To dream about where we want to go, we must first understand where we came from. I invite you to the beginnings of our business.
It was sometime before December 1973. He was in the middle of a fancy hair salon with a bunch of plants and materials scattered about. One, two, maybe three trips back to his house or the local hardware store for supplies. He started with positive energy, a few road bumps and feelings of stress, and ended with pure pride. The emotions of an installation stand the test of time. By the end of the day, John Mini completed our first indoor plant installation.
When specifically, we’ll leave that to the historians. December ’73 is what we can read on the 35mm Kodachrome slides from our first photoshoot.
Let’s venture back a few years to 1970. John was graduating college and applying to medical school with halfhearted aspirations of becoming a doctor. The career of a doctor likely met his mother’s and her immigrant upbringing’s expectations. It was around this time he ditched his college job as a NYC taxi driver.
John’s brother Tom hooked him up with a job at a houseplant shop on 3rd Avenue called ‘Mother Nature’. Taxi driver to plant retailer. By 1972, John had impressed the owner and was promoted to manage ‘Mother Nature 2’, which was opening on Madison Avenue. Thoughts of medical school faded as he unearthed a passion for plants and business. A medical doctor was truly an admiral path. But, plant doctor, plant connoisseur, gardener. Now those are lives truly lived!
At this job, John stumbled on an opportunity. Some of the shop’s customers were local business owners. These customers returned with feedback. They loved their plants, but they couldn’t keep them alive. This was the moment the seed of our business was planted.
John committed to making his passion his profession. He was a horticulturalist and nature lover at heart. He was also a New Yorker through and through, coming to age in the city dubbed ‘The Concrete Jungle’. He was determined to make this city beautiful by bringing a slice of nature to the concrete jungle one plant program at a time.
His plan: find and talk to a business, propose plants and pots for the space, find the plants and pots, install them, and keep those plants alive with a maintenance program. Then do it again.
We’re back in 1973. The scramble of John Mini’s first install was done. As with any installation, you swiftly forget the struggles, step back, and admire your meaningful work. Richard Stein Hair Salon now had an interior landscape, a term not widely understood as the ‘interiorscape’ industry was in its infancy. It was wild, beautiful, and exotic. The planting grounded the salon’s waiting area, a place to sit and socialize.
In the days following an installation a service person arrives and an assessment ensues. Why were these plant varieties chosen? Is there enough light? Wait… there is no access to water? What was the sales rep and installer thinking?!?
The irony. John sold it. John installed it. The next day, it was John who returned to service it. He was the salesman, installer, and horticulturalist.
After that first project, a business took root. There were two employees and zero dollars to pay them. Employee one was John himself. He did everything and anything that needed to be done. He designed and sold the accounts, purchased the plants and containers, delivered, installed, performed maintenance, answered customer calls and everything in between.
Employee two was John’s wife and today’s Chairwoman of the Board, Sue Ann. She wore many hats from horticulturalist to plant and material procurement. She’ll joyously reminisce about her holiday décor production days and joylessly about handling hundreds of poinsettias. Some things never change. In the early days of the business, she was also the financial bookkeeper.
Our company’s ‘office’ and ‘greenhouse’ was John and Sue Ann’s home on Hawkins Street, City Island. Our first ‘installation truck’ was John’s Volkswagen Van. The same van he and Sue Ann drove across the country in. Our first ‘service vehicle’ was Sue Ann’s Volkswagen Beetle.
Over the next four years, John worked hard and poured his passion into the business. Those are choice words for struggled and scrapped by. He sold and installed the next few clients, which included Bagel Nosh, Magic Pan, the New Rochelle Phone Company, and the Philippine Center. John purchased our first vehicle for the business, a ford van financed on a loan from his mother. At the time, the business couldn’t get an appointment with a bank.
Come 1977, our business sprouted, and it was time to grow the team. Sue Ann found the first recruit. While taking a vegetable canning class at the New York Botanical Gardens, Sue Ann sat at a table with Debbie Traynor. Debbie conveyed that her husband, Ed, shared a passion for the indoor plant work John Mini was starting. Ed Traynor became the business’s first hire. Thirty-seven years later, Ed retired from John Mini Distinctive Landscapes and was inducted into our Hall of Fame.
The 80’s is when our business branched out and became an industry pioneer. John, fueled by our timeless value to ‘Push the Limits and Dream Big’, took on first of a kind indoor atrium landscapes. These projects became iconic New York landscapes and had John Mini honored at the White House twice.
Our business relocated four times to accommodate growth. In the late ‘70s, John and Sue Ann moved the business out of their house into a plant shop at 259 City Island Avenue, Bronx NY. In the back there was a closet where John operated the business that would officially become John Mini Indoor Landscapes in 1977.
Next was a small office he sublet from Artie’s Italian Restaurant a few blocks down. Then a big move to Fordham Street, City Island. The space was an old boat yard rented from Hild Sails. Here the business refurbished an old office, set up two tunnel greenhouses, and bolted on several storage spaces to support the business to 2004.
In 2004, the business moved to our headquarters in Congers, NY. Shortly after, we changed our name to John Mini Distinctive Landscapes to represent the breadth of our team’s work.
Today, the business has five distinct revenue streams: indoor landscaping, commercial holiday décor, outdoor landscaping, landscape construction projects, and fabrication. Together we serve over 2,000 clients across the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
This year, as a team, we turn 50 years old.
Throughout our year, we’ll celebrate.
We’ll share historical information about our journey, including milestones and challenges overcome. We will reflect on our history and how it provides a foundation to catapult us into the future.
We will cherish and express gratitude for our clients, those that encourage us to make our passion our profession.
Most importantly, we will celebrate the people of John Mini Distinctive Landscapes. We’ve built iconic landscapes, impacted millions of people through the beauty of our work, won hundreds of awards, persevered and grown. Every day, we worked hard to achieve. And every teammate, past and present, is a part of this legacy.
And now, if you are reading this note, you hold the opportunity to shape the next 50 plus years of our team’s legacy. Fifty years from now, someone on the John Mini team will write a similar message in celebration of our 100th year in business.
They will put pen to paper.
They will write to a bigger team. A team serving clients and building projects in new horizons.
And, they will share your story. A story of the risks you took, the first of a kind project you built, the communities you transformed and made beautiful, and the achievements you furthered.
I can’t wait to live that story together. Thank you John Mini team for all your incredible work. And, cheers to turning 50.