Real Simple Magazine – Family Business Article

by | Apr 30, 2008

A lifelong family interest in gardening and a shared passion for creating beautiful spaces led to the establishment of a thriving landscaping business for these family landscapers – but only after each of the partners had first branched out on their own, communing with their craft as individuals.

“I never thought of designing gardens as a talent. It was just something I could do,” says Val, a former art gallery owner, of the inception of her business thirteen years ago. Finding herself in a fix after an alarming interest-rate hike, she turned to landscaping as an income generator. Although she’d always been a keen gardener, Val never thought of it as a way of making money until her design for a garden in White River caught neighbours’ attention, and they asked her to “do” hers. When she realised a life-long dream and moved to Cape Town, new projects included second and even third gardens for happy clients she had worked with in Mpumalanga.

Val had been operating under who own name when her sons joined it called for a change. They settled on Red Daffodil one day over lunch with Val’s friend, Rita. She recalled how mortified she had been when, during her first year at school, her class was asked to draw daffodils – and her’s turned out to be the only red one in a sea of yellow on the wall. What was an embarrassing moment for Rita appealed to the family as it signified the singular approach on which they pride themselves.

Val’s youngest son Chris had been trapped in an office job in London for a few years. He returned just as the business needed support in managing their fast-expanding business. Although he had studied botany at university, he admits that he had been a bit skeptical. “I was aware that we might clash but I started on a part-time basis and gradually got more involved.” Today, he believes that it is their shared background that gives them an edge. “We share values and outlooks so a large part of how we operate in intuitive and doesn’t need to be discussed in meetings or promoted in memos.”

Having had the opportunity to each do their own thing before Red Daffodil was formed gave them a good start “Coming back together as partners means we are friends as well, not just a mother and sons”.

To bridge the inevitable strain that comes with going into business with family, Chris believes that work should stay at the office. “Family businesses need down time. It’s great to have a common purpose, but you have to be careful that it remains the family that owns the business, not the other way around.” Val makes this work by spending a lot of her free time on her own, “being very quiet”.

When Val says how proud she feels of the way she and her boys have been able to forge a successful venture, you can tell she is not measuring their return on investment against a financial yardstick. “Success is not only about orders received or the bank balance but about the interpersonal relationships between the three of us, between us as management and our staff, and between us and our clients.” The nurturing and caring values that Red Daffodil stands for, and the personal levels of service they offer, are very important to their clients “And we have so much fun working together! There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie between us, of trust and respect,” says Val. “I love spending time with my sons. Being at the office together reminds me of Friday nights spent around the table, chatting, from the time the boys were very young.”

Growing their venture hasn’t been a calculated strategy for this green-fingered family but rather an organic process that’s as rewarding as the gardens they design, establish and maintain.


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