Nova Sports Makes Its Customers Part of the Family
When Benjamin Righter founded Nova Sports USA with his wife, Ruth, 20 years ago, he set out to produce the highest quality acrylic sport surface in the industry. His legacy, however, is a tight-knit family business operated by his three sons in a manner that has continued to inspire customer loyalty.
A few months after their father’s death in August 2003, 47-year-old Bill Righter said he and his twin brother, Rob, reluctantly traveled to a trade meeting in La Jolla, Calif. hosted by the U.S. Tennis Court & Track Builders Association (USTC&TBA). Bill is a board member of the USTC&TBA, as was his father before him.
“So many people came up to us and told stories about our dad. At the time, it was a really tough meeting for Rob and I to get through,” recalls Bill, chief financial officer and sales manager at Nova Sports USA. “It wasn’t until we were flying home that we were able to sit back and realize how lucky we’ve been to work for a family business. From that moment, we had no doubt we’d continue to succeed.”
Nova Sports USA is one of the leading manufacturers of acrylic recreational coatings in the world. Its Novacrylic sport surfacing systems are 100 percent acrylic, non-hazardous materials used for tennis, basketball, inline hockey, shuffleboard and track surfaces, jogging trails, playgrounds and walkways. They are designed for indoor and outdoor use, over asphalt or concrete, with pigments that produce rich, vivid colors.
According to Rob Righter, who now serves as president of Nova Sports USA, 90 percent of the company’s revenue is generated by the tennis sector. In fact, the Novacrylic tennis surface system has been approved by the ITF for tournament play, classified as category 2, medium play.
With the exception of last year’s flat sales (which Rob attributes to the weather and a sluggish economy), Nova Sports USA’s annual sales — including projections for 2004 — have continually increased between 15 and 20 percent. In March 2001, the company moved from a 12,000-square-foot building in Holliston, Mass., into a customized, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility with twice the space in Milford, Mass., in order to accommodate new equipment to meet growing demand from distributors across the country and overseas.
Big on Quality Control
Rob admits Novacrylic is “high end,” but says owners of private schools, clubs and even residences consider it a worthwhile investment. In addition to word of mouth, customers find Nova Sports USA through trade shows and the company’s website, novasports.com, which Rob designed in his previous position as marketing director. As a result of the company’s online presence, he says, he still gets several calls daily from homeowners looking for a way to fix cracks that local contractors consider too trivial to repair.
“We’re tight on quality control,” says Rob, noting that one key component in surface longevity is adding texture with high-speed motors during the manufacturing process at the factory, rather than mixing it at the job site. While other surfaces may become slick and fade in color within a few years, Rob says the premium products used in developing Novacrylic will hold up much longer.
Novacrylic comes in 12 colors, ranging from the red and green hues traditionally used on tennis courts to multiple shades of blue and violet. Job costs vary according to region and court conditions, Rob says, but about 90 gallons of Novacrylic are typically required to surface a tennis court with the standard two coats of color.
While Nova Sports USA casts a long shadow in the industry, it remains efficiently run with a 10-person staff that swells to 25 during the busy summer season. Although each employee has a distinct role, Rob says customers appreciate that “someone is always available who can make a decision.”
“I have an open cubicle, not an office, and if I hear the phone ringing, I pick it up,” he adds. “I hate getting trapped in other companies’ voice-mail systems, so we don’t have voice-mail. Our customers pay a premium for our products, and along with that comes premium customer service.”
Responding to Needs
That responsiveness dates back to the company’s earliest days when the third Righter brother, Jeff, became determined to develop a better court surface for a contractor in Louisiana who wanted to improve upon the field-mix. In his role as the company’s production manager (which evolved into general manager), Jeff invented the Nova Combination Surface, which provided the same surface thickness with two coats as opposed to the traditional, more costly two coats of filler and one coat of finish. Also in 1984, Jeff created a two-step, elastomeric crack-repair system known as Novacaulk.
Although he is devoting more time to his new business, US Plastic Palettes and Handling in Hopkinton, Mass., 44-year-old Jeff says he has appreciated being part of the family business, which extends to customers and even competitors.
“Anyone who knew Ben Righter knew that once you did business with him, you were a member of his extended family. The relationships he built were stronger than in any industry I’d ever seen before,” says Jeff, noting that Ben’s annual fishing trips with employees, customers and competitors alike were legendary. “He taught me to listen to customers, but also to work alongside competitors. He wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask a competitor, ‘What do you think of this?’ He truly believed that people should work together for the common good.”
Although Nova Sports USA is continuing to grow, Rob says it can be difficult to stay competitive during these inflationary times. “We have absorbed much of the increases [of the escalating costs of raw materials] and are running as efficiently as possible,” he says. “We will not compromise the quality of our products by reformulating with lower-quality ingredients.”
The challenge of running their father’s business in his absence can’t be ignored either, although the sons still benefit from the expertise of their 66-year-old mother, Ruth, who continues to serve as a director and financial advisor from her home on Cape Cod. They are also looking to the future, when their own children may provide a new generation of leadership for Nova Sports USA.
“It’s been a very tough year, but our dad’s spirit is still around,” Jeff says. “There’s not a day we don’t feel like he’s looking over our shoulders, making sure we’re doing things the right way.”