© caroline hine

The basic plot arc: someone has a promising idea, develops it, takes the product to market, makes mistakes, has some success (hopefully!) and the business grows. It’s an emotional — and exciting — adventure. Even though the plot points are similar, every journey to market is unique.

For Rodney Hine, president of HineCraft LLC and superintendent at Boston Golf Club in Hingham, Massachusetts, his invention of TurfTrainer was one of necessity. Hine was trying to reduce grain on greens and he wanted a better alternative to grooming and the current brushes. Hine began prototyping a brush that would satisfy all of his requirements and TurfTrainer was born. Hine started trying it on a few greens and the product was working. “If the turf is handling summer stress reasonably, then I have every confidence to brush with it,” he says. “Seeing good results, I had a greens chairman who encouraged me to patent it.”

Jeff Stahman, who owns TurfMend with his wife, Amy, also developed a product out of necessity. When Stahman shared his turf repair blend with a struggling superintendent, he was encouraged to think about selling it. “I worked in the industry for a long time,” he says. “You take what you feel is the best from everyone and make it your own. I created a blend that is effective and now the goal is to have it available for field managers, homeowners, landscape companies, superintendents, whoever. We want our blends to save people time and money.”

Working at Skagit Golf & Country Club in Burlington, Washington, Rob Roberts was inspired by challenges he faced while spraying. There wasn’t an easy way to keep the cups clean. Roberts started using old CDs to cover the cup and pieces of tape to make a tab in the middle to lift the CD. “But the tape would come off, the CDs would break and you still had to touch it,” he says. “Then I wanted something to grab the tab, like a garbage picker. Thankfully, the idea evolved to using a metal tab on a circular cup cover that you could lift up and replace with a magnetic wand.” It took more than five years but the present design for Spray Caddie was finalized. “We tested it on our course and it worked great,” Roberts says. “Now, we’d be lost without it.”

Rob Roberts is the inventor of Spray Caddie, a solution to help keep cups clean while spraying.
© Courtesy of spray caddie

Hine, Stahman and Roberts share common characteristics: a background in turf, desire to improve turf maintenance and they genuinely want to help others. They also have supportive spouses who have been part of their journey since the start.

Hine’s wife, Caroline, helps with strategy, administration and more. “Caroline is fantastic not only as my life partner but as a business partner,” Hine says. “Sometimes she is risk-averse where I might push and the balance between us creates very solid collaboration for ideas about how to move forward.”

Accounting, graphic design work and maintaining the website are part of what Amy, Stahman’s wife, does for TurfMend. When Stahman started working on TurfMend, they both acknowledged that profitability wasn’t as critical as finding something that Stahman was really interested in working on. “The moment I started this, I became happier, I was focused,” he says. “Amy works full-time and having support from her made this successful. I’m very lucky.”

Stacie, Roberts’s wife, has been a marketing consultant in the golf industry for nearly 30 years and it has been meaningful for them to have this success together. “When I felt the product was ready, she and I filed for the provisional patent,” Roberts says. “Stacie and her team developed the logo and website, we shot a video and the product has had a great launch.”

After making it through the product launch, the natural next step is to grow the business through volume or product lines — or both. Being a mat attached to the front bucket of your existing equipment, the big benefits of TurfTrainer are that it effectively brushes turf without impeding the sightline of the operator, is easy to store, quick to engage and works on all types of turf. The product is American-made with a core corporate value to keep costs low. “We wanted it to be available for as many budgets as possible,” Hine says. “We feel that strongly about how helpful it is.” TurfTrainer takes orders across the United States, and from the United Kingdom and Australia. They are also helping their community, with the product being partially assembled by a local ARC.

Two surprising benefits to Hine’s journey have been his own social growth and how much his children have learned. It’s easy to be an introvert in this business and concentrate only on work. “TurfTrainer has empowered me to be more interactive with my colleagues,” he says. “That is such a joy and has been a great reward.” His kids helped determine the company’s core values but also learned how to speak with older people, communicate clearly and work hard even when you’re really tired, like in the closing hours of trade shows.

Created by Jeff Stahman, TurfMend is a blend to help with divot recovery.
© courtesy of turfmend

Most significantly, they have witnessed that taking risks is part of life. “Fear of failure is preventing some young people from even trying,” Hine says. “It made me aware that as a leader, as a mentor, as a superintendent and as a father. It’s important to show that mistakes are a great opportunity to learn and grow. Mistakes let you refine your work, more so than success. That’s important for all people to realize.”

Stahman acknowledges the journey can be emotional and mistakes are part of it. Some days things are great; others it seems like everything is wrong. From the beginning, Barenbrug has been there for Stahman and TurfMend, helping them navigate seed laws and labelling while they handle the blending. At a critical point in TurfMend’s development, Stahman received some calls that the seed wasn’t germinating. They had chosen product bags that didn’t have enough breathing holes, affecting the viability of the seed. Barenbrug helped them get back on track.

Barenbrug U.S.A. president and CEO James Schneider reminded Stahman that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. Considering everything that was already bagged and sold, it was a big product loss and TurfMend could have folded. Instead, Barenbrug helped shoulder the loss and encouraged Stahman to see how the setback could become an opportunity to bounce back better. After their first year working together, Schneider also spent time with Amy and Jeff, sharing advice and talking about the business.

“Barenbrug has allowed me to focus on growing the business,” Stahman says. “I know they are going to blend it accurately, bag it and ship it where it needs to go. Having that support has allowed us to grow much quicker.” With some seed coming from abroad, TurfMend is almost 100 percent produced in the United States.

Another friend who helped is John Perry, who suggested Stahman change his slogan and add a bear to the logo (to repair the bare!). Stahman also helped a small business with a task and, in turn, one of their associates helped him with search engine optimization. Stahman works with many small, family-owned businesses. “So many people have helped us,” he says, “and I can help other small businesses. It’s critical. I absolutely do it.”

Roberts understands the power of helping one another. Spray Caddie’s launch was boosted by Steve Link, a former boss of Roberts, who posted a video of himself using the product on Twitter. In 48 hours, it had 9,000 views, sales picked up and they were shipping Spray Caddie starter kits two days later. Stacie was working the booth at the recent GCSAA Conference and Trade Show show in San Diego for Tahoma 31 Bermudagrass, and her client, Chad Adcock, vice president of business development for Sod Production Services, which licenses the grass, offered Rob space in the booth to demo Spay Caddie. The timing, less than two months after the Spray Caddie website launched, offered tremendous exposure and led to sales around the country.

“I’d second-guess it sometimes, but every time I went out and used it, those doubts were immediately gone” Roberts says. “When I started getting feedback from other superintendents and they were loving it, I knew it was the right thing to do.

“My biggest joy in developing Spray Caddie has been the process of figuring out my materials and perfecting the design, testing it, and developing it from an idea into a real product. To see it come to fruition, that’s really cool. I am looking forward to getting Spray Caddie in the hands of more superintendents to make spray applications easier, safer and cleaner.”

Commercially, the most significant thing these inventors have in common is that they have moved from a single idea into developing businesses. They all have ideas they are working on to further engage with and improve the turf maintenance industry. Those ideas are top secret for now, but they will surely complement what TurfTrainer, TurfMend and Spray Caddie are already offering. These families are working hard, succeeding, making friends and enjoying a journey that continues.

Lee Carr is a Northeast Ohio-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.