Wade Wilbur, co-owner of Sod Shop Companies, shares the inspiring beginnings of the business and how being part of the Harmony network has elevated their success.

When Wade Wilbur moved to Kansas City in 2004 to oversee what was then called The Sod Shop, he took on more than a position in the business—he embraced a family legacy that had been growing since 1996. It was then that his father and uncle laid the foundation for what would become a flourishing business.

A Family Affair: The Beginnings, Expansion, and Growth

Sod Shop started as a humble business in Wichita, KS, supplying sod to their landscaping company and selling sod for retail. In a span of 15 years, what began as a small venture expanded to include two farms—one with approximately 650 acres outside of Wichita, KS, and another near Lawrence, KS, with around 650 acres of production. Expansion is still ongoing to meet growing demand.

“We have been gradually increasing our acres, mostly at the Lawrence location, ever since we came in 2011,” Wilbur discloses.

The family-owned business now produces mainly tall fescue grass, a cool-season variety that grows in the northern and southern transition regions. They also cultivate small amounts of Bluegrass at the Lawrence location and Bermuda and Zoysia grass varieties in Wichita.

These diverse offerings allow Sod Shop to provide high-quality sod for landscapers, homeowners, and even golf courses and other sports fields. Leveraging their background in landscaping, they also offer installation services in the Kansas City market.

As a household name in Kansas, Sod Shop aims to be a one-stop solution for all landscaping needs, with the Wichita location also selling hardscape items such as rock, mulch, and topsoil.

Expanding Reach with Harmony Brands

Sod Shop has been a pivotal partner for Harmony Brands—a network of over 150 local sod farms across the US and Canada—since 2015. This strategic partnership has mutually benefited both parties, with Sod Shop contributing valuable insights and expertise to the network. In return, Harmony Brands has provided Sod Shop with a platform to broaden its reach and resources.

Wilbur is also a member of the Turfgrass Producers International (TPI). He proudly shares that one of his favorite things about being part of the industry is its fast-paced nature and the connections made with employees, customers, and other sod farms.

Today, Sod Shop services over 34 stores for Harmony in the eastern half of Kansas, mainly in the greater Wichita and Kansas City metro areas. The business leverages traditional and new-age forms of marketing to further expand its reach, participating in trade show booths and maintaining a website and social media presence. This multifaceted approach ensures they stay connected with their customer base and continue growing their business.

Overcoming Challenges

A sod business has its unique set of challenges, particularly the ever-increasing cost of labor and the shifting dynamics of the US workforce.

“The sod business is not a Monday-Friday, 8-4 job,” says Wilbur, referring to the younger American workforce often seeking these hours. He explains that the work in the industry extends far beyond that window.

Wilbur highlights the value of having a good mix of long-tenured employees as well as H2A workers. He appreciates the commitment and willingness of the team to put in the hours, especially during sod harvesting. “After we harvest the sod, the clock is ticking on when it ultimately expires,” he adds.

Many of their H2A workers return season after season, improving their skills and efficiency with each passing year, which Wilbur finds invaluable.

Innovation and Technological Advances Driving Efficiency

Innovation has been a cornerstone of the Sod Shop’s success, significantly contributing to its farming efficiency.

“We have been working with Sabanto and tried out autonomous mowing for the majority of the season last year,” Wilbur explains. This technological advancement allows for precise and efficient maintenance of the vast acreage. 

Additionally, both farms are 100% irrigated by pivots, a feature setting Sod Shop apart from most competitors in the Kansas City market. This comprehensive irrigation system ensures the sod is consistently and adequately watered, providing a superior product to consumers.

Rooted In Success: Cultivating Excellence and Strengthening Community

Wilbur believes that while innovation and continued research and development are crucial, fostering a positive work culture is part of the foundation of a successful business. He takes pride in having an awesome crew who are treated like family, and this sense of community is reflected in their dedication and hard work.

His dedication to his employees goes far beyond the workplace. He traveled to Mexico to visit many H2A employees in their homes, showing a deep personal connection and commitment to their well-being. He even attended a wedding, where he had the honor of purchasing the wedding cake for the newlyweds, further demonstrating his heartfelt support and care for his team.

Wilbur emphasizes that a supportive and collaborative environment is key to employee satisfaction and business success. This ethos has been instrumental in maintaining the company’s reputation for excellence and reliability.

Building on Traditions, Continuing the Legacy

Looking ahead, Wade Wilbur is slated to become the sole owner of the Sod Shop Companies, as Ted Wilbur is set to retire by the end of 2024. This transition marks a new chapter for the company, with Wilbur continuing to uphold the values and traditions that have made Sod Shop a leader in the industry.