Taking a Hands-On Appoach

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Updated Mar 15, 2013

If any phrase would describe Sid Grant and his company, Grant Garden Group, it would be this: hands-on. Sid works on every job his company gets and he has surrounded himself with employees with well-honed skills, which ensures he never has to hire specialty subcontractors on a job.

“Mine are the first pair of boots on the ground and the last to leave,” Grant says. The company takes on a variety of jobs, both high-end residential and commercial. “From large estates to planting a few azaleas,” he says. He has one project manager, one foreman and about 12 employees. Sid thinks he could grow the company, but he doesn’t want to lose the hands-on touch. “We want to stay small, no more than one big project or two medium-size jobs at a time,” he says.

Early in life, Sid thought he might work his way into the auto racing world. He’d done some wrenching, paint and body work for several racing teams and hoped to work his way onto a pit crew. And he still keeps a hand in it, restoring vintage International Scout pickups. But the fickle nature of the racing business led him to find steadier work with a water garden company when he was 19. Sid enjoyed the work so much that when the company he worked for closed its doors, he went into business for himself with nothing more than a truck and a wheelbarrow.

From water gardens Sid expanded into landscaping and irrigation. Since every water feature needs landscaping, Sid wisely capitalized on that opportunity. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of learning, but what made him successful was that he enjoyed it so much. He loved designing water features, working with heavy equipment, choosing and learning about plants and vegetation, and how the mud and machines and hard work of construction results in the realization of an artistic vision.

Landscape maintenance doesn’t give him the same sense of enthusiasm, so he’s avoided it as much as possible. Hardscapes and outdoor living areas, however, fit well with Sid’s construction orientation, so that has become a big part of the business. Sid recently started another company, Grant Trails, which specializes in bike and hiking trail design and construction.

Sid says he might have married earlier except he was so busy he rarely had time to date. In his mid-30s, however, his patience paid off when he met his wife-to-be, Shay. She was working as a horticulture and natural resources extension agent for the University of Georgia, had a master’s degree in horticulture and was the fourth generation in a line of successful nurserymen. Her great-grandfather founded Bonnie Plants, naming it honor of his wife. Shay’s 85-year-old grandfather retired from Bonnie Plants this year. Although no longer family owned, the company is one of the largest and most successful nurseries in the Southeast.

It was a marriage made in landscaping heaven, as Shay pitched in to help with design work and to expand Sid’s already considerable plant knowledge. Sid says he thought he knew a lot about plants, but all he has to do is mention one to Shay and she will give him the Latin name and an extensive recitation of its history, properties and maintenance requirements. Today Shay is busy raising the couple’s two young children, but she still finds time to schedule appointments, help with the bookkeeping and get her hands dirty.

Sid feels the biggest challenge he faces are what he calls, “outside corporate landscape firms.” Being just 40 minutes from downtown Atlanta, he says there are a lot of firms that can outbid him, but lack the hands-on touch he offers and what he calls his “one phone call” philosophy. If a customer ever has a problem or something comes up where a schedule needs to be changed, there’s only one phone number to call for Grant Garden Group. That’s Sid’s personal line, and it hasn’t changed in 20 years.

Sid also refuses to do anything on the cheap. Regardless of the size or nature of the job, everything is done with the most durable materials to the highest commercial standards. “There are a lot of people building water features that won’t last three years,” he says.

The other challenge he says is working with outside architects who don’t have a craftsman’s hands-on knowledge of irrigation systems and water features. That can lead to plans that are unworkable or much more expensive than what a client should really pay. To help avoid that dilemma, Grant Garden Group has its own in-house landscape architect. But if push comes to shove, Sid just won’t build something he knows is inadequate.

Finding a balance between these conflicts is never easy, but Gainesville is still a relatively small town and Sid has another philosophy about this he calls his “grocery store” philosophy. He believes “If you’re going to be successful in a town like this, you have to do business in such a way that you never have to worry about running into an angry client in the grocery store. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years,” he says, “and I never worry about who I’m going to meet in the grocery store.”

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