Market Niches: Turf

Brooke Wisdom

July 1, 2010

Turf wars

To meet the needs of various market niches, operators must move beyond the commodity mentality and offer consultative services.

By Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief

Although the fall football season is still weeks away, anyone attending a college — or even a high school — game is likely to notice that the gridiron gang doesn’t face off on the same type of football field their parents and grandparents played on. Football, soccer, baseball, and other athletic fields are regularly replacing old-fashioned grass with high-tech artificial turf designed to allow game play under various weather conditions and intended to prevent athlete injuries on slippery, dangerous muddy fields.

And as with so many standards, California is leading the way in terms of developing strict guidelines for such fields. “There is a big push for synthetic soccer fields and football fields,” says Bruce Woolpert, president and CEO of Watsonville, Calif.-based Graniterock. “In California, it’s being done with a sense of perfectionism that I don’t think is taking place across the whole country.”

For example, while some states are simply recommending synthetic turf with little detail to the base product below it, California has pushed for bases that drain quickly. “They want the water to drain very quickly through the artificial turf and the highly permeable aggregate base layer(s) and be channeled into pipes that carry the water off,” Woolpert says. “If it rains, you can use the field immediately afterward and it will be dry. Many of our athletic fields in California are now usable during the rain. Some of our college football teams play in the rain where — on a dirt field — that wasn’t possible.”

Understanding how to provide such a base has helped Graniterock capture business in the market. “Everything has become more sophisticated. Customer satisfaction now includes a knowledge component more than ever before. Customers rely on us more for knowledge or at least ideas,” he says. “I think it’s doubled or tripled over the last 20 years — just the time spent with customers providing knowledge back and forth.”

To solve this particular challenge, Graniterock worked with architects throughout the state to develop gradations and recorded the test results for both compaction and permeability so it would be able to certify the performance characteristics of the material with confidence while providing an aggregate product that would provide greater drainage capacity of an athletic field. The result? A field that is dry within 15 to 20 minutes after the rain stops.

“To have an athletic field that is smooth on top and drains on the bottom, you have to have up to two different gradations of material,” Woolpert says. “Most often, a bottom stone layer is placed in combination with a top stone layer for smoothness and planarity.”

The kind of give-and-take that leads to development of such new market niches is an evolution in the aggregates industry, which used to be viewed as a commodity market. “We’ve been invited by private sector owners to sit down and discuss their plans,” Woolpert says. “That didn’t happen for a materials supplier 20 years ago. All we needed to do then was supply materials to specification, and that was the end of it.” AM

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