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Entrepreneurial spotlight

How two lifelong friends started a turf enterprise

Scottsdale natives use corporate background to run a landscaping company

Posted 5/2/24

It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and Curtis Mario Frank and Karl Baum are sipping their morning espressos at Turfli’s showroom at the corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road, an …

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Entrepreneurial spotlight

How two lifelong friends started a turf enterprise

Scottsdale natives use corporate background to run a landscaping company

Posted

It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and Curtis Mario Frank and Karl Baum are sipping their morning espressos at Turfli’s showroom at the corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road, an intersection visited by upwards of 50,000 drivers a day.

“We joke around and say we bought a billboard that came with an office,” Turfli COO Karl Baum said who co-founded the artificial grass and yardscape company with CEO Curtis Mario Frank.

In two years, Turfli has grown from an idea to a nationally expanding enterprise helmed by two childhood friends from Scottsdale who run their growing company like white-collar professionals. After all, it’s the only way they know how.

Combining white and blue

Frank and Baum first met while attending St. Maria Goretti Roman Catholic Church in Scottsdale at the age of 15.

Despite attending different high schools (Frank attended Chaparral High School, and Baum attended Saguaro High School), the two friends always talked about opening a business together.

But life took Frank and Baum in different directions. Frank spent two decades working in finance and tech while Baum spent his career overseas, working in the mining sector from West Africa to the South Pacific, eventually working in tech as well.

“I was in finance and I got to a point where I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t want to work for the man anymore. I just need the right idea,’” said Frank, the recovering commodities broker.

The idea came while Frank was shuffling through predatorily priced quotes for artificial grass while remodeling his Scottsdale home.

The recovering hedgefund portfolio manager started asking questions and was soon impressed with the growth opportunity along with the “viable product market fit” to provide honestly priced artificial turf and yardscape solutions to homes and businesses in the sunny Southwest.

It was around this time when Baum was asked to assist in resuscitating a mining project in Colorado that was hemorrhaging capital by the minute, forcing investors to pull their funding and shut down the project.

Baum reached out to Frank and asked if he needed help. “It was kind of serendipitous that the planets aligned,” Baum said.

By then, Frank was beginning to make hay, but all without business cards, invoices or even a website.

“As an entrepreneur, you often spend all your time and effort on the wrong things,” Frank said. “Karl does all the things that I’m not good at and vice versa. It’s a good relationship because it takes a multitude of different talents to run a business, and I think together we have those skill sets while separately maybe we don’t.”

The first year of running a turf and yardscape business operated by two ex-tech junkies was riddled with mistakes - some expensive and some not. Thankfully for Frank and Baum, making and learning from mistakes is the bread and butter of a good business and it didn’t take long for them to find their stride.

“We try to take the best qualities of the white-collar industry into the blue-collar industry,” Frank said. “We come from the same ilk. The corporate lifestyle is where you show up early and you over-communicate: ‘This is what’s going to happen next,  and this is our deadline.’ We take pride in the way we communicate with our clients.”

Since establishing a presence in the Valley, Turfli has diversified itself by offering clients more outdoor solutions like installing pavers, walkways, curbing and block walls. Its artificial grass services compliment hardscapes, outdoor kitchens, living areas, pools, putting greens and more. 

At the core of Turfli is a deep bench of skilled artisans and craftsmen who provide quality work at a reasonable price, things that Baum and Frank say set them apart from their competitors.

“A lot of our competitors have tremendous overhead,” Baum said. “We don’t have a fleet of trucks that you’re paying for. We’re nimble and agile and still deliver the same quality of craftsmanship at an honest price.”

Conservation a priority

While many of Turfli’s clientele are those who are tired of paying landscapers every month for the grass to look good twice a year, Frank says many neighborhoods and HOAs are eager to promote water conservation efforts by replacing their grass with quality-installed turf or putting greens.

Arizona customers are also incentivized to install artificial grass by taking advantage of state water rebates.

And with Scottsdale’s recent commitment to sustainable water management by banning the use of natural grass on the front lawns of all new builds, customers are looking to companies like Turfli to install artificial grass in their yards.

Frank and Baum have also registered Turfli as a Smartscape company.

A program developed by Tucson Water, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, the Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association, Smartscape provides business owners comprehensive training on the fundamentals of design, installation, irrigation and maintenance of desert-adapted landscapes.

Turfli is a registered Smartscape company. (Photo courtesy of Terry Kim)
Turfli is a registered Smartscape company. (Photo courtesy of Terry Kim)

The Smartscape stamp provides Turfli customers the peace of mind that their landscapers are trained in the efficient use of water.

“Karl and I are pretty passionate about water conservation,” Frank said, the recovering regional account executive. “Not only are we making people’s yards look like a resort, but we’re also doing the Lord’s work.”

Two years since establishing itself as a Scottsdale business, Turfli has plans to expand into the East and West Valleys, Texas and California as early as January.

By the end of the day, Frank’s and Baum’s morning espressos are replaced with martinis (or sparkling water). And despite the years of corporate climbing, the two lifelong friends can rest easy knowing that it was all meant to be.

“This is kind of fun for us because for the clients, they act like we invented fire, but for us it just comes naturally. We communicate and we do our job.”

Turfli is located at 7126 E. Shea Blvd., Suite B in Scottsdale. For more information, visit turfli.com or call 480-405-0725.

We invite our readers to submit their civil comments on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org. Cyrus Guccione can be reached at cguccione@iniusa.org.