Jeremy Stewart’s company Seamless Flooring Systems is the owner of a world leading seamless stone flooring system, Quartz Carpet, and PLAYSaFE, a leading safety rubber playground and landscaping flooring company. Jeremy has been involved in the flooring industry for over 30 years and is widely regarded as the “doyen” of flooring in South Africa.

As the Chairman of SASPI (South African Sports and Play Industry), Jeremy was invited to be a guest speaker at the ESTC Synthetic Turf Congress held in Nice, France recently and spoke in detail about synthetic turf. We asked him for an update on the synthetic turf market in South Africa.

How has the synthetic turf market developed in South Africa?

Jeremy Stewart

South Africa is the gateway to 46 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The turf market primarily kicked off with a biproduct, manufactured and used for top-grade hockey, but it required irrigation. This was followed by the introduction into the market of products at a similar level and quality from several other manufacturers. Progressive developments were accompanied by the manufacture of improved and more user-friendly fibres and these developments continue for worldwide benefit.

Sand-filled and sand-dressed hockey fields with shock pads were introduced to South Africa in 1995. All prior attempts to exclude the shock pad to reduce costs had proven not to work.

The turf boom

The Football Legacy Turf Project, with 27 new synthetic turf football pitches, was installed throughout South Africa in 2010 for the Soccer World Cup. The South African turf industry boomed between 2000 and 2019 after which the market slowed down due to the pandemic. It is anticipated that the market will pick up again in the next few months.

Synthetic grass has also become increasingly popular due to the recent drought conditions experienced throughout South Africa. Synthetic artificial turf has become well accepted in the market and continues to grow.

What are the challenges and threats facing the synthetic turf market in South Africa?

One of the main issues facing the turf industry is the mistrust between the leaders in the synthetic turf industry. Jeremy points out that the industry players need to learn to trust one another and work together for one common goal, as is very evident in the overseas market.

According to Jeremy, challenges and threats include cutting corners, under specifying and price-cutting which are all practiced with unfailing regularity. These problematic areas are critical to the final quality and standards and the success or failure of projects. South Africa’s purchasing volumes relative to the rest of the world are low, so the costs are ultimately higher. Security of the sports facilities once handed over and in use is badly managed and vandalism and theft are a common occurrence.

South Africa is an extremely cost-sensitive market and often price wins over quality but buying cheap is always more expensive in the long run. Government work is often won by tender and awarded to inexperienced local contractors who have limited knowledge. These are often front companies that then sub-contract the work to the cheapest contractor. Government and contractor payments can take up to 12 months, affecting smaller company’s cash flow.

Club acceptance of turf

Top-level football clubs in the Premier Soccer League (PSL), have not accepted artificial turf as the standard yet. South Africa has hot temperatures in summer and synthetic turf becomes extremely hot. Children playing on landscape turf in high temperatures find the conditions unbearable.

Meanwhile, water restrictions hinder the expansion of water-based hockey pitches. One of the biggest challenges in this industry is the lack of knowledge and adherence to local and international standards regarding the construction of artificial turf surfaces.

Regulations and governance

There is a lack of established and endorsed regulatory bodies to govern the industry. SASPI still requires the endorsement of the South African government and sporting governing bodies. Gazetting these regulations will assist in vetting companies who are awarded tenders, ensuring that they have the necessary knowledge, know-how and capability to meet the necessary requirements. There is also a distinct lack of government and municipal funding for new synthetic turf pitches or landscape projects.

Poor quality turf

There is also the misconception that artificial turf needs zero maintenance which is not the case as it needs to be brushed, de-compacted and treated with Algaecides or herbicides.

What are the opportunities for the synthetic turf market in South Africa?

Some of the challenges above can be converted into opportunities if addressed correctly. Water restrictions and the environmental requirements in terms of acting responsibly pose a good opportunity and market for artificial turf.

The South African market is healthy and growing at a rapid pace with many schools making the investment in artificial turf for hockey, rugby, cricket, soccer, multi-sport courts and fields, bowls, and athletics. Artificial turf is a fraction of the cost of your traditional tartan tracks with a very similar life expectancy. Other sports using synthetic turf that are growing at a rapid rate in South Africa currently include padel tennis, pickleball and 5-a-side soccer.

A challenge and universal problem is the market being flooded with poor quality turf using inexpensive raw materials and contractors trying to establish themselves with little to no installation experience.

Hybrid systems

There is also a slow and steady shift in the market triggered by clients asking for alternatives to the hot surfaces of synthetic turf, especially in play areas. Clients are shifting into the hybrid turf for cooler surfaces in recreational spaces. This hybrid system is a blend of natural and artificial turf. Soil erosion from heavy foot traffic is less when using the hybrid turf system and it keeps the area lush green. The hybrid system allows water to move down into the natural water table. It also has a biodegradable backing that breaks down completely after a few months, as it is not required once the natural grassroots hold the hybrid system in place.

Sporting codes will lead to acceptance

Worldwide expansion and acceptance by other individuals and multiple sporting codes will increase opportunities and usage on our continent. In addition, there are significant opportunities for many sectors in our industry to make financial inroads by dealing with synthetic turf waste.

Sport has the power to save lives and there is a big focus on a healthy body and a healthy mind. It also brings a powerful message of hope to young kids and poverty-stricken communities. Hockey is rapidly growing in South Africa and many facilities are already in place so there will be a continuous resurfacing market.

It is easier to install and maintain landscape artificial turf in corporate spaces which is aesthetically pleasing throughout the year. Investing in recreational spaces and synthetic lawns is becoming increasingly popular.

We need to establish better relationships with each of the national governing bodies in South Africa to buy into the need for adherence to minimum standards.

What does the future hold for the synthetic turf market in South Africa?

More people are working from home and spending money on home improvements, including landscape turf. Sustainability is a key topic, and we need to get to a point where recycling and circularity are key focuses for the environment. South Africa needs to start following the global trend for the industry to be more environmentally friendly. This includes finding ways to re-use and recycle synthetic turf.

With the return to post-Covid normalisation, schools and universities are reviving sports and recreation events and we look forward to this development and increase in demand.

Sub-Saharan African countries are expanding and revamping their facilities and programmes that will automatically increase volumes. The continuing support from certain sporting bodies is accelerating our progress.

Sports are moving to quicker surfaces and faster turn arounds with regards to the action sports arena, with sports being played indoors and outdoors. We see a growth in rugby and in the use of synthetic pitches.

Jeremy concludes: “We hope to see a recovery and growth in the industry in the next two years as we continue to educate the market on the benefits of using synthetic turf for sports and landscape areas.”

For more information, contact Jeremy at Seamless Flooring Systems:
Tel: +27 861 782 789
Email: jeremy@seamlessflooring.co.za
Website: https://www.seamlessflooring.co.za/

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