Interview with a Plant Advocate: Jim Mumford, San Diego
Jim Mumford began his career in 1977 by opening a flower stand in downtown San Diego called Good Earth Plant & Flower Company. In 2008, GreenScaped Buildings, a company specializing in green roofs, bio-filtration, living walls, and rainwater harvesting systems, was launched as an addition to the Good Earth family.
Today, Jim is known as an industry thought leader and has become a highly sought after speaker. He is a Certified Landscape Professional, Accredited Green Roof Professional, a nationally recognized plantercaper, and is currently studying the fields of biomimicry and biophilia.
Where do you see the interiorscape industry going in the future?
With the convergence of Biophilia, well-being and green building practices, I can only imagine that there will be a better corporate understanding of the value of interior plants in the workplace and a resurgence of their popularity. What once may have been considered a luxury, living interior plants could take on a whole new level importance beyond just being “pretty.”
From a different perspective – will we still be driving to accounts to service them? I’m not sure if that paradigm will change, but never rule out the possibility of “plant care robots!”
When it comes to design inspiration where do you look and what do you do to stimulate your creative juices?
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources – observing nature, walking Balboa Park’s gardens, reading industry and design books, magazines and articles, internet research, traveling and of course what has worked (or not worked) in the past. Then I drink some strong coffee, crank up the classical music and go for it.
When talking to an architect or designer about a new exciting project, how do you balance your desire to demonstrate your expertise with their request that is essentially a request for free design and estimating work?
It’s project dependent. If I’m talking to an architect or designer, I weigh how much I will give away for free before I put on my consultant;s hat and send a design agreement. I’m very up front about it.
If I’m talking directly to the potential client, after they respond that they do not know what they want and clearly don’t have any specifications, we charge a design/spec fee in order to create a proposal. It is then credited toward the job. It’s a win-win, they understand that we cannot spend multiple hours creating the design and spec to have them either give it to our competitors or decide to do nothing.
And if we get the job, it essentially costs them nothing.
What is your super power?
It’s a combination – being engaged in; my industry, the community, developers, architects and designers, paying attention, watching for opportunity and perseverance. And if I hear “no” or “that can’t be done” it means I try harder. I don’t give up easily.
What makes your business unique?
Without being too egotistical – me. In the beginning, I started it. As it has moved along over the years, it has been my ambition and vision that has driven it. I’ve found new areas to put plants (roofs and walls) and dedicated the resources to drive the market.
Over the past decade or so, I have involved my leadership team more and more to help craft the style and direction we are going. I give them major credit for following my lead, contributing their own input and keeping me in check.
What would you tell your younger self about how to grow the demand for your company’s services?
In some cases move faster, in others slow down. Start earlier in my career doing lunch and learns and public speaking.
You recently returned from a trip to Birmingham, Alabama. Did you see them doing anything interesting with the plants there?
Yes! One of the most amazing indoor living walls is in the airport there. I also visited Las Vegas earlier this year and continue to be amazed by what they are doing with both indoor plants and cut flowers. Incredible and mind blowing when you have a large budget to work with.
Most valued book on your bookshelf?
Probably manufacturers’ catalogs.
Currently what is your most favorite program or app and why?
Whitegoods – it’s a light meter!
What professional business resources do you use to help run your company? (for example, business coaches, industry networking groups etc.)
I’ve used business coaches over the years. I’m currently a member of NIN and find their benchmarking very useful. Otherwise, I network like crazy in both local and national organizations – IFMA, AIA and PIA to name a few.
How should plant advocacy organization like Green Plants for Green Buildings go about creating an awareness of plant benefits in the minds of CEOs & CFOs?
Find out where CEOs and CFOs hang out, what they read, what they watch and how they like to obtain information – then give it to them.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
A long time ago, a shopping mall manager took a liking to me. We were still very small and emerging at the time and she shared with me our competitors (a national organization) bid and it blew me away. It was long and detailed – full of information. It changed the way presented our proposals.
More recently, Mario Batalli’s Restaurant Group contacted us a couple of years ago to do a roof top farm on their new location in Hollywood. We determined that a vertical farm was a more viable solution and they love it. Being connected to a famous chef got us on CNN, Fox Business News and in Food and Wine Magazine. This level of press coverage changed the game.
How do you involve your staff when an important company strategy decision is needed to be made?
We have a weekly leaders meeting where we get together for an hour or so and we discuss the day to day as well as the big picture.
When you are in a room full of architects or designers talking about plant benefits, what are you learning?
How much practical knowledge they lack and how much they need us to be successful. Unfortunately, they get a lot of information from the internet, and as Abraham Lincoln once said “do not believe everything you see or read on the web.” Just because there are nice pictures of equisetum in a lobby, doesn’t mean that they can be grown successfully indoors.
When you created your company what did you envision it to be and how does that compare to what it is today?
I started as a bucket stand florist in 1977 when I was 20 – I had no idea I would be doing this 38 years later, loving it and moving it in new and innovative directions – concepts that didn’t exist when I was young and starting out.
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