Pictured is Caribbean Vue in Riverbed Teak, one of several exotic wood looks available in Shaw’s Luminiere collection. The product is a “high-clarity, extra-luster” laminate, according to Shaw.

Laminate flooring makers are pushing ahead with new designs and technologies aimed at luring consumers back into retailers’ stores. They note the segment is evolving with new medium-gloss finishes that bring a subtle, upscale look to laminate flooring. Additionally, they say a range of new folding locking installation systems make the flooring easier to install than ever before.

Roger Farabee, sr. vp marketing for Quick-Step, says in the short-term consumers may also be drawn to laminate because it is relatively light on the wallet. “The silver lining for laminate flooring is that the total installed cost makes it one of the least expensive flooring options,” he says.

He is also optimistic about the future of the segment. Quick-Step and parent company Mohawk “expect 5 to 7 percent growth in the category for the next several years” as a result of pent-up demand, he notes.

According to Bill Dearing, North American Laminate Flooring Association president, design advances make laminate an attractive flooring option. “Design will continue,” he says, adding that new designs will partly lead to an “increase in market share.”

Charisma Piano Finish is Lamett Laminate’s latest collection. The flooring is offered in 5 1/2” planks with the TruEdge Natural Bevel pressed bevel technology.

Eric Erickson, Shaw laminate category manager, says that savvy dealers are leading the charge, investing in higher-end displays and products. “Our highest-end display, the Premier Product Gallery, has been going really strong, and I’m very pleasantly surprised. The dealers are really getting out there and investing, wanting to make the best presentation possible,” he notes.

Erickson adds the look of high-end laminate flooring itself is changing. Manufacturers, including Shaw with its new Luminiere collection, are experimenting with gloss levels to create what he calls a more “livable” floor. “High-gloss looks are dynamite but they’re not necessarily an everyday, livable thing,” he says. “With super high-gloss looks, the floor will show fingerprints and paw prints.”

Quick-Step’s Allustra collection features a glossy surface, a very fine micro-beveled V-groove on all four sides of the plank and realistic grain variation, the company says.

For its part, Formica Flooring has also unveiled a new surface finish with a midrange gloss level. “Consumer research shows that a slightly higher gloss level is very much what the consumer wants,” says Ken Peden, COO of Kronotex USA, which makes Formica Flooring. “It really makes the colors pop.”

Additionally, Formica is one of many companies taking a fresh look at the tile side of its laminate business. During Surfaces 2009 held last month in Las Vegas, Formica Flooring unveiled eight SKUs in three new tile-look collections. These looks – Ambra, Venetia and Gianna – aim for a modular feel combined with highly realistic visuals, the company says.

Seagrass Thai is new from Tarkett Residential. The laminate flooring is designed to offer a realistic, durable exotic visual.

According to Jane Little, director of marketing for Faus Group, 2009 will be a year of light, neutral colors in tile looks. “The light colors of ceramics and slates, with beiges or grey tones, will be the look for 2009,” she says. “You may also see some light tones combined with dark tones which will be used to create appealing contrasts.” She adds that a greater level of realism will be felt throughout the segment, leading to new interpretations of old visuals. “A new look would be the inlay product – a wood plank surrounding a tile or a painted concrete look,” she says.

Design remains a top priority for the segment, according to Tammy Weadock, marketing manager for Wilsonart Flooring. Her company has launched a new tile look, called Rectangular. Featuring the look of travertine, the high-pressure laminate flooring measures 7.7” by 18.28” and is available in three desert-inspired colors.

She says designer-savvy looks remain the lifeblood of laminate flooring, noting that the rise in higher-gloss finishes points to the consumers’ love of style. “Smooth, higher-sheen finishes are very popular at the moment because they tend to accentuate the clarity and depth of the featured design,” she explains.

Perry Coker, president of Chinafloors/Lamett North America, says that laminate is not only becoming more designer-friendly; it’s also becoming more technologically advanced. For example, his company has unveiled a pressed bevel for its laminate flooring. Such a bevel ensures “the décor paper stays all the way to the seam,” meaning there is “no V-groove like on normal bevel laminate, which many consumers view as a dirt-trap,” he says.

He notes manufacturers that continue to innovate will make it through the downturn poised for new growth. “The laminate manufacturers that bring high style, high performance, and unique products to their partners at a strong value position will enjoy success,” he says.

Pictured here is Sahara Gold, a travertine design in Wilsonart Flooring’s new Rectangular laminate tile collection.

Cindy Thornton, marketing manager for Alloc and Berry Floor, echoes those sentiments. “We’re looking ahead with positivity, anticipating the commercial building market to be the first to recover. And when it does, we’re ready,” she says.

Her company is enhancing its laminate lines with the 5-G plank locking installation system. Additionally, she notes her company is launching new floors that combine “wide-planked tile products with cork backing on high-pressure laminate,” she says.

One advantage of laminate flooring is it can quickly adapt to the marketplace, says Gary Finseth, Tarkett Residential’s director of marketing. He notes that U.S.-based manufacturers continue to give the product their own uniquely American stamp. “Tarkett laminates are all produced at the company’s state-of-the-art U.S. facility, so manufacturing here allows us to control our own board production and oversee manufacturing,” he says.

David Sheehan, director of resilient and laminate for Mannington, says with the segment’s reliance on cutting-edge design and technology, laminate is poised for a bright future. “Laminate offers incredible design flexibility, it’s affordable, easy to maintain, and has a long life. There’s no other product in the industry that has the scratch and wear resistance of laminate, and for very active households it will remain the product of choice,” he says.   

ThermoSoft’s WarmStep system.

Radiant heating adds warmth to laminate

Energy-efficient heating is a great way to stay warm on cold days – but it’s also a great way to stay green. According to Russ Dunn, vp marketing for ThermoSoft, electric radiant heating is one of the most energy-efficient ways to keep the chill off the floor. His company’s signature radiant floor warming system, WarmStep, can be used under a range of flooring, including laminate.

Dunn assures his company’s technology will warm laminate flooring evenly and without any danger of overheating. He acknowledges, however, that consumers often come to the product with misconceptions.

“Some people believe that radiant heating could be potentially harmful to their laminate floors, but that’s not the case,” Dunn says. “The floor systems are designed with a slow rate of warm up built in, and the temperature ranges are designed to stay within a certain maximum temperature.”

Additionally, he notes, radiant floor warming can often lead to lower energy costs. “Electric radiant floor heating is more energy-efficient than conventional alternatives like gas-forced air and electric baseboards” because it directs the heat rather than dissipate it across the room, he says.

“Radiant floor heating is full of innovations, and these innovations are there to increase the consumer’s quality of life and comfort,” Dunn adds.