On home turf: Eugene company touts benefits of artificial lawns for yards
Charlotte Pearce and Jim Olsen struggled with maintaining a healthy, lush lawn in their backyard.
Situated near Springfield’s Kelly Butte, their sloping yard was like a muddy sponge in the winter and cracked concrete in the summer.
“We tried all kinds of things in our backyard and nothing, I mean nothing, would work on it,” Pearce said.
But then she went to a home show and came across Alpha Turf NW, a Eugene company that installs artificial turf fields for homes and businesses.
“We felt it and said, ‘This is genius,’ ” she said.
This wasn’t the plastic-looking green outdoor carpet you find at your typical miniature golf course.
The turf sold by Alpha Turf NW is a thick artificial lawn with blades that resemble grass, and it has a cushion-like feel to the step.
It didn’t take much convincing for the Springfield couple to make the change. They had about 2,300 square feet of turf put in their backyard. Alpha Turf NW’s crew worked with Pearce in curving the turf’s edges around her garden to give it a sculpted, contoured look. That was in 2011, and Pearce has had no regrets.
“There’s no fertilizer, no mowing and it makes everything else look beautiful,” she said.
Alpha Turf NW owner Kyle Landon said his kids can be in the backyard on the turf during the winter and he doesn’t have to worry about them “tearing it up.”
Landon also hears from homeowners who are weary of cleaning up mud tracked into the house by pets or people, and are frustrated with having their lawns essentially unusable during the wet months.
The turf is not cheap. A typical installation for about 600 square feet costs about $7,500.
Alpha Turf NW installs an artificial turf made by EasyTurf in Calhoun, Ga.
The turf is made of blades of plastic woven into a porous backing material.
It has a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years, and comes with a 15-year warranty. Once it’s worn out, the turf can be recycled.
Landon started Alpha Turf NW in 2011 after seeing the potential market for residential turf applications in the region.
He said that demand has, indeed, materialized.
His firm has installed practice fields in customers’ backyards for kids to play soccer or lacrosse.
Alpha Turf NW has installed customized turf for homeowners who like to golf, including taller-bladed sections of artificial grass to simulate a “rough” part of a golf course.
The company can even tailor a putting green’s firmness to the client’s specifications to make the putting surface as fast and challenging as they’d like.
The installation is elaborate. Workers remove several inches of dirt and install a specific size of stone that promotes drainage. The turf prevents water from pooling and can handle dozens of inches of rain per hour. A blend of sand and ground rubber give the turf its underlying softness.
Once the turf is down, maintenance is minimal. The company supplies the customer with a turf rake to help fluff the turf. Some customers have Alpha Turf NW come out periodically — usually once a year — to freshen it and give it a more thorough cleaning and checkup. Homeowners with pets only need to rinse the turf after cleaning a mess.
Landon learned about the artificial turf business after working with a company that installed FieldTurf — the synthetic grass fields found in numerous sports stadiums around the world — at venues across the West Coast, including Autzen Stadium and Providence Park, where the Portland Timbers play.
He had graduated from the University of Oregon in 2007 with a degree in business, entering the labor market just as the nation’s economy was heading into the deepest downturn since the Great Depression. Unable to land a job using his degree, he got a job installing FieldTurf. As he learned about the product, he saw the potential demand for it and decided to make a pitch to become the exclusive installation company for EasyTurf — the residential and commercial line of FieldTurf — in Oregon and Washington.
He has to meet sales targets set by EasyTurf to maintain exclusive rights to the region, which hasn’t been difficult to do, he said.
He and his wife, Jamie, own the business, which is based out of a shop in southeast Eugene near the 30th Avenue exit and Interstate 5.
The company employs seven people, including Landon’s brother, who is its foreman. Landon would hire more, but struggles to find and keep motivated employees. Business picks up as the weather improves; he and his firm can’t do certain parts of the installation process when it’s too wet.
The housing construction market was still recovering in 2011, so business at Alpha Turf NW began slowly.
However, recent sales have been on a strong upward trend and now exceed $1 million a year.
Getting in before the market for artificial turf took off has been an advantage for Landon’s company.
Most of Alpha Turf NW’s demand has come from the Portland area, but Alpha Turf NW crews keep busy in Lane County and elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, as well as in Central Oregon and on the coast.
The firm often gets business from people who’ve seen one of the company’s lawns in person and liked what they saw.
Landon said his company is benefiting from a strong housing market and a greater confidence in the economy by residential and commercial customers.
Cutting water use has driven sales of artificial lawns in such places as Las Vegas and Southern California, but Landon said Oregonians seem more attracted to the idea of saving time on lawn care.
That’s one thing Charlotte Pearce has heard from visitors to her home in Springfield.
“There hasn’t been one man who hasn’t come into this yard and gone, ‘Ohhhhh!,’ ” she said. “People look at it and go, ‘Is this real?’ Then they reach down and touch and say, ‘This feels good, really good.’ ”