This month we hear from Doug Schattinger, President, Pioneer Athletics, Cleveland, OH:

SportsTurf: How do you develop relationships with turf managers?

Schattinger: The best way to develop a relationship is to sit down with someone and listen. It’s important to ask questions and learn about what is important.

You need to work hard to prove that turf managers can rely on you to provide what they need and when they need it. Admit when you don’t know something and try to help them get the right answer for their needs.

SportsTurf: Do you have any recommendations for customers on how to get the most out of their supplier relationships?

Schattinger: Most of the companies in our industry are great at what they do. Many are small with limited resources. But, we can often be very flexible in ways that really help out our partners. Please be open with us. Share as much information as possible. Then, hold us accountable for the commitments we make.

SportsTurf: How do you test your paint products?

Schattinger: We have a very intensive process for testing our paints. First, we conduct a series of lab tests to make sure the product does what we need it to do. How does the product perform right after we blend it? How much does it change after 3 months in the oven or 6 months on the shelf? We test for brightness, hiding, grind, pH, durability, and changes due to ultra-violet exposure, among other things.

Once the product passes all of the lab tests, we conduct a series of tests on our natural grass test fields or our synthetic test area. In Cleveland, we have five natural grass plots totaling 30,000 square feet where we can test our products on Kentucky bluegrass, bermuda, rye and tall fescue. These plots are built to simulate everything from the highest-level professional sports field to a high school practice field. Additionally, we have 18 different types of synthetic turf installed on a single field. We apply our paints repeatedly to each type of turf to make sure the coating sprays well, looks great and has doesn’t harm the grass or synthetic surface. We conduct these tests on new products as well as existing products to make sure that they provide high quality, consistent performance.

After our internal tests are done, we work with sports turf leaders, both practitioners and academics, who can conduct further tests in different climates and with differing challenges. Our partners give us critical feedback as to whether the product is ready for the market or needs further revisions.

SportsTurf: Pioneer is involved in many high-profile events; are there regular determining factors that require you to be there, or is it game by game, depending on circumstances?

Schattinger: With the high quality and professionalism of sports turf managers, we rarely are required to be on site during high profile events. The facilities that host these events have professional crews that routinely accomplish miracles. However, there are some events where the windows are so tight or the conditions so unusual that the sports turf manager wants everyone on site. In these cases, our goal is to help the sports turf manager build a great plan with lots of contingencies and provide whatever help and resources we are able.

SportsTurf: Pioneer is a big supporter of STMA; what are the biggest benefits to being a commercial member?

Schattinger: There are multiple benefits to being involved with the STMA. On a strictly business perspective, we are able to reach thousands of educated sports turf managers who all have the potential to be our customers. Exhibiting at the annual Conference is a great way to have meaningful interaction with many of these people. More importantly to me, we are able to build relationships with leading experts and key opinion leaders that will help direct our investments in research and product development. Our super environmentally friendly product line resulted from a challenge issued by Dr. White during an STMA Conference.

The relationships that we are able to build at Conference benefit us throughout the year. The STMA has been key to our efforts to grow new sales, develop new markets and expand our footprint throughout the US. However, the biggest benefit we receive from being actively involved with the STMA is the opportunity to learn. The STMA, both at the national and local chapter levels, provide excellent opportunities to learn about the overall sports turf management industry as well as our unique segments.

Highly qualified, expert turf manager practitioners from every level of sport actively collaborate with us to try to make the entire industry better. This would never happen without active involvement in the STMA.

SportsTurf: Where is the industry regarding removable paint products for synthetic fields?

Schattinger: The market for removable paints for synthetic fields is moving in multiple directions. First, new technologies are providing opportunities for paints that are more durable, easier to remove and exhibit really great early water resistance to eliminate re-wetting. Our research is also providing new remover solutions that are more effective and more environmentally friendly. New removable aerosol paints are brighter, better looking, can be applied in the cold or before a storm and removed completely. High-end removal equipment has improved over the past few years, which allow facilities to change fields more quickly and cost effectively.

More companies are offering paints and remover solutions specific to synthetic fields. It’s important that sports turf managers exercise caution and thoroughly test any synthetic turf paints before they commit to fully lining a field or painting logos.

SportsTurf: What new technologies are currently are in R&D process? Anything you can share about them?

Schattinger: Our core goals are to provide products that are high performance, easy to use, environmentally friendly and provide a great value. We always have a pipeline of technologies that we are working to incorporate to achieve these goals. Since James Hlavaty, CSFM, has become our Natural Turf Product Line Manager, he has focused our efforts on providing real world solutions to real world problems without compromising on any of these goals. We expect to introduce a series of new products and significant product improvements over the next 18 months for both natural turf and synthetic fields.

SportsTurf: Are there any new markets that you are entering?

Schattinger: As far as our product line, we continue to focus on coatings and stripers for natural grass and synthetic turf. We continue to expand our sales force so that we can provide better support throughout the United States.

Prior to last year, we have never had employees in California. Now, we are thrilled to have four people from San Francisco to San Diego who can visit with our customers and provide a much better support structure.

SportsTurf