Drainage Management Systems
New technologies, new directions spurring new successes
Shifting from agricultural drainage to sportsturf has some surprising turns.
November 7, 2012 By Mick Claxton*
New technologies can help future-proof this country’s agricultural drainage contractors against any downturns ahead, helping them diversify into a potentially profitable high-growth sector. Maintaining sportsturf, from golf grounds to athletics fields and race courses, can reduce their dependency on the agricultural industry and its inherent ups and downs.
Increasing numbers of European contractors have successfully made similar moves, and are getting out of their crowded agricultural market after having established healthy, strong growth, sportsturf maintenance-based businesses.
This side of the Atlantic, one man already exploiting the potential is Michigan-based Dennis Rector. His entry into the sportsturf world is so successful he has changed his company name, from Rector Farm Drainage to Water Management Specialists Inc., to help underscore the new thrust of his business.
If you are already thinking it cannot be as easy as waking up one morning and deciding to move out of corn and into golf courses, you are right.
It involves devoting time and effort to showing potential new customers that you are offering them a whole new way of dealing with their problems, a way that can save them time, hassle and money, while producing better playing surfaces for their customers.
Dennis Rector has been there and is reaping the benefits of doing just that.
Unhappy with long-term growth prospects for his agricultural drainage business, he began looking for a new direction. He looked to changing trends in Europe, where growing numbers of contractors were switching to sportsturf and, with the help of emerging technologies and equipment developed specifically for that market, were experiencing much better margins than they could have hoped to achieve by working for farmers.
He began importing their techniques and equipment and has not looked back since.
Today his company is thriving and he is convinced that it will provide his sons, and perhaps their sons, with good, solid futures. Currently about half of its business comes from agri-industry customers and half from sportsturf maintenance, with the latter increasing all the time and yielding the better margins.
Importantly for stability, it now has legs in two separate industries, with obvious benefits should one of those industries hit particularly hard times.
Naturally, he has encountered problems but with a positive approach, both he and his business have become stronger and better equipped with each challenge overcome. “Typically we now work with country clubs, high schools and colleges, and for people running local community sports fields,” says Rector. “Building trust and relationships is crucial, and clients frequently come to regard us as advisors and partners, as well as drainage contractors. Being first in the field with something new is great, but persuading people to buy into it can be difficult.
“We had to work hard at first on convincing people to embrace new advances in drainage systems, even though much of the basics had already been developed, tried and perfected in Europe over many years,” adds Rector. “Difficulties have usually revolved around convincing clients that advancements in drainage designs and systems have been made which far outstretch the antiquated designs of the past – which have been proven not to live up to their expectations. Architects and owners can tend to cling to the familiar, only knowing what has been done in the past. Sometimes they only want a quick fix to a small area, and do not look at the bigger picture and realize that problems and failures of the system can all be corrected at one time.”
Building close local ties a plus
Rector has developed a close and beneficial working relationship with Gerry Korb from Port Industries, a company importing the latest specialist sportsturf equipment from the UK’s Shelton Sportsturf Drainage Solutions Ltd., a European leader in its market.
Simply taking agricultural-scale equipment and methods onto sports fields will rarely win new friends, or repeat business.
Most turf managers will expect, and demand, that a contractor drain today so that their customers can play tomorrow. Using the right equipment and technology Rector meets that demand time and time again. “A country club prides itself on its pristine, manicured fairways, and our equipment has to be tailored to minimize the disruption and damage caused,” explains Rector. “Traditional techniques involve digging trenches up to two feet wide with excavators, often leaving the facility unusable for weeks or months. With modern specialist equipment a drainage system can be installed with minimal disturbance, so that it is back in play almost immediately.”
Solving problems for two important golf clubs gave him a new image, overnight, as a turf drainage expert, with huge benefits to his business prospects. “I had not been allowed to bid on one contract because I was ‘only an agricultural drainage contractor.’ Two months later the same consultant was asking my advice as a sportsturf drainage expert.”
His employees like the new work and are motivated to produce the best results, greatly assisting his drive to provide the best service in their area.
An essential part of his inventory is a Shelton Supertrencher 625. Laser guided for ultimate accuracy, it is tractor mounted and uses circular saw type action to cut exceptionally clean, narrow trenches with surplus spoil going straight into a trailer running alongside.
The results have to be seen to be believed and, as the pictures show, really do enable him to deliver on his “drain today and play tomorrow” offer.
*Mick Claxton is the general manager for Shelton Sportsturf Drainage Solutions, based in Lincolnshire, England.
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