Speed Survey: Retailers on Laminate - June 2007

By Kevin Hale

In our second annual Laminate Speed Survey, retailers gave the category many high marks and few complaints. Durability, ease of maintenance and affordability were the comments we heard most often. Many of the dealers we spoke with sold higher end laminate, but one retailer says it’s getting hard for consumers to make the distinction between cheap and pricier products. The difference can be the quality of the coreboard, he says, which is hard to explain to the customer.

We surveyed retail salespeople not only in the major Metro Markets but also in small towns. We asked each of them these six questions:

            • What percentage of your product mix is laminate?

            • How many suppliers do you work with?

            • What positive comments do you hear most often about laminate?

            • What are the biggest issues your customers have with laminate?

            • What’s the biggest problem you have with laminates?

            • What would you like to get from your laminate suppliers that you’re not getting now?



Most dealers’ laminate sales ranged between 5% and 15% of total sales, and most work with four or five suppliers. Laminate made up 40% of one dealer’s sales, but he was located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he said climate is a big factor. A few retailers are actually seeing their laminate mix shrink compared to a few years ago.


Price conscious consumers continue to gravitate toward laminate. One dealer in California who sells to more affluent customers says it serves more as a fallback option for his clients. This same dealer also said his experienced installers do a double-take on some laminates, the styling is so realistic. A retailer in Iowa even had customers walk on laminate and ask him, “How thick is this wood?”

The fact that laminate doesn’t fade, crack, scratch or dent came in right behind pricing as a plus. As a result, some consumers like to use laminate in high traffic areas like a child’s playroom or game room. Other homeowners are going so far as to “dog proof” their floors with laminate. One dealer said it’s a great product to install in rental units.

Ease of installation, while cited as an advantage, can be a double edged sword, according to one retailer. Experienced do-it-yourselfers seem to have fewer problems than beginners, who sometimes make mistakes and end up buying another box. But laminates can be very forgiving when it comes to uneven, unlevel floors and small moisture problems. Plus, you can basically install it over any type of subfloor.

Glueless click technology is getting better and better with locking mechanisms on single plank products making the biggest strides. Overlapping and double-angled end joints were cited specifically.

Finally, the fact that laminate is as close to maintenance free as you can get in any product category also draws in consumers. Damp mop it with a cleaner and you’re done.


“Customers don’t like that click, click sound,” was cited most often as a problem in our survey. But premium underlayment has eliminated some of the hollow sound associated with laminate and becomes a great add-on sale for some dealers. Moisture problems weren’t mentioned as often as last year, which might point to improved water resistant technology in the manufacturing process.


As long as suppliers provide decent product selection and service, the dealers we talked to were satisfied. Some retailers would like to see less style repetition over each product line. One dealer said he would love to cherry pick styles from each line he carries because of the tremendous crossover.

With all the laminates out there, suppliers might do themselves a favor by providing more indepth material that explains why their laminate is better. One dealer also requested more co-op advertising. 

Other requests included more durable packaging to protect the product during shipping and more design ideas, similar to those coming from ceramic tile suppliers.

Cheap laminates continue to plague the market, hurting the reputation of the product. The licensing of click systems is seen as a good thing by the dealers surveyed. Most agree it will prevent manufacturers from beating down prices. Retailers already struggle to educate consumers who believe every laminate costs 99 cents. One dealer we spoke with has accepted the challenge: “We’ve got to be better salespeople and tell our customers they’ll have to replace the cheap stuff in a year. The good stuff will hold up.”

The dealers know some suppliers provide the same entry level laminate to the big boxes as they do to them. As a result, most of the dealers we interviewed sell higher end laminate.


The days of laminate as a novelty are long gone and today’s market is saturated with moderately priced wood look products. There are also many cheap, poorly manufactured products on the market, and they’re leaving a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. The dealers we surveyed know they have to stock high quality products and tout the best attributes of the category for it to survive. 

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus