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Thursday, July 11, 2013

The True Story Behind CocoMats, an Iconic American Company

CocoMats VP's own Mercedes-Benz 300D fitted with Jaspe pattern.
Disclosure: CocoMats is sponsoring the rolling restoration of our MotoArigato Project Car by supplying us with a set of custom made sisal floor mats. After exchanging several friendly emails with company representative Drew T. Phythian, we were so intrigued by his family operation that we expressed an interest in writing a profile piece on CocoMats. What follows is a unique insight into an American company that is thriving, despite a slow economy, simply because of the support of the classic car hobby.

When you visualize vintage cars from Porsche, BMW, Volkswagen or Mercedes-Benz you tend to think of the fine details like perfectly chromed door mirrors sitting atop thin stalks, jewel like taillights, and simple but elegant interiors. Within those interiors is very often found one aftermarket product that has been embraced by enthusiasts of those brands and more since the 1950’s; CocoMats. Even more popular at MBCA meets than sheepskin seat covers, CocoMats originally began in the 1950’s as a product that was widely loved but not necessarily known for longevity. That all changed in 1996 when CocoMats was re-established by Jeff Allwine as a new company with a revitalized product line intending to be the best in the field.

Machine used to perform stitching on every CocoMats product.
We spoke extensively with Drew T. Phythian, Vice President of CocoMats, in order to share a behind-the-scenes view of one of classic motoring’s most iconic and beloved aftermarket products.

CocoMats today is a family run company based in Fort Mill, South Carolina and that is also where the mats are assembled by Drew and his family personally, and being “American Made” is something they are quite rightfully proud of. His brother, Jeff, jump started the brand in the 1990’s and today he, together with Drew, Drew’s sister Deb, and niece Elizabeth, make up the core employees with a handful of talented others on hand to help create the dozens of varieties available. While the materials are sourced from India where “the best quality coco in the world comes from” according to Drew, every bit of custom cutting, stitching, bonding, pattern making and final assembly is performed by hand at the family factory. Drew explains that the modern product is superior to the original mats that were made well before his family took over the operation because today's CocoMats are backed with a thick natural rubber material with nibs to secure the mats in place with no sliding around the floor or bunching of the material, a common frustration with most other brands.

Natural rubber heel pad and backing.
We’ve personally used Weathertech liners on our modern vehicles but find them to have a very contemporary and industrial look not suited to classics, but the elegance of traditional, natural fiber mats is better paired to early cars, and there is no shortage of demand for CocoMats considering the numbers of BMW, Porsche Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz drivers who place orders with regularity. Drew mentioned that in addition to coco and sisal mats in various shades and combinations, he is presently developing a checker-board pattern to match 1970’s era BMW options as well as a synthetic sisal that will offer even better durability for those in harsher climates or who use their cars as daily drivers. The most popular mat? That would be #51 Black & Red, which happens to be one of the original color combos dating back to the 1950’s.

Drew suggests that their current production breaks down to “60% vintage (pre 1980 vehicles) and about 40% new vehicles” and also that because every mat is a custom-made item, they can “literally make mats for almost any year, make and model vehicle.” 

Evidence of this can be found in recent issues of the MBCA club magazine, The Star, that features a CocoMats ad picturing floor mats fitted to a Mercedes Sprinter van. We can also see these being popular in the RV set as Sprinters take on more and more of that marketplace.

Shelves of material ready to be assembled.
When you place an order with CocoMats they will, upon request, send you a full-scale paper pattern that you can trim to fit your specific vehicle, which Drew and his family will then use to custom create a bespoke set to your exact specifications. This turned out to be more of a necessity with older vehicles because, as Drew informs, “ The hardest aspect of making floor mats for vintage vehicles is that so many of them were hand made and as such have different characteristics for each individual car's floors. This in addition to having multiple versions and sub-models within a particular chassis has made determining a specific pattern for a specific vehicle very difficult.”

Drew T. Phythian with Jay Leno at Jay's garage.
You may have seen Drew explaining the benefits and construction of CocoMats in online videos for sites such as Jay Leno’s Garage, an experience that holds special meaning to Drew. He explains, “Jay is one of the nicest and most down-to-earth individuals, let alone celebrities, that I have ever come in contact with.” He says the genesis of the appearance started when he sent a set of #51 Black & Red mats to Leno for his 1963 Porsche 356 Carrera 2 with a note asking for his input once he received the product, 2-weeks later Drew received a phone call from Leno inviting him to LA to shoot the segment. Drew says Jay “had some amazing cars there however my favorite was a silver Mercedes 300SEL 6.3” being a fan of “sleeper” cars.

The appeal of CocoMats isn’t just limited to the US as you might have guessed, but despite most of their orders coming from home, they do regularly fill orders from places scattered around the globe from The Philippines to South Africa, from Saudi Arabia to anywhere in Europe. Drew claims this is the result partly of their saturation of advertising but more importantly, “many of our customers are excited about our mats... and spread the good news throughout web based (car) forums.”

Patterns hang awaiting use.
Despite his present love and commitment to CocoMats, Drew says he initially had no hand in the company but rather worked in sales and acquisitions of exotic cars in Los Angeles, before eventually receiving a call from his brother Jeff to join the new family business in order to “bring the company to a new level of technology and expansion.”

Drew's own 300D Turbo Diesel and Mini Clubman S in background.
Drew is not a suit and tie guy who crunches numbers all day but rather a collector and enthusiast just like us, he still owns and drives his very first car, a 1984 Porsche 944 (fitted with #06 Brown & Natural CocoMats), and also enjoys his 2010 MINI Clubman S (#57 Black & Orange Dot) and his weekend project car, a 1984 Mercedes 300D Turbo Diesel (#91 Jaspe). When pressed to name his current dream car, he said he would love to add a Morgan 3-wheeler to his garage explaining that “I LOVE vintage style with modern technology and innovation.”

Color samples hang nearby for quick reference.
When not knees deep in filling orders Drew spends time exploring his other passions, IDPA Tactical 3 Gun competition shooting utilizing modern rifles and pistols and to that end he also does gunsmithing to repair and restore all types of firearms.

You can make inquiries or place a custom order for virtually any year, make or model of vehicle by visiting CocoMats.com.

Classic Motorsports' fintail with made-to-order CocoMats installed.
The Classic Motorsports fintail rally car.
All photos used with permission from CocoMats.com



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