Choosing the Best Flooring for Retail Environments
The world of retail stores always seems to be in transition. Both single proprietors on Main Street and multinational mass merchandisers work hard to grab our eye and pull us into their store. As a result, they are in a constant state of flux looking for the perfect design to draw us in. In today’s retail environment, the proper selection of floor covering is an important part of everyone’s success. When it comes to the selection of the proper floor covering, many of the same practices hold true for both large and small retailers. Both require a stringent process to ensure all requirements are met for successful flooring installations.
The requirements for this segment of business fall into five primary categories: Image, Durability, Hygienics, Installation, and Product Selection.
What is most frequently heard during the selection of retail flooring is, “I need my store to look good.” What this usually suggests is that the retailer wants the floor covering to be part of the equation in creating a tone or image for the store. By the proper selection of color and texture, complementing other interior finishes, shoppers can be immediately integrated into the experience of the store. Shoppers often make their purchase decisions based on the desire to participate in an image projected by the advertising campaign of the retailer. The retailer is then charged with transforming the advertised imagery into an actual purchasing experience. Today’s vast selections of floor coverings allow the decision makers of retail flooring tremendous opportunities to design transformative shopping experiences.
To help accomplish this goal, floor covering manufacturers are continuing to develop their lines with more unique and interesting print films in vinyl and botanol selections, textures of fibered products, more color in recycled rubber flooring options, and modifications in natural looking products such as terrazzo tile.
In the selection process, great time must also be spent making sure that the product not only looks good but is durable enough for the intended space. In this step the product must be analyzed for durability relative to the projected traffic flow of the store. The goal here is to ensure that the selected materials will not prematurely show signs of wear. The product must feature a sufficient wear layer to protect its design presentation. Should the choice of material show wear in heavy traffic lanes or pivot points, the impression of the store is sacrificed. This could very well be translated to the quality of the shopping experience, affecting the perceived value of the purchase. It is always best to slightly overestimate the durability requirements for creating long-lasting impressions.
To ensure that the projected durability extends out to expected service life, it is always suggested that your interior flooring system be protected by a multizoned entrance matting system. A proper entrance system is designed to remove debris and moisture from the footwear.
Dirt and debris not contained at the entrance will easily track to the interior and severely damage the floor covering. Dirt and debris will abrade the finish of hard surface flooring materials. Debris will act like a belt-sander on the floor, quickly removing floor finish and requiring increased frequency of application and cost. Debris can also shorten the life expectancy of fibered flooring. As the dirt and debris settle into the fiber and fall down to the backing, it becomes difficult to remove. If it is not removed, the debris will act as diamond cutting wheels quickly wearing away at the pile fiber, minimizing the life of the material.
Moisture from the entrance presents other issues. If moisture isn’t removed from footwear, it can create a liability exposure from slips and falls, and increased maintenance costs. When excess moisture is present on hard surface floor covering, it can cause damage to heterogeneous sheet goods, seep into unsealed seams, and cause damage to improperly finished porous goods. On hard surfaces, moisture can also greatly increase the potential for slips and falls. Proper removal of moisture by an entrance system can help mitigate this liability exposure. In fibered goods, moisture can be absorbed into the fibers and can be prevented from evaporating. Excessive periods of moisture can often breed mold spores or bacteria, adversely affecting the shopping experience.
In today’s matting world, the prevailing opinion is that the best systems are designed of multiple stages or zones. If there is an overhang at the entrance as part of the design, the entrance matting system can start here, outside, often referred to Zone 1. Here, an aggressive scraping medium is used to remove the large particles of debris from the footwear and often encapsulate them. The next application, or first if an overhang isn’t present, is the vestibule, or Zone 2. In this zone the drying process begins and the medium particles are removed and often encapsulated in a drop-through system. The third component, Zone 3, is the interior, most often the lobby. Here, the fine particles are removed and the drying process is completed. The multizoned system is required because no one product can perform all three functions. The ideal matting application will be 20 to 30 lineal feet in length and result in 86% to 100% effectiveness. The employment of this system will greatly lend a hand in your interior floor selections meeting their expected life cycles.
Creating hygienic interiors is also a great concern in making the proper retail flooring selection. As mentioned, while competition increases, retailers are more and more concerned with creating a shopping “experience,” not only a “swing through.”Here, two topics are addressed. The first is interior air quality of the facility. Today’s selection process is paying great attention to the VOC’s that can be associated with the floor covering. More decision makers are looking to FloorScore® certification or Green Label Plus conformance in their goods.
Not only is the product choice important, but also the adhesives used to bond the goods to the substrate as well as any potential cleaning. Adhesives and cleaning chemicals should also comply with similar stringent environmental standards.
The second part to the hygienic equation is the impression a clean facility makes on its shoppers. Retail applications are busy. High traffic flows carry in a tremendous amount of debris into the interior. The problem is, shoppers judge a facility by its cleanliness and the number one means by which they judge a facility is by the appearance of its floor covering. With the proper selection of flooring products and the application of an effective entrance matting system, a hygienic looking interior is much more easily obtained than ever before.
Advancements in today’s resilient flooring product market, such as factory applied polyurethane surface treatments or polyurethane top layers, minimize maintenance requirements. This lends itself to creating a more hygienic, welcoming presentation in the retail environment.
One of the challenges in the retail flooring environment is the actual installation of the materials. While conforming to any and all ASTM standards for installing the various types of flooring, the most frequent obstacle is the timing, or lack or time allowed for installation.
New construction may allow for more traditional time frames, but retail’s challenge of replacing existing or damaged flooring in existing, open facilities is at the front of the list. This often requires a breakdown of store fixtures, removal of any old floor covering, floor prep, installation of the new flooring, and a reassembly of the fixtures, most often to be done overnight or in a one-day period. To accomplish this task, the proper “fast track” flooring products must be selected.
To assist in these quick turnarounds, products that can be installed with spray adhesives or by roll on adhesives are often popular choices. In these fast-paced retail settings, there isn’t sufficient time for trowel able adhesives to dry and cure. There isn’t time to wait 24 to 48 hours for the adhesive to set.
Spray adhesives have helped because the adhesive is distributed in a thin layer. This allows for the flooring to be installed and will be immediately ready to receive fixtures. This is because there isn’t a “thick” adhesive bed from a trowel. The trowel process allows for the adhesive to be easily displaced under the flooring from the impact position of the load. When the adhesive is displaced, a permanent “pock” mark will be present in the installation. This is because the adhesive bed has lost its consistent level.
Another successful option in this environment utilizes adhesives that can be rolled onto the substrate. The roll on the adhesive is similar to the spray on where it minimizes the thickness of the adhesive bed. This application provides a minimal cure and dry time, allowing fixtures to be put back in place very quickly. The most popular products in this application are fleece-backed sheet goods. The fleece provides a suitable medium to bond to the thin adhesive bed, creating a solid bond to the substrate.
Finally, new and innovative “click-systems” are gaining popularity in retail settings by totally eliminating the adhesive requirement!
Historically, carpet, wood, and VCT have been the popular choices in retail settings, providing a consistency in performance and appearance. However, with the increased demand for creating a more engaging customer experience and attention to unique design, many other flooring products are now gaining popularity with retail decision makers. Some of the newer selections are:
Solid Vinyl Plank & Tile (LVT): These are designed to assimilate natural-looking wood grain planks and stone like tiles in an inexpensive and easier-to-care-for vinyl medium. Print film offerings in this segment allow for a wide variety of wood species and color tones and a great assortment of stone replications, including slate, sandstone, travertine, and more. These presentations allow for easy design over a wide offering of retail segments. Many offerings are available in today’s market, but the most popular are materials that meet the ASTM F7100 Class III vinyl tile standard featuring a .5mm wear layer for a commercial rating. Other frequent choices include polyurethane surface coatings and FloorScore® Certification. Working with LVT gives the installer and the retailer the opportunity to take advantage of spray adhesives for a quick turnaround of the space after the installation has been completed. Click systems are also popular in the offering.
Sheet Vinyl: This is another frequently specified selection. Again, there is the opportunity to present natural wood grains, solid colors, or tonal gradation of color in an easy-to-maintain, affordable medium. To adhere to the strictest hygienic requirements in retail settings, some of today’s selections feature polyurethane reactive surface coatings to minimize maintenance, glass stabilizing layers to avoid splitting seams, and in place of traditional plasticizers, softeners derived the citric acid-esters extracted from locally harvested sugar beets are available. There are also versions of sheet vinyl that feature fleece backings that can take advantage of a roll on adhesive process for fast-track projects.
Botanol Sheet Flooring: When durability, hygienics, and easy maintenance are essential, Botanol Sheet Flooring is a newer offering that easily addresses all concerns. Botonal flooring is manufactured from materials containing over 90% rapidly renewable and inexhaustible resources. Castor oil, canola oil, and chalk are combined to create a synthesized polyurethane molecule. The polyurethane molecules create an unprecedented density in the top layer and body of the heterogeneous sheet good. This results in durability 5x greater than vinyl, easy maintenance, and no sealing, waxing, or buffing required. Also, any concern of PVC VOC off gassing from traditional sheet vinyl is eliminated.
Recycle Rubber: This is also becoming a new standard in many retail environments. No longer is it only limited to solid black or minimum color flecks traditionally found in sport applications; today’s options now include high color intensity for a great number of design options. While roll goods have been used for many years, recycled rubber modular tile formats are gaining traction today. Unique manufacturing processes such as block design versus cutting tiles from roll goods eliminate the concern of roll memory in a tile. Block manufacturing allows the tile to lay flat and is water jet cut to precise tolerances. Recycled rubber tiles are now available in a variety of thickness contingent on the durability requirements of the store and available in square edge for permanent glue down installations and water jet interlocking for loose-laid or dynamic installations.
Terrazzo Tile: This has been a long standard in the retail market. The natural aggregate presentation helps greatly in addressing image while providing pour-in-place terrazzo durability and ease of maintenance without complications of the traditional installation process. Advancements in today’s terrazzo tile market include large format tiles that minimize seams and allow for faster installations. Another option in today’s selections includes a terrazzo tile that utilizes a polyester resin binder that, when adhered to the substrate, enables the tile to flex when the building is under force or the slab is settling. A unique fusion process is also available to create impermeable seams for hygienic applications.
Woven Vinyl: These floor coverings have also been a popular choice for retailers. The three-dimensional woven fiber provides a depth and appeal normally only provided by traditional fiber floor coverings. The advantage to woven vinyl is in the greatly reduced day-to-day maintenance program. While providing the rich appearance of a fiber, debris and spills are easily removed from the surface of the woven strand surface similarly to “hard surface” floorings. Today’s color palate of woven vinyl includes brown and gray tones to assimilate natural woven sisals and sea grass to vibrant opalescence and variegate patterns of blues, greens, yellows, and pinks. Available in tile for easy installation with spray-on adhesives or roll goods with sealed seams for moisture impermeability, woven vinyl is sure to set a great mood in any retail application.
Again, to properly protect all interior floor covering installations, the installation of an entrance matting system is essential! Today’s offerings feature a large selection of foot grilles to meet the demands of any retail environment, great selections for roll goods, and modular tile in a variety of fiber selections—all the while offering an opportunity to match color and texture from zone to zone and perform a different task in the system.
Understanding the unique requirements of flooring in the retail environment will allow the decision maker to select products that will be attractive, durable, clean, and easy to install. Working with today’s expanded range of flooring options, retailers can accomplish their goals in only a few simple steps and create the desired shopping experience.