In the fluctuating world of retail and the exponential rise of e-commerce, accelerated by lockdown restrictions during the pandemic, the future of bricks and mortar retail spaces has come into question. However, the sentiment in the sector is that physical stores are far from dead. 

In fact, while many retailers quickly expanded their online sales capacity in the wake of Covid-19, physical stores remained an essential element in many businesses as a click-and-collect facility. Some retailers have also moved to more experience based spaces to keep shoppers locked in for longer, and some are simply looking to make the space more visually appealing. As retailers consider interior styling as part of their strategy to attract footfall, flooring can be a key part of this and a firm foundation in setting the scene. Practicality and durability in such an investment will of course be important, but with the innovations in hard flooring, there’s no need to compromise on style at all. 

Image: Established By HER

Stylish wood-look flooring options have never been more accessible and cost effective

Wood flooring can offer a variety of looks and feel homely and inviting, so is a good option in a retail space. However, while solid wood is an attractive and timeless flooring option, it sadly does not withstand the rigours of heavy footfall, and preserving its beauty requires ongoing maintenance. So, wood-effect flooring is the obvious alternative. Gone are the days when hard flooring was only available in standard oak, pine, birch or maple wood effects. The advancements in digital printing and designs means that not only can traditional wood effects and patterns be replicated in an astoundingly realistic way, but is also available in an endless range of tones and colours. From a light, Scandi-inspired flooring through to a dramatic, dark wood-effect floor with a bold, visually striking pattern – along with everything in between – the sky is the limit.

Creating visually larger or cosier spaces is possible with colour, tone and plank type. Wide, long planks will give an illusion of a larger expanse of floor area as there will be less joins in the flooring. This is the kind of look a concessions store might opt for. Whereas a cosier feel in an independent boutique could be achieved with slimmer planks – either long or short, which would make more of a feature of the flooring. Increasingly, home interior trends make their way into commercial spaces, and the nation’s love for herringbone style flooring is easy to understand: it offers a traditional style but one that can be brought bang up-to-date by using wider or longer planks than might normally be used in traditional parquet flooring – providing an excellent option for a retail space that aims to ooze modern style.

Durability is available across a variety of products

Style is a key element in creating a visually appealing space, but with a significant financial and downtime investment in flooring installation, longevity will be key. Traffic is a major consideration and whether the retailer is a smaller one expecting less footfall than a larger, busier store, the flooring will have to withstand a barrage of footwear from heels that can present a scratch hazard to boots with treads that could hold and bring in water.

Because of its variety of styles and planks, low cost, and ease of installation, laminate flooring has remained a reliable option for many commercial establishments. Furthermore, since its inception, laminate flooring has developed significantly, available with a variety of features including bevelled edges, textured finish and vast range of plank sizes, colours and patterns. It can take heavy traffic quite well, if a good quality product is selected, so is a durable option. Laminate is easily maintained with a sweep or light vacuum and damp mop. It won’t, however, tolerate moisture. Areas that become damp or wet should be dried up quickly. Laminate will hold up well against footwear but can be prone to scratches with heavy wear over time.

Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) has become as popular in residential and commercial spaces as laminate, which once dominated the flooring market, and thanks to the emergence of DIY plank options, it has become as accessible to install. With all the benefits of laminate; durability, range of styles and plank sizes, and easy maintenance, it ticks all the boxes with the added benefits of being scratch resistant and water resistant. Some types can even be waterproof. Made up of a textured wear layer over a digital print, and an insulation backing, it’s a product that will look the part and stand the test of time. It also offers good grip to minimise slipping hazard. 

Vinyl flooring has also come a long way since the days of ‘lino’, with durable, long-lasting products that can offer a myriad of colours and patterns, either emulating wood or tile, providing an on-trend concrete look – or, a pop of colour in a contemporary space. Vinyl offers all the style and practicality benefits of LVT with added ease of installation and is budget-friendly.

Of course, with any flooring selection, installing a good matting area at the entrance of any retail space will minimise moisture and dirt being trodden in and extend the life of any flooring. It’s also worth consulting a specialist as a small investment into damp proofing can extend a floor life by year dwarfing repair and replacement costs added 1st Call Heritage, a damp proofing specialist in Portsmouth.This, combined with regular sweeping and damp mopping, should keep either laminate, LVT or vinyl flooring in tip top condition for years to come.

While LVT is probably the best option for most commercial spaces, laminate is still a viable choice. Always opt for the best quality that the budget can facilitate and ensure the product is installed and cared for in accordance with manufacturer guidance. 

Paul Hambidge, founder of flooring retailer and manufacturer Factory Direct Flooring.