2006 Builder/contractor of the year: Courtsmiths
It seems that when it comes to court builders, the best ones frequently have a strong family presence in the business. And so it is with RSI’s 2006 Builder/Contractor of the Year winner — the Courtsmiths of Toledo, Ohio.
The company was started by the late Kevin Smith (upper left) in the early 1970s. “My father loved tennis and got us kids involved in it,” says son Mike Smith. Kevin, who passed away in April, was a founder of the American Sports Builders Association and a past chairman and Tennis Division president.
“Kevin was one of the most generous and pro-tennis contractors around,” says Carol Hogan, the ASBA’s executive vice president. “His dedication to the sport is something he passed on to his children. Currently, son Pete Smith is on the board of directors of the ASBA.”
“Mike and I were both 14 when we each started in the business,” says Pete (above right, with Mike). “We both enjoyed it so much that we stuck with it.” Now, Mike’s son and stepson are involved in the company.
“My father didn’t start playing tennis until around age 40,” says Mike. “We had a neighbor who used to be the No. 1 player at Notre Dame, and one day he took my dad to a tennis club and dad fell in love with the sport.”
The Smiths at the time were in the paving business, and occasionally would coat tennis courts. But by 1985, Kevin Smith split off the Courtsmiths from its parent company to concentrate on the court-building business. Now, says Mike, while the Courtsmiths also do latex running tracks, basketball courts, and putting greens, tennis courts make up about 80 percent of the business. The company is involved in design and build, and they do both hard and clay courts.
But the “family” theme is a dominant one with the Courtsmiths’ approach to their business.
“The tennis construction business is in their blood, and they really enjoy it,” says Randy Futty of Lee Tennis. “They’re truly in it for the long run. Their father passed down a set of values that they live by and manage the company by. Their culture is to work hard, do good work, and service their customers as best as they can.”
Adds Rob Righter of Nova-Sports, “Mike and Pete are like extended members of our family. They build premium-quality tennis courts with an honesty and integrity that is often rare today.”
And their approach to the business of building tennis courts is paying dividends. Mike says that over the last five years, they’ve seen about a 40 percent jump in business. “The tennis business is a lot of word of mouth,” he says, “and that’s really been growing for us. If you put out a quality product, your name gets around and you start getting more calls.”
The Courtsmiths frequently are hired as the general contractors for their jobs, “where we come in, consult with the owners, and design the courts or facility for them,” says Mike, who is the main designer and also does sales. Pete runs the work crews. The company has about 15 employees, including seasonal workers.
“We do a lot of high-end jobs, especially in the northern Ohio area and around Detroit,” says Mike. “And we rehab a lot of courts, too.”
Currently, the Courtsmiths are working on rehabbing the eight hard courts at Wayne State University, and also putting in six subirrigated clay courts at the Corazon Club in Dublin, Ohio. The company recently completed renovating the 10 hard courts at the Detroit Country Day School and the eight at Detroit Mercy High School.
“My biggest thing when we deal with customers is that I’m not working for them, I’m working with them,” says Mike. “It’s my job to educate the customer as much as possible so he can make an educated decision on the options he has. It’s not us vs. them — it’s a team effort.”
Courtsmiths’ tips for success
- Weed out your subcontractors. Make sure they know exactly what to expect.
- Give customers different options, depending on what they want to spend, and make sure to give them the pros and cons of each option.
- “Teaming up” with customers will give them the best job possible.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.