Tennis Industry magazine

 

Solid Construction

California Sports Surfaces, the makers of DecoTurf and Plexipave, expands its product offerings and continues to help pave the way for growth in the sport.

By Peter Francesconi

One of the first questions tennis fans often ask about the California Products Corp., the maker of two Grand Slam tournament surfaces, is why — for a company that has called Massachusetts home for nearly 90 years — is “California” in the name.

It started in 1926, when Napoleon N. Bernier came east with a license agreement from a Los Angeles company to make stucco products, which had become very popular in the West. The company Bernier founded in Cambridge, Mass., was called California Stucco Products Corp. of New England, which eventually expanded its product line beyond stucco.

Today, California Products Corp. is headquartered outside of Boston in Andover, Mass., and consists of three divisions: California Paints, California Sports Surfaces (CSS) and Fiberlock Technologies. California Paints produces some of the most well-respected interior and exterior paint brands. Fiberlock specializes in products that address environmental, safety and health hazards. And CSS brands now include Plexipave, DecoTurf, Plexitrac, Rebound Ace and three new additions: Latex-ite, Premier Court and Guardian Crack Repair.

Revolutionizing Court Surfaces

In 1953, the company, now called California Products and led by industry pioneer Bob Caldwell, originated the water-based acrylic color-coat concept and developed what came to be called Plexipave, and likely changed the game of tennis. The first court to use this acrylic system was at a private residence in Ipswich, Mass., and now, Plexipave has been the surface of the Australian Open since 2008.

Other notable developments that have come out of California Products’ research and development lab include a squeegee-applied acrylic, cushion-type surface using a multi-coat application, which was introduced in 1969. Called Plexicushion, it is designed to reduce player fatigue without affecting the speed of the game.

In 1977, with the introduction of the first unpigmented acrylic filler coat, contractors were able to add color in the field, giving court builders greater flexibility and saving on inventory.

The Plexicourt system was developed in 1980, which was the first non-asphalt, non-concrete overlayment system, utilizing a Kraft paper honeycomb material, upon which Plexipave is installed. The first all-acrylic tennis court resurfacer was introduced in 1982, creating the first 100 percent all-acrylic tennis court surfacing system. In 2009, California Products formulated the first “cold-weather” acrylic suitable for installation in temperatures down to 35 degrees F.

“All of the R&D is done at Andover,” says Randy Futty, vice president of business development for CSS. “We have a stable of chemists who have been there on average 30 years. Their knowledge is amazing. They’re always playing with things, tweaking stuff, changing resins, suspension agents — they’re always looking for ways to improve our products.”

Grand Slam Success

CSS holds a unique place in the pro game as the maker of the surface for two Grand Slams — the Aussie Open with its Plexicushion courts, and the US Open with its DecoTurf surface on the courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. In 1997, California Products acquired the DecoTurf line of acrylic surfacing products from Koch Industries. DecoTurf has been the Official Surface of the US Open since 1978.

“The US Open conversion to DecoTurf in 1978 had an impact that I don’t think most of us truly understood at the time,” says Art Tucker, vice president of the Recreational Products Division for California Products Corp., who has been with the company since 1983 and in the court-building industry since 1973. “And it has continued to reap benefits.”

The Emirates Airline US Open Series of summer tournaments leading up to the US Open also uses DecoTurf, and thousands of facilities around the world are able to say they offer the same surface as the US Open.

Another major development happened in 2002, when the USTA decided to change the court colors at the US Open to blue inside the lines and green outside. USTA officials worked extensively with CSS scientists and engineers to come up with just the right shade.

“While the USTA owns the name ‘US Open Blue,’ we’re the only company that can make a product called that,” Tucker says. “That color has been a huge game-changer for us. At the time, less than 5 percent of our courts were colored blue. Now, it’s nearly 20 percent of the colors we do.”

In 2013, California Products branched out into the prefabricated polyurethane mat systems by acquiring Rebound Ace of Australia. Rebound Ace (diagram, right) had been the surface of the Australian Open for 20 years and was the surface of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

A series of key acquisitions at the end of 2014 added Premier Concepts to the stable and has further extended the reach of CSS.

“Since the purchase in 1997 of DecoTurf,” says John Graham, managing director of California Sports Surfaces, “volume has increased significantly. Forty-five percent of DecoTurf sales are international with Asia leading the way as a result of DecoTurf being selected for the Beijing Olympics, the China Open, and the Shanghai Masters. With Plexicushion Prestige as the official surface of the Australian Open, Rebound Ace at the Asian Games, and Premier Court recently selected for the International Premier Tennis League, we are truly a global company.”

Recent Acquisitions

The acquisition of Premier Concepts at the end of 2014 was part of a bigger move that included buying Latexite International and Guardian Crack Repair. Premier Concepts produces Premier Court, a polyurethane foam composite that provides impact-absorbing cushion and has been used for many international events, including Davis Cup and Fed Cup.

Latexite International makes Latex-ite, a sports surface coating system used for tennis, basketball, volleyball, badminton, and other multi-sport systems. Guardian Crack Repair, originated in 2003, is designed to repair cracked tennis court and sport surfaces. Innovators of “peel and seal” crack-repair technology, Guardian is used on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

“These latest acquisitions give us more opportunities in the marketplace,” Futty says. “Guardian Crack Repair allows for a longer term solution to major cracks in asphalt and concrete courts. This technology adds value to owners while making the surfaces safer for players to enjoy the game.”

Crack repair, in particular, is an interesting evolution for CSS, and answers a need expressed by contractors. “We’ve never been negative toward crack-repair systems,” Futty says. “As an acrylics manufacturer, we want facilities to maintain their courts regularly in order to keep them in the best playing, and safest, condition possible. The use of systems like Guardian Crack Repair is a growing segment of the industry, and now, with the largest acrylics manufacturer promoting these crack-repair solutions, that whole genre has an opportunity to grow three- or fourfold.”

With the purchase of Rebound Ace, CSS also acknowledges a major trend toward softer, more cushioned court surfaces and a tennis population that is aging. In fact, you most likely won’t hear CSS employees using the term “hard court,” but instead saying “cushioned acrylic court.”

“Our chemists have developed highly flexible acrylics that really lend themselves to softer, cushioned surfaces,” Futty adds. “These acrylics are made to move with the surfacing systems. As surfaces look to get softer, the need for more flexible acrylics will grow.”

Like other CSS products, the plan is for the new products to be manufactured at the 160,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Andover, which currently has about 150 employees.

Stimulating the Industry

Early on, California Products recognized that it needed to be a key player in the tennis business. In fact, in 1964, a California Products-sponsored demonstration of sand-filled acrylic tennis coatings in Baltimore for about 18 top tennis court contractors led to the formation of the U.S. Tennis Court & Track Builders Association, which later changed its name to the American Sports Builders Association. Over cocktails, Sheldon Westervelt suggested he and his fellow builders form an organization, and California Products put up the money to write the bylaws.

Within the industry, CSS continues to take a leadership role. For example, the company is a Foundation Member of the ITF; it’s the official surface for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and presents annually at the ITA Coaches Convention; it’s the official all-weather surface of the PTR and regularly presents at the PTR Symposium; it donates surfacing products to renovate courts in U.S. cities; it’s been a leader in helping the ITF and USTA develop blended line colors for 36- and 60-foot courts; CSS leaders have been on the ASBA board of directors for 30 years and on many USTA committees; it’s the title sponsor of the National High School Tennis Team Championships; and it’s the official surface of World TeamTennis.

“California Sports Surfaces has built its reputation by manufacturing the highest quality products and providing the best customer service and sales support in the industry,” Graham says. “Ultimately, the success of our company is tied to the partnerships we have with our excellent network of tennis court builders around the world.”

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About the Author

Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.

 

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