Dr Greenthumb
EOY entrant takes on the big world of small business

Garreth Adams, owner of Organic Culture Landscaping Garreth Adams, owner of Organic Culture Landscaping
A few years ago Garreth Adams decided it was "time to grow up".

The former flight attendant says that while it was fun flying around the world, there are only so many ways one can ask a customer if they want beef or chicken for their meal.

Today, he still asks customers what they want but the choices on offer are vast as he has the South African botanical selection to choose from.

The owner of Organic Culture Landscaping has been plying his new trade since 2006 and he says the pressures that come with a small business are made up by the enjoyment of running it.
Humble beginnings
Adams recalls how he teamed up with a childhood friend to start a garden service business. Over time, the two realised that they had different aspirations and went their separate ways.

He also realised that the road to riches was not in the garden service industry as it did not allow him to fulfil his promise as a landscaper.

"Most garden services need to do the bare minimum to survive and that is not how I operate," he says, explaining that the margins are so low that one cannot give the customer's garden the attention it deserves.

As a result, Adams decided to focus exclusively on the landscaping side of things and he has slowly been building a fierce reputation in the East Rand.
Dragging heals
"I had an idea of how businesses ran and operated (when I started). But, actually running your own operation is definitely a challenge.

"The hardest part is the statutory compliance and the red tape that surrounds it. This sentiment is shared by many business owners that I have spoken to."

Adams continued relentlessly to get all his ducks in a row as a business cannot grow if the basics are not in place.

"You approach government support organisations and you get a pile of forms to fill in… If you don't have the knowledge (to complete all the forms) or the cash to hire someone, then you're stuck."

Nevertheless, Adams has received some support over the years but he says the waiting periods are demoralising.

"If you can wait, then there is help out there but it takes time. I couldn't wait," he says, explaining that he needed to get going in order to make a living.
New ideas
While the landscaping business has been growing, Adams knew he needed to take on every new opportunity that came his way. As a result, he opened a small garden centre in the Dubai Centre in Benoni last November.

Adams explains that the centre is the "Oriental Plaza of the East Rand" and that locals seemingly cannot get enough of what the haberdasheries and material shops have to offer.

Also, the centre is centrally located and accessible to established suburbs and new developments.

"I didn't have the capital so I took out a second mortgage on my house," he says, adding that his cousin, the Western Province rugby player Conrad Jantjes, decided to invest in the business.

While the idea seemed good on paper, Adams' timing could not have been worse as the lingering effects of the recession meant people were not spending frivolously. In addition, one of the worst winters in years decimated his stock as black frost hit Gauteng.

Nevertheless, Adams is optimistic as the black frost also means that potential customers will have to replace damaged plants in their gardens.

He says that the life of a small business owner is extremely frustrating and depressing at times but that one has to persevere in order to succeed.

In addition, a good support network will help you to remain strong mentally. Adams says that while his mother has been an emotional supporter, he met a mentor through his church who helps him in making the right business decisions.

"(Keeping your head above water is) all about the people around you."
You reap what you sow
Adams always knew that his ventures would be subject to seasonality but he did not quite understand the extent to which this phenomenon could impact the businesses.

He explains that cash flow has been a major issue to manage as the businesses were undercapitalised from the start.

"Next winter must be a breeze," he says with determination. "I want to make some improvements to the nursery and make sure that there is money to easily pay the overheads."

He adds that he is trying to show his clients that winter should be used as a preparation time for their gardens.

His biggest piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is not to simply plough ahead with an idea if they have the luxury of waiting until there is enough capital.

"Starting a business with the minimum amount of capital means always being on the back foot," he explains.
Sunny skies
Nevertheless, Adams is adamant that his businesses will prosper. He has also set his sights on expanding to Cape Town where his cousin has a number of contacts.

Before this can happen however, he needs to make sure that the existing businesses can run without him and Adams is currently training some of his staff members to manage the two operations.

In the meantime, he is also trying to expand his product and service range and this includes supplying plants to venues and functions. Adams smilingly says that he has even greened up the Coca-Cola Dome for a major function recently, so the sky is the limit.

"You need to breathe, eat and sleep your business… You need to throw yourself into the deep end because you need to make it work."