Whitehall Landscapes of Nuneaton, Warwickshire offers schools, colleges and sports clubs a complete package of natural and synthetic turf maintenance, but has become a synthetic turf specialist for many of their clients, using state-of-the-art equipment from Charterhouse Turf Machinery.
Ian White has been in the industry for 18 years and recently expanded his business from its original landscaping focus.
"I decided to change the name to Whitehall Landscapes and Groundcare Contractors Ltd as we have become more diverse, dealing with natural and artificial turf," he explains. "We have become a bit of a 'one stop shop', because a lot of the schools, colleges and clubs we work for now have synthetic surfaces as well as turf. If you can go in there and offer the customers the whole package of synthetic and natural turf maintenance, it works out better all round."
With a team of six men, Ian works all over the country, undertaking landscaping, sports field construction and maintenance contracts for clients ranging from schools to premiership football clubs and golf courses.
"The majority of the business comes from word of mouth although we do advertise and mail shot potential customers as well as having our own website," Ian comments.
Synthetic surfaces have become an important part of the business in the last couple of years and Ian says: "The thing is that people think you can lay a synthetic surface and don't have to maintain it. At the moment it's a bit of an uphill struggle but I think that gradually, customers are starting to understand that you need to maintain synthetic surfaces to get the maximum lifespan out of them.
"I do have a hard time sometimes explaining to people that synthetic surfaces are not maintenance free," he sighs. "A lot of the carpet manufacturers failed to mention to their customers when laying a carpet that it will need to be maintained. That is changing now, and in the last 12 months many of the carpet manufacturers are saying that Charterhouse equipment should be used on their surfaces."
Ian has the majority of the machines from Charterhouse's synthetic turf range in his fleet. This includes the VertiAir infill cleaner, Verti-Top Vac, Verti-Groom and a Verti-Brush.
"I can do most of the maintenance jobs on synthetic surfaces from sand to the newer 3G types," he comments. "I am now looking into getting a Charterhouse Eliminator, for complete removal of the infill, as well - we have just had that on demonstration."
He explains that he initially came across the Charterhouse range via reports in the groundcare press, which persuaded him to investigate further.
"I shopped around, asked colleagues what they thought of the Charterhouse equipment and they seemed to come out on top as market leaders for synthetic kit" Ian explains. "I already knew how good Charterhouse machines are because I have been using their Verti-Drain and seeding machines on natural turf for years. I was well aware that they make very high quality equipment. I haven't seen any other manufacturer about at the moment that is in the same league."
He adds: "I then went along to some demonstrations and I was quite impressed when I saw the kit working for the first time!"
When Whitehall Landscapes gets the call to work on a synthetic surface, Ian explains that the groundsman will rarely have any idea about the right renovation procedure for their synthetic surface.
"More often than not, the groundsman will be entirely 'green' and only have an idea about what needs to be done on their natural surfaces. In many situations, the synthetic surfaces have been 'dropped in their laps', without much prior knowledge!" he says.
Ian says that many groundsmen admit that they haven't got a clue what to do and all they have been told is that they have got to brush the surface.
"But just brushing the surface isn't the answer," he insists. "There are even a lot of contractors out there that are just going in and sweeping the surfaces because they are not entirely sure what to do either."
However, Ian reckons that the logical approach works and that many of the problems that are encountered on natural turf apply to synthetic surfaces. He cites compaction as an example.
"On a natural turf pitch you would Verti-Drain and on a synthetic pitch you sweep. When we are topping up a synthetic pitch, it is similar to top dressing on a natural pitch. When we level up, we brush and groom - so that is the same as on natural turf. Many of the principles are actually the same."
Ian also aims to offer groundsmen help and advice as part of the service. "I sit the groundsmen down and show them what each machine does. I think it is important that they understand what I do, so that they know what they are spending their money on," he explains.
Whitehall Landscapes has invested in gaining the expertise needed to look after synthetic surfaces, with Ian and key staff attending an IOG course with David Rhodes, who acts as a synthetic surface consultant for Charterhouse, to get clued up on synthetics. They are also members of BALI, STRI and will shortly be members of SAPCA, gaining vital knowledge from briefings and events.
"You really need to be able to send an operator into the job who knows what he is talking about. We talk to and advise the client about what we're doing and, more importantly, why we are going to do a specific operation. I send all my guys on as many courses as I can because I think it is so important to get the training up to scratch," he says.
Educating customers seems to be paying off for the quality of surfaces at least, with higher end users, like the premiership clubs, having invested in routine maintenance equipment for their synthetic surfaces.
But for the contractor, having the right approach and the right machinery is the key to ongoing business. "The bottom line is that the Charterhouse synthetic turf maintenance range is simple to use. It is very good quality machinery and I haven't had any problems. The back-up is excellent too - I know that if I need anything, Curtis Allen at Charterhouse, from whom I bought all my synthetic maintenance equipment, is always at the end of the line to answer any queries I might have."