February 1/8; Volume 30/Number 16
By Nadia Ramlakhan
“Next generation” was the term that best described the many laminate flooring introductions at Surfaces 2016 as suppliers unveiled a slew of new styles, sizes and designs featuring the latest in technologies.
“I really do believe there is a renaissance going on in laminate where everybody wants to step up their game and go to next-generation models,” said Brad Northcutt, laminate sales manager, IVC US. While the “bigger is better” trend toward longer and wider planks defined product introductions at last year’s show, this time around laminate companies expanded the format with thicker products. In terms of visuals, suppliers followed hardwood’s lead by adding gray tones and focusing on lighter colors. They also sought to tap into the popular reclaimed look while achieving even more realistic visuals via multi-width, multi-length boards as well as mixed species collections.
“When we looked at our strategies and priorities from a retailer’s standpoint, the biggest thing for us was to focus on the 12-mil category because that’s really where all the growth and focus is in the industry,” said David Moore, product director for Unilin, North America, parent company to Quick-Step. “We see that consumers value thicker products and we are responding to the marketplace.”
Quick-Step’s Elevae is a 12-mil offering with extra-long 54-inch planks that are 6 1⁄8 inches wide. “It sounds better, feels better and you can get more depth in the surface texture,” said Erinn Valencich, Quick-Step’s celebrity designer partner.
Moore explained that rather than revealing “just another” 12-mil collection, the company wanted to expand upon its color palette to be completely on trend. Consequently, multiple SKUs in the collection have hints of gray and brown to coordinate with any cabinet, furniture or wall color. In general, Moore noted a shift away from heavy scrapes toward clean, contemporary looks. “With Elevae we focused on a clean, wire-brushed, matte, low-gloss texture.”
Northcutt cited another benefit to thicker laminates: improved noise reduction. “Balterio [IVC’s laminate offering] doesn’t have that clickety-clack sound you typically get with laminate where you feel like it’s moving under your feet.”
Another well-known brand is also expected to launch in a beefier format. Set to make its debut in July, Mohawk’s Pergo line will feature 12-mil products at mid to upper-mid tier price points. More details will become available in upcoming weeks, but for now the company is focused on enhancing its specialty retail program using the “Pergo story,” according to Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of brand marketing for Unilin, North America, parent company of the Pergo brand.
Other companies are taking thickness to the next level with 14-mil introductions. “The cheapest prices are in the 6-, 7- and 8-mil range,” said Franck Taubert, group export commercial director, Alsapan. “We offer 14-mil; it’s still a niche market but we know when the 6-, 7- and 8-mil range hits rock bottom 12 will be the next target.” The company’s latest launch, Creativ’, comes in four colors and is focused on selling patterns rather than individual planks, particularly Creativ’ Herringbone and Creativ’ Ladder.
Then there’s Grand Selection Origin, the newest addition to Swiss Krono’s premium Grand Selection line and the company’s first 14-mil offering. With 6.6-foot-long and 4.6-foot-wide planks, its stronger, water-resistant coreboard is expected to appeal to high-end consumers.
Uniboard, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is marking the occasion with a luxury laminate collection in a 14-mil format. The 18-SKU line comes in four new colors with trending gray tones: Barnwood Oak, Refined Rustic Oak, Cinder Oak and Prairie Oak.
Thicker boards aren’t the only hot trend right now; reclaimed looks are also gaining in popularity. “It’s all the rage right now,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. Vintage Impressions, a 2016 launch for the company, speaks to this trend with a 12-mil, rough-sawn look.
Eternity Floors’ Doron Gal, owner and CEO, said that as far as visuals go, laminate and hardwood are getting closer. Eternity Floors will unveil two new lines in the upcoming weeks: Timeless and Boulevard. Both are made with German paper, which Gal said provides more clarity.
Retailers are picking up on the trend. “The restored wood look seems to be one of the newer things that is popular right now,” said Jeremy Malveaux, Beta Enterprises, Glenview, Ill. “It’s like taking a good pair of jeans and cutting a hole in it—it’s fashion. It’s taking a perfectly good plank and denting it up or adding scrape marks to bring it back.”
Historically, colors in the U.S. have leaned toward vibrant reds and golds but the gap between European and American tastes has gotten smaller, manufacturers noted. “We’re seeing a little more interest in European-style colors,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing, American Concepts, a Swiss Krono brand. “You’re seeing more maples, whites, whitewash—colors have lightened up and [beach-like] looks are trending. Reds are definitely out—no question.”
In response to the shift, American Concepts has come up with several decors in the past year and plans to introduce products about every six months as opportunities arise. Saranac is the company’s widest plank at 7.4 inches, with six playful, eye-catching looks. Morgan Hill comes in 6 1⁄6-wide planks with eight color offerings including gray and white shades.
BerryAlloc is also getting on board with lighter shades, grays and European looks by revamping two of its popular collections: Grand Avenue and Original. Both were existing collections in the U.S. in the past that have continued all over the world and were brought back to the U.S. this year.
Mohawk Flooring has taken color and style cues straight from its hardwood collections. Chalet Vista, its “top performer” in laminate, is an 8-mil product with wider and longer planks featuring Uniclic technology that helps guard against moisture penetration. “Everyone has moved away from the traditional, smooth golds, reds and cherries to distressed grays, creams and browns with a little bit of gold tones with a blend of some black in there,” said Tammy Perez, director, hard surfaces, Mohawk. “We also have a coastal look for those regions that like them.”
Another trend seen in hardwood that is carrying over into laminate is the move toward random widths and lengths. Mannington’s Keystone, for instance, features the look of a random width, but is packaged in such a way that each carton contains equal amounts of 8-inch planks and planks with 3- and 5-inch boards together. “It looks like a random width but we’re able to do it at an effective price point,” said Dan Natkin, senior director of residential products.
Tarkett is introducing a mixed-width, mixed-length product called Fresh Air with emissions it claims is two-thirds lower than the CARB 2 standard. Some of its laminate programs feature 23 different planks, eliminating repetition and creating a more natural, realistic look.
Power Dekor launched Citiflor, a collection of random-width/random-length laminate alongside hardwood and LVT. These “RWRL” products contain nine plank sizes in each box, allowing for more variation and customization for the consumer.
Some companies are taking it one step further with mixed species as well. For example, Inhaus’ varied wood is a heavy variation from plank to plank with different colorations, various species and plank sizes all in one carton.
Armstrong showcased a mixture of three individual SKUs from its Architectural Remnants collection on the floor of the booth, creating extra randomness, texture variation and color play. This trend can also be seen on other surfaces as consumers are beginning to use laminate products as accent walls in the home. Rather than introduce new products in this category, Armstrong focused on pushing new ways to use existing products. As such, the company featured Sea Glass Teal, a coastal look from the Architectural Remnants collection, on the wall of its booth.