MEET YOUR MERCHANT: TuFFGrass growing turf business from Penn Valley
Annie and Paul Costa, owners
Phone: 530-432-8175 or 916-741-3396
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday
It was 2001 and a handful of seniors sat on a bench at the Nevada County Fairgrounds watching Annie and Paul Costa install a patch of artificial grass as a way to promote their new company, TuFFGrass.
“It’s not gonna work,” said one old timer, shaking his head.
“It’ll never last,” said another.
Flash forward a full 17 years, and that patch is still there — near the entrance at Gate 1 — a testament to the turf’s durability.
“In fact, a few of those same seniors who are still with us will regularly come up during the annual Home and Garden Show and say (with a chuckle), ‘Still there — looking good,’” said Annie.
When the dot-com bubble burst in Silicon Valley in the late ’90s, both Annie and Paul found themselves out of a job in the computer industry. They sold their Belmont home, bought a house in Penn Valley and began looking for new opportunities.
During the height of the drought a friend from Southern California suggested they explore the artificial grass market. Paul was skeptical.
“But why?” he asked.
After extensive market research, the couple was impressed by what they’d learned. They began to work closely with a contractor who worked in the putting green industry. After learning all they could about the industry, the Costas were finally ready to launch their new company, TuFFGrass, in 2001.
Former fairgrounds CEO Ed Scofield gave the couple a small spot near the entrance that had historically been hard mow and keep clean. It served a dual purpose — it spruced up the area and allowed the Costas to showcase the quality of their artificial grass. The site was dedicated to the volunteers of Nevada County.
“We put in artificial Kentucky bluegrass — there weren’t many options then,” said Annie. “Once the Home and Garden Show came around, we set up a booth. Business took off like a kite on a windy day. Over 200 people suddenly wanted consultations — it was crazy.”
As it turned out, the idea of natural-looking artificial grass that didn’t require watering or mowing — and isn’t full of weeds, bugs and rodents — resonated with a large number of Nevada County residents.
While demand for artificial turf had traditionally been for the likes of athletic fields, putting greens, Bocci ball and play areas, the Costas were seeing a growing demand for full residential lawns. The soil and topography in certain parts of Nevada County, such as Banner Mountain, make it difficult to grow and maintain a thick, lush lawn.
“We began working with artificial turf manufacturers in Georgia,” said Annie. “By 2004, they began to realize there was new market that extended beyond sports. Suddenly the landscape industry was involved. This changed the market dramatically.”
The Costas were among the first landscape installers in the country, and soon manufacturers began consulting them when it came to creating a variety of natural-looking native grasses. While some potential customers expressed concern regarding the environmental impact of making an artificial product, the Costas were quick to explain that the petroleum products they use for the extrusion of their yarns would otherwise be waste. In addition, they are drought-resistant and do not generate fertilizer run-off, which can leaches into waterways and cause a host of negative ecological issues.
As the market grew, Annie was instrumental in establishing a trade association, the Association of Synthetic Grass Installers, in 2007. Demand then grew to statewide, then nationwide. The Costas were even invited to survey a job in Norway, but turned it down.
While in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, raised private funds to have TuffGrass installed on an open-air atrium at the state capitol. And in 2015, when a bill passed in the California legislature that allowed homeowners’ associations to approve artificial grass, the industry exploded, said Annie.
“I’ve trained people from Canada to Mexico and throughout the U.S.,” said Annie. “Right now I’m the V.P. of operations and Paul is the president. We have eight employees that work out of our headquarters in Penn Valley.”
“We’ve used TuFFGrass twice,” said customer John Scott, who lives on Banner Mountain in Nevada City. “The installation process was quite an amazing process. They create a stable base that drains well. They’re very professional. People say our lawn is beautiful — it just looks perfect. The dogs love to run and play on it. We’re very happy.”
The Costas are currently putting the final touches on “The Artificial Grass Install Guide,” which they teamed up to author. It will be available in March of 2019 on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble online.
The benefits of artificial grass are many, said Annie, a few of which include saving water and irrigation costs; eliminating fertilizers, mud, lawn chores, dust and allergic reactions and maintaining a maintenance-free green, lush lawn year-round.
Looking forward, the Costas are simply focused on growing their business and keeping costs down — beyond that they’re isn’t much to change, they say. Small projects average about $14 per square foot, larger ones run about $10 per square foot, fully installed.
“We’ve got good products and good installation techniques,” said Annie. “If it’s not broken, why fix it? When we started, we didn’t realize we would be integral in creating a new market in this particular industry. We’re over the clouds to be part of establishing this as a viable, sustainable business.”
“The most rewarding aspect of owning TuFFGrass for all these years — aside from being able to grow this company together with my beautiful wife — is we’re not only changing people’s yards we’re changing their lifestyles.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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“I grew up in Nevada County, in this beautiful place — I now have a love and appreciation for everything I do,” he said. “My goals are to be mindful, keep an open door and be compassionate if someone’s having a bad day. This is a school of fitness — we teach people how not to hurt themselves.”