They’re routinely abused, stepped on and ignored, yet they continue to perform their main functions — keeping soil and dirt from making their way into a building, and providing a safe surface for people to walk on — to the best of their ability.

Matting plays an integral role in any building’s cleaning program. But sometimes, customers’ efforts to save a buck can lead to matting choices that do more harm than good.

Poor quality materials can render a mat ineffective because dirt remains on the surface of the mat and is easily tracked into the building, whereas high-end matting not only scrapes debris from shoes but traps both dirt and moisture.

Some popular materials used to construct these high-end mats include rubber, PVC and solution-dyed nylon. In addition to providing better functionality, these mats are more durable and easier to maintain.

But it may take more to convince customers that quality mats are worth their hefty price tags. Before launching into a sales pitch on the merits of high-end mats, manufacturers say distributors should begin with a survey to determine exactly what type of matting program a facility needs.

Eye On Aesthetics
“With larger, high-end properties — office buildings, hospitals, hotels and universities — very often the walk pattern can be complex,” says Mitchell Salzman, president, Creative Flooring Concepts, Plainview, N.Y. “With traditional matting, which is oriented around a stock matting program, it is difficult to create a safe and attractive entrance. You literally have to litter the lobby with pieces of mat.”

Salzman surveys the customer’s site on behalf of the distributor, starting with digital photos and a schematic floor plan of the lobby.

“From that information, we understand where people are coming from and where they’re going to,” Salzman says. “At that point, our job is to put the mats in the most direct walk pattern because that’s the way people walk. They don’t care where you put the mats. They’ll walk the shortest distance between two points.”

At the same time, Salzman must choose mats and install them in ways that augment the architectural integrity of the building.

For distributors, high-end mats that are customized to enhance a facility’s appearance can be a strong selling point, particularly in “Class A” buildings. Different sizes and shapes can make mats more functional as well as visually appealing and help avoid the pieced-together look of more economical mats.

“Less expensive mats tend to be made in very few sizes because they’re mass produced,” says Larry Arnold, regional sales manager, Andersen Co., Dalton, Ga. “The first custom option that needs to be considered is size. The second is color. We try to make colors that are aesthetically pleasing and blend into a facility’s décor.” Distributors should also take samples with them so that customers can feel the mats’ texture and see the different colors, suggests Julie Wells, Andersen’s marketing manager.

Mats featuring custom patterns offer another means of enhancing a building’s design. Creative Flooring Concepts, for example, has customized mats that mimic the marble lines or tiles in floors. Some companies offer logo mats that give businesses another vehicle for displaying their corporate brand.

“Typically, people’s motive for buying a logo mat is image,” says Tommy Wright, director of marketing and business development, Millennium Mat Co., Suwanee, Ga.

The company also offers a line of safety and quality message mats. “We put safety mats leading out of the offices in industrial plants that say things like ‘Put Safety First,’” says Wright. These types of mats target safety concerns as well as prevent slip-and-fall injuries.

Preventing Hazards
Liability can be a big concern for businesses, says Marc DuCharme, sales manager for the commercial division of Americo, Acworth, Ga. “The cost of liability is another presenting point for distributors to sell a better mat,” he says.

To address the need for protecting facilities against lawsuits, some manufacturers offer mats made of specialty materials that address a variety of potentially hazardous situations. Superior Mfg. Group, Chicago, offers special rubber compounds that make mats fire retardant, antimicrobial or antistatic.

“It’s more of a niche market,” says Ron Gustafson, marketing manager. “We’re starting to see automakers and other companies driven by standards like the [U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration] request specialty matting and people who work in electrical facilities or power plants where they need electrical discharge matting.”

Wearwell, Nashville, Tenn., provides specialty matting for industrial facilities and pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing applications.

“Pharmaceutical companies need mats that are conductive,” explains Lisa O’Dell, vice president of marketing. “They might have a cleanroom where they have to be concerned about the out-gassing of the mat, or they might not be able to have any silicone or mold release from the mat.”

For food processing applications, the company provides antimicrobial mats that prohibit the growth of bacteria.

“There are a lot of reasons to customize mats,” says O’Dell, “but most of them have to do with fitting the worker to the specific environment they’re working in and making it simple so they don’t have to think about what they’re walking on.”

For distributors, this is an opportunity to sell customers an entire matting system rather than individual mats that don’t necessarily work together.

“Matting is a system,” says Wright. “It’s not effective if you put an indoor mat inside your door, but you don’t use an outdoor mat to remove heavy soil and debris.”

Similarly, companies often misjudge how much matting is needed.

“Most of the time, the biggest problem with a mat is size,” says DuCharme. “Companies don’t use a large enough mat. They typically put a 3-foot by 5-foot [mat] sideways at a door, which only extends three feet into a building. That’s one footstep on each mat for most people.”

Not only is the mat too small to remove soil or moisture, but it can also become a safety concern. DuCharme recommends a matting system that consists of an outdoor mat, an intermediate mat, and an indoor mat to provide enough distance for soil and moisture to be removed from a person’s shoes before they reach the floor.

Matting systems can also be customized for specific applications within the facility. Wearwell designs mats that address the needs of different processes along production lines.

“Within a production line, there might be four or five processes,” explains O’Dell. “One might be dry, another might have overspray. So if you customize a mat you can put several types of mats together. We’ve created matting for an automotive company that extends down an entire line, 200 feet long by eight feet wide. Parts of the mat are solid tile, parts have grids, so it accommodates every single application.”

The Comfort Factor
Second to employee safety is employee productivity. Distributors can address both of these concerns by educating their customers on the benefits of anti-fatigue matting.

“These types of mats are generally used where someone’s standing for long periods of time,” says Gustafson. “We see them in retail stores, behind reception desks and cashier stations, and in assembly lines. Many times, they’ll combine anti-fatigue and safety mat features so they’re also getting a no-slip work surface in addition to cushion support.”

For industrial applications, anti-fatigue matting may need to be chemical and flame resistant for workers who are standing in front of machinery, adds Wright. But manufacturers warn against mats that provide too much cushioning.

“When most people think of anti-fatigue matting, they think they want the softest, thickest, most cushiony mat there is,” says Wright. “But that’s not really what’s best for you. If you’re standing for long periods of time, you still need to keep the blood flow and circulation in your legs.”

The company sells rubber anti-fatigue mats with raised bubbles of different diameters that keep your legs working while still providing anti-fatigue benefits.

Distributors are more likely to make a sale if they successfully match appropriate matting systems with customers’ needs. Many are literally walking over opportunities, says Arnold.

“If they just look down and around them, they’ll see there are a lot of chances for them to sell something,” he offers.

Customers also need reassurance when it comes to determining return on investment for more expensive matting systems.

“Over the long run, you save money in a couple of ways,” says Salzman. “The mats last longer, and it’s less expensive to keep dirt out of the building than it is to get it out once it’s in. Mats also help prevent slip and falls and damage to interior surfaces. When you add up all of these costs, you’ll find buying a better mat program is a money saver.”

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.