Cutting-edge innovation can show up in the least likely of places. Sometimes, it’s right under your nose. And sometimes, as in the case of Shaw Sports Turf, it’s right under your feet.
Shaw Industries, a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., first entered the synthetic turf market through acquisition in 2009. The acquisition of Southwest Greens—rooted in the golf market—shortly thereafter brought Shaw into the landscape market. Shaw then created another brand, Shawgrass, which further solidified its market position in synthetic turf for the commercial and residential landscape markets. A fourth market-facing brand, Watershed Geosynthetics, manufactures a secure landfill closure system with synthetic turf on the surface.
Shaw Sports Turf, with offices, manufacturing, and distribution facilities in northern Georgia, makes synthetic turf for sports fields: baseball, softball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. Its portfolio of installations—over 3,500 to date—includes an impressive list of sports franchises and venues: the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Ohio State University, Vanderbilt University, and more.
Chuck McClurg has been with Shaw Industries since 1992, and is Vice President of Shaw Sports Turf.
“Shaw really is a great place to work,” he says proudly. “We’re a people-first organization. We’re the fastest-growing area of the company today, and that growth provides opportunity. We’re part of a large, stable, financially-sound organization, and at the same time, as a division, we’re entrepreneurial in spirit, and growing at a rate where we have to innovate. We get the best of both worlds.”
As McClurg notes, the company is growing quickly, with gains throughout all four market-facing brands in the three verticals they serve.
“Synthetic turf is a growing market,” he says. “All manufacturers in the space have experienced increased demand, because there’s an overall increase in the use of synthetic grass. As of this moment, all the channels we participate in are growing, and that allows us to be diversified.”
The same pandemic that created challenges for many businesses has in fact contributed to that demand. “COVID didn’t create new trends, but it did accelerate existing trends,” says McClurg. “One of those was the use of synthetic turf, especially around the home. People were working from home, they had money to invest in their homes. And they’ve chosen this product.”
While the use of synthetic turf initially became popular in the sunbelt states, the market is expanding to all parts of North America and to Europe, as people are becoming more aware of the need to preserve water resources.
Amidst this growth, innovation is what sets Shaw Sports Turf apart from the crowd. The company has had dedicated research and development facilities in place since its inception, with one goal in mind: providing the best possible surface for customers and the athletes that will play on them.
“A lot of people looking from the outside in would be amazed at the technology that goes into our R&D process,” McClurg says. “We want to make sure the product we’re putting on the ground is the best it can be.” For Shaw Sports Turf, the key is playability. The company has dedicated itself to studying the athlete-to-surface interaction and the ball-to-surface interaction to offer the best playing experience for the athletes.
Each playing surface Shaw makes is designed specifically for the sport to be played on it. “We design our product by sport,” McClurg explains. “What we would recommend for football and baseball are totally different; for example, baseball is all about ball roll and ball bounce—the angle in and the angle out. Football, on the other hand, is more about traction and cleat release.”
Shaw benchmarks its products’ performance against a very high standard: a well-manicured natural-grass playing environment in a best-in-class sports venue.
“Our products are designed to be the best playing surface for each sport,” says McClurg. “Not the best grass surface, or the best synthetic surface, but the best playing surface. That’s the benchmark.”
The company is doubling down on that commitment to research and development with a new innovation lab to be opened soon. “We’re going to build on the playability testing we’ve done and go much deeper on the player-to-surface interaction. We want to understand the movement, the biomechanical aspects, better. The lab and the tools we have there will allow us to understand that at a much deeper level.”
For Shaw Sports Turf, the research and development doesn’t stop when the player takes the field. In 2022, the company won two awards from the Synthetic Turf Council (STC): one for Innovation and the other for Sustainability. Shaw earned STC’s Innovation award in recognition of its GAME ON product, which solves a key challenge for venues: field integrity. Traditionally, synthetic turf is installed and then cut so that inlays can be glued in for lines, numbers, and other markings. GAME ON changes that.
“We have an advanced tufting asset that allows us to tuft field markings directly into the field,” explains McClurg. “Whether it’s football, soccer, or lacrosse, regardless of the line package, we can tuft that into the field.”
For customers, fewer seams in the field means a stronger, more durable playing surface, with less maintenance required.
“GAME ON also gives us better design capabilities. Large logos for the field, end zones, those elements are tufted together in one run, and it elevates the design aspect.” Currently, McClurg says, Shaw Sports Turf is the only company in the world with this technology.
The second STC recognition was the Sustainability award, given to Shaw Sports Turf for another product, the NXTPlay performance shock pad. This product, according to McClurg, is one of the ways Shaw is responding to challenges by creating an opportunity.
“When you consider the number of fields that went in eight or ten years ago,” he says, “now they’re coming out to be replaced. One of the big opportunities is at the end of a field’s useful life. We have the ability to bring that field back, mechanically recycle it, and turn it into a shock pad that’s used under the next generation field.”
A similar opportunity exists in the landscape channel, and the numbers are significant. According to the company’s website, this process has diverted more than 2,500 tons of artificial turf from landfill. The company has put that material back into use, incorporating it into over 3.5 million square feet of NXTPlay performance shock pad.
For McClurg, these kinds of innovations are built into the way Shaw Sports Turf does business. “Our brand identity is really around innovation. GAME ON, NXTPlay, the playability research we do; it’s how we go to market today. We’re very innovative and very different.”
An upcoming event will provide the opportunity for the company to showcase that innovative drive to a very large audience: Shaw has been chosen as the official synthetic turf sponsor for the College Football Playoffs. “We’re really excited,” says McClurg. “This event will give us the opportunity to elevate our brand through sports and through the association with CFP.”
According to the official announcement released in September, Shaw Sports Turf will be showcasing its diverse range of products throughout the event spaces, through to the national championship game on January 8 at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
With significant innovations already under its belt—and big events on the horizon—what’s next for Shaw Sports Turf?
For McClurg, the answer is clear. There’s always a way to make things even better, so there’s always a reason to keep innovating. “For us, it all comes down to research. What does our client need? What are the problems that, if solved, will change the way we do business? That’s the fundamental innovation question.”