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African American History Month: Black Men in Business – Part 4

The path to making money, building generational wealth and cultivating a business can be non-linear, with different looks for different people.

Is college right for everyone? Should students learn a trade, a skill they can fall back on in case of hard times?

Napoleon Berry (retired Wonder Bread employee) and Rodney Berry (former Marine and firefighter) – the father-son duo behind long-standing Berry & Son Landscaping – believe that hard work trumps all. 

The Berrys believe that the American Dream is indeed possible, with or without college. However, hard work, education and a growth mindset are imperative. 

TSD: What type of business do you own?

Berry & Son Landscaping: Commercial landscaping company.

TSD: How many employees do you have?

B&SL: 16 

TSD: How long have you been in business?

B&SL: 40-plus years.

TSD: Has the company always been Berry & Son Landscaping?

B&SL: Yes, it has always been Berry & Son.

TSD: We understand in addition to this being a father and son business, other family members are involved. Can you tell us about their roles?

Napoleon Berry: My son and I started the business together and once my wife passed, one of my daughters assumed the office manager responsibilities. I also have three grandsons performing various roles for the business. I wanted to teach them the importance of business ownership and show them as a Black man, you have to work harder, prepare longer and create your own opportunities so that YOU control the outcome. Working for yourself is the only way to do that completely. 

Vacationing together in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Berry family believes in working hard and playing hard. (Courtesy photo)

TSD: Both of you have or had other careers outside of this business. What was your motivation for starting this business?

NB: I started the business when my son was in high school so he could have extra money. My motivation has always been to work hard to obtain whatever you want out of life.

TSD: Rodney, knowing that some don’t want to join the “family business,” how did you respond to your dad starting the business? 

Rodney Berry: It’s actually funny – I was cutting grass before my dad and he saw that I was passionate about it and said, “Why don’t we start doing our own thing?” He would pick me up from school and I would be so embarrassed – we’d have a lawnmower in the back where seats were supposed to be. 

From the very beginning, if we made $300, he gave me $150. We always split everything down the middle and have always had a great personal and working relationship. My dad is my best friend. 

After we started rolling, those same friends who laughed at our car missing a backseat wanted to work with us! If guys from the neighborhood got out of jail and needed a job, we were always there to help them with employment. 

Whatever he did, my dad always took me with him and taught me a great work ethic. His legacy of hard work and helping the community will live on through me, my sons, their children and so on. 

TSD: What impact does your business have or do you hope your business will have in the future? On your family, community, etc.

RB: Generational wealth is the goal. I hope to create something that will never die, that would add much more than income, like integrity and build character. Not just for my family, but others, too. Throughout the years we’ve hired countless young men from the neighborhood, who have gone on to lead productive lives; if you were a young Black man desiring to work, we put you to work!

TSD: What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in entering your field?

RB: 

  1. Educate yourself. The field is highly competitive. We’ve built a large client base because we’ve been at it for so long. But now, we must operate in a way that sets us apart. 
  2. Do an excellent job and exceed expectations. So often now, people perform basic tasks just to get paid. If you want to continue to get paid, give them something they can’t live without. Do what they could not do. Strive for perfection. 
  3. Don’t take on more than you can handle – that often lends itself to low performance. You will make the money in time if you are consistent. 
  4. Be fare. Don’t overcharge trying to make ALL the money from one job. Don’t undercharge so you get the job and become upset when you have worked all day on that one job and have little profit. Educate yourself on the market and develop a strategy that works for you.

TSD: What advice do you have for other Black business owner hopefuls?

RB: Though it might be a different task, the principles are the same: Do your homework, work hard consistently and be the very best you can be in your craft. Also, I worked a full-time job (as a fireman) for years before also doing this full-time. Some people jump out there too quick, unable to sustain themselves, which leads to frustration, underperforming and overcharging. Pace yourself.

TSD: If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing? 

NB: Prior to starting this business, I worked at Wonder Bread for 27 years and I tried my hand in various other business opportunities. I had a restaurant at one point and had a cleaning service for a while. Landscaping was the right fit for me and my son because it was something we were passionate about. This business has allowed me to help my family, my community and meet amazing people. I honestly can’t imagine anything else that would have provided the same opportunities. 

TSD: What do think is the most important aspect of the product/service you provide?

RB: Customer service. Please the customer and you will always have customers!

TSD: What professional accomplishment or major milestone are you most proud of?

NB: We are proud of the growth and expansion we’ve seen over the years and the contracts we have secured. We started out in one neighborhood, expanding to subdivisions and now the workload has escalated so, we are unable to service private homes. We now service businesses and corporations, not only in landscaping but have added the pesticide component with several contracts for that private business.

TSD: Anything else you’d like to add?

B&SL: If your business or commercial property needs landscaping services, feel free to contact us at: 901-921-6422 or berrylandscape@bellsouth.net.

 


THE SERIES:

AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH: Black Men in Business – Part 1

African American History Month: Black Men in Business – Part 2

African-American History Month: Black Men in Business – Part 3

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