Field of Dreams
On the surface, it's apparent that hard work and entrepreneurial spirit helped James Dobmeier '80 build a thriving business. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find a foundation of faith and fundamental life principles, which he emphatically credits for his success.
"To me, the most important thing in the world is the Christian message," he explains.
Dobmeier is founder and president of two sister companies: Surface America, the nation's leading playground surfacing company, and A-Turf, a major builder of synthetic turf athletic fields for schools and sports teams.
Headquartered in Williamsville, NY, the two companies, combined, employ 20 people (not including contract installation crews), and generate annual sales of $30 million.
Both incorporate recycled materials into their products and systems, including rubber from post-consumer tires. Both share the same business philosophy.
“We do our best on every project, work honestly and efficiently, and help solve problems for our clients.”
Championing His Home Turf
Dobmeier founded Surface America in 1993, with the help of a corporate partner. The parent company provided financial and other support while he brought the entrepreneurial character necessary to take the company from nothing to first-year revenues of $2 million. According to Dobmeier, Surface America’s padded surfacing systems offer distinct safety advantages over wood chips, sand or pea gravel often used on playgrounds, which see an estimated 100,000 injuries annually.
“The company’s poured-in-place surface stays in place to offer consistent protection to help reduce playground injuries, especially severe incidents such as head trauma,” explains Dobmeier.
As Surface America grew, its parent company saw opportunity in synthetic turf for athletic fields. The leadership approached Dobmeier, in 2002, to help found A-Turf.
Today, A-Turf is the name behind nearly 300 hundred synthetic turf installations, from coast to coast, including fields used for football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and multi-sport complexes. The company did installations for the U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton in California. A-Turf also installed the new field for Canisius College at the Demske Sports Complex in 2008 and the new artificial playing surface for the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium; its first project in an NFL facility. Both are highlights of the company’s work, says Dobmeier.
“As a life-long Bills fan and a Canisius grad and sports supporter, those projects could not be more special,” he says.
Going to Bat for the Miracle League
If Dobmeier takes pride in his business success, he is even more proud of his involvement with the Miracle League. The national baseball program serves children with disabilities in 240 cities across the country. Surface America is the official supply partner for the league and installs specially-designed playing field surfaces that are accessible to persons with disabilities, including children in wheelchairs and those with visual impairments.
"When I see what they do, it brings tears to my eyes," Dobmeier says. "The league has grown to be one of our largest clients and we have installed surfaces at their facilities all over the country, including one in Grand Island."
Laying the Groundwork
As a Canisius student, Dobmeier couldn’t imagine he would be where he is today. He did, however, have a strong grasp of fundamental life principles necessary to succeed.
Growing up in a Catholic family of six children in suburban Buffalo, Dobmeier learned early the importance of hard work and a strong Christian faith. He was also very sports-minded, playing baseball and football in high school, as well as intramural sports at Canisius College.
He points to his parents and oldest brother, Robert, as his greatest influences due to their strong work ethic and spirituality. Robert attended Canisius for two years prior to entering a Catholic seminary, and eventually became a professor of social work and counseling at SUNY Brockport. (A younger brother, Thomas, graduated from Canisius in 1985 and now attends dental school.) Coming from this background, Dobmeier says his choice of Canisius was a natural.
“I loved how the Jesuit educational philosophy at Canisius combined intellect and Christian meaning to teach critical thinking and leadership skills."
After earning a degree in marketing at Canisius, where he met his wife, Susan DeLong '82, Dobmeier earned an MBA in finance at the University at Buffalo. A position with a company in the business forms industry served as a stepping stone to his entry into the playground world, a move Dobmeier says was literally an answer to his prayers.
"My Christianity intertwined with my career at this point as, quite frankly, I prayed for guidance and was led to a company called Sportec International." It was here that the young marketing manager was introduced to products designed to help make playgrounds safer.
In the Game at Canisius
Throughout his career, Dobmeier stayed connected to Canisius College by attending sporting events, particularly Griffin basketball games. His involvement with the college grew as he was selected to serve on the Board of Regents, now in the second year of his term. A-Turf is a major donor to the Blue and Gold Endowment and the Annual Fund, while Dobmeier himself is a strong supporter of the Athletics Department Endowment, placing him as a member of the Leadership Society.
"I have been blessed with business success and feel that it is an honor to give back to my alma mater which played a part in making it all possible," he explains. "Supporting Canisius goes far beyond the actual dollars given to ensure that what the college does so well continues into the future."
The Next Field of Dreams
The Jesuit tradition that helped mold Dobmeier’s character in college continues to shape his Christian faith today.
Among his many interests is writing, something Dobmeier hopes to do more of down the road as a way to promote the principles of Christianity. He maintains a web site, www.justrememberthebasics.com, in which he delves into a variety of topics from exercise to humility.
"I have a heartfelt desire to write, integrating the Christian message and thoughts into current world issues," he concludes. "I want to inspire people to remember the basics -- faith and family -- and the rest will follow. These are the fundamentals I learned growing up and developed further at Canisius. Without them, I don't think I would have had the success I experienced."