ALEXANDRIA, Va. — What do textile rental customers know about floor mats?
“What does the average person know about a floor mat? When I talk about what I do, they have a blank stare and then say, ‘Oh, yeah, mats for cars,’” says Tyler Fowler, president-textile rental division of Mountville Mills. “I tell them we manufacture floor mats for the textile rental industry, we rent them, we clean them—and then they go back to the blank stare.”
Fowler says this lack of knowledge by the average person reflects what customers know about floor mats. The challenge for rental companies is to educate customers about floor mats and their benefits.
But textile rental companies need education as well, he says. They need to know which mats are needed for different applications, along with proper handling.
Fowler discussed these topics during a webinar for TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services, titled Product Perspective: Providing the Right Product for the Right Application.
The key benefit for customers, says Fowler, is safety: “If you have a facility, you have a responsibility to your employees and customers as well.”
According to the National Safety Council, there are more than 25,000 trip, slip and fall accidents every day. Almost 90% of these are due to surfaces and footwear.
“We love the line, ‘Mats prevent accidents before they happen.’ We truly believe that,” he says. “People walk through a facility and wet environments every day and don’t think about the fact that the entryway mat works to take off any dirt, soil and moisture and allows a clean transition onto the dry floor.”
But simply having a mat isn’t enough, according to Fowler. They need to be used properly.
He cites a recommendation from CNA, an insurance provider, that says to maintain effectiveness, mats need to be changed out at regular intervals to avoid becoming saturated. Saturated mats allow contaminants to reach clean floors, reducing slip resistance.
“The key note is that the mats have to be changed out at regular intervals,” Fowler says. “There’s only one industry I know that offers this kind of service and that’s our industry.”
Yet, it’s not uncommon to go out and see improper mat usage in improper locations, he says. It’s easy to forget about them and overlook advancements and trends.
“Providing a safe walking surface is of absolute importance to your customers,” says Fowler.
RIGHT PRODUCT, RIGHT APPLICATION
When it comes to providing mats for textile rental customers, Fowler cautions that not all accounts are created equally.
“Mat requirements for a school, hospital, supermarket, airport, are certainly not the same as they are for Joe’s Auto Repair,” he says.
Hospitals and supermarkets are the two most difficult applications to provide mat services for, according to Fowler. There are many different combinations and variables: carts, wheelchairs, areas that are wet from produce, restrooms in hospitals, etc. Each has to be treated differently, and rental companies have to understand product specifications to put them into service.
Fowler says there are three basic components to mats: rubber thickness, type of rubber backing and fiber used.
Rubber thickness is measured in mils (1,000th of an inch), and most mats have a rubber thickness around 52 or 53 mils, says Fowler. But there are mats with greater thickness, such as 65 and 90 mils.
The thicker the rubber, the greater the weight, he says. And a heavier mat is more likely to stay in place.
“There is a 6-pound difference between 52-mil and 90-mil mats,” says Fowler.
The next component in terms of the right mat for the right application is backing. There are three types, according to Fowler. Cleated backing is made to grip carpet, but it can be used with some success on smooth floors. A smooth backing is for use on smooth flooring, and a suction-type backing is a combination of heavier rubber with a suction design.
“With carts in healthcare, supermarket, it’s really important that the mat stays in place,” says Fowler.
In testing, he says a cleated mat on a smooth floor, after 100 passes, had a 55-inch displacement; the smooth back, after 100 passes, only moved 4 inches.
“During the Indy 500, the announcers talk about the development of the tires,” Fowler says. “If you notice the tires, they’re smooth. They’re slick tires because they want the greatest traction on the road, and the more surface area that is in contact, the more traction the tires have. This same logic holds true with mats.”
He says a 3-by-5 cleated mat has 26% of its surface area on the floor. The smooth back offers 100% surface area contact.
“You have to determine the floor type where you’ll be placing the mat and what backing will work best,” says Fowler.
Yarn and fiber component construction, in combination with rubber backing and rubber thickness, can help a mat perform better in certain applications, he says. More yarn adds more weight and stability with thicker rubber.
Another factor to consider is the border, he says. A 90-mil backing and 90-mil border will help ensure the edges of the mat won’t buckle when a cart is pushed over it.
The temptation for textile rental companies, Fowler says, is to offer a standard 52-mil mat for all accounts.
“I know that those on the production side will say, ‘We can’t keep track of all these products,’” Fowler says. “However, you have to have a product that meets the needs of your customer. There are too many different needs out there to have a one-size-fits-all mat to offer. A 52-mil, standard-cleat backing does not allow you to go into every type of account and confidently put it in place, knowing it’s going to perform the best that it can.”
MAT HANDLING RECOMMENDATIONS
There’s more to mat service than simply providing the right mats, Fowler cautions. If the mats aren’t handled properly by the back of the house, the mats won’t work well.
“I would say more than ever, customers are looking at how flat mats are when they’re put into service,” he says. “You can go to any of these slip-and-fall attorneys online and look at their web page. You’ll see mats listed in there: old, outdated, improperly placed mats. It is something that your customer is looking at.”
One of the biggest questions Fowler hears is, “Should we dry our mats?” Companies have gotten away from drying due to energy costs.
He agrees that proper extraction can eradicate moisture, but his company still recommends that mats be dried, for two reasons. First, it helps knock out the sand and dirt that remain in a mat after it’s washed. Second, it helps create a better finish.
“Think about when you wash your clothes at home. If you washed a white T-shirt and took it out of the washer and immediately laid it out, it gets wrinkled. If you put it in the dryer, you get a much better finished look,” Fowler says.
He says most wrinkled mats aren’t permanently wrinkled. They will eventually lie flat, but at first it’s a potential for slip and fall. Drying offers a better chance of producing a mat with a good finish that lies flat.
Continuing with the subject of producing a mat that lies flat, Fowler recommends to keep up with rolling mats for storage or to lay them out until they can be rolled. The more mats sit in a pile, the more wrinkled they become.
“For rolling, when you fold the top quarter of the mat over before it is rolled, that creates a crease on the mat,” he says. “When it’s placed onto a surface, it creates a hump in the mat. That folding may help with rolling, but it creates that hump.”
Another way creases and humps form in mats is by storing too many rolled mats on top of one another, according to Fowler. Once a stack reaches six to eight mats deep, the weight adds pressure and flattens out rolls on the bottom, developing creases.
Even during transportation, he says it’s important to keep mats in a position so that when it is placed, it lies flat.
“The way that we handle our mats plays a significant role in the finish of mats that we deliver to our customers,” he says. “There’s best practices for everything, and there is the reality of operating on a day-to-day basis. You need to find the balance of those two factors to work together.
“It’s a combination of all these things that help ensure that as an industry we’re putting out the right product and the best-performing product that we can.”
For information on upcoming TRSA webinars visit www.trsa.org/events/webinars.