In most industries there is a market leader who sets standards that others aspire to, leads opinion and drives innovation. Behind the recognised leader you will often find two or three ambitious companies pushing for that number one spot. This creates a healthy and competitive environment, which encourages growth, improved performance and reward. But when a market is leaderless and without direction other factors come into play.
The UK synthetic turf industry currently is undergoing change in many ways. The leading company through the last decade has lost its way and rumours abound as to its very future. The trade association, which for so long has fought for its members is now undergoing a strategy review, which could redefine their position and influence. And perhaps the biggest change will be seen through the emergence of framework agreements, caused by disillusionment with the way the market has failed to grasp quality as a key indicator.
There is no doubt that the turmoil caused by the redirection of funding away from synthetic pitches towards the Olympics has hurt many companies hard. The downturn in the economy has also added considerable pressure with previous industry giants either being bought out or allowed to fail. What has been left behind is an industry living from day to day, trying to survive on a reduced number of projects. It may be the environment for a new leader to rise from, eventually, but there is no sign yet of this happening.
Smaller businesses are often better placed to win work as their overheads are smaller, but for these companies to grow, prudence, focus and good fortune will be required, and even then no one may want to become the market leader. Those larger companies with some degree of versatility have been able to pick up their turnover through natural pitches or landscaping and non-sports construction work, but are currently looking inwards rather than towards the future.
The FA and RFU Framework agreement has made clear that contracts will not be awarded based solely on price. This is a positive step towards using value as the better benchmark. This, it is hoped, will encourage companies to focus on delivering what the client needs and is paying for rather than offering a poor service at a cheap price. Value is the way forward, without doubt.
So without a big company to lead the way, or a trade association with a clear direction the governing bodies seem set to be the most influential party in the UK pitch market. At least they can set standards, look for innovative ways to deliver a project and provide a voice the industry needs. Perhaps this may help synthetic turf reach professional sport, in which case this won’t be a bad change of guard.
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