If there is one thing that almost all retailers have in common, it is surfaces. No matter what sort of environment you are working in, you will almost certainly have some sort of surface space at your disposal.

However, these spaces can often be underutilised by retailers as they focus their attention elsewhere in the store or shop. Walls are left painted white, countertops blank and floors are scuffed and dirty, but with a few simple, often cost-effective changes to these surfaces, you can completely overhaul the look of your shop.

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Here, we speak with some of the leading companies and suppliers that can help you make these changes and take a look at some of the examples of surface work in other retail environments.

Enhancing the experience 

First up, the surface most commonly ignored in retail environments are floors, and this is where Karndean Designflooring, a specialist in luxury vinyl flooring, can help. Fleur Carson, commercial sales director at Karndean Designflooring, said due to changing habits in recent years, with physical retail facing so much competition from online, retailers must emphasise emotional experience over functionality in order to win the confidence of customers.

“Creatively designed spaces using materials that have a welcoming and homely feel yet are hard wearing and easy to maintain will offer a reassuring personal approach that can help customers feel safe again and so comfortable to browse,” Carson said. “Attention to detail is key as surfaces need to look great from opening to closing, come rain or shine.

“Some of our retail clients are looking for an authentic but deliberately understated look that acts as a blank canvas. All eyes are therefore on the merchandise and not the internal finishes. Also, the complete opposite can be true. Some brands prefer to customise and personalise the store interior and are excited by the possibilities of design to create a fun and enticing experience for shoppers.”

With health and wellbeing still high on the agenda, Carson said materials that provide an authentic natural look will appeal to the senses and create a comforting and relaxing environment for retailers. This, Carson said, makes luxury vinyl tiling the ideal choice for creating unique yet highly useable retail spaces that are easy to keep hygienically clean.

Karndean flooring has a durable, waterproof surface that Carson said can stand up to tough retail settings with minimal maintenance. In addition, the company’s rigid core and loose lay ranges include an enhanced acoustic layer that can reduce noise levels by up to 21dB. 

“Reflecting our commitment to producing stylish and durable floors with the lowest possible impact on the environment, our products are designed to improve indoor environmental quality,” Carson added.

Offering examples of these materials in action, Carson put forward Loom Loft, an accessible interiors store near Clitheroe in Lancashire that took on a new look to reflect the mill’s weaving history while showcasing contemporary style.

“Reclaimed Heart Pine from our LooseLay Longboard collection provided a characterful rustic look yet is durable enough to stand up to the demands of a busy retail environment,” Carson said. “The extra-large planks are in scale with the extensive floor to ceiling windows, providing a sense of flow to the open plan store and a cohesive style that complements and highlights the furnishings on sale. The loose lay format means that should any damage occur repairs are conveniently simple and cost effective.”

Karndean Designflooring partnered with Loom Loft to install floor tiling reflecting the former mill’s weaving history, while also showcasing contemporary style

Carson also highlighted contemporary furniture brand Arlo & Jacob, which wanted its showroom in Bristol to reflect its unique brand personality and offer a memorable experience for customers. 

“A bespoke floor was designed using a combination of custom cut Knight Tile planks in a random pattern of wood and stone designs to complement the bright modern feel of the store and the innovative quality of its products,” Carson said. “The herringbone pattern includes statement white wood and grey stone tiles which have been used to provide subtle punctuation and so highlight key zones across the store.”

Karndean Designflooring also worked with Arlo & Jacob on flooring for its showroom in Bristol

Strike the right balance

“Next, International Decorative Surfaces (IDS) is a major distributor of decorative surfaces specialising in flooring, worktops, laminates, compact, panel products, solid surface and wall panelling. John Bagshaw, managing director at IDS, said retailers should consider surfaces as highly important to their overall environment.

“Retail surfaces such as counters, furniture, walls, displays and even floors are extremely important as they need to strike the right balance between creating attractive and customer friendly environments while coping with daily footfall and wear and tear,” Bagshaw said. 

“Materials that are highly durable are key, and hygiene is an increasingly important consideration. There’s also a heightened focus on fire prevention for many customers in the retail sector.  

“FR grade surface materials are becoming more important to retail designers and shopfitters, particularly in the wake of Grenfell which has naturally led to heightened awareness around fire prevention. Retail designers would be wise to consider putting in place additional fire safety measures for peace of mind and potential future proofing by choosing FR grade materials for their projects.”

Bagshaw said IDS has already seen growing demand from customers including fast food chains for these types of materials and expects more to follow suit.  In response to this, IDS recently added the Merinolam range of high-performance laminates to its portfolio, offering the only stocked FR range currently available in the UK. 

The Merinolam FR+ Fire Retardant Laminate collection comprises 37 decors spanning a wide choice of popular plain colours, woodgrains and patterned decors, while Bagshaw added that the IDS Durasein solid surface range has also been tested and approved for fire resistance to EN 13501-1b comparable to BS476 Class 0.

“The UK-exclusive Merinolam collection offers 55 creative, tactile and high-performance decors ideal for use in the retail design and shopfitting sectors,” Bagshaw said. “The range reflects strong market demand for FR grade laminate and super-matt anti-fingerprint surfaces in a spectrum of popular colours and designs – and everything is supplied to fabricators polycoated as standard assuring protection against potential damage. 

“We are also proud to be the exclusive UK distribution partner for the Durasein solid surface brand. This is an ideal choice for retail designers looking to specify a premium product with immense creative scope and high-performance qualities for their projects.”

Examples of the products in use include Durasein Silver Falls being used to create a counter-top at Carlisle Cathedral’s Fratry Café, while Durasein Glacier White was used on a shaped counter-top in a busy fast-food outlet.

Durasein Glacier White, supplied in the UK by International Decorative Surfaces, was used on a shaped counter-top in a busy fast-food outlet

Setting the trend

Elsewhere and visual communications specialist Antalis has a range of products available for retailers to decorate their surfaces. Claire White, specification consultant at Antalis, said surfaces can help create theatre, support campaigns and colour blocking, as well as evoke emotions or make statements.

“There is a big focus on creating ‘experiences’ in retail stores at the moment,” White said “Retailers are increasingly using surfaces to convey corporate and social messaging such as sustainability. 

“The trend certainly seems to point to displays and surfaces that visually look more sustainable, with natural textures, and the use of materials made from recycled content or are fully reusable or recyclable at end of life.”

In terms of the type of products retailers should be using for these applications, White says they should consider interior films and window vinyls, explaining that these are easy to refresh and can be used instead of refitting. 

“Antalis’ new range Coala Windows Décor films can add style and privacy to any window or glass partitioning,” White said. “It comes in a wide choice of designs, harmonious colours and finishes and can be applied to all types of internal glass surface, windows and glass partitions. It can easily be applied and removed so changing and updating can happen more frequently.”

Antalis said its new range Coala Windows Décor films can add style and privacy to windows or glass partitioning

For the more green-minded retailer, Antalis also offers a number of sustainable products such as Xanita board. This engineered fibreboard is manufactured from fibres recovered from recycled, used cardboard boxes, and can be used for 3D structural concepts, FSDU units, displays and point of sale.

“Our specification consultants can support projects from the very early stages of design to help provide the very best end result,” White said. “For example, sustainability is high on the agenda, and with 80% of the environmental impact of products determined at the early design stage, it is advisable to seek support.  

“Steps can be considered through all life stages and once surface products have come to the end of their campaign life, they can then be recycled. Antalis, is also working in partnership with waste management and carbon offsetting companies to provide solutions, with advice on how customers and end clients can meet their environmental objectives.”

Make an impact

Meanwhile, Siobhán Gadiot, marketing manager at Armourcoat, said an impactful, beautiful surface finish not only helps promote the brand, but also creates a trustworthy, calm environment, making a memorable first impression and encouraging return customers.

“Retailers should not only consider surface finishes that are aesthetic and designed to physically interpret the core of the store’s brand but consider those that are sustainable,” Gadiot said. “Also, surface finishes can offer other qualities such as managing the acoustics in a space, design with all senses in mind – not just with your eyes.”

Armourcoat produces a wide range of polished plaster finishes that Gadiot said can help add depth and craftsmanship to retail spaces of all shapes and sizes.

“From a sense of subtle quality with Armourcoat finishes like Smooth and Pitted, right the way through to custom surfaces that offer a sense of occasion, there are finishes to enhance the design intent of every project,” Gadiot said. “Armourcoat offers polished plasters, architectural coatings, sculpted panel systems and casting for both the interior and exterior. 

In 2021 Armourcoat also released CLIME, a range of sustainable clay lime plaster finishes that Gadiot said demonstrates the company’s ongoing commitment to the environment, while also offering greener options to like-minded customers.

Also from Armourcoat is the Signature Collection, which, designed by Armourcoat’s creative director Duncan MacKellar, is a celebratory range of luxury wall finishes. The collection comprises of exclusive polished plaster finishes inspired by an Italian heritage and MacKellar’s artistic interpretation of natural forms and surface effects. 

“These artisan finishes represent the highest level of product mastery, redefining the technique and underlining Armourcoat’s lead role in the industry,” Gadiot said.

Gadiot’s comments over creating an impact offer an apt conclusion to this discussion. By working with trusted suppliers, retailers can add a whole new dimension to their shops and stores, simply by changing the look of a surface. With a whole host of products out there to help, the possibilities are seemingly endless in surface work within the retail sector.

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