GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are not many things more important than the customer’s perception of your mat and whether they see it as “new” or not.

Your mat may be pretty old but if you do things to make people feel your mat is “relatively new,” you will draw more customers. It’s that simple.

This was something I realized very early in my career. I saw that whenever a brand-new mat was built, people would flock to it. So my logic was to simply keep my mat looking like new, even if it wasn’t.

I made a personal vow way back then to make sure that every time I visited my mats, I wouldn’t leave until I made some kind of perceptible improvement, no matter how small.

In any business, once you stop pushing forward, you start going backward. This is especially true of mats due to their high maintenance requirements.

In this column, I’ll outline strategies to maintain customer perception that your mat is relatively “new” and share tips ranging from low-cost to expensive to achieve this.

BASIC CLEANLINESS

First, let’s talk about cleanliness, which is very much tied to the perception of newness.

There are a few reasons why people like brand-new mats (if they are planned, built and managed properly). To most people, just like a new car, new is better in many ways, but the cleanliness of a new mat is a main driving force for people to use it.

I’ve seen some brand-new mats go downhill in mere months due to lack of general maintenance. If those overseeing a new mat allow crud to build up in the corners, dirt to darken windows and floors, and old detergent and dirt to accumulate in wash equipment, that’s a huge turnoff.

If a mat is dirty, newness won’t prevent it from being a turnoff.

LOW-COST TIPS

The big box stores offer modern low-cost materials that can be used to renovate your mat. Spend some time looking at what’s new for homeowners and you’ll most likely get some good ideas to add some flair and contemporary beauty to your business.

For instance, they now sell some really good-looking self-stick vinyl tiles. Mat floors get a lot of abuse, but you could use these tiles to create a nice accent wall. Many are durable enough to even use as wainscoting to protect the walls from laundry carts. I recommend using a good vinyl tile adhesive for that instead of self-stick.

A popular trend now is to use diamond plate to protect walls from carts and more.

For equipment, if you can’t afford to buy new front panels, a cheaper option is to have an auto body shop paint them, or have them powder-coated. It’s possible to paint stainless steel nowadays thanks to better primers. You may think that’s crazy but while stainless is awesome, it can give a cold feeling if everything in the mat is stainless. I see that, for the home, manufacturers are promoting a black stainless steel finish.

I once mentioned buying new front panels for my dryers. You can bring in an appliance painter to mask out your dryer banks and spray paint them right there in the store. You have to close for a day or two but it’s a dramatic refreshening.

If you love a mat that has ceramic tile walls but can’t afford the expense of doing all the walls, then try just doing one. Or, you can opt to use the tile as trim around your mat. Tile all your vertical support columns and finish off with nice chrome corner beads.

If corners of your walls are getting chipped and beaten up, you can cover, protect and strengthen them with stock stainless steel corner guards. They come in many shapes and sizes, and look terrific once installed. (Search for “stainless steel corner protectors.”)

You’d also be surprised at how a new coat of paint can help freshen up your mat, especially if you choose a more modern color.

Need to touch up some paint? Consider using nail polish from your local variety store.

Cleaning your rubber door gaskets and rubber soap box lids can make them look like new. They begin to look terrible if mold/mildew is allowed to accumulate, and this is more apparent on gray gaskets than black.

So, you manually clean door gaskets by soaking a rag in a 50-50 bleach solution, wrapping it around a butter knife or screwdriver, and inserting the tool between the gasket and door glass, on the inside of the door. Run the rag around the inside of the gasket to scoop out the mold; the bleach will keep the rest. Wipe with a dry rag.

To really make the rubber look like new, try soaking the items overnight in a tub of 1/4 chlorine bleach to 3/4 water. When you see them the next day, you won’t believe your eyes! I’ve done this only with gray rubber, so I’m not sure how black rubber will come out. Try soaking one as a test.

Be sure to use the same bleach-to-water ratio for all the gaskets, and soak them for the same amount of time to ensure uniformity.

I’ve done this with white soap boxes as well, but you have to remove it from the washer if you really want to do a good job. This may also involve scrubbing, so protect yourself and your clothing, and be sure you have good ventilation.

If your washers have calcified soap deposits on the metal tops or even the fronts (a little drip under a washer door can leave an ugly white streak that’s hard to remove with regular cleaners), this is a job for a rust remover containing hydrofluoric acid (not to be confused with hydrochloric acid).

But understand that this is a dangerous acid and should not be used if you do not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE): face mask, face shield, long-sleeve shirt, double gloves, and good ventilation! Protection for you and others around you is a must.

You should only need to use this once because it will clear away even the biggest accumulations without scratching the machine.

Once the washers are cleaned up, use a powdered cleanser regularly to prevent new accumulations. Double-check that the cleanser you choose won’t scratch surfaces.

With your machines looking like new, go one step further and make them shine! Mineral oil, lemon oil, baby oil, even WD-40 will make your machines shine. I prefer lemon oil for the nice fragrance. Mineral oil has no smell and is cheapest to buy by the gallon.

Don’t forget the parking lot. If you own the property, it’s not a bad idea to have the lot sealed and restriped, etc.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.