How This Wildlife Refuge Created a Restroom That’s a Step Above the Rest

Oct. 24, 2018

Restroom design can influence whether customers return to a business or not. Find out how the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge earned the title of 2018 America’s Best Restroom.

When it comes to the 2018 America’s Best Restroom winner, nature literally calls.

That’s because the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, FL took home this year’s top prize in the contest, which is put on by Cintas Corporation. The top 10 finalists, chosen by Cintas, were revealed August 6. From there, the public voted through September 18 to determine the winner.

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Sean Mulcahey, marketing manager at Cintas, says the refuge stood out because of the educational component incorporated into its newly designed restrooms, located in the visitor’s center.

“They took it a step further in not just having a unique restroom, but took a space that could have been simple and created an education opportunity,” he says.

The New Look

Visitors who use the refuge’s restrooms will find life-size animal sculptures on the walls, some made of recycled materials, leading to and within the restrooms. Inside are tile murals of a watery mangrove and stall doors covered with vibrant professional photos of birds (people from around the world come to the refuge for bird watching). On the opposite side of the stall door, that same picture is blurred beneath a fact about that specific bird.

“When I walk into the restroom, I will hear ladies teaching each other about their birds,” says Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. “I’m washing my hands and thinking, ‘This is exactly what we wanted.’ People are talking about the birds they’ve seen or are going to see.”

Westland explains that the energy-efficient components of the redesign were helpful in getting the entire staff on board for the restroom upgrade. The plumbing is now improved with low-flowing toilets.

“We wanted to create an experience for people,” Westland continues. “Not only are we going to have clean restrooms, we’re going to have an experience. We know that people on average use about 90 seconds, sometimes a lot more if they’ve got kids, in the restroom. So we’ve got a captive audience, why don’t we keep educating them while they’re in the restroom?”

Importance of Restroom Design

According to a recent survey conducted by Cintas, 95 percent of people will not return to a business if they’ve had a negative restroom experience there. That becomes a sales driver, says Mulcahey.

“It really resonates when you see these businesses that are willing to take that extra step to invest in – of all places – their restroom to make sure the customer has a positive, memorable experience,” he explains.

If a patron has a negative experience, then that might lead them to think more about how the rest of the facility must look or operate.

On the other hand, he adds, many facilities are raising the bar when it comes to restroom design and cleanliness, creating a better customer service experience overall. “Making sure the restrooms are a part of the experience is very important.”

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Impact of an Outstanding Restroom

Westland says they’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the refuge’s new restroom. Patrons sometimes drive hours to get to the refuge, and their first stop upon arrival is often the restroom. She adds that about 8,000 schoolchildren visit the refuge each year, which stresses the importance of the educational aspects.

It’s a teachable moment just waiting in line outside the restrooms. They’ll see the manatees made of old bike tires and discuss art and recycling materials. There’s a plastic bag floating in one of the murals, which leads to discussions about keeping plastics out of the water and how it’s harmful to the animals.

“People rate where they go and spend their time based on customer service and quality restrooms,” Westland says. “If you can make it fun and exciting, even better. I think we’re going to see a big advantage over other places.”

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