The Little Things
Moster Turf focuses on quality and efficient operation
While Moster Turf, Brookville, Ind., is one of the smaller turfgrass operations, it’s big on customer service. Gene and Sara Moster have operated the company since 1985, when they started with just 2 acres of sod. “We didn’t know how it would go in the rural area,” Gene said. Moster Turf emphasizes growing quality turfgrass and providing top-quality installation, and works toward continued success by focusing on cutting costs without cutting quality. Efficient operation is essential to business success, particularly in the current economy.
Located 30 miles west of Cincinnati, Moster Turf serves customers in about a 100-mile radius that includes the metro areas of Indianapolis, Ind., and Dayton, Ohio. In addition to producing sod, Moster Turf installs lawns, with about 65 percent of its business residential, 25 percent school sports fields and 10 percent commercial. The company offers diverse services including inground irrigation installation, drip irrigation, lawn care and landscape lighting.
Moster Turf currently grows about 50 acres of Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type fescue. “We have about 70 percent fescue and 30 percent bluegrass now,” Gene noted. “We’re encouraging more fescue because it takes heat better, holds color longer and germinates more easily. We add different varieties each year based on NTEP tests for color, density and better growth.” Seed is purchased from John Deere Landscaping in Harrison, Ohio. “We match our sod to seed that customers can obtain. Customers sometimes want to seed a portion to cut down on costs,” Gene said.
Moster Turf grows turf at two sites about 5 miles apart. One site has river bottom sandy silt and the other upland clay soils. “We’re not irrigated on the upland soil site,” Gene noted. “We have irrigation at the other site, and we keep an area watered at all times for immediate use.” An on-site well serves as the irrigation source. With ample area rainfall, irrigation is not used with new seeding and is applied only in the driest summer months.
Fields are reseeded after each production season. Granular fertilizer from Crop Production in Brookville, Ind., is incorporated into the soil before seeding is done with a Brillion seeder. The turfgrass is mowed at 3 inches from early April to late November.
Disease is rarely a concern on the Moster Turf fields. “Keeping weeds and perennial grass out is our biggest challenge,” Gene said. Rough stem bluegrass and Kentucky bluegrass 31, grown in the area, are the primary perennial grass concerns. “We hand-spray as quickly as we can when we have some,” he added.
Moster Turf installs about 70 percent of the sod produced with the remainder sold to landscapers and homeowners for pickup and delivery sales. They maintain their own trucks and deliver throughout the radius served upon request.
A Magnum 42-inch harvester is used to harvest about half the sod in big rolls, and netting is used to help assure tight rolls. A Brouwer 1560 sod harvester is used to harvest the other half in standard rolls. Woerner big roll installers are used and are available for rental to customers.
Quality work, customer satisfaction
“We just do lots of the little things to be sure that our customers are happy with their yards,” Gene said. “We’ve always emphasized quality work. About seven years ago, we started performing a quality assurance checklist with customers. We check to be sure they are satisfied with the sod, that the seams are all smooth, and that we’ve done everything we talked about. We’ve never had a callback or complaint.”
The quality checklist is done immediately after the work is completed. In addition to Gene and Sara, their son Kevin works full time in the business and is a junior at Indiana University East. Five part-time employees work with the company as needed. Gene said, “Our employees have other jobs, but they are able to work two to three days for us as we need them.”
Gene noted the emphasis on quality work was helpful in his connecting with The Motz Group, a major athletic field construction firm based in Cincinnati. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on several major stadium fields,” Gene said. “I worked where the Dolphins play in Miami, the Buccaneers site in Tampa and at the Asian Olympics site in Doha, Qatar.” Moster supplies turf to The Motz Group for the Cincinnati Reds’ field.
In addition to installing turfgrass and inground and drip irrigation, Moster Turf launched lawn care services about five years ago in response to customers’ requests.
Moster Turf offers a fertility and weed management program and currently has about 65 lawns within a 20-mile radius. “We have a program that includes four treatments in March, May, September and November to manage fertility and weeds,” Gene said. “Some customers want to do some of their own work, so we’re flexible on the treatments we apply.” Granular fertilizer is used along with weed control spraying, and again, products are purchased from John Deere Landscaping. “Our November winterizing is very important for the lawn,” Sara noted. Recently, Moster Turf expanded services to include landscape lighting.
With the demand for turf down across the nation as building has slowed, cutting costs through improved efficiency is a major concern.
“We want to improve our efficiency to cut costs without affecting the quality of our products,” Gene said. “One of our most helpful approaches has been our purchasing the Vermeer skid steer SX800 TX. We purchased it from Vermeer of Southern Ohio, Washington Courthouse, Ohio. It allows us to use several different attachments such as a Harley rake and a trencher that we use in irrigation installations. It’s good to maneuver in tight spaces and cuts down on the labor requirements.
“We use a Koro Field Topmaker when reseeding athletic fields to strip the thatch from the field. It speeds up the process a great deal,” Gene said. A new software program, Real Green, has recently been purchased, and its use is expected to improve efficiency in office tasks including scheduling.
Accurate bidding remains an important aspect of the turf business.
In addition to following NTEP results, Moster Turf incorporates turfgrass expertise from Purdue University and Ohio State University into its operations.
Economic impacts continue to affect the industry. Sara noted that major projects are coming in more slowly. “People usually have their major projects in the works earlier,” she said. “We’re getting calls now usually just one or two months ahead, as people are more careful in planning expenses.”
Sara noted, “We spent a lot of time developing our motto, ‘Making Tomorrow Green.’” An informative Web site has been launched, and Yellow Page advertising is done. Moster Turf also relies extensively on repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals.
Moster Turf is a member of TPI, the Indiana Professional Lawn & Landscaping Association, the Midwest Turf Foundation and the Indiana Nursery and Landscaping Association. Gene and Sara also participate in seminars and workshops whenever possible to stay current on new industry information.
Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.