CURT ALEXANDER, 55, of South Philadelphia, owns Urban Jungle, a full-service garden center in South Philly that also specializes in vertical landscaping. By adding green, sustainable features to vertical surfaces, Urban Jungle is able to create gardens with dynamic visual impact. The business began in 2009 and recently leased space for a second location in Pennsport.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for Urban Jungle?
A: When I moved into the city I realized there was no good place to find gardening supplies, plants, things like that. So it has evolved from working out of a garage and selling window boxes into a full-blown, green business.
Q: Startup money?
A: I put $100,000 into the business and got a matching grant of $50,000 from the Merchant Fund, which supports local businesses in this area.
Q: What's the biz do?
A: The business has three components: outside landscaping and retail [are two]. And they're about a 50/50 split in terms of generating most revenue. There's also a third component, which is commercial green walls [a wall covered with ivy or other foliage] and [greenery-covered roofs.] That is about 10 percent of the business, but we believe it has growth potential.
Q: The biz model?
A: The landscaping is done on a proposal basis. We do a lot of roof decks, which are anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. I would say roof decks make up about half the landscaping business. If there's green walls it's probably going to cost $10,000 to $15,000, and we probably do about 15 of those a year. We also do a lot of window-box installations, and those are smaller jobs in the $500 to $1,200 range.
Q: Your customers?
A: We have property-management companies and maintain the front of their buildings. And then a lot of residential, probably 80 percent, a lot of container gardening.
Q: How big a biz is this?
A: It's a million-dollar business right now. The employees fluctuate between seven and 14, and five are full-time.
Q: What differentiates you from other businesses?
A: I would say the scale of what we do. The vertical [landscape] focus differentiates us, for sure. [Plus the] planters, [green] walls, a newer look that nobody else is doing and on a larger scale. Manufacturers of containers don't think on an urban scale, which has to be narrow and tall and fit on a patio. We're also making big street planters that nobody can tip over.
Q: What's next?
A: We're going to develop the Pennsport space into a full-on garden center in the spring, [with] much bigger plants, bigger specimens, and we have a bigger space to store stuff. That will give us a chance to demonstrate water features [such as] fountains, waterfalls in an urban environment. I think we can double our revenues in three to four years. I think we'll be promoting green walls a lot, too.