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SYNTHETIC GRASS IS FAST-GROWING BUSINESS
FIRM'S REVENUES WENT FROM ZERO TO NEARLY $1 MILLION IN TWO YEARS

The grass is always greener for Jeff Mitnick.

In spring rain, summer drought, autumn chill or winter snow, the front yard of Mitnick's Rutherford, N.J., home is the same bright green. Who worries about Mother Nature when the wonderful world of chemistry provides an all-green, all-the-time lawn?

Mitnick, 58, is the JM behind JM Synthetic Grass Surfacing, a 2-year-old Rutherford company that installs polyethylene grass at homes, playgrounds, commercial sites and public areas such as town squares or road medians.

The company has gone from zero to more than $1 million in revenues in its short history, and Mitnick said he is looking to grow even further as more people learn about a product that retains its appearance year-round with no maintenance.

Artificial grass is often associated with Astroturf and other all-weather surfaces in sports stadiums, but the new line of plastic turf is generations removed from the product patented by Monsanto in 1965.

Like the newer turfs being installed in sports venues, it holds up better to sunlight, drains better and, most important, looks and feels more like real grass. That gives it a natural look during the growing season, even as it looks overly colorful when compared with faded green lawns in cold-weather months.

As Mitnick attempts to build his residential business, he has a solid core of jobs installing plastic grass as a replacement for wood chips or on top of blacktop in playgrounds and day-care centers, Mitnick said. "It's softer, safer, cleaner."

The grass, which is manufactured in South Carolina to Mitnick's specifications, has its own drainage system built in, so there is no problem with flooding, and a weed barrier eliminates unwanted growth.

And it can go on top of almost any surface, including splotchy grass or gravel-filled yards and blacktop or cement playgrounds. JM has even installed its plastic grass over the tar beach of a Manhattan apartment.

JM Synthetic Grass is virtually maintenance free once installed.

That's a big selling point to time-pressed suburban homeowners, and it brings the price of his product in line with the cost of maintaining real grass, Mitnick said.

Installing the synthetic grass costs an average of $5 to $5.25 per square foot, depending on the complexity of the job. That translates into $5,000 to $5,250 for a yard that is 40 feet by 25 feet; $25,000 or more for one 50 by 100.

Over the life of the synthetic grass -- it comes with a 10-year warranty -- a homeowner could easily spend that much for a lawn service, seed and fertilizer, Mitnick said. And that doesn't include the cost of watering the lawn.

Installation takes one or two days, including ground preparation. After the grass is anchored with 12-inch spikes, installers work a fine black sand into the turf at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per square foot, said Jason Mitnick, the founder's son and heir apparent.

Sand is not used on playground installations, but a rubber base is added to make for soft landings.

About three-quarters of JM's business is at day-care centers, with the rest mainly at private homes. Mitnick also sees a future in covering public and commercial properties, such as highway medians or lawns at fast-food restaurants, where low maintenance is important.

After starting his career as a textile salesman, Mitnick got involved with synthetic grass as a salesman under a previous owner, and took over control in 2003 when it experienced financial troubles.

The reason? "He wasn't charging enough," Mitnick said.

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