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 Copyright
 Title Page
 Abstract
 Table of Contents
 Introduction
 Part I: Objectives
 Part II: Research methods
 Part III: Research results
 Part IV: Market expansion...
 Reference






Group Title: Economic information report - Food and Resource Economics Department - EIR 00-2
Title: Market expansion strategies for turfgrass producers in the eastern United States
CITATION PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE PAGE TEXT
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027362/00001
 Material Information
Title: Market expansion strategies for turfgrass producers in the eastern United States
Series Title: Economic information report
Physical Description: iii, 26 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Haydu, John J
Hodges, Alan W ( Alan Wade ), 1959-
University of Florida -- Food and Resource Economics Dept
Publisher: University of Florida, Institute of Food and Resource Economics Dept., Florida Agriculture Experiment Stations, Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Place of Publication: Gainesville FL
Publication Date: <2000>
 Subjects
Subject: Turfgrasses industry -- Marketing -- East (U.S.)   ( lcsh )
Turf management -- East (U.S   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
 Notes
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 26).
Statement of Responsibility: John J. Haydu and Alan W. Hodges.
General Note: "April 2000"--Cover.
Funding: Economic information report (Gainesville, Fla.) ;
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00027362
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Marston Science Library, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
Holding Location: Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Engineering and Industrial Experiment Station; Institute for Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS), University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida
Resource Identifier: aleph - 002552245
oclc - 44093512
notis - AMR8462

Table of Contents
    Copyright
        Copyright
    Title Page
        Title Page 1
        Title Page 2
    Abstract
        Page i
        Page ii
    Table of Contents
        Page iii
    Introduction
        Page 1
    Part I: Objectives
        Page 2
    Part II: Research methods
        Page 2
        Study areas
            Page 2
        Case studies
            Page 3
        Telephone surveys
            Page 3
            Page 4
            Page 5
            Page 6
            Page 7
    Part III: Research results
        Page 8
        Sod purchasing characteristics
            Page 8
            Page 9
            Page 10
            Page 11
        Business expectations and market demand
            Page 12
            Page 13
        Desired product characteristics
            Page 14
            Purchasing criteria
                Page 15
            Features liked most about sod
                Page 16
                Page 17
                Page 18
            Features liked least about sod
                Page 19
                Page 20
    Part IV: Market expansion strategies
        Page 21
        Diversify distribution
            Page 21
        Target architects and developers
            Page 22
        Advertise more effectively
            Page 23
        Improve quality and professionalism
            Page 23
        Educate producers and consumers
            Page 24
        Target off-season periods
            Page 25
    Reference
        Page 26
Full Text





HISTORIC NOTE


The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source
(EDIS)

site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.






Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
of Florida




/00

J. J. Haydu
A. W. Hodges


Economic Information
Report El 00-2


Market Expansion Strategies for Turfgrass

Producers In the Eastern United States


4i* UNIVERSITY OF
- FLORIDA
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Food and Resource Economics Department
Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Gainesville, FL 32611


SDOC
100
F637fe
El
002


April 2000





Ci4:i1-. r~c


Market Expansion Strategies for Turfgrass Producers
in the Eastern United States


John J. Haydu and Alan W. Hodges


Economic Information Report EIR 00-2


!'":'vrPSTy QIO FF l.i LL)M A








Abstract


In 1998 the International Turfgrass Producers' Foundation (ITPF) partially funded a unique
research project to identify practical marketing strategies for increasing the demand for sod in the
Eastern U.S. This research, implemented by the University of Florida, consisted of two sequential
steps. In the first step, case studies were conducted in six states through personal interviews of 20
sod-related businesses. Their purpose was to identify the most critical factors influencing the
demand for sod. This information was necessary to design, develop and implement telephone
surveys, the second portion of the research. Over 500 firms, representing eight (8) distinct Standard
Industrial Classifications (SIC) in 26 states, were sampled. Data were analyzed by: 1) geographic
region northeast, east central, and southeast; 2) type of business general contractors and
developers, landscape architects and contractors, retail nurseries and garden centers, and sports turf
users; and 3) size of business as determined by annual sales (small = less than $500,000; medium
= $500,000-$2.5 million; large = $2.5-$10 million, and very large = more than $10 million).
The results of this research indicate that demand for sod is currently very strong within the
eastern U.S. The problem confronting producers is not one of demand but, essentially, ineffective
approaches to marketing and a lack of sufficient resources, both money and effort, directed at
reaching customers. This conclusion was drawn from information gathered in response to several
question areas from whom was sod purchased, what were customers looking for when they
purchased sod, did purchasing criteria vary by type of customer, how important is seasonality in the
demand for sod, and what are buyer expectations concerning the future demand for sod? Some key
findings follow.
Firstly, sod purchases are typically at the wholesale level directly from the farm unlike most
agricultural sectors that utilize traditional marketing channels in which one to many "middle men"
are involved. This direct approach to marketing suggests that many potential market niches may be
overlooked by producers as was evidenced when respondents complained of difficulty obtaining
enough sod. Secondly, sod shipments were too large for many businesses in the retail sector,
particularly garden centers with limited space. By exceeding the handling capacity of these retailers,
an entire segment of potential buyers is eliminated. Thirdly, sports turf users in the northeast appear
to represent an under-utilized market. Compared to other types of businesses in the region, this
group had the highest use of sod (36%) compared to seed. Sports turf businesses cannot afford
extended down time of their fields and because their turf-wear is much more intensive, it necessitates
frequent replacement. It would clearly be in the interest of sod producers to target this group more
aggressively. Finally, seasonally slow periods such as the beginning and end of winter may
represent small "market windows" for some producers. Given the intense competitive climate in the
spring, summer and early fall, it makes sense to focus additional attention on these markets during
the slower months of the year. Such a strategy could also help firms alleviate cash-flow constraints
that typically occur at this time of year.
Most respondents considered quality first when contemplating buying sod. In fact, quality was
valued substantially higher than price, the second-ranked characteristic. However, when analyzed
by type of buyer, general contractors and developers preferred price over quality. Third- and fourth-
ranked sod features were availability of supply and reliable delivery. Producers need to be aware
of the different preferences that exist among buyers since this will directly or indirectly affect market








demand. For instance, it makes little sense to emphasize quality to a particular contractor who
happens to be more concerned about price.
When respondents were asked to identify features liked most about sod when compared to seed,
rapid establishment was the clear winner. The fact that sod provides a "finished, professional look"
was a recognized and substantial benefit in contrast to seed. Attractive appearance was the second
most desirable feature, followed by erosion and weed control. Erosion control surfaced as a key
concern for developers since soil run-off is often associated with hefty fines levied by local
governments. Features liked least about sod were obvious high initial cost, heavy and dirty to
handle, and the labor intensiveness of installing sod.
Based on results of this study, it is clear that abundant opportunities are available in the eastern
U.S. to expand sod markets. Six major market strategies are recommended:
1. Diversify distribution sod producers are too concentrated at the farm/wholesale level and are
foregoing numerous opportunities with the retail sector and other smaller market niches.
2. Target architects and developers since this group specifies whether sod or seed is to be used,
producers need to target them with descriptive, accurate and timely information that focuses on
the many advantages of sod.
3. Advertise more effectively research indicates that sod producers do not advertise enough, do
not put their ads in the right places, and do not consider the most appropriate market niches.
4. Improve quality and professionalism quality was ranked as the most important feature desired
by buyers, yet it was also a major complaint. Producer organizations need to promote quality
by providing more educational programs for their members.
5. Educate producers and consumers although related to advertising, education should not be
confused with it. The sod production industry should become aggressive at designing,
developing and delivering educational material to both producers and consumers. Quality should
also be promoted by informing buyers of the many positive features of sod.
6. Target off-season periods producers are competing aggressively with each other during peak
seasons; but windows of opportunity are available in the off-season for producers who are
willing and able to find them.


Keywords: turfgrass, eastern United States, marketing, purchasing criteria, survey research.









Table of Contents


Abstract ............................................................. ..... i

Introduction ................... .......... ....... ............. .... ........ 1

Part I: Objectives ............................................................2

Part II: Research Methods ...................................................... 2
Study Areas ............................................................... 2
Case Studies ....... ................. ............ ........................... 3
Telephone Surveys ......... .......................................... ...... 3

Part III: Research Results .................................................. 8
Sod Purchasing Characteristics ............................................... 8
Business Expectations and Market Demand ................................... 12
Desired Product Characteristics .............................................. 14
Purchasing Criteria ................ .................................... 15
Features Liked Most about Sod ............................................ 16
Features Liked Least About Sod ........................................ 19

Part IV: Market Expansion Strategies ........................................... 21
Diversify distribution ................................................... 21
Target architects and developers ............................................. 22
Advertise more effectively ................................................. 23
Improve quality and professionalism ................. ....................... 23
Educate producers and consumers ......................................... 24
Target off-season periods ................................................... 25

References ................................................................26








Market Expansion Strategies for Turfgrass Producers
in the United States
by
John J. Haydu and Alan W. Hodges'

Introduction
Historically turfgrass research has focused on the numerous biological, physiological and
cultural aspects of sod production and maintenance. Such efforts have included making sod
varieties more resistant to pests and diseases, increasing off-take rates through improved cultural
practices, and enhancing harvesting efficiencies through technological innovations. While this
type of research clearly fulfills an important need for the turfgrass industry, at the same time it
does not address another problem confronting many farmers. The crux of this problem can be
stated quite simply. How prudent is it to invest thousands of dollars in capital and hundreds of
man-hours in labor cultivating a crop if, when harvest time arrives, the producer has trouble
selling it, at least in quantities and at prices that are acceptable to him?
Although waiting until the last minute to secure a market may seem negligent, it occurs
frequently throughout agriculture, and the turfgrass industry is no exception. Research in Florida
has shown that while production of sod has kept pace with market demand, producers have done
little to expand markets or add value to their product. Indeed, when adjusting for inflation,
nearly all major Florida grasses have declined considerably in price over the past 25 years
(Haydu, 1992, 1998).
This trend is not unique to Florida but common throughout the United States. Falling real
sod prices have occurred in spite of rising input costs, particularly for raw materials and labor,
resulting in an uncomfortable "cost-price" squeeze for many growers (Johnson, 1995). These
trends can and should be reversed.. The problem is not a production issue, most producers
already know how to grow quality sod, the real challenge is to sell turfgrass profitably and in
sufficient volumes once it is produced.
Although the present economic expansion has been both vigorous and unprecedented in its
duration and the ensuing growth in commercial and residential developments has been a boon to
the sod industry, most producers can easily recall when times were not so good. Producers
should take positive steps to prepare for an uncertain future. Market research is an effective tool
that helps take the "guess work" out of farming, which is precisely what this research addresses.
Sod typically is used for various applications new residential and commercial
developments, re-landscaping existing developments, sports turf facilities, and other commercial
applications including businesses, schools and roadsides. New developments are 70% of the
sod market, but there has been resistance by many developers, landscape architects and
contractors to utilize sod. Many of these professionals prefer the simplicity of installation and
the lower, up-front cost of seeded lawns. Sod producers need practical and economically feasible


John J. Haydu is a Professor and Alan W. Hodges is Coordinator of Economic Analysis with the
Department of Food & Resource Economics, Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, University of
Florida.








options to counter this situation, including alternatives that extend outside some of the more
traditional markets. Demand can be increased so that everyone benefits the task is simply to
determine the most feasible and effective methods of doing so.
This study sought to identify practical strategies for expanding sod markets while
simultaneously securing prices that would provide a reasonable return on investment. This dual
goal is not a simple task, for producers must increase their own market share without reducing or
restricting the market share of others. This goal can be achieved only if the total market for
turfgrass is enlarged. Therefore, the objective of this research was to ascertain how to enlarge the
entire turfgrass pie so that all producers have the opportunity to obtain a larger slice, as opposed
to merely redistributing the same sized pie among many competing producers.
This report consists of four main parts. In the first part, the study's overall objective and
several sub-objectives that support and define the direction of the research are identified. In part
two, research methods employed are presented and discussed. Part three introduces the findings
of the research. Due to the breadth and depth of the study, this section is comprised of several
topic areas, including a summary that highlights major results. The last part may be the most
important from the producers' standpoint, for it offers specific marketing recommendations
based on conclusions of the study.


Part I: Objectives
The objective of this study was to identify major factors that currently influence the demand
for turfgrass in selected metropolitan centers in the eastern United States. Market demand
opportunities were identified and practical strategies for increasing sales by individual producers
are proposed. Specific objectives of the project were to:
1. Identify and select key metropolitan areas in the northern and southern regions of the United
States from which to conduct case studies. Identify primary and secondary turfgrass markets
within these areas.
2. Determine the relative demand for primary turfgrass varieties. Identify major purchasers of
sod and interview buyers to determine the most feasible markets, particularly potential
market niches that may have been overlooked by producers.
3. Develop practical marketing strategies that can increase a producer's sales volume and
business profitability. Describe innovative methods that turfgrass associations can adopt to
increase demand for sod at the state or regional levels.


Part II: Research Methods
Study Areas. Research focused on the eastern portion of the United States. Due to the area's
geographic diversity and in order to make project results more applicable to producers in
different parts of the study area, it was further delineated into three sub-regions:
1. Northeast: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island,
Vermont.








options to counter this situation, including alternatives that extend outside some of the more
traditional markets. Demand can be increased so that everyone benefits the task is simply to
determine the most feasible and effective methods of doing so.
This study sought to identify practical strategies for expanding sod markets while
simultaneously securing prices that would provide a reasonable return on investment. This dual
goal is not a simple task, for producers must increase their own market share without reducing or
restricting the market share of others. This goal can be achieved only if the total market for
turfgrass is enlarged. Therefore, the objective of this research was to ascertain how to enlarge the
entire turfgrass pie so that all producers have the opportunity to obtain a larger slice, as opposed
to merely redistributing the same sized pie among many competing producers.
This report consists of four main parts. In the first part, the study's overall objective and
several sub-objectives that support and define the direction of the research are identified. In part
two, research methods employed are presented and discussed. Part three introduces the findings
of the research. Due to the breadth and depth of the study, this section is comprised of several
topic areas, including a summary that highlights major results. The last part may be the most
important from the producers' standpoint, for it offers specific marketing recommendations
based on conclusions of the study.


Part I: Objectives
The objective of this study was to identify major factors that currently influence the demand
for turfgrass in selected metropolitan centers in the eastern United States. Market demand
opportunities were identified and practical strategies for increasing sales by individual producers
are proposed. Specific objectives of the project were to:
1. Identify and select key metropolitan areas in the northern and southern regions of the United
States from which to conduct case studies. Identify primary and secondary turfgrass markets
within these areas.
2. Determine the relative demand for primary turfgrass varieties. Identify major purchasers of
sod and interview buyers to determine the most feasible markets, particularly potential
market niches that may have been overlooked by producers.
3. Develop practical marketing strategies that can increase a producer's sales volume and
business profitability. Describe innovative methods that turfgrass associations can adopt to
increase demand for sod at the state or regional levels.


Part II: Research Methods
Study Areas. Research focused on the eastern portion of the United States. Due to the area's
geographic diversity and in order to make project results more applicable to producers in
different parts of the study area, it was further delineated into three sub-regions:
1. Northeast: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island,
Vermont.








options to counter this situation, including alternatives that extend outside some of the more
traditional markets. Demand can be increased so that everyone benefits the task is simply to
determine the most feasible and effective methods of doing so.
This study sought to identify practical strategies for expanding sod markets while
simultaneously securing prices that would provide a reasonable return on investment. This dual
goal is not a simple task, for producers must increase their own market share without reducing or
restricting the market share of others. This goal can be achieved only if the total market for
turfgrass is enlarged. Therefore, the objective of this research was to ascertain how to enlarge the
entire turfgrass pie so that all producers have the opportunity to obtain a larger slice, as opposed
to merely redistributing the same sized pie among many competing producers.
This report consists of four main parts. In the first part, the study's overall objective and
several sub-objectives that support and define the direction of the research are identified. In part
two, research methods employed are presented and discussed. Part three introduces the findings
of the research. Due to the breadth and depth of the study, this section is comprised of several
topic areas, including a summary that highlights major results. The last part may be the most
important from the producers' standpoint, for it offers specific marketing recommendations
based on conclusions of the study.


Part I: Objectives
The objective of this study was to identify major factors that currently influence the demand
for turfgrass in selected metropolitan centers in the eastern United States. Market demand
opportunities were identified and practical strategies for increasing sales by individual producers
are proposed. Specific objectives of the project were to:
1. Identify and select key metropolitan areas in the northern and southern regions of the United
States from which to conduct case studies. Identify primary and secondary turfgrass markets
within these areas.
2. Determine the relative demand for primary turfgrass varieties. Identify major purchasers of
sod and interview buyers to determine the most feasible markets, particularly potential
market niches that may have been overlooked by producers.
3. Develop practical marketing strategies that can increase a producer's sales volume and
business profitability. Describe innovative methods that turfgrass associations can adopt to
increase demand for sod at the state or regional levels.


Part II: Research Methods
Study Areas. Research focused on the eastern portion of the United States. Due to the area's
geographic diversity and in order to make project results more applicable to producers in
different parts of the study area, it was further delineated into three sub-regions:
1. Northeast: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island,
Vermont.








2. East Central: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia.
3. Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Tennessee.


Case Studies. Case studies were conducted through personal interviews to identify important
factors affecting sod demand in each major geographic area. Case studies were used to initiate
this research because it allows for considerable breadth and depth in the investigation process.
The researchers needed to identify strategic market opportunities, some of which may have
appeared obvious, others less apparent and understood. To achieve this in-depth understanding,
lengthy discussions with key players were essential. In all, twenty (20) different companies were
interviewed in seven states. (Florida was not one of the states because of the researchers'
extensive knowledge of the industry in the state). A brief profile describing the types of
businesses and their geographic location is presented in Table 1. Specific businesses included
sod producers (5), developers (2), golf and country clubs (2), landscape design and/or
construction (3), a rake and seed contractor (1), landscape services (2), retail nurseries (4), sod
installer (1), a sod broker (1), and a public school maintenance supervisor (1). Preliminary
questionnaires were developed for the interviews, which were conducted at the business site and
took between 1 and 1 hours to complete. The information was compiled and organized for the
second phase of the research process, the telephone surveys.
Telephone Surveys. Whereas case studies provided the basic information from which to
determine strategic opportunities, telephone surveys were used to establish their legitimacy
through a large sample of representative firms. Phone surveys allow a wide spectrum of people
to be covered within a short time period. Although mail surveys can provide more detail,
acquiring an adequate sample of responses often takes many months. This contrasts to telephone
surveys that can be completed in a matter of weeks. However, a limitation of phone interviews is
that only a brief time is available to obtain the necessary data. Therefore, questions must be
concise and target a specific issue or need. Establishing which questions should or should not be
included in the interviews was an essential purpose of the case studies. Potential sod "buyers"
fell into four main categories based on Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes developed
by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These four sectors specified in this report for purposes
of brevity as: 1) General Contractors, 2) Landscape Services, 3) Retailers and 4) Sports Turf
Users include the following SIC categories:
*General Contractors General contractors and developers of single family housing
construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential
construction (SIC 1542).








2. East Central: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia.
3. Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Tennessee.


Case Studies. Case studies were conducted through personal interviews to identify important
factors affecting sod demand in each major geographic area. Case studies were used to initiate
this research because it allows for considerable breadth and depth in the investigation process.
The researchers needed to identify strategic market opportunities, some of which may have
appeared obvious, others less apparent and understood. To achieve this in-depth understanding,
lengthy discussions with key players were essential. In all, twenty (20) different companies were
interviewed in seven states. (Florida was not one of the states because of the researchers'
extensive knowledge of the industry in the state). A brief profile describing the types of
businesses and their geographic location is presented in Table 1. Specific businesses included
sod producers (5), developers (2), golf and country clubs (2), landscape design and/or
construction (3), a rake and seed contractor (1), landscape services (2), retail nurseries (4), sod
installer (1), a sod broker (1), and a public school maintenance supervisor (1). Preliminary
questionnaires were developed for the interviews, which were conducted at the business site and
took between 1 and 1 hours to complete. The information was compiled and organized for the
second phase of the research process, the telephone surveys.
Telephone Surveys. Whereas case studies provided the basic information from which to
determine strategic opportunities, telephone surveys were used to establish their legitimacy
through a large sample of representative firms. Phone surveys allow a wide spectrum of people
to be covered within a short time period. Although mail surveys can provide more detail,
acquiring an adequate sample of responses often takes many months. This contrasts to telephone
surveys that can be completed in a matter of weeks. However, a limitation of phone interviews is
that only a brief time is available to obtain the necessary data. Therefore, questions must be
concise and target a specific issue or need. Establishing which questions should or should not be
included in the interviews was an essential purpose of the case studies. Potential sod "buyers"
fell into four main categories based on Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes developed
by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These four sectors specified in this report for purposes
of brevity as: 1) General Contractors, 2) Landscape Services, 3) Retailers and 4) Sports Turf
Users include the following SIC categories:
*General Contractors General contractors and developers of single family housing
construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential
construction (SIC 1542).








Table 1. Summary of personal interviews conducted with turfgrass-related firms, in the eastern
region of the United States, 1999.

Annual
Type of Business State Business Product/Services and Markets
Volume

1. Sod Production New York $2 million Sod, roll out, delivery, bag soil. Major
customers: 90% wholesale, 10% retail.
Large garden centers, independents and
chains.

2. Sod Production; Pennsylvania $500,000 Sod, installation, nursery crops
Nursery Crops

3. Sod Production Maryland $1 million Sod, pickup and delivery

4. Sod Production North $3 million Sod growing, installation. Markets are
Carolina 40% residential, 40% commercial, 20%
golf courses

5. Sod Production Georgia $500,000 Sod, delivery up to 150 miles. Markets
to retailers and landscape contractors for
residential renovation.

6. Sod Production; North not available Grows nine varieties of turf, sod buying
Broker Carolina and delivery. Markets are landscapers,
homeowners, golf courses.

7. Developer Pennsylvania $6.5 million Build residential homes.

8. Landscape Services Maryland $2 million Maintenance, grading, stonework

9. Landscape Design Pennsylvania $400,000 Design and refurbish existing homes,
and Construction including sod installation.

10. Landscape North $800,000 Landscape design, installation,
Contracting Carolina maintenance, hardscaping.

11. Landscape Georgia $400,000 Landscape design and residential
Contracting construction. Sod sprigging.

12. Landscape Georgia $600,000 Landscape design and construction, retail
Contracting; Retail nursery.
Nursery

13. Hydroseeding Pennsylvania $700,000 Initial and finished grading, hydro-
Contractor seeding.

14. Sod Installer New York $2 million Grade and prepare soil. Install irrigation.
Lay sod.

15. School Grounds Georgia $2.5 million Grounds maintenance, hardscaping,
Maintenance budget landscape construction.









Annual
Type of Business State Business Product/Services and Markets
Volume
16. Retail Garden Alabama and $2 million Plant and garden supply, retailing, and
Center Georgia landscaping. Customers are 75%
homeowners and 25% large volume
buyers.
17. Retail Garden New York not available Sell nursery crops, sod.
Center
18. Retail Garden Maryland $5 million Nursery crops, sod, refurbish existing
Center; Landscape homes, provide sod to small landscape
Services contractors
19. Golf and Country Maryland $4 million Golf, dining, tennis, swimming
Club
20. Golf & Country North $5 million Large golf course, tennis, dining.
Club Carolina

* Landscape Services Landscape architects comprising landscape counseling and planning
(SIC 0781), lawn and garden services (SIC 0782), hydro-seeding contractors (SIC 078213),
sodding services (SIC 078203), landscape contractors (SIC 078204) and lawn maintenance
firms (SIC 078206).
* Retailers Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261)
* Sports Turf- Sports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and
membership sports and recreation clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700). Athletic
field maintenance (SIC 078216) and Stadiums, Arenas, and Athletic Fields (SIC 794104).
Within these four sectors, a random sample of firms was selected. Lists of firms were
purchased from a company called Marketing Systems Group, an authorized vendor for data
products from American Business Information, the original source for the lists. A total of 503
firms were interviewed (490 in telephone surveys and 13 from the personal interviews) and
included representatives from all 26 states that comprised the three regions. Data were then
analyzed based on these four sectors. As noted, each group actually represents a substantially
broader range of business types, accounting for a total of eight (8) SIC codes. These businesses
were selected because they represent both major and minor turfgrass markets and they were
considered to be the most likely to possess knowledge concerning market opportunities.
Data were also examined based on three additional criteria that could influence sod
purchases geographic location, size of business based on annual sales volume, and business
experience. Firms interviewed numbered 143 in the northeast (Table 2), 142 in the east central
region, and 218 in the southeast. When analyzed by type of business 54 general contractors
and developers, 150 landscape architects, 140 retail garden establishments and 159 sports turf
facilities were interviewed.








A total of 135 small, 139 medium, 52 large and 19 very large businesses, based on annual
business volume small (less than $500 thousand); medium ($500 thousand to $2.5 million);
large ($2.5 million $10 million); and very large (over $10 million), were interviewed (Table 3).
A fourth variable considered was the duration the company was in business.
Owners/managers with extensive turfgrass experience were desired since this group would have
considerable knowledge concerning challenges and opportunities for the sod production industry.
Figure 1 shows the average years in business for the four types of companies. Landscape
services averaged the least with 16.5 years, followed by general contractors with nearly 24 years,
sports turf users had almost 28 years and retailers had the most experience with just under 29
years. In summary, this research project constituted four sequential stages requiring nearly one
year to complete.

Table 2. Number of respondents interviewed, by turfgrass buyer category, in three eastern
regions of the United States in 1999.

Region'
Type of Business Rio
Tye of B s NE2 EC3 SE 4 Total Percent
General Contractors5 8 5 41 54 11%
Landscape Services6 39 46 65 150 30%
Retailers7 51 45 44 140 28%
Sports Turf 45 46 68 159 32%
Total All Buyers 143 142 218 503 100%
Percent 28% 43% 28% 100%
SIncludes 490 interviews from telephone surveys in addition to 13 interviews from the case studies.
2 Northeast includes the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island,
New York.
3East Central includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana,
Kentucky, West Virginia.
Southeast includes Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee,
North Carolina.
General contractors and developers of single family housing construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential
construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential construction (SIC 1542).
6Landscape architects and contractors comprising landscape counseling and planning (SIC 0781) and lawn and
Garden services (SIC 0782).
Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261).
s Sports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and membership sports and recreation
clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700).








Table 3. Number of respondents interviewed by type of business and annual sales volume.

General Landscape
Annual Sales Volume onracr eces Retailers Sports Turf Total
Contractor Services
Less than $500,000 4 67 31 33 135
$500,000 $2.5 million 20 34 46 39 139
$2.5 million $10 15 12 11 14 52
million
Over $10 million 8 2 4 5 19


Average Years in Business


Sports Turf



Retailer



Landscape Services



Contractor


0 5 10 15 20 25 30

Figure 1. Average years in business as specified by the type of respondent
interviewed, 1999.








Part III: Research Results
Planning is indispensable when considering any new business venture. When the sod
production industry wants to explore possibilities for expanding markets, the first step is to
gather as much information as possible about these potential markets Who are the major
players? How many of them are there? Where are they located? What are their purchasing
habits? How do selling transactions differ by type of business or geographic region? To expand
markets or find new market niches, it is vital to learn as much as possible to portray from several
perspectives primary and secondary sod markets. When sufficient information is obtained,
viable prospects can be examined and opportunities put forth to expand market demand.
Sod Purchasing Characteristics
Unlike many other agricultural commodities that utilize several marketing channels, such as
shipping point marketing firms or large integrated wholesalers, sod is handled quite simply and
uniformly by passing directly from the farm to the consumer. This tendency is illustrated in
Figure 2 for both quantities and dollar value. Between 85 and 95 percent of all sod was
purchased at the farm gate. Brokers represented the next substantial group, handling 13 percent
of physical volume but only 2 percent of actual dollar value. Retailers played an even smaller
role, with only 2 percent of respondents purchasing from these firms. The direct mode of
distribution is probably due to sod's perishable nature, as well as its considerable bulkiness and
weight.


Vendor Source for Sod
Square Feet Dollar Value













Sod Farms Brokers
SRetailers

Figure 2. Purchasing sources for sod by all buyer groups in the
northeast, east central and southeastern United States.








Part III: Research Results
Planning is indispensable when considering any new business venture. When the sod
production industry wants to explore possibilities for expanding markets, the first step is to
gather as much information as possible about these potential markets Who are the major
players? How many of them are there? Where are they located? What are their purchasing
habits? How do selling transactions differ by type of business or geographic region? To expand
markets or find new market niches, it is vital to learn as much as possible to portray from several
perspectives primary and secondary sod markets. When sufficient information is obtained,
viable prospects can be examined and opportunities put forth to expand market demand.
Sod Purchasing Characteristics
Unlike many other agricultural commodities that utilize several marketing channels, such as
shipping point marketing firms or large integrated wholesalers, sod is handled quite simply and
uniformly by passing directly from the farm to the consumer. This tendency is illustrated in
Figure 2 for both quantities and dollar value. Between 85 and 95 percent of all sod was
purchased at the farm gate. Brokers represented the next substantial group, handling 13 percent
of physical volume but only 2 percent of actual dollar value. Retailers played an even smaller
role, with only 2 percent of respondents purchasing from these firms. The direct mode of
distribution is probably due to sod's perishable nature, as well as its considerable bulkiness and
weight.


Vendor Source for Sod
Square Feet Dollar Value













Sod Farms Brokers
SRetailers

Figure 2. Purchasing sources for sod by all buyer groups in the
northeast, east central and southeastern United States.








Table 4 presents data on the quantities and values of sod purchased by four different types of
buyers in three regions of the eastern U.S. These numbers provide information on total
purchases within each group, derived from the sample of roughly 500 firms interviewed. In the
northeast, sports turf users purchased the most square feet of sod. In the east central portion,
landscape architects and design firms purchased the majority, and in the southeast the retail
group was on top.
The dominant group was not developers of residential sites or sports turf groups, but rather
the retail sector. Substantially more turf moved through the retail sector than the other outlets,
indicating their surprising market influence. Normally developers and landscape contractors are
perceived as the major market outlets for sod, not retail firms. Such results suggest that this
rather non-traditional segment may be gaining in prominence. This assertion was supported
while interviewing firms in the case studies. One large sod producer, for example, had been
selling 90 percent of total production to a retail chain. Primary buyers at retail firms are typically
homeowners, lawn maintenance firms, and very small landscape contractors. In conclusion, the
economic boom that has been the impetus behind robust growth in new housing starts has also
influenced owners of existing homes to renovate their residences.
What were the dominant turfgrass varieties purchased by major buyer groups in the survey
area? In the northeast, the single most important grass was bluegrass with 46 percent of the total
(Table 5). This was followed by a bluegrass/ fescue blend (16 percent) and fescue (13 percent).
For the east central portion of the study area, bluegrass/fescue dominated the market, comprising
nearly two-thirds (62%) of all sod purchased. Bluegrass accounted for roughly a quarter (27%)
of the total, followed distantly by bermudagrass at 6%. Unlike the other two regions, which were
dominated by one or two varieties, the southeast had four grasses sharing the market rather
evenly. Bermudagrass was the most notable with just under one-third share (31 percent) of the
market. St. Augustinegrass (17%), centipedegrass (16%) and fescue (15%), each with about half
as much, constituted the balance. Finally, by combining the three regions, the grass type
capturing the largest market share for the entire eastern U.S. can be determined the
bluegrass/fescue blend was ranked first with 32 percent. Bluegrass comprised nearly one-fifth
(19 percent) of the market, followed by bermudagrass (16 percent) and fescue (10 percent). The
two grasses with the smallest share were St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass, each with 7
percent.








Table 4. Average square feet purchased by turfgrass buyer group in the three eastern regions of
the United States in 1999.

Type of Buyer and Northeast' East Central 2 Southeast 3 Total
Number Respondents Square Ft Square Ft Square Ft Square Ft Percent
-------------------------Thousands----------------------
Contractor4 (54) 903 6,815 350 8,068 8%
L. Services5 (150) 1,018 22,870 3,455 27,343 28%
Retailer6 (140) 3,504 2,775 36,315 42,595 44%
Sports Turf7 (159) 14,167 2,975 1,405 18,548 19%
All Groups (503) 19,591 35,437 41,526 96,555 100%
Percent Share 20% 37% 43% 100% 100%
SIncludes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont.
2Includes Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West
Virginia.
Includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Tennessee.
4 General contractors and developers of single family housing construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential
construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential construction (SIC 1542).
Landscape architects and contractors comprising landscape counseling and planning (SIC 0781) and lawn and
garden services (SIC 0782).
6 Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261).
Sports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and membership sports and recreation
clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700).


Table 5. Top six turfgrass types purchased by survey respondents in three regions of the eastern
United States, 1999 data.

Grass Type Northeast' East Central2 Southeast3 Total
Bluegrass 46% 27% 1% 19%
Bluegrass/Fescue 16% 62% 2% 32%
Fescue 13% 5% 15% 10%
Bermudagrass 2% 6% 31% 16%
Centipedegrass 1% (-) 16% 7%
St. Augustinegrass 2% (-) 17% 7%
1 Includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont.
2 Includes Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West
Virginia.
Includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Tennessee.








Another important factor in this study is the proportion of land on which sod is used
compared to that where seed is used. From a marketing perspective, regions that utilize a greater
proportion of seed could potentially offer a correspondingly larger market for sod. In the
northeast, the average respondent used roughly one-quarter sod and three-quarters seed (Table 6).
In the east central portion of the country, which includes some states in the more southern
latitudes like Kentucky and Virginia, the portion of sod purchased increased to one-third.
Finally, the southeastern states were the near opposite of the northeast, with roughly three-
quarters sod purchased compared to only one-quarter seed. Interestingly, this use pattern was
fairly consistent across the different business categories. For instance, contractors in the
northeast tended to use seed about the same as did retailers and contractors. In general then, we
can conclude that market opportunities for increasing sod sales by enticing current grass seed
users to buy sod are more abundant in the north, where more seed is currently being used, and
perhaps less abundant the further south one goes. There are, however, some discrepancies.
Sports turf companies in the northeast used 36 percent sod, about 10 percent more than the other
groups, suggesting their preference for sod over seed. This makes sense given the nature of their
business, such as golf courses and athletic fields. Not only can these businesses not afford long
periods of down time from their fields, but turf-wear is much more intensive, necessitating more
frequent replacement. The combination of these two characteristics makes the demand for sod
by sports turf facilities extremely viable. Indeed, during the case studies, several respondents
believed that sports turf facilities under-utilized sod.

Table 6. Percent of product volume purchased in sod (as opposed to seed) in three regions of the
eastern United States, 1999 data.

Type of Buyer I Northeast' East Central2 Southeast' All Regions


General Contractors4 25% 19% 69% 37%
Landscape Architects5 28% 36% 72% 45%
Retailers 24% 37% 60% 40%
Sports Turf7 36% 31% 77% 48%
Average All Buyers 28% 31% 69% 43%

Northeast includes the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island,
Vermont.
2 East Central includes Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Virginia, West Virginia.
Southeast includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Tennessee.
4 General contractors and developers of single family housing construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential
construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential construction (SIC 1542).
5Landscape architects and contractors comprising landscape counseling and planning (SIC 0781) and lawn and
garden services (SIC 0782).
6 Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261).
7Sports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and membership sports and recreation
clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700).








A related variable influencing the utilization of sod is seasonality of the business. Marketing
strategies might target slow or fast periods, depending on the firm's objectives and where
opportunities develop. For the firms interviewed, the peak periods were in the spring and fall
and the slack periods were winter and summer (Figure 3). For some growers, the interval with
the most activity might indicate the greatest opportunities, since demand at this time would be
highest. On the other hand, since most producers are busiest at this time, it might also be the
most competitive period. Therefore, a possible strategy is for some producers to target periods of
low intensity that could create opportunities in certain markets. Slow winter months, for
example, might be a good chance for contacting state and local governments who need lower
quality grass for roadsides and drainage areas. Turf quality in northern areas is already
compromised during this time of year, so offering a lower price to move excess production may
be profitable. The point is, from a cash flow standpoint, it makes sense to even out the peaks and
troughs of business activity throughout the year. Just because business is slow for most
producers in winter months does not mean that it has to be for everyone.

Seasonality of Business



50

40-

30

20-

10


Fall Winter Spring Summer


Figure 3. Seasonality of business volume for turfgrass
related businesses, all regions.


Business Expectations and Market Demand
In an effort to determine current and future impacts to the sod market, people were asked how
their business volume had changed from the previous year (1998) and, if it had changed, how
much it had changed. Nearly all firms (87 percent), regardless of type, stated that business
activity had grown from the previous year (Table 7). Sports turf users, architects and retailers all








Table 7. Changes in business volume that occurred during 1998 for turfgrass related businesses.

Change in Business Volume from Previous Year
Increase Decrease No Change
Type of Percent Percent Percent
Business Number of Avg Number f Avg Number
of Firms % of Firms % of Firms
Firms Firms Firms
Contractors' 42 9% 46% 6 1% 51% 1
Architects2 118 27% 28% 11 3% 36% 3 1%
Retailers3 119 27% 24% 9 2% 11% 1
Sports Turf4 109 24% 26% 18 4% 36% 8 2%
Total 388 87% 31% 44 10% 33% 13 3%

General contractors and developers of single family housing construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential
construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential construction (SIC 1542).
2Landscape architects and contractors comprising landscape counseling and planning (SIC 0781) and lawn
October 26, 1999and garden services (SIC 0782).
Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261).
Sports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and membership sports and recreation
clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700).


claimed that business had increased roughly 25 percent from the previous year. General
contractors and developers indicated that business volume had grown by 46 percent. Such robust
expansion by this group bodes well for the sod industry, which depends heavily on new
residential and commercial construction. The average growth for all firms in this group was an
impressive 31 percent. Ten percent of firms claimed that business had declined and three percent
stated there was no change from the previous year. Although the group claiming that business
activity had declined was small, the percentage decline for the average business was quite
substantial. Why these firms encountered such financial turmoil amidst a generally prosperous
climate is unclear and open to speculation.
In an effort to obtain a brief glimpse into the future, respondents were asked about their
expectations regarding sod purchases for the coming year (Table 8). In this case, fewer firms
expressed such confidence (37 percent), although those that did were highly optimistic. Even the
retail firms that were highly conservative indicated a 25 percent increase, a very strong number
by any standards. From this level, expectations grew markedly. Landscape architects, design
companies, general contractors and developers all expected sod purchases to increase by more
than 50 percent. However, the most significant change came from the sports turf group, which
anticipated a near doubling (97 percent) of purchases in 1999. Another 37 percent of
respondents indicated they expected no change. Given that business volume was strong in 1998,
this result can be interpreted as an expression of business confidence. In spite of such optimism
from nearly three-quarters of all firms, some businesses were apprehensive. Roughly one-fourth
of respondents expected sod purchases to decline by nearly 50 percent. Interestingly, the group
expecting the largest reduction was sports turf users. Although not the same identical firms, they
were in the same category as those that had expressed confidence. This response could reflect








the cyclical nature of this industry, including the fact that it tends to be "project driven". During
a period of project activity, managers may embrace a more optimistic outlook since expansion
and growth are often associated with economic health. Conversely, during a project hiatus,
apprehensions may surface, including uncertainty about the economy and the financial risks a
downturn portends. Sports turf facilities provide leisure activities that rely almost exclusively on
discretionary income. During economic slowdowns, such expenditures are often the first to be
cut by consumers.

Table 8. Expectations, by turfgrass industry group, for sod purchases next year (year 2000).


Type of Expected Increase Expected Decrease No Change
Business Firms Percent Average Firms Percent Average Firms Percent

Contractors' 19 4% 58% 7 1% 43% 25 5%
Architects2 56 12% 51% 31 7% 44% 55 12%
Retailers3 57 12% 25% 30 7% 35% 40 9%
Sports Turf4 40 9% 94% 59 12% 63% 51 11%
Total 172 37% 127 27% 171 37%

1 General contractors and developers of single family housing construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential
construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential construction (SIC 1542).
2 Landscape architects and contractors comprising landscape counseling and planning (SIC 0781) and lawn
October 26, 1999and garden services (SIC 0782).
3 Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261).
SSports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and membership sports and recreation
clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700).


Desired Product Characteristics
Perhaps the most vital marketing function is to determine the types of products that
consumers want. Stated more technically, producers need to match product characteristics with
buyer expectations. The closer the match, the happier the consumer, and the more value they
attach to that product. From a producer's standpoint, value should translate into higher prices
and greater quantities sold, which in turn suggests higher profits. To determine buyer
expectations regarding sod, three inter-related questions were asked: (1) What are the most
important criteria you consider when purchasing sod? (2) What features do you like most about
sod? (3) What features do you like least about sod? Respondents were also requested to rank
criteria from most-to-least (4 = most; 1 = least) important. Results, presented in Tables 9 and 10,
are weighted averages for all firms, firms by geographic region and by type of business.
Highlights of these results follow.








1. Purchasing Criteria
Results ofAll Firms. Sod quality was the number one attribute cited by the sample of firms,
as indicated by a weighted value of 3.48 (Table 9). The reader should note that, because these
tabulations are weighted, even small differences between values can be significant. For example,
the variation between quality and price is considerable since price is ranked at 2.42, or more than
one full point below quality. This large differential indicates that sod quality is a far greater
concern to the average buyer than is price. The third most important feature was availability of
supply, with a weighted rank of 2.38. A final purchasing criterion was delivery. With a rank of
1.51, delivery was either not important or was viewed as a lesser issue compared to the other
product features.
Regional Differences. Only very minor differences appeared when the data was examined
by geographic location. Apparently, where people lived did not influence their views regarding
criteria for purchasing sod.
Type ofBusiness. Whereas regional influences were negligible, larger variations surfaced
when examined by type of business (Table 10; Figure 4). Quality, for example was given a high
rank of 3.62 by sports turf users, but a relatively low rank (2.65) by general contractors and
developers. Both retailers and architects also rated quality nearly as high as did sports turf users.
On the other hand, contractors placed considerable importance on price (3.10) compared to
architects (2.38), retailers (2.23) and sports turf (2.37). Availability of sod was ranked close to
the average of 2.38 for all businesses, and it was also very close to price in overall importance.
Rankings for delivery varied slightly more, the most significance being given by retailers (1.75)
and the least by architects (1.34). In summary, of the four purchasing criteria listed, quality and
price stood out as the most valued features. Furthermore, when selling sod, producers should
emphasize quality over price for all groups except contractors.
An interesting question is why the contractor group differed so much from others by placing
a premium on price rather than quality. Perhaps the most compelling reason is that sod
purchases represent a minor part of a contractor's business volume. Many general contractors
and developers may only deal with sod indirectly, through their landscape contractors.
Moreover, from a marketing perspective, this group is also furthest removed from the final
consumer whether it be a homeowner, a garden center shopper, or the member of a golf &
country club. Because they are more distant, they tend to be less aware of consumer concerns,
and so focus instead on something near and dear to them their own financial bottom line.
Conversely, retailers and sports turf users are located much closer to the consumer and are more
cognizant of the value these consumers place on turf quality.








Table 9. Importance of major product features affecting the purchase of sod, differentiated by
geographic region.

Major Sod Features Northeast' East Central 2 Southeast All Firms

1. Purchasing Criteria

Quality 3.54 3.53 3.40 3.48

Price 2.30 2.37 2.51 2.42

Availability 2.28 2.34 2.47 2.38

Delivery 1.65 1.45 1.46 1.51

2. Features Liked Most about Sod

Rapid Establishment 3.43 3.52 3.26 3.38

Attractive Appearance 3.00 2.80 2.81 2.86

Erosion Control 2.07 2.33 2.42 2.30

Weed Control 1.48 1.30 1.33 1.36
3. Features Liked Least about Sod

High Initial Cost 3.27 3.19 3.19 3.21

Labor to Install 3.00 3.09 3.26 3.14

Heavy and Dirty 2.23 2.41 2.39 2.35

Northeast includes the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island,
Vermont.
2 East Central includes Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Virginia, West Virginia.
Southeast includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Tennessee.

2. Features Liked Most about Sod
Results ofAll Firms. Rapid establishment was the most desired product feature with a 3.38
average weighted rank (Table 9). In both the case studies and telephone interviews, respondents
noted that sod provides a "finished, professional look" to their entire job, in contrast to seed that
generally conveys an image of work left undone. Attractive appearance was the second
dominant feature (2.86), which may be related to rapid establishment. Interestingly, even though
"appearance" is an aesthetic feature, as opposed to functional, it underscores the importance of
perception by the end-user. People expect a finished product to look good and sod provides that
quicker than seed. The last two features, erosion (2.30) and weed control (1.36), are more









Table 10. Importance of major product features affecting the purchase of sod, differentiated by
type of business.

Major Sod Features Contractor' Landscape Services Retailer' Sports Turf All Firms

1. Purchasing Criteria

Quality 2.65 3.54 3.56 3.62 3.48

Price 3.10 2.38 2.23 2.38 2.42

Availability 2.56 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38

Delivery 1.60 1.34 1.75 1.42 1.51
2. Features Liked Most about Sod

Rapid Establishment 3.29 3.16 3.50 3.52 3.38

Attractive Appearance 2.62 3.02 3.09 2.58 2.86

Erosion Control 2.76 2.26 2.09 2.35 2.30

Weed Control 1.33 1.40 1.33 1.36 1.36
3. Features Liked Least about Sod

High Initial Cost 3.37 3.25 3.20 3.14 3.21

Labor to Install 3.00 3.10 3.09 3.25 3.14

Heavy and Dirty 2.39 2.39 2.36 2.31 2.35

General contractors and developers of single family housing construction (SIC 1521), commercial residential
construction (SIC 1522) and non-residential construction (SIC 1542).
Landscape architects and contractors comprising landscape counseling and planning (SIC 0781) and lawn
October 26, 1999and garden services (SIC 0782).
Nurseries and garden centers (SIC 5261).
Sports turf and golf courses comprising public golf courses (SIC 7992) and membership sports and recreation
clubs, including private golf clubs (SIC 799700).


functional attributes and were less important to respondents. However, notice that erosion
control was ranked much higher than weed control. This result may stem from the fact that, in
some areas, erosion can carry with it hefty fines by local government authorities. Soil run-off is
viewed as harmful to streams and rivers and is increasingly becoming a sensitive issue with
environmental agencies.
Regional Differences. Of the four features presented, only erosion control showed any type
of variation with regards to geographic location of the respondent. People in the northeast
appeared to be least concerned (2.07) whereas those in the east central (2.33) and southeast (2.42)
ranked it slightly higher.









Major Purchasing Criteria


4
=3.5
S3-
f2.5
2I




0
Contractors Architects Retailers Sports Turf

Quality Price
EJ Availability Delivery


Figure 4. Comparison of the importance contractors, architects,
retailers and sports turf users, place on various
characteristics of sod.



Type ofBusiness. Although rapid establishment was ranked number one by all business
types, there were modest differences across business categories (Table 10). Sports turf users
ranked it highest (3.52) while landscape architect and design firms ranked it the lowest (3.16).
Attractive appearance was the second most important attribute desired by the average firm.
Retailers felt this was more critical (3.09), followed closely by architects (3.02). General
contractors and developers (2.62) and sports turf facilities (2.58) ranked attractive appearance
slightly lower. Note that sports turf firms emphasized "quality" as a purchasing criteria, but
quality for them may indicate tolerance to heavy traffic and perhaps the absence of weeds, as
opposed to color and texture. Erosion control was considered most important by general
contractors and developers (2.76), who also are the ones facing potential fines for soil run-off.
Sports turf users placed it as a moderate feature (2.35) while architects (2.26) and retailers (2.09)
valued it least. Again, sports turf facilities are probably confronted with erosion problems more
frequently in their work and so place a higher value on erosion control than retail firms who are
less likely to confront such situations.








3. Features Liked Least About Sod


Results ofAll Firms. Three undesirable sod characteristics listed were: a) high initial cost;
b) heavy and dirty; and c) the substantial labor requirements for installation. High initial cost
was ranked first (3.21) followed by labor (3.14) as the most prominent disliked characteristics
(Table 9). Clearly these characteristics are related the more labor that is required to complete
a job drives up overall costs. In both the case studies and telephone interviews, cost became the
overriding issue Although "heavy and dirty" was also cited repeatedly, it was not considered as
important (weight of 2.35), probably because most people recognize there is little that can be
done about it.
Regional Differences. Differences were negligible across regions. It is interesting to note
that, whereas in the northeast high initial cost ranked highest at 3.27, in the southeast labor to
install ranked highest at 3.26. This may point to the labor market situation in the southeast as a
factor to be considered.
Type of Business. Differences were minor across type of business (Table 10).


Responses on How to Increase Sod Demand
The following section summarizes some of the more salient comments extracted from the
case studies and the open-ended portion of the telephone surveys. Although it does not include
all the information from the interviews, it does represent what the researchers believe are the
more crucial observations those that will have the most impact on the market demand for sod.
These remarks were used to develop the "Market Expansion Strategies" section that follows.
1. Availability. Several noteworthy comments were made regarding a lack of sod availability.
First, buyers complained that sod is difficult to get no matter where one is. Producers need to
make more sod available in general. Second, remote locations such as rural areas present an
even greater obstacle to acquiring sod. Producers concentrate too much on urban centers at the
expense of smaller, less visible markets. To remedy this situation, producers should provide
more vendor locations to improve product access and customer convenience. Establishing "sod
depots" was a practical suggestion for increasing availability at the local level. Third, more sod
needs to be made available in smaller quantities. Frequently nurseries take larger shipments than
they need or can feasiblely sell. Because sod has a short shelf-life, spoilage is common.
Producers should offer smaller orders, perhaps 500 square feet, and eliminate the large,
minimum-sized orders of 2000 sq. ft. or more that exceed most nurseries' carrying capacity.
Fourth, have more year-around availability. Sod is always difficult to obtain in the summer
months; supplies should be better regulated. Producers should consider contract growing to their
larger volume customers to guarantee supply. Fifth, implement more effective advertising to let
customers know where to purchase sod. Sixth, more grass varieties are needed too few
choices are available, including a lack of blended grasses.
2. Cost. Respondents complained repeatedly about the high cost of sod. One individual
suggested that if producers made sod less expensive, more people would buy it, thereby
increasing demand. Others felt that high installation costs because of labor reduced sod demand.
In terms of positive advice, several people indicated that mechanized laying of big rolls
revolutionized their businesses, reducing labor requirements and costs, and sped up their








operation. Promote the use of sod-laying machinery in conjunction with more sod rolls in order
to increase demand. Second, cost comparisons with seed were also encouraged. The industry
needs to inform buyers that, when one takes into account the time factor involved in establishing
seed (1-2 years, depending on time of year it was planted), sod is probably cheaper. Third, some
complaints were made that sod uses too much water. Again, water consumption comparisons of
sod versus seed might be useful to educate consumers.
3. Delivery. As in the case above, producers were asked to reduce order sizes. Prohibitively
large orders have three negative consequences for producers: 1) the client is forced to buy more
than wanted, in which case the producer has an unhappy customer; 2) the potential customer
chooses to look elsewhere; or 3) the customer chooses seed over sod as a solution. The bottom
line under all three scenarios the producer loses a customer. A second major complaint was
unreliable delivery. Respondents felt that producers should deliver sod when the customer wants
it, not when it is convenient for the producer. Sod should also be delivered fresh don't cut it
today and deliver tomorrow or the day after. Third, cover sod during shipping so that it is
protected in hot weather. Buyers complained that the ends often get dried out and burned. After
sod is installed, it has an unsightly checkerboard appearance. To make matters worse, weeds
generally grow in the dead areas, which compounds the problem and angers the customer.
Fourth, some people believedfreight charges were too high. Producers need to assess whether
shipping costs are reasonable, including the prices charged by their distributors.
4. Quality. Recall that sod quality was the most important characteristic sought by buyers, yet it
was also a major complaint. First, a lack of consistency was cited from two perspectives: a)
Producers need to better monitor their own product quality. Buyers felt quality varied too much
from one shipment to the next; and b) Quality varied too much within the industry some
producers provide consistent and reliable quality, others do not. Sod growers who sell products
of inferior quality undermine the reputation of everyone. Providing consistent and reliable
quality through a grades and standards program is critical in the long run for the industry. A
second quality issue pertained to harvesting. Sod is often harvested immature, then falls apart by
the time the customer gets it. This makes landscapers, or whoever else is responsible for the
lawn, look bad; it also raises costs when the sod has to be replaced. Third, sodpurity is
compromised too often. Numerous citations were made of unacceptable contamination from
other grasses and weeds. Some people suggested developing a sod certification program (similar
to grades and standards). Related to the purity issue, an unacceptable incidence of contamination
from pests and diseases was cited. A comment was made that producers need to clean up their
sod before selling it. Fourth, respondents complained that producers weren't careful enough
about sod perishability often it is nearly dead by the time it arrives. Buyers recommend
supplying it fresher and cutting it with longer roots for quicker, more successful establishment.
Fifth, storage is a major issue that has been ignored. Buyers desperately need longer shelf life
for sod. Suggestions included allowing more space between the rolls or stacks and to consider
smaller pallets for nurseries. Garden centers felt they could sell more sod if smaller pallets were
offered in conjunction with more frequent deliveries. Nurseries lack space to lay out and water
sod. Sixth, incompatible soil types soils that come with sod are often different from the
customer's soil, which complicates the establishment process. Producers should try to provide a
closer match between their own soils and the soils of their customers.
5. Education & Marketing. The industry should promote the benefits of sod. First, develop








comparisons between sod and seed from several perspectives: a) time standpoint customer is
provided with an "instant" lawn; b) convenience sod eliminates tracking in mud and dirt into
newly built homes; c) environmental benefits sod filters out contaminants from cars and
trucks and prevents or reduces soil erosion; d) aesthetic features sod provides a beautiful
cover in city parks and is a clean place for children to play; and e) economic seed requires 1-2
years to attain the same quality as sod. Second, consider educating allied industries. Many
businesses use sod directly, or rely on it indirectly. Architects and developers, for example, use
sod but are less aware of its advantages, or the true costs of seeded areas. If businesses were
convinced of sod's benefits, they would use it more. Third, provide more advertising at the
regional and national level. The public needs more exposure. Consumers need to be targeted,
not just the garden centers or landscape businesses. If consumers want sod, they will inform the
garden centers, who in turn will supply more of it. Producers often advertise in the wrong places,
like trade magazines, rather than targeting media their customers listen to or read. Market more
to sports turf businesses, an overlooked market, by promoting the benefits of sod over artificial
turf.
6. Professionalism. First, producers should be more credible by standing behind their product
through guarantees. The industry has a bad reputation of stepping away from responsibility once
a sale is made. Growers should recognize their obligations, particularly with regard to delivery.
Obtaining on-time delivery is a problem, so work closer with shipping firms. Second, brokers
often behave unprofessionally by being too cut-throat. The sod industry should work closer with
brokers.


Part IV: Market Expansion Strategies
Results of this research indicate that sod producers in the eastern portion of the United States
have ample opportunities to increase demand for their product. Producers need to take individual
and collective action to reap the full potential of the market. The recommendations that follow
highlight some of the more significant market opportunities for producers; however, they should
not be viewed as the only ones. Indeed, if one message is clear from this research, opportunities
are nearly limitless and sod producers merely need to become committed in their attitude and
practical in their approach. With an economy still on firm ground, housing starts showing no
sign of diminishing, and the work force at full employment, the demand for sod should remain
strong in the foreseeable future.
1. Diversify distribution. Research results indicate that there is far too much concentration at
the farm/wholesale level. The distribution flow of sod is too restricted. Potential buyers need
more access. If more sod is moved to the retail sector whether through retail chains,
independent garden centers, or perhaps even "sod depots" established by producers sod
demand will increase. To do this, it means that producers must become more flexible in their
business practices. In other words, producers must overcome their tendency towards selling sod
only in large shipments. Targeting more sod at the retail level requires selling smaller quantities
to meet the constraints of the nurseries and garden centers. Nurseries stated repeatedly that they
could sell a lot more sod if they were allowed to purchase smaller inventories. Even large retail
chains are faced with space limitations when it comes to maintaining sod.
Similarly, producers should be willing to work with the retail sector to devise technologies








comparisons between sod and seed from several perspectives: a) time standpoint customer is
provided with an "instant" lawn; b) convenience sod eliminates tracking in mud and dirt into
newly built homes; c) environmental benefits sod filters out contaminants from cars and
trucks and prevents or reduces soil erosion; d) aesthetic features sod provides a beautiful
cover in city parks and is a clean place for children to play; and e) economic seed requires 1-2
years to attain the same quality as sod. Second, consider educating allied industries. Many
businesses use sod directly, or rely on it indirectly. Architects and developers, for example, use
sod but are less aware of its advantages, or the true costs of seeded areas. If businesses were
convinced of sod's benefits, they would use it more. Third, provide more advertising at the
regional and national level. The public needs more exposure. Consumers need to be targeted,
not just the garden centers or landscape businesses. If consumers want sod, they will inform the
garden centers, who in turn will supply more of it. Producers often advertise in the wrong places,
like trade magazines, rather than targeting media their customers listen to or read. Market more
to sports turf businesses, an overlooked market, by promoting the benefits of sod over artificial
turf.
6. Professionalism. First, producers should be more credible by standing behind their product
through guarantees. The industry has a bad reputation of stepping away from responsibility once
a sale is made. Growers should recognize their obligations, particularly with regard to delivery.
Obtaining on-time delivery is a problem, so work closer with shipping firms. Second, brokers
often behave unprofessionally by being too cut-throat. The sod industry should work closer with
brokers.


Part IV: Market Expansion Strategies
Results of this research indicate that sod producers in the eastern portion of the United States
have ample opportunities to increase demand for their product. Producers need to take individual
and collective action to reap the full potential of the market. The recommendations that follow
highlight some of the more significant market opportunities for producers; however, they should
not be viewed as the only ones. Indeed, if one message is clear from this research, opportunities
are nearly limitless and sod producers merely need to become committed in their attitude and
practical in their approach. With an economy still on firm ground, housing starts showing no
sign of diminishing, and the work force at full employment, the demand for sod should remain
strong in the foreseeable future.
1. Diversify distribution. Research results indicate that there is far too much concentration at
the farm/wholesale level. The distribution flow of sod is too restricted. Potential buyers need
more access. If more sod is moved to the retail sector whether through retail chains,
independent garden centers, or perhaps even "sod depots" established by producers sod
demand will increase. To do this, it means that producers must become more flexible in their
business practices. In other words, producers must overcome their tendency towards selling sod
only in large shipments. Targeting more sod at the retail level requires selling smaller quantities
to meet the constraints of the nurseries and garden centers. Nurseries stated repeatedly that they
could sell a lot more sod if they were allowed to purchase smaller inventories. Even large retail
chains are faced with space limitations when it comes to maintaining sod.
Similarly, producers should be willing to work with the retail sector to devise technologies








for increasing the length of time sod can be stored. To keep sod from deteriorating once it has
been cut, sod needs oxygen and water. To shelve sod, nurseries lay the sod in parking lots, or
any other place they can find, and water it. But this requires considerable space, something most
nurseries and garden centers lack. Perhaps a new type of pallet can be devised that allows spaces
between each sod layer on the pallet. This extra space would allow oxygen to permeate the
thatch and a misting system could supply water between the layers. Such a pallet system would
save considerable space, allow more sod to be stored, improve on sod quality that is considered a
premium feature, and result in substantially greater volumes of sod bought and sold.
Finally, producers should avoid shipping sod long distances and unprotected during periods
of extreme heat. Research indicated that frequently the buyer received sod with the ends dried
out and burned. This resulted in a "quilting" effect when the sod was laid. In addition,
respondents noted that these dead areas were highly prone to weeds within a short period. No
consumer would be happy with a quilted, weed infested lawn, particularly after spending so
much money purchasing it. The message is a little care can go a long way in keeping a
satisfied customer.
2. Target architects and developers. Architects and developers are the ones that specify what
is to be included, or not included, in a building site. Concentrate on developing educational
material and programs that target architects and developers of commercial and residential
complexes. These businesses are highly cost-conscious and need only to be convinced of the
benefits of sod. Rectify misconceptions about the cost of sod by comparing the total costs
associated with seed for the duration it takes to get it fully established. Sod has a bad reputation
because of the high initial cost, but seed has a prolonged cost that is generally overlooked. If sod
were included in the building budget, sod would actually be a very minor expense. For example,
assume that the price of sod is $0.30 square foot laid (land preparation not included since seeded
lawns also require it) and there is a lawn size of 3,000 square feet. Assume the cost of a new
home is $150,000. Then {$3,000 x 0.3 = nearly $1,000} {$150,000} = 0.67%, or one-third of
one percent! This is clearly not a financial obstacle by any stretch of the imagination. The
problem is that sod is not factored into the original budget so that the homeowner is faced with
this additional cost at the very end of the project, something that most people do not anticipate
and are not prepared for financially. If it were factored in initially, most homeowners would not
even notice the additional expense. Moreover, if the homeowners were educated as to the
benefits of sod, they would probably insist on it. During the personal interviews, developers
noted that seeding involved considerable aggravation and cost from: a) repeated repairs after
rains; b) fines levied by regulatory agencies for soil run-off; c) irate homeowners that were faced
with dirty homes from months of mud and dirt tracked in by kids, pets, and adults; and d) a bad
image for developers from an environmental and a professional standpoint. As one developer in
the northeast who was in the process of moving entirely out of seed and into sod, who
anticipated being 100% sod in the year 2000 and who was incorporating the cost as a line-item in
the budget put it:
"People who build a home and then seed their lawns end up unhappy.
After all that money, children or dogs track in mud and it ruins the
entire job. We could have done everything right and built a perfect
home. But the mud and dirt leave a bad taste in their mouths, and they
blame us for it even though it's not our fault. The problem is that one








angry customer tells ten others and the bad word keeps spreading.
This is a very large over-looked cost. "
Producers should also identify local areas that actively enforce fines and other penalties for
soil erosion. Architects and developers in these areas will be particularly receptive to being
introduced to a viable alternative to seed. Show them the numbers in terms of cost and
emphasize the other benefits as well (i.e., avoiding the aggravations associated with maintaining
seeded lawns). Consider also contacting city/county agencies and convince them of the many
benefits of sod.
3. Advertise more effectively. Advertising is something most businesses take for granted. One
would imagine that advertising is commonplace. Results of this research indicate that this may
be an erroneous assumption. Indeed, due primarily to the sustained economic expansion in the
U.S., it appears that in most areas of the survey region, demand exceeded supply. Therefore, if
producers are having trouble moving product, it is not from a lack of market demand. In fact,
one of the biggest complaints from customers was their frustrations in trying to find sod. Some
noted that if they did find it, it was too distant to purchase. What this suggests is that a major
obstacle to greater sales for many producers is a lack of basic communication. Producers need to
become much more aggressive in their advertising. This means not just more advertising, but
advertising more effectively. Identify who your customers are, where they are, and then identify
specific advertising media that will reach them. Submitting promotional materials in your
industry trade magazine is not the answer because most of your lay customers will never see it.
The turfgrass industry should consider implementing a top-notch national advertising,
campaign. Average consumers take turfgrass for granted they think little about how much
grass contributes to the quality of their lives by providing a safe playing environment for their
children, preventing soil erosion, reducing temperatures around the house during hot summer
days, and filtering out harmful chemicals that might otherwise reach vital water supplies.
Turfgrass needs more public exposure that promotes its many benefits. A positive image goes a
long way to alleviate unnecessary government regulations based on misconceptions or ignorance
about this important product.
4. Improve quality and professionalism. Quality was ranked as the most important purchasing
criterion among buyers. Unfortunately, lack of quality was also a major complaint. Improving
quality needs to be exercised not only from an individual producer standpoint but also
collectively by the industry. Research results indicates that too much poor quality sod is
presently being distributed. Poor quality from even one producer hurts everyone. Poor quality
comes in many forms sod infested with weeds, harmful insects, or disease; sod cut too soon
and left sitting in fields waiting for shipment; sod cut improperly (not enough soil, with dull
cutting blades, or unevenly) so that it falls apart by the time the customer receives it; sod
contaminated with unwanted grasses; etc. The sod production industry should consider strategies
for improving quality at the local, regional and national levels. Educational programs directed at
producers that emphasize the long-term benefits of quality benefits for everyone should be
developed. Grades and standards have been brought up before, but such a program has many
merits. Given the importance that buyers attribute to quality, it is clear that producers can use
this easily and effectively to increase demand.
Quality goes way beyond just trying to improve one's product. Rather, quality involves an








angry customer tells ten others and the bad word keeps spreading.
This is a very large over-looked cost. "
Producers should also identify local areas that actively enforce fines and other penalties for
soil erosion. Architects and developers in these areas will be particularly receptive to being
introduced to a viable alternative to seed. Show them the numbers in terms of cost and
emphasize the other benefits as well (i.e., avoiding the aggravations associated with maintaining
seeded lawns). Consider also contacting city/county agencies and convince them of the many
benefits of sod.
3. Advertise more effectively. Advertising is something most businesses take for granted. One
would imagine that advertising is commonplace. Results of this research indicate that this may
be an erroneous assumption. Indeed, due primarily to the sustained economic expansion in the
U.S., it appears that in most areas of the survey region, demand exceeded supply. Therefore, if
producers are having trouble moving product, it is not from a lack of market demand. In fact,
one of the biggest complaints from customers was their frustrations in trying to find sod. Some
noted that if they did find it, it was too distant to purchase. What this suggests is that a major
obstacle to greater sales for many producers is a lack of basic communication. Producers need to
become much more aggressive in their advertising. This means not just more advertising, but
advertising more effectively. Identify who your customers are, where they are, and then identify
specific advertising media that will reach them. Submitting promotional materials in your
industry trade magazine is not the answer because most of your lay customers will never see it.
The turfgrass industry should consider implementing a top-notch national advertising,
campaign. Average consumers take turfgrass for granted they think little about how much
grass contributes to the quality of their lives by providing a safe playing environment for their
children, preventing soil erosion, reducing temperatures around the house during hot summer
days, and filtering out harmful chemicals that might otherwise reach vital water supplies.
Turfgrass needs more public exposure that promotes its many benefits. A positive image goes a
long way to alleviate unnecessary government regulations based on misconceptions or ignorance
about this important product.
4. Improve quality and professionalism. Quality was ranked as the most important purchasing
criterion among buyers. Unfortunately, lack of quality was also a major complaint. Improving
quality needs to be exercised not only from an individual producer standpoint but also
collectively by the industry. Research results indicates that too much poor quality sod is
presently being distributed. Poor quality from even one producer hurts everyone. Poor quality
comes in many forms sod infested with weeds, harmful insects, or disease; sod cut too soon
and left sitting in fields waiting for shipment; sod cut improperly (not enough soil, with dull
cutting blades, or unevenly) so that it falls apart by the time the customer receives it; sod
contaminated with unwanted grasses; etc. The sod production industry should consider strategies
for improving quality at the local, regional and national levels. Educational programs directed at
producers that emphasize the long-term benefits of quality benefits for everyone should be
developed. Grades and standards have been brought up before, but such a program has many
merits. Given the importance that buyers attribute to quality, it is clear that producers can use
this easily and effectively to increase demand.
Quality goes way beyond just trying to improve one's product. Rather, quality involves an








attitude, a way of thinking, a philosophy of life that is embraced completely. Quality is a
thoroughly pragmatic, dollars and cents approach to management that, done honestly and
diligently, will enhance productivity, lower costs and increase net returns to the business.
Achieving quality isn't easy it is a never ending effort to improve. Quality programs try to
improve the way things are done to avoid or eliminate troubles before they arise, instead of
solving problems as they come up. The point is, nothing is free, cause and effect are real. If a
sod producer takes short cuts by reducing fertilizer, weed or pest control programs to save
money, in the long run it will cost money through a poor quality product. Buyers will remember
poor quality and soon look elsewhere. Moreover, the more it happens, the faster word spreads,
and a negative image begins to encompass the business. In economic good times, a firm might
get away with it, but eventually it will be an "Achilles' heel" and could easily lead to the
termination of the business.
Numerous respondents complained about late deliveries and/or producers that did not stand
behind their product. Professionalism, quality and business success are all inter-related. A
commitment to professional standards and the quality of the product are inseparable. A true
professional will not allow poor quality to leave the farm. Similarly, a professional embraces
ethical business practices, is reliable and efficient, and treats both employees and customers
right. Professionals are successful because they do things right, and everyone wants to do
business with someone who can be trusted, time and time again. Unprofessional behavior hurts
everyone other sod producers, the customers, and even the producer with the unacceptable
behavior.
5. Educate producers and consumers. The sod industry really needs to become aggressive at
promoting their product through educational programs. Although most people like sod once they
have it, serious misconceptions surround it. At least four critical areas should be addressed by
sod producers regarding education: 1) Cost the cost factor has already been discussed, but
people need to hear about it. Sod is not expensive, people only think it is. Therefore cost is an
erroneous perception among consumers. But erroneous perceptions, if they are not corrected,
have real life consequences. 2) Convenience consumers should be educated about the time
factor that sod provides a beautiful, green lawn with a clean playing environment almost
instantly. This should be an easy sell because Americans are notorious for demanding "instant
gratification". 3) Environment consumers should be taught about the environmental benefits of
sod, particularly in urban areas where pollutants from street run-off is excessive and dangerous.
Research has been done to show that turf acts as a natural filtering device the homeowner
needs to know about it. 4) Maintenance and Care sod frequently comes under attack during
periods of drought because it requires so much water. Actually, sod does not require
disproportionate amounts of water. The problem is not the sod, it is the homeowner or the
business who abuses it. People water lawns far too much. Moreover, the computerized watering
systems are a bane to the image of turfgrass because, once installed, the consumers think their
tasks are done after all, its automatic! The industry should educate consumers to monitor
their irrigation systems regularly to ensure they function properly (all the heads are on properly,
there are no major leaks, etc), that watering regimes are appropriate for the time of year, that the
system is turned off until the lawn needs additional watering after periods of heavy rainfall, etc.
The sod industry should take leadership by working with the irrigation industry in promoting
technologies that conserve water. In addition, develop inexpensive educational materials, such
as brochures and pamphlets that instruct homeowners how to care for their lawns in an








environmentally responsible manner. By doing this, community leaders will recognize that the
industry is acting responsibly and be more willing to be a partner during periods of drought,
rather than an antagonist and an enforcer.
6. Target off-season periods. Too much emphasis is placed on the spring and summer months.
Producers need to identify opportunities during the beginning and end of winter months when
outdoor activity is down. City/county governments, public and private schools, perhaps even
homeowners and developers may be receptive to buying sod if conditions are suitable. Since it is
likely that sod quality will be inferior during this period, consider selling it cheaper as a "Grade
B" material. By selling it at a lower price, more volume may be sold that could help producers
who are faced with unwanted inventories. Naturally, selling in off-periods will be influenced by
weather conditions, but small "windows" at the beginning and end of winter may be feasible,
particularly for certain areas like roadsides and highway rights-of-way. Moreover, sod has an
advantage over seed in that it is more easily established during these marginal periods. Finally,
producers located further south should recognize that these "windows of opportunity" will
remain open longer for them.
Many respondents complained about not being able to obtain sod when it was needed. This
indicates that some markets are not being served adequately. For instance, some people
complained that rural areas were being overlooked because producers were concentrating on
larger volume metropolitan centers. Clearly such markets represent tangible opportunities,
perhaps during off-season months. At the very least, this time should be used making contacts
for the spring, lining up customers, and selling as early as conditions allow.
Finally, sod producers should consider contract growing. Several respondents indicated they
would be interested in contracts if they could guarantee supply. Although contracting may not be
suitable for everyone, it can be particularly useful for larger volume buyers. Generally, both
parties specify the types of grass, quantities, pricess, and date(s) of delivery. Although it
involves certain risks to each party (e.g. if the market price of sod is lower than the contract
price at delivery time, the buyer loses. The converse of this would also be true.), contracts can be
written with contingencies to protect each party. Because of their many inherent benefits, the use
of contracts in agriculture continues to grow. It may prudent for the sod production industry to
explore this form of selling further.








References


Haydu, J. J. and J. L. Cisar. 1992. "An Economic and Agronomic Profile of Florida's Turfgrass
Sod Industry." Economics Report ER92-1, Food & Resource Economics Department,
Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
Haydu, J. J., J. L. Cisar and L. N. Satterthwaite. 1998. "An Economic and Agronomic Profile of
Florida's Turfgrass Sod Industry in 1996." Economics Report ER98-7, Food & Resource
Economics Department, Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
Johnson, Doyle, C. 1995. "The Future of Sod: A Look into the Crystal Ball." Speech presented
to Turfgrass Producers International, Orlando, FL, February 9th.




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