URBAN FARMERS MAINTAIN THE TURF, LAWN & LANDSCAPE INDUSTRY
It's called the green industry and the lawn care operators, landscape contractors, golf course superintendents and others who tend to it could be considered urban farmers. In comparing it to agriculture, it's not that the grass is greener in the turf and ornamentals market - it's the fact that there is grass. And lots of it.
Grass, flowers, trees and shrubs are crops that make up this market. The landscape industry consists of home and commercial lawns, parks, and recreational areas including golf courses and other sports fields.
SPECIALTY MARKETS DEFINED
The turf and ornamentals market is considered a specialty market. According to Allen James, executive director of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), specialty turf and ornamental products are used in lawns, gardens, greenhouses, nurseries, parks, sports fields and golf courses. Specialty products are also used for pest control in and around homes, businesses, lakes, ponds, forests and rights of way.
"A specialty product is generally not developed for use in agriculture. It has non-food and fiber uses," James adds. RISE represents specialty pesticide manufacturers, formulators and distributors.
Many of the product manufacturers and marketers in the turf and ornamentals market are also players in agriculture. While there are similarities between the two, there are just as many differences.
"There's no crop rotation, no annual replanting and no harvest. It's maintaining the same crop year after year," says Pat Jones, publisher of Golfdom magazine, in describing his industry.
BILLION DOLLAR GOLF MARKET
Golfdom magazine's readers are golf course superintendents and architects who make up a $7.2 billion golf course maintenance and development market. "Golf course superintendents maintain a very unnatural environment," Jones explains. "Grass is not meant to be cut at one-eighth-an-inch. Turf is a crop continually under stress."
The building and maintenance of golf courses is big business. According to Jones, there are 16,800 golf courses in the United States. On average, between 350 and 400 new golf courses are opened each year. However, the number of people playing golf has not increased. In fact, the number of rounds played per year has remained flat.
"More courses are competing for the same number of players making the actual condition of the course ever so important," Jones says.
Television influences many who play golf. "I call it the Augusta National Syndrome. Every April viewers see the Masters Tournament played on this course and they ask, 'Why can't my course look like that?' It creates frustration and stress among superintendents who don't have the big maintenance budgets to perfectly maintain the turf," Jones points out.
Annual maintenance budgets at golf courses average between $200,000 and $500,000 per year. A nine-hole community course may spend $75,000 for maintenance while private courses like Augusta have multi-million dollar budgets.
"The largest cost is labor," explains Jones, "followed by fungicides, pesticides and then equipment."
ENTERING THE MARKET
Jones says he often gets calls from agri-marketers that want information about entering the golf course maintenance market with their products. "I tell them superintendents have a high degree of brand loyalty, so it's not an easy market to enter. However, it is a market that is easy to penetrate," Jones explains. "There are only 16,000 golf course superintendents and the courses they work on don't move around. They're easy to find and they usually have the budgets to spend on products that deliver."
Long known for its market leadership in providing agricultural equipment to farmers, John Deere entered the golf and turf equipment market in 1986.
Ken Edwards, who was in Deere's agricultural division prior to 1986 and helped plan the entry into the golf market, says the company wanted to diversify and not depend just on the ag economy. It is now the official equipment supplier for the PGA Tour.
"We already knew how to take care of our ag customers with great product support and parts. We knew we could expand our product line," says Edwards, business manager for Deere's Golf and Turf Products Group, based in Raleigh, N.C.
The market was right for Deere and continues to grow. Edwards sites the immaculate conditioning of courses as one reason for growth in equipment sales. "Fairways are being maintained like greens. They now look and act like greens with superintendents mowing them to the same height," he says.
Equipment has also changed to meet the needs of the courses and the superintendents maintaining them. "Equipment is no longer large, heavy and cumbersome. It's compact, lightweight and easy to handle," Edwards adds.
Deere's entry into the market wasn't easy. Golfdom's Jones says it took superintendents awhile to overcome skepticism toward the ag equipment company as it tried to make its way into the golf course market. "Superintendents are real cautious about what they use and you can't blame them. If they kill the turf, they don't get a second chance next year. They're usually out of a job," Jones explains.
"We had to work harder and prove we knew how to make and manufacture golf course equipment," Edwards says. "One way we did that was by listening to our golf course customers."
Through a program called Feedback, Deere has brought more than 3000 superintendents to its Moline, Ill., headquarters to critique concept machines and to share their opinions with engineers and marketing personnel.
"It's this kind of foresight and the use of literally thousands of outside consultants that has led to John Deere's phenomenal growth in the market," says Edwards.
Another innovation helping the business grow is the sale of pre-owned and reconditioned John Deere golf and turf equipment, available through distributors. Equipment that is returned to the company from its two- and three-year leases is reconditioned and made available to courses that might not have been able to afford the equipment brand new.
Edwards says the company is within eyesight of being the market leader for golf course maintenance equipment. "We'll never be the multi-billion dollar industry that agriculture is because there are just more farms worldwide than golf courses. But we will be the high-tech leader using innovation to grow and change the golf course market."
TENDING LAWNS & LANDSCAPES
Another segment of the green industry, and one that hits closer to home, is the professional landscape, lawn care and tree care market. This area, too, has seen phenomenal growth over the last decade thanks to consumer demand fueled by a robust economy and an aging population.
According to a Gallup poll released in 1999, more than 21 million U.S. households alone spent a record $16.8 billion on lawn, landscape and tree care services in 1998. This represents a $2.2 billion increase in total spending over the previous year and a 32 percent increase in the average amount spent by each household on these professional services.
Cindy Code, publisher of Lawn and Landscape magazine, says two-income families who are entertaining more at home contribute to the growth of the industry Lawn and Landscape magazine serves the professional lawn and landscape market, which Code estimates is a $60 billion maket made up of 70,000 businesses.
Full-service lawn and landscape companies are not just mowing, applying pesticides, seeding, landscaping, irrigating and caring for flowers, trees and shrubs, but they also remove snow, hang holiday lights and add night-time lighting.
"It used to be that a lawn care company would do one thing, like apply pesticides and fertilizers. Now there's a trend toward full service because customers want to hire one source," says Code.
Marketers are reaching the lawn and landscape industry in traditional ways, such as direct mail. Code says list rentals through the publication have increased. "Advertisers tell us their print budgets are being cut and they're trying direct marketing instead," she says.
Face-to-face marketing is on the rise, as well. Code's company offers educational conferences as well as personalized roundtable discussions in which readers are invited by the magazine on behalf of suppliers to attend the event and discuss various hot topics.
The magazine, along with its advertisers, is using the Internet more, Code says. A once-a-week electronic newsletter delivers online-only articles to over 5,000 people.
Code predicts that as the value of having a nice lawn and landscape becomes less of a luxury and more of a necessity the growth of the industry will slow down. "Throughout the '90s, landscaping added value to one's property for enjoyment while owning it and for resale value. Now everyone's doing it and it's become a necessity, just like pest control services," Code says.
MANUFACTURERS THINK GREEN
Pesticide manufacturers have long known the benefits of selling products to the green industry and many have separate divisions for agricultural crops and turf and ornamental products.
"We're still part of crop protection, but we have a separate marketing group for our non-crop products," says Randy Williams, vice president of global turf and ornamental products for Novartis.
"Most of our products are developed for agricultural crops, with turf and ornamental as an extension," Williams says. He notes that some products, such as Diazinon insecticide and Barricade fungicide, do end up being sold exclusively in the turf and ornamental market.
Novartis' turf and ornamental market, which sells to golf course superintendents as well as lawn and landscape professionals, is a $200 million global business. Key markets besides the U.S. include Japan, France, Italy, Central and South America and the Netherlands.
The company could be called a trendsetter of mega-mergers. In less then five years Novartis is in its second merger negotiation. Mergers and acquisitions are happening throughout the green industry - from golf course management companies to lawn and landscape firms and equipment and pesticide suppliers. One industry source counted over 20 chemical industry mergers and acquisitions since the early 1990s.
The green industry faces challenges such as consolidation, labor shortages and resistance towards the use of pesticides in the urban environment. The green industry may not see the green cash pouring in like it did during the '90s. There will, however, always be those aspiring to play golf like Tiger Woods on courses similar to those they view on TV and yearning for backyards that look like the slick pages of a gardening magazine. AM
Angela Bendorf, located in Raleigh, N.C., has spent over a decade as a writer and public relations specialist in the green industry.