Laminates: Performance, Fashion, Value and Green
Since bursting on the American scene in 1993, no single product has had as much media exposure and consumer recognition as laminate flooring. A decade-and-a-half later, the consumer’s obsession with laminate continues at an unprecedented rate. How so? During what has been considered one of the toughest economic periods in decades for U.S. businesses, sales of laminate floors, especially at the high end, remained a bright spot as the category has continued to gain market share. Whether it is an upgrade from what the builder initially offered or a replacement of an existing floor, laminate flooring has become a mainstay for consumers. Even designers have come to recognize the all-around value laminate brings to a project during these rough economic times. Laminate flooring was already considered one of the most durable, easy-to-maintain flooring products on the market, but numerous technological advances have elevated the category to a new level of fashion. Today’s laminate floors not only look like a real hardwood, tile or stone floor, they feel like their natural counterpart. And, thanks to innovations in underlayments, many of which are now pre-affixed to the planks, laminate floors even sound like the real thing. No
longer are consumers destined to hear the hollow clanging of their shoes or look at an obvious fake woodgrain or marble striation. Once a laminate floor is installed, end users will be hard pressed to remember they are not on the real thing. Manufacturers may have invested heavily getting the product to pass for its real cousin, but they did not forget that flooring is a fashion item. To that end, laminate mills and their suppliers have developed high-definition photo and printing techniques to capture the true beauty of the wood species and tile designs they are replicating. By staying current with the hottest styles in the wood and tile sectors as well as keeping up with the latest design trends in the home, the laminate category offers specialty retailers an array of products and services to help capitalize on consumers’ decorating tastes. Consumers just need to take one step into a dealer’s laminate section to see products that look exactly like far-off exotic species from a remote jungle in Africa or from the less traveled regions in Eastern Europe, South America and Australia. And, because oak is
still the popular wood floor among U.S. consumers, laminate mills have created floors featuring a worn or distressed feel to the surface. Consumers are immediately transported back to a simpler time in American history as the rustic look continues to be among the most popular types of floors being asked for by designers and everyday customers. Beyond just the species themselves, advances at the manufacturing level have allowed the industry to offer a greater variety of decorating options, many of which match the design trends of other interior furnishings. For example, the smooth, piano finish look of cabinets and office furniture has become one of the most popular laminate designs to hit the market in years. Some manufactures say launches of products with this look were not just their most successful last year but since they first entered the category. And it’s not just in wood; laminate designs in stone, porcelain, marble, brick and other “rocky” surfaces are helping retailers gain sales during difficult times. Because laminate mimics the real thing, its overall cost is far less, thus making it more attractive to a consumer who still wants to make her home beautiful but cannot necessarily afford the real thing. Laminate allows for her to have the look and feel of these luxury items at a more reasonable cost. Throw in the fact laminate floors offer one of the industry’s most compelling green stories.