Add-on Biz: Cleaning up athletic turf

July 2, 2014 -  By
Pacheco Brothers Gardening staff determined it would be tough to get into artificial turf installation, but it found a niche in cleaning services. Photo: Pacheco Brothers Gardening

Pacheco Brothers Gardening staff determined it would be tough to get into artificial turf installation, but it found a niche in cleaning services. Photo: Pacheco Brothers Gardening

A California firm scores new clients with synthetic sports field maintenance.

With an increasing number of schools and parks installing synthetic turf fields, the leadership at Pacheco Brothers Gardening in Hayward, Calif., was looking for a way to reach those accounts and complement the sports field work it was already doing.

The company knew synthetic turf installation would be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, but it saw an opportunity in maintenance. Today, synthetic turf cleaning is a thriving niche for the company.

“We figured synthetic turf maintenance would nicely round out our turf renovation division and give us a way to get our foot in the door with clients who have synthetic fields as well as continue to service our existing clientele,” says Neal Hornbeck, sales manager with Pacheco.

Synthetic field maintenance is vital for the health and safety of athletes and to protect a field’s owner from liability, he says. Pacheco’s method not only disinfects the surface, but reduces compaction, which decreases the probability of an impact-related injury, such as a concussion. Most sports leagues measure that probability with a g-max rating. Fields with a higher g-max don’t absorb force well and they place more impact on an athlete during a surface collision. Typically, fields are deemed safe for play when their g-max rating is less than 200. The process Pacheco uses often reduces the g-max rating by an estimated 12 to 20 points, Hornbeck says.

Photo: Pacheco Brothers Gardening

Photo: Pacheco Brothers Gardening

Pacheco invested about $50,000 to get into this service. That included a Verti-Air attachment for the company’s existing tractors. Here’s how it works: A vertical rolling brush and turbine vacuum lift the crumb rubber and debris off the field and into a closed filter system to separate the debris from the crumb rubber. The latter is then dropped onto a vibrating perforated plate and is redistributed evenly across the surface. Pacheco crews complete the cleaning process by applying a disinfectant with a tractor-mounted, PTO-driven boom sprayer.

The service became profitable in two years, Hornbeck estimates. Today it’s a solid revenue driver for the company’s overall sports field division, which brings in $500,000 per year. But Hornbeck says even before it was in the black, artificial turf maintenance was adding value to the business, in part due to its repeat nature. Typically, the company performs cleanings once a year, but in some cases twice. Anything more than that would be too hard on the synthetic fibers. A two-man crew can treat a field in a day. An average job, such as the inside of a track (about 80,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet), runs about $2,800 for the Verti-Air cleaning/brushing, depending on drive time. Spraying adds another $900 or so. The company offers discounts for multiple fields at one location or multiple fields per customer. It also offers annual maintenance programs.

Although there’s not a lot of traditional competitors for this service, one challenge Pacheco faces is competition from synthetic turf installation companies. Many of them specify in their warranties that if another company cleans the field, it will void the warranty. Though Hornbeck says this type of claim is “illegal,” it causes hesitation in the sales process.

“Most of the time if it’s a large municipality or school district, they’ll have their legal department review the contract and confirm it’s an illegal claim and OK to use us for the cleaning,” he says. “It’s like a carpet company saying your warranty will be voided if you do your own vacuuming.”

Much of this work has come from existing clients, including local park districts and school districts within a 50-mile radius, he says. The company was already servicing the natural turf fields for these clients.

Supporting high school sports has been a great marketing tactic, too. It supports the California Interscholastic Federation, which is the California high school sports governing body, and local and regional divisions through advertising and sponsorships, Hornbeck says.

For other contractors considering this service, Hornbeck says to be sure you have the customer base to sell it and sustain it. “We’re in the San Francisco Bay area and have a pretty dense population with a lot of schools and a lot of opportunity,” Hornbeck says. “We were already servicing many of these clients, so adding the maintenance service was a natural add-on for us.”


Service Snapshot

Company: Pacheco Brothers Gardening
Location: Hayward, Calif.
Service: Synthetic turf cleaning
Why: To round out the firm’s sports field division
Biggest Challenge: “The installation contractors have a pretty strong grip on the customer base for cleaning,” says Neal Hornbeck, sales manager.
Best Tip: “This is not a service that could be full-time work, even in a busy region like ours,” he says. “It’s a nice add-on for a company that already services sports fields. Make sure you have the right demographic.”

 

About the Author:

Payton is a freelance writer with eight years of experience writing about the landscape industry.

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