Night Slate Black laminate flooring from Faus. Photo courtesy of Faus.

Demand for laminate floors with high-gloss looks are trending down, moving to products with lower gloss finishes that require less cleaning, according to manufacturers. While high-gloss is still popular, companies are seeing exotic hardwood and rustic visuals with more subtle finishes gaining a foothold. Consumers are looking for value as well as great design, manufacturers note.

“The one unifying theme you see in all markets is designs that exemplify true value,” said David Carballo, Faus vp sales. “If a design delivers a unique, realistic look that provides exceptional wear and reliability it tends to do well regardless of the market.”

Anderson’s new Artisan laminate flooring, in Vineyard Cherry. Photo courtesy of Anderson/Shaw Industries.

Regionally, he sees a range of popular looks. In the Northwest, tile and slate looks are hot. In the Southwest, rugged and rustic hardwood visuals are at the top. “And on the coasts you find eclectic designs in small businesses and residences alike,” Carballo noted.

Ben McNabb, Mohawk brand manager, also believes that value is an important selling point for laminate floors. “Value is key for consumers,” he said. “Technological advances should give the category more appeal, especially in mid-range price points where dealers can generate better margins.”

He said that rustic hardwood looks have gained momentum in the category. One of the company’s new products, Kincade, offers a hardwood look with an oil-rubbed finish as an alternative to satin and gloss finishes. Additionally, the product features GenuEdge technology, “which allows the plank’s surface and color to literally roll over the edge,” McNabb noted.

McNabb added that these types of technologies are designed to hit the mid-price point, which gives retailers ways to bring in broader audiences of buyers and be very competitive against other types of flooring.

Bruce Laminate’s Sapele Long Plank. Photo courtesy of Bruce/Armstrong.

Mid-to-higher price points are the philosophy behind many laminate flooring manufacturers. Perry Coker, Lamett North America’s president, said it is almost impossible to compete at the lower end of the laminate market.

“Our strategic decision has been to not participate in entry-level products,” Coker noted. “We don’t want to chase a price to the bottom.”

He said customers looking at mid-to-higher price point floors are going for subtle, soft hand-scrapes and longer planks. His company unveiled its Long Plank Collection last year, with laminate floors that measure 7 1/2’ long; in the past year, the company has placed nearly 3,000 displays.

Ark Floors TruCraft laminate floors. Photo courtesy Ark Floors.

Quick-Step recently unveiled a technology at Surfaces that it equates to a new category of flooring. The product, called décorwood, fuses an exotic hardwood look directly onto an HDF substrate using the company’s proprietary HiDef Color Fusion technology. Each nearly 7’ plank is then finished with a semi-urethane gloss coating for an authentic hardwood look, according to Roger Farabee, sr. vp marketing for Mohawk Hard Surfaces/Quick-Step.

“Décorwood features the finish and look of exotic wood in sustainable long planks,” Farabee said. “It’s a new category for us, and we believe a new category for the industry.” He said the product will initially be offered in four exotic visuals.

Eric Erickson, Shaw Industries’ laminate category  manager, says that bevel-edge products, hand-scraped visuals and smooth gloss floors will all continue to grow. “There is a real potential that wood prices could be on the rise this year; if that happens, it will be vital for laminate to provide the most realistic visuals and finishes to fill those voids.”

Quick-Step’s Roger Farabee stands next to the company’s new décorwood product.

He noted, the looks of laminate floors are becoming increasingly realistic. “Our biggest hit is our new 12mm hand-scraped products in our Timberline collection; the Pith Hickory products are the most realistic visual we have made in laminate. We worked closely with Anderson to bring one of the most unique and realistic visuals in this collection.”

According to Betsy Amoroso, Mannington Mills’ corporate communications director, consumers’ tastes are becoming more refined. The company’s Restoration Collection features rustic looks that are designed to resemble reclaimed flooring pulled up from old buildings and barns.

Black Forest Oak uses a wire-brush technique so the gloss works into the peaks and valleys of the surface. Historic Oak features chatter and saw mark visuals. “We are seeing a lot of trending toward reclaimed visuals, because they put a new twist on rustics,” Amoroso said.

Travis Bass, vp of Kronotex (which also manufactures the Formica Flooring brand), said subtle, milder-looking exotics are growing in popularity. “They provide a higher-end look more affordable in laminate than in solid hardwood,” he noted. “Consumers are getting used to the new economy and are cautiously moving up the price-point scale.”

He added that installation systems are also becoming more user friendly. “Mainstream innovation will continue to support desired visuals and easier installation.”

Kim Holm, Mannington Mills’ president, residential business, stands near his company’s new Restoration Collection.

Cindy Thornton, Alloc/Berry Floor marketing manager, said consumers are starting to ask for drop lock products, where the flooring is installed by angling it against the short side of another board and dropping it in. “They’re looking for installation ease,” she noted.

She said that a wide range of looks are popular, including wide planks, and random tile and stone patterns. Additionally, she sees more grays infiltrating the laminate segment.

Gary Finseth, Tarkett Residential’s vp marketing, said it is hard to pin down any one color or design that is hot in laminate flooring. “The response has been great for a range of colors, from lights to darks.”

According to Laurie Sanfilippo, Ark Floors marketing director, laminate flooring continues to make great strides in technology and design. “The definition in the photography, the quality of the paper, the smoother bevel, and the embossing techniques has all advanced considerably in the last few years.”

With technological advances continuing, she said laminate flooring is sure to benefit. “[The technologies] make for a much more organic-looking product,” she noted.

NALFA Lammys: And the winners are…
The North American Laminate Flooring Association held its 5th annual Lammy Awards during Surfaces 2011 in Las Vegas. The NALFA Board of Directors anonymously nominates individuals and organizations; ballots are then sent to NALFA members as well as members of the trade press.

The 2010 NALFA winners are: Distributor of the Year: Longust Distributing. Dealer of the Year: RC Willey. Associate Member Company of the Year: MP Global Products. Member Company of the Year: Shaw Industries. Associate Member of the Year: Matt Heil, Pregis. Member of the Year: Roger Farabee, Mohawk/Quick-Step.