More than ten years of laminate flooring: What started in the late eighties has developed into an unequalled success story. Continuous two-digit growth rates are characteristic for the development of laminate flooring. They show that it is a product which has been able to find a solid place in the ranking of favourite flooring products among consumers. Almost ten years of laminate flooring are an occasion to look back and to risk a look into the future. Who could do this better than a critical observer of the industry: Richard A. Kille, product expert and manager of the IFR, the Institute for Flooring and Interior Decoration (Cologne/Germany), who was invited to the spring-conference of the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF).
"Somehow everything began with a cut-resistant kitchen worktop ...", Richard Kille said of the origins of laminate flooring in the beginning of his presentation. In the production of furniture parts the abrasion-resistant laminates (HPL, high pressure laminates) had been utilized as surface materials for a significant time. What was more logical than using the resistant qualities of the materials also in flooring? It was said and done. By the end of the eighties, the first directly melamine faced laminate floor entered the market. The attractive décors, long-wearing quality, simple installation and an acceptable price secured the consumers' attention for the product. "Finally there was flooring that could do it all." The creative makers in marketing knew well how to place the product.
1992/93 the first critics entered the pictures: the products did not always fulfill all that the advertising promised and laminate flooring was scrutinized. Yet a question remained: how? Up to that point, there were norms from the laminate industry, such as the EN 438, which were used as a basis for valuation, but no specific norm for laminate flooring, in which potential tests were laid down. What was one to do with swellings, deformation and mistakes made during the installation? "It was a hard piece of work that was lying ahead of us there", according to Richard Kille, "we as experts were asked to decide." That started research and analysis, the development of testing methods, and fixed guidelines. Since a large part of the complaints in the first generation of laminate flooring could be ascribed to mistakes in the installation as well as the ignorance in the required kind and consistency of the foundation, and a lack of knowledge of the material itself these two areas presented the best starting point. In cooperation between the EPLF and the IFR (Cologne), the EPLF information on the installation of laminate flooring was created.
The Olympics of Abrasion Figures
A first important step was taken, but what happened on the market? Barely had the product laminate flooring been defined and dissected into its parts when a competition of a different kind began: the so-called olympics of abrasion figures. "The higher the abrasion, the better the quality", seemed to be the motto of many producers and sellers. And consumers were obviously irritated. This made it clear: a norm, a guideline in which the quality requirements and testing methods were set down was necessary for the industry. In the years from 1994 to 1999 the European laminate flooring norm EN 13 329 was created, with much help from the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring. It was officially passed in April 2000 and shows significant effects on the market. With the EN 13 329 the industry has an important instrument it can apply to provide transparency in the market, or in other words to sift to chaff from the wheat.
With Click and Silent Products
In the meantime the product was further developed in the research laboratories of the laminate flooring producers. Innovations in technology and design were the motto followed here. The results could be inspected at the industries' trade shows in the past two years. A new generation of laminate flooring entered the market: technically perfect products on a high quality level, which did not have to shy from comparison with hardwood floors and other floor coverings. Glueless connecting systems and room noise reducing products were the focus of presentations and became the trendsetters of the industry. With the Click-Clack & Co the consumer now benefits from an easier floor installation and the modern 'silent' products" contribute much to reduce the room noise.
Just like any other product, laminate flooring had to go through the childhood teething phase, but today the comment is justified: The "second generation" has arrived! Laminate flooring is better than ever, and innovative and efficient as it is, it gives consumers the secure feeling of purchasing a qualitatively good product. But: "Today's consumer is informed, he does not believe everything the advertisments tell him. That means, also, that the seller, who advises the customer, has to be well informed", is Kille's view of the current situation and he warns to overexcite the market with exaggerated slogans.
Where does the road lead? Is there a third generation of laminate flooring arriving soon? "Technologically today's products are on a very high level of development, even though there are still innovations possible ", Kille said to conclude his presentation. "What we need now is a continued good marketing, which integrates technology and sales." Brochure liability, return guarantees or possibly a price based on an "all inclusive" deal, are lines of thought which could be the key factors in the future success of the product.