhere in the store vs. being limited to a wall.

Sample sizes are vital as well; when merchandising products with higher visual counts and multiple species, larger samples are ideal to communicate the message. “Larger samples help the consumer see the variations in the design and visualize it better in her home,” Parker said.

Lastly, the display should be simple to sell, featuring products of similar price points and a sales story that resonates with the sales team.

As manufacturers refresh their laminate offerings, they are also putting more resources into helping their dealers sell more product. BerryAlloc, for example, is focusing on installation education through a partnership with the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), while Kronotex USA is emphasizing to its dealers the differences between laminate and LVT and what goes into creating both products.

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