David Hartman went from controlling planes in the sky to landing on synthetic grass.
After a 24-year career as an air traffic controller, Hartman became the owner of the Escondido-based synthetic turf maker Easy-Turf, Inc. by accident.
“I own 2 & #733; acres of land north of Escondido in Hidden Meadows and did some landscaping work. I didn’t want to go with a lawn, because gophers and rabbits were a huge problem and the sun (gets) so hot that it would have been tough to keep a nice lawn,” Hartman recalled.
During his research, Hartman ran across EasyTurf, which was run as a side business by Kate and Kent Kellough.
He became their first residential customer, and such a believer in the product that he bought the firm three years ago for $100,000.
Hartman said people used to laugh about the fake grass, but not anymore.
Demand keeps rising, because compared with the real grass, turf requires little maintenance.
Among his biggest San Diego clients are such theme parks as SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park and Legoland California, along with the San Diego Humane Society, North County Animal Shelter and more than 1,000 private homes, said Hartman.
Hartman doesn’t miss the excitement of being in the control towers one bit.
“I enjoyed every minute of it , but this just makes sense , you don’t need water and who wants to mow a lawn?” he said.
Name: David Hartman.
Company: Easy-Turf, Inc.
Address: 750 N. Citracado Parkway, Suite 17, Escondido 92029.
Phone: (866) EASYTURF.
Founded: July 2000.
Prior experience: I was an air traffic controller for 24 years and recently retired.
Average hours worked weekly: 80.
Source of startup capital: $150,000 from savings.
Estimated 2005 revenue: $3.7 million.
2004 revenue: $2.1 million.
2003 revenue: $1.3 million.
2002 revenue: $515,000.
Number of employees: 18.
Web site: www.easyturf.com.
Born: Aug. 19, 1954, in Washington, D.C.
Education: Hamilton High School, Sussex, Wis.
City of residence: Escondido.
Family: Wife, Patricia.
Hobbies: Traveling, and hopefully again some day, golf.
Reason for getting into the business: I was a satisfied retail customer first, saw the potential, and offered to buy the entire business.
How I plan to grow the business: Until recently, we had been an installation only company. We are now able to work with the landscaping community and, in some cases, directly with homeowners to do their own installations. We have also expanded our business into Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Biggest plus of business ownership: The ability to set your own schedule and be your own boss.
Biggest drawback: Not being able to truly “get away” from the business.
Biggest business strength: Organizational skills, attention to detail and long-term vision. I saw the future of synthetic turf long before most others did.
Biggest business weakness: Reluctance to delegate and inability to “turn off” the business and relax.
Biggest risk: Taking our life savings and purchasing Easy-Turf, Inc.
Smartest business decision: Purchasing Easy-Turf, Inc.
Biggest business mistake: Trusting the wrong people.
Toughest career decision: Deciding to leave the security of a government job and depend entirely on Easy-Turf for our livelihood.
Biggest ongoing challenge: Balancing my business and personal life, finding and retaining good employees.
The most important part of my business: My relationship with Fieldturf International. They invented and perfected the current synthetic turf system. The same high quality Fieldturf products that we sell for residential and commercial applications are used on NFL, MLB, NCAA college and high school sports fields.
My business works best when: We work as a team and focus on our long-term goals.
How your business has changed through & #173; out the years: The acceptance of synthetic turf as an alternative to traditional grass and the number of knockoff competitors that have entered the market as a result.
Best way to stay competitive: Sell the best product available and provide great customer service.
How you measure success: Gross sales, percentage of growth, customer satisfaction, profit and personal satisfaction. We are the largest distributor of Fieldturf in the country and my competitive side wants to keep it that way.
Goals yet to be achieved: Educate everyone in Southern California as to the benefits of synthetic turf over natural grass.
My five-year business plan: Continue to grow Easy-Turf as the premier synthetic turf company in Southern California.
I would sell my business only if: I was offered the right price.
Guiding principles: Treat your customers and your employees as you would want to be treated.
Most admired entrepreneur: John Gilman, the chief executive officer of Fieldturf International.
Important lessons learned: Nobody is right all of the time. Listen to others and be willing to change your opinion based on their input.
Advice for those looking to go into business: Be committed, don’t go part way. Have enough capital available to allow your business to grow. Cash flow is always a problem for fledgling businesses.