Article Retail Flooring: Comfort Satisfies

The following is the second in a series on strategies to help design clients, facility owners and other stakeholders see beyond the initial price tag and understand the long-term implications of flooring design decisions.

Retail flooring space with design supporting comfort for customers and employees

Luxury Vinyl Tile

The Impact of Design Choices

It goes without saying that companies should want their spaces to be comfortable for both customers and employees. Several elements contribute to physical comfort of a space: temperature and humidity, indoor air quality, acoustics, and even the amount of daylighting. The ergonomics of a space are also important: Are chairs comfortable? Does lighting flatter both merchandise and the people selling it? Is the floor easy on the feet and non-slip, especially for sales associates who must stand for several hours a day?

Design choices which improve occupant comfort yield tangible results, in terms of both customer sales and employee productivity. By educating clients on these positive benefits, you can use the subject of occupant comfort to support your design choices.

The Benefits of Biophilic Design

Ken Nisch, chairman of JGA Inc., a leader in branded environments and retail design, likes to distinguish between physical and visual comfort.

“You can have an environment that’s physically soft and comfortable, but if it’s not visually comfortable, you’re not going to have the same level of customer or employee satisfaction,” says Nisch.

For Nisch, finishes that replicate patterns and materials found in nature contribute to visual comfort.

“There’s a sense that people are more emotionally connected and relaxed by products that are inspired by nature,” he explains.

Armstrong Flooring used in Old Dominion University's cafeteria

More and more designers and building owners are recognizing the benefits of biophilic design, which encompasses everything from fresh air and sunlight to finishes with nature-inspired colors and patterns. The Economics of Biophilia, a report published by Terrapin Bright Green, includes research results that quantify the impact of enhanced biophilic store design on sales. For example, a study of 73 California retail stores showed that the stores with poor daylighting experienced a 40 percent increase in gross sales after the installation of skylights.

Nisch cites a recent example from his own firm—a fast casual restaurant which saw greater customer dwell times after the space was updated with “artisan-inspired” finishes which included wood-like porcelain flooring, veneers in warm tones and crisp orange accents.

“The more time customers spend in the space, the more likely they are to investigate other choices,” says Nisch. Customers also rated the food higher on freshness and said they were more likely to pick up next time rather than have their order delivered.

Happy Employees; Happy Customers

Obviously, an open office with fresh air, daylight, and views of a park is more appealing than a windowless cubicle. Several studies have linked such features to higher productivity, lower rates of absenteeism and fewer physical complaints. These benefits can be quantified. For example, the Rocky Mountain Institute analyzed the results of a study that revealed the positive impact of views and daylighting on absenteeism, and calculated that the company could save up to $1.44 per square foot per year by adding more windows with views to the building.

An appealing office or retail environment also plays a critical role in attracting employees, says Nisch. He points out that happier employees make for happier customers, too.

“The connection to nature is much bigger than a trend; it’s wired in us,” says Nisch. “If all are engaged in an environment that is less stressful, it creates a positive feedback loop.”

The Whole Package

Biophilic design doesn’t confine designers to a narrow range of choices, says Nisch. “A big open sky is as natural as rocks and trees,” he explains. “Your interpretation is what makes it interesting and unique.”

Nisch explains how more natural-looking finishes work on our psychology.

“If I look at flooring and I think of wood or stone—materials that have great grip and that aren’t slippery—my mind tells me I don’t need to worry about walking on those surfaces,” says Nisch. Products that also have physical attributes to back up the visual impressions—that are soft underfoot, warm to the touch, have sound-dampening qualities and are easy to maintain—have an edge.

Nisch notes that new designs in the Armstrong Flooring Natural Creations luxury flooring with Diamond10 Technology collection addresses both physical and visual comfort, featuring nature-inspired colors and visuals which convincingly mimic stone, wood grain, and fabrics.

natural creations arborart NA185 swatch

Of course, physical and visual comfort aren’t the only considerations. When balancing multiple goals, Nisch considers the life cycle of the specific design choice.

“Certain elements have short-term obsolescence, while others have longer-term value,” he explains. A product that is relatively disposable can focus more on aesthetics. One that will last through several customer cycles, such as flooring, needs to address comfort, performance and life cycle costs along with the desired aesthetics. Armstrong Flooring offers a helpful Life Cycle Cost Analysis whitepaper that can help you estimate these costs in your quest to convince clients of the tangible, bottom-line benefits of a particular design choice.

This helpful infographic illustrates the many enduring benefits that can be gained by making design decisions with long-term value in mind.