On May 15th, 2013, Ambius will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Tropical Plant Rentals by Gerry Leider in Chicago, IL. Over the course of five decades, Tropical Plant Rentals evolved into Ambius – North America’s largest interior landscaping company. Thanks to the hard work of countless colleagues through the years, Ambius today helps businesses from coast-to-coast beautify their buildings. From desktop office plants to stunning holiday decorations to 4,000 square-foot green walls, Ambius makes the world a more beautiful place.
Considering Ambius’ origins begin with Gerry Leider, Greener on the Inside spoke with the founder about the early days and some of his fondest memories from his many years leading the company.
Greener on the Inside: How did the Leider family get into the plant business?
Gerry Leider: My grandfather got started growing vegetables in greenhouses until the late 1920’s. When my father took over the company, the vegetable business in Chicago went south because refrigeration was invented and they started growing vegetables in the South. My father then turned the company into a wholesale greenhouse operation, growing seasonal potted blooming plants and selling them to retail florists.
Greener on the Inside: What was it like growing up in the wholesale plant business?
Gerry Leider: It was like growing up on a farm. It was part of life. There was always a job to do.
Greener on the Inside: How did you end up starting Tropical Plant Rentals?
Gerry Leider: While I was in college, there had been a man who rented a small amount of greenhouse space from my father and had the concept of starting a plant rental business. When I was a junior in college, the guy disappeared. So on my way to and from school downtown, I would water the plants we rented.
I originally had no intention of working in the plant business. I graduated from Loyola with a degree in accounting and the day I graduated I got drafted into the army in 1965 at the height of the Vietnam War. I went into the service for 3 years and when I returned the plant business was booming. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I started working on the plant rental side of the business and never got out of it.
Greener on the Inside: Were there many other plant rental companies when you started?
Gerry Leider: There was no one doing exactly what we were doing. There were retail florists that put plants in buildings as an additional service. The difference with us is that we would guarantee the plants. When a customer examined our work and looked at the competition’s work, our plants looked better because their health was our responsibility.
Greener on the Inside: How were able to grow the business in the early days?
Gerry Leider: We focused on the architects and designers because they really were the people who created the business for the company. At that time, the building environment had started and a lot of the first commercial buildings were being developed since the war. The open office concept came along and a lot of the buildings featured a lot of open space and glass.
We were there right when the product was really needed. Growing up around horticulture, we had a background of working with plants which gave us an advantage. Firstly, we grew the business very well in the city of Chicago. Then a lot of the architects we worked with in Chicago had projects in other cities and were looking for plants. However, we quickly realized that once we installed these plants they were difficult to maintain unless we were there physically to maintain them which convinced us to begin expanding.
Greener on the Inside: What are some of the memories you look back on fondly?
Gerry Leider: Some of the large projects we worked on over the years come to mind. We completed a major project for the John Deere headquarters and even worked on an overseas project in Saudi Arabia installing plants at the OPEC Oil Conference Building. I also received an award at the White House and got to meet the first lady, Nancy Reagan. I also look back fondly on working with many great people who have helped carry the torch through the years.
Greener on the Inside: What advice would give Ambius colleagues for the future?
Gerry Leider: I would say to remember that the customer is #1. Your customers are what makes you successful and meeting their needs should always be the focus. Remain creative and innovative so that Ambius is always out ahead of the pack. Don’t rest on your laurels and continually improve. A company with a spirit of restless satisfaction will take action but not change just for the sake of change. Appreciate the people you work with and inspire your colleagues to be the best the can be.
To learn more about the history of Ambius, click here to visit our interactive historical timeline.