The green-wall and urban farming trends have taken hold of city dwellers and the sustainably-minded over the last few years, and it’s not hard to find living wall products and systems as a homeowner or even on a larger scale.
But the success of these products goes beyond the concept and it takes a strong business model and sound strategy to turn a good idea into a successful company. Ricky Frankental’s strategy for Vicinity has from day one considered the sustainability of the model and the need to be agile in a competitive market, and the systems have accordingly been developed to troubleshoot various hurdles he saw inherent in the product. ‘The design of the product is unique and was developed to solve problems we experienced as a green-wall implementation and maintenance company. We did the work so we knew the requirements to design a world-class offering. Our hands-on experience has helped shape a winning product,’ he says.
Currently selling its products in the US, Australia and the UK where it has footholds and dealers are experiencing success, Vicinity plans to scale up its presence in these markets and build the implementation partner network, and then expand further – it’s in the early stages of setting up distribution in Kenya, India, South Korea, Poland and Saudi Arabia. ‘We are very encouraged by the interest in the product and it is clear the trend towards vertical garden is growing strong. This is no longer a niche concept,’ he affirms. ‘We were involved in the green-wall trend from the early days of the industry, and we felt that the solution we had designed was world-class. Our motivation was to take a global product to market and we felt the system would have universal appeal and relevance in other regions,’ he says.
The process has not come without its challenges. Building and maintain green walls used to be extremely difficult, and as a result, part of Vicinity’s goal has been to streamline the technology behind the design. ‘The systems available to green-wall installation businesses were historically rudimentary and unreliable. This was a problem that needed to be solved through making the walls easier to build and more reliable, and as a result more affordable and accessible,’ he explains.
Despite the enormous progress made, there are still hurdles to overcome. ‘South Africa is far from big markets like America and shipping costs are still a barrier to our competitiveness. We are working hard to grow our volumes and reduce these costs,’ he says. Additionally, South Africa lacks certain skills in the landscaping market to design, build and maintain complex installations. This has however prompted innovation. ‘Our Adrian context forced us to think outside the box to design simple, cost-effective and low-maintenance systems that are logical, quick to learn and easy to maintain. Our system can be deployed, maintained and recovered if need be at a fraction of the cost of competitor systems,’ he explains.
This formula includes a simple and modular design, which is able to achieve an instant effect on day one. This makes the systems ideal for commercial projects, but simultaneously simple enough for DIY users and first-time landscapers.
Additionally, a multipronged approach – from a strategic and technological standpoint – has ensured this growth of the business locally and internationally. The company’s success, aside from having a strong product, also entails sharing knowledge to empower others to build successful projects. ‘We have a large body of intellectual property to back up the systems.
We have technical knowledge as well as knowledge on how to sell, market and price green-wall systems for success. We enlarged this knowledge into our dealer network so that they, in turn, empower landscapers to offer something new in their business,’ adds Frankental.
Vicinity realized early on that the key to success was to make green walls an everyday occurrence for our landscapes through affordability, accessibility and reliability. Additionally, it’s continually growing its tech component to remain competitive. ‘We are working hard at redeveloping our IOT sensor solution for the international market and are running a remote monitoring technology platform in South Africa that alerts landscapers to problems with their irrigation systems on the green walls which reduces plant losses, and also reduces the cost of routine maintenance,’ says Frankental.