More than 500,000 Hispanic-Americans work in the landscape industry across the country. Pathways into landscape careers and business ownership are varied, but growth opportunities and a love of the outdoors fuels many Latinos’ longevity in the industry.
How They Entered the Industry
For Ray Rueda, CEO of Nature’s Dream Landscape, based in Pinecrest, Florida, he had previously owned a computer assembly/wholesale business. In the 90s, PC manufacturers began selling directly via the web and squeezed out smaller firms.
“In 2002, I closed the computer business and bought agricultural land and went to college to take horticulture courses; then started a nursery business that grew from 5 to 23 acres,” Rueda says. “At the same time with my wife, a landscape architect, we started Nature’s Dream Landscape to serve high-end residential clients. In 2015, I sold the nursery and came full time into the landscape business.”
Alex Romo, president and general manager of Green & Clean Landscaping, Inc., based in Greensboro, North Carolina, started out cutting meat at Costco. He began working for ValleyCrest (now BrightView) in 2004 and fell in love with being outside and helping people.
Rafael Alvarez, executive vice president of Semmer Landscapes, based in Chicago, Illinois, has been working in the industry since he was 13 years old as he helped his father cut lawns. He says he has enjoyed it ever since.
During his time in the industry, Alvarez has worked his way up from the bottom starting as a laborer, then foreman while he was going to school. Once he graduated college, he became a supervisor and kept moving up until he reached his current role of vice president.
Being a Minority Owner
Romo says he always wanted to open his own business, not just so he could be his own boss but so he could help others.
“At Costco and ValleyCrest, I wasn’t able to help others the way I wanted like hiring people and teaching people and creating a strong team that you believe in,” Romo says.
Romo says he tries to hire other Hispanics to work for his company but will hire any ethnicity that wants to work. He has a small crew of 12 employees who have been with him for 6 to 8 years. Romo tries to teach them about the business, as some have said they want to start their own companies. He says when they see how much is involved with HR, banks and loans, most change their mind.
Rueda says being a small business owner requires you to wear many different hats such as nursery grower, marketing and sales manager, HR manager and more.
Romo says he struggled for five years to get a business credit card or a loan from a bank. Similarly, Rueda says despite having a professional education and speaking English well, he struggled to secure finances.
“I believe the biggest problem for Latinos in the landscaping industry is the education on how to make the foundation of your company better,” Romo says. “I’ve seen how my friends struggle with going to the bank for loans.”
Both Romo and Rueda say they don’t have customers seeking them out because their business is Hispanic-owned.
“Clients don’t want to invest $5,000 – $100,000 based on race…they want to hire companies that provide lots of value,” Rueda says.
Romo says he’s had issues with clients wanting cheaper prices from him because he’s a Latino. He often explains to these customers why he charges a certain price. Romo says he understands where they are coming from, but because they are professionals, they need to cover their overhead. When he relates it to their own businesses, they understand.
Being Hispanic in the Industry
Alvarez says being the vice president at Semmer Landscape and being Hispanic in the industry demonstrates that anyone can do it. He says it does call for hard work, long days and long nights, but it’s worth it.
“Honestly I could not be in the position I am right now without the help of my parents for always pushing me to be better, especially my father,” Alvarez says. “And also, my wife and my two kids without their support I could not do what I do daily. Semmer Landscape opened the door for me to show what I can do, and I would like to thank Greg Semmer (the owner) for believing in me as a Mexican-American. I will always be thankful for that.”
His favorite aspect of working in the industry is being challenged by different projects and situations that arise.
“I’m proud to be part of a group that has a high participation in the landscape industry,” Rueda says. “Now the challenge is to get more Hispanics to develop and reach higher positions and ownership within the industry.”
Rueda’s favorite part about working in the industry is creating beautiful spaces where people can enjoy the outdoors more.
“Chasing smiles and ‘wows’ when people arrive at their homes and businesses and see the transformation we can make in a short time,” Rueda says.
Romo says as a Hispanic, he feels responsible to represent his ethnicity in this country.
“It’s not easy when you got to meetings for the Department of Transportation of North Carolina and you’re the only Mexican in the room,” Romo says.
Romo has been working to help other Hispanics get connected with accountants, lawyers and marketing companies to help them build the strong foundation they need for their businesses to grow. His favorite part of the business is helping his people.
“I love to be where I am for my family and for my employees,” Romo says. “I’m the first one jumping out of the helicopter, and I’m the last one to jump in, all the time. And it’s tiring, but I love it because I have the power to help.”
Plans for the Future
In the next four years, Rueda wants to double the size of his company and develop the best landscape company in South Florida with a professional, client-oriented team. Similarly, Alvarez would like to help grow Semmer into one of the landscape powerhouses of Chicago.
Romo says he’s learned that being the biggest is not necessarily the best, so he has shifted his focus to perfecting his company’s systems at their current size.
“I want to be the best,” Romo says. “I want to be a good example for my community, for my industry, and for my ethnicity. Success is the success of my employees and the company, not how much money you make.”
As for changes in the industry, Rueda says he’d like to see more educated small business owners with a good understanding of their financials and goals and providing a safe work environment. Alvarez says he would like to the public perception of landscaping as a low-paying job and see more Hispanics in higher positions.