Joe Vrankin is President of Turfscape, a leading synthetic turf landscaping solutions provider in North America. Vrankin previously served as the CEO of TopGolf International, where he was responsible for growing the company enterprise value from $25 million to over $250 million, and growing his team from 120 to more than 1,500 employees in under five years.
Prior to that, as the COO for the Arena Football League, he was responsible for all league operations, including being involved in broadcast contracts with NBC and ESPN, collective bargaining agreements with the NFLPA, sponsorship sales, officiating as well as championship weekend of events.
Vrankin was also involved with selling franchises to major business players that included Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Atlanta Falcons owners Arthur Blank, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway as well as rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
A Chicago native, Vrankin earned his bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University and his MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. He’s been married for 27 years and has three children.
Franchise Expo: What was your early professional career like?
Joe Vrankin: I started my professional career in public accounting with Grant Thornton, and after four years there, I accepted a finance position with World Book Publishing. After being there four years, I had the opportunity to lead a start-up division at World Book. During that time, we published 150 non-fiction children’s books. I also created a distribution partnership with Random House publishing, an international development partnership with a UK publisher and licensed the publishing line to approximately one dozen countries around the world. In 1999, I left World Book and joined the Arena Football League as their CFO and two years later became the league’s COO.
FE: After the AFL, you joined TopGolf. What did you enjoy most about that experience?
JV: It was very rewarding to build a business in the early stages — that no one knew for sure if the concept would grow — into the highly profitable company with long-term strong growth that it is today. I was blessed to have a great team around me and really enjoyed being a part of something special. Ironically, while I was the head of a golf entertainment company, I am not a great golfer, and shortly after joining the company, I was invited to play a round of golf in England — we had three locations there — at the course that was hosting the British Open the next week. I played terrible, in fact I played so bad that my caddie, after hitting my fourth shot on the 18th hole into knee-high rough, somehow found my ball in the rough, picked it up and said ‘I think you’re done,’ and he walked off the course holding my golf ball.
FE: How did you end up at Turfscape franchise?
JV: After taking a little rest after my stint with TopGolf, I spent the next year as the COO for a marina management company out of Dallas, and we operated 22 lake, ocean and Caribbean mega yacht marinas. Having gotten burned out commuting from Chicago to Dallas each week, I left there to join the Turfscape team. I had met Turfscape CEO Mark Nicholls during my AFL tenure when he was with Sportexe.
FE: What has your experience been like since joining Turfscape franchise?
JV: Like any opportunity that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, it’s Turfscape’s growth opportunity that is exciting. I believe both groups have a special opportunity within the sports and landscaping segments that are superior opportunities. What makes it all fun is the team I get to work with and get to see them grow while we successfully grow the business.
FE: What are some of the advantages of being a Turfscape franchisee?
JV: Franchisees have the benefit of being a part of a well-known brand in the industry with a reputation for the highest quality products and services. This includes access to the latest innovations through an established supply network; sales, marketing and installation expertise; and ongoing training and support from our internal industry experts. On top of that, there is such a diverse and wide range of residential and commercial applications that there will always be consistent revenue streams for franchisees, regardless of location.
FE: Who is your ideal franchisee?
JV: The ideal Turfscape franchisee must be passionate about this market’s short- and long-term growth prospects — which are substantial — and understand existing environmental challenges. Education is critical and any franchisee that is serious about penetrating this market must be prepared to educate homeowners, businesses and municipalities on why it is the environmentally, aesthetically and fiscally responsible decision to replace ordinary grass with Turfscape.
Our existing franchisees have experienced strong success, and while the brand and its benefits is obviously a part of that, these franchisees understood the work that was required to be successful. They put in that work, utilized the extensive tools and support Turfscape provides, and are now thriving in their respective areas.
FE: Tell us about the synthetic turf landscaping market?
JV: Synthetic turf for landscaping and recreation is a $1 billion industry that is experiencing double-digit growth every year in the U.S. There are a few key factors driving Turfscape growth, starting with the environment. In California and the Southwest region of the U.S., there is a drought going on, making water an extremely precious resource.
Many communities have even placed restrictions on watering and are providing rebates and other financial incentives to inspire those to stop relying on their water-dependent ordinary lawns and switch to Turfscape, which requires no water or chemicals. Aesthetics is obviously important and without the necessary excessive water support, ordinary lawns deteriorate, ultimately hurting the value of a home, business or community. Not only is water a precious commodity, but so is time. To properly maintain ordinary grass, you have to devote a significant amount of time outdoors. Time is extremely valuable, you only have so many non-working hours of the day, and more and more people want that time to be better spent. There’s also a safety aspect, the chemicals used on ordinary grass are dangerous for children and pets.
Lawn-care companies may put signs out to stay off the lawn for a certain period after they spray their chemicals, but your pets and children have to go outside at some point. What happens then? Turfscape is the answer to those problems, and the number of people recognizing that is spreading rapidly, which is why growth and interest in turfscaping is so strong.