Stephen Mull ’94: A Synthetic Grass (Business) Grows in the Desert
Although the synthetic grass products that Albright graduate Stephen Mull ’94 sells and installs can never take root and grow, his business ideas certainly do.
Mull has cultivated and nurtured several successful businesses in Arizona and California as a founding member of The Synthetic Grass Store, Arizona Turf Masters, The Synthetic Grass Store of California and two commercial/residential real estate companies.
He and friend Doug Porter started Arizona Turf Masters — a synthetic-lawn installation business — in 2006, seeing it as a way to add low-maintenance, long-lasting beauty to homes in a desert environment. Although new to the industry, Mull brought a finance background to the partnership to complement Porter’s project management experience.
“When we started Arizona Turf Masters, artificial grass was still in its infancy,” Mull explains. “The few vendors that I visited seemed to be several weeks to months out for installation. The industry was begging for competition. After installing this product at our house, I remember laying on the grass running my hands across the tips of the grass blades and thinking, ‘This is going to be big … really big.’”
His instinct was correct. By 2008, even with the start of the Great Recession, installations were brisk. However, while demand was high, the process of obtaining the materials for installation — including synthetic grass, tools, rental equipment and other items — was cumbersome.
To smooth the path, Mull opened The Synthetic Grass Store with his wife Bonnie in 2008.
“It became apparent that there was a significant need for a company like The Synthetic Grass Store,” Mull says. “Purchasing all of the materials necessary for installation was inefficient, as there was no one-stop shop for contractors, designers or DIYers. From our first year in business through today, I can only recall one year when we did not see year-over-year, top- and bottom-line growth.”
Mull attributes this, in part, to the growth in the industry as a whole, but more importantly, to the team of professionals who have come together in his companies. The culture created throughout Mull’s businesses is customer-centric; built on a foundation of integrity, quality and expertise; and one that is fun for the employees.
He says: “I love the quote from author Simon Sinek, ‘Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.’ We have taken that to heart.”
Having grown through the Great Recession, Mull’s stable of businesses faced another potentially devastating disruption to operations when the COVID-19 pandemic raged.
“Surprisingly,” he says, “the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about tremendous growth. In Arizona, companies in construction or that supplied construction materials were allowed to stay open as essential businesses. While our showrooms were all closed, we did take phone and internet orders for pickup and delivery.”
In addition, many people working from home decided they wanted to remodel their backyards.
“This allowed all our grass businesses to experience extraordinary growth over the last two years,” Mull says. “Over the next two years, we expect to double the number of locations we operate nationwide.”
That expansion is underway. Recently, the Mulls moved to Florida, where they plan to open new locations.
Mull credits acquiring and applying useful knowledge throughout this academic, professional and personal life for his career success.
“A sound educational foundation goes a long way,” he explains. “It’s the little bits and pieces of information you pick up along the way that make the difference.”
For example, Mull recalls his high school geometry teacher promising Mull that he would need to know the Pythagorean theorem during his life. Mull had scoffed.
“However, I couldn’t believe it when that’s what I needed square up a house,” Mull laughs.
“At Albright, Dr. ‘Air’ Martin taught me about time value of money. That turned out to be one of the most powerful concepts I learned in college.”
It’s a concept that Mull has applied time and time again throughout his fruitful career.