Update on Flooring

New printing techniques, sizes allow for greater options
Like the walls, the flooring in the new Camper store in Santa Monica, Calif., is deliberately designed to take a back seat, allowing merchandise to shine.

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Whether it’s a high-end specialty store or a big-box discounter, flooring can go a long way toward setting the right mood — and making shoppers feel comfortable. “It’s naturally innate in us to look down at the ground,” said Nathan Lee Colkitt, CEO, Colkitt&Co., an architectural firm with offices in San Diego and New York City. “If we get the lay of the land, we feel safer and more comfortable.”

Ninety percent of a person’s visual field is below the eye sight line, Colkitt added, which helps make retail flooring “hugely important.” It is, he said, the single most important finished material in a space.

“We are all always in contact with the floor,” he added. “And we take it for granted.” Slowly, said Colkitt, retailers have been making more use of floors as image creators and information providers. A shift in flooring design or use of material can take a shopper from one area to another, with no signage or fixtures needed.

“You can demarcate a space using the floor,” he said. 

One of the biggest areas of change in flooring is the emergence of printing techniques that enable the transfer of almost any image onto ceramic tiles and other materials. Also now available are “through color” tiles, meaning if the tile chips, the retailer won’t be left with an exposed white spot.

For Puma’s store in the SoHo section of Manhattan, Colkitt and two project partners carried through the urban theme of the space and imprinted a manhole cover on the ceramic tile floor in the fitting rooms. The flooring in the fitting room for a new Puma store in Miami will resemble a pool. “It will feel like you are walking on top of water,” Colkitt said.

Meanwhile, new vinyl tiles in wood veneer are becoming popular in supermarket deli and produce departments for their easy care, with vinyl tiles that look like slate being embraced as a cost-effective alternative to the real thing.

“Retail clients are now able to use different materials, such as porcelain tiles or less expensive vinyl, but with the same design,” said Gaston Olvera, project director for MBH Architects, Alameda, Calif. This is helpful for retailers with tiered stores — they can have a similar look in all stores but at a lower cost than a flagship. 

Flooring materials have also become available in plank sizes — not just squares — which allow for the creation of different floor designs and patterns. And like a fresh coat of paint, thinner flooring products are emerging that can be laid over existing floor.

“With these you don’t have to take out the old,” Olvera said. 

Durability and maintenance costs remain top concerns for big-box retailers when choosing flooring, although most are willing to spend a bit more to accent big-ticket departments, according to the architects. Polished concrete is still the workhorse. 

A floor’s overall look, color and texture naturally come into play. 

“Often retailers think about neutrals so they don’t overpower what they are selling,” said Olvera. He recently worked on a new Camper store in Santa Monica, Calif., that deliberately used only white floor tiles to help product stand out.

Sustainability has also entered the flooring conversation, with topics including not only the type of material, but what types of cleansers are needed to take care of it.

Laura Klepacki is a contributing editor to Chain Store Age.

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