More Than A Green Thumb

Roderick Gay didn't let setbacks stunt his growth

When Roderick Gay left a career in the healthcare business to start his own landscaping company, he knew that he could put his horticulture degree from Tuskegee University to work. What he didn’t know is that a lack of capital would force him to do business from the trunk of his Ford Taurus.

Gay, 42, founder and president of Preferred Landscape in College Park, Georgia, whose five-employee company posted $600,000 in sales last year and expects to make $1 million this year, also didn’t know that he’d spend a year filling out bank loan applications and meeting with lenders only to be turned down for the initial $50,000 he felt he needed to start his business.

The hang-up, says Gay, was a lack of collateral. “The banks also wanted companies that were in business for five or 10 years,” he recalls. “It was very discouraging.”

Eventually, his parents invested $30,000, and his sister and brother-in-law hired the horticulturist to design a garden for their estate. Gay also landed a $200,000 project for the Alexandra Park in Atlanta. He was able to market his enterprise, hire employees, and purchase needed equipment, including several trucks and tractors. Then, he ploughed the profits from each completed landscaping project back into the company.

According to Gay, Preferred Landscape’s niche is high-end residential and commercial landscaping, construction, and design. The company specializes in “water features,” which include waterfalls running through yards and other innovative water designs.

Along the way, Nathaniel J. Middleton, attorney and deputy clerk with the State of Georgia Supreme Court in Atlanta, says Gay has provided Atlanta with several beautiful parks. “He’s done great work throughout the city and is very creative–especially with waterfalls,” says Middleton. “Roderick also spends time ensuring that everything is done right and to the client’s satisfaction, which I believe has also added to his success.”

Today, Gay is anticipating an upcoming project in South Fulton, Georgia, where he hopes to become the first minority business owner to build a botanical garden.

To new entrepreneurs facing similar financial obstacles, Gay suggests focusing more on your ability to deliver than on your financial needs. “Don’t put too much emphasis on getting a lot of capital to buy equipment, vehicles, or whatever you think you need,” says Gay. “If you can find the clients and deliver the product in a superior way, success will come.”

Preferred Landscape, 4215 Fredericksburg Dr., College Park, GA 30337; 404-763-3879; www.realpages .com/preferredlandscape