As founder of PROLAS – a landscape services and outdoor design/build company based in Freeport, Trinidad – Narase Boodoosingh has made it his mission to advance the science and professionalism of the landscape industry in his home country and across the Caribbean.
He hopes to bring that same purpose-driven energy to a new network of U.S.-based clients when he opens PROLAS’s planned Tampa, Florida, office early next year.
“The desire for landscape services and outdoor living in the U.S. is much greater than in Trinidad, so it will allow us to expand our operations,” explained Boodoosingh, who founded PROLAS in 1990.
Building a new business model. Boodoosingh launched his company just after graduating from The University of the West Indies with a degree in agronomy. He feels he was lucky to enter the field at precisely the right moment to help establish and grow the landscape industry in Trinidad.
“When I came into landscaping in Trinidad, it was really evolving. You had only three or four major companies in the country,” he said.
From the beginning, Boodoosingh believed in building his business on a foundation of professionalism and sound customer service.
“Our customer service is what has generated all of our work for the last 29 years,” he said. “We have never advertised our business. (People know) our company is based on principals, on quality, and on professionalism.”
Over the years, PROLAS’s emphasis on employee training and professional industry standards has helped them stand out from some competitors in their field, said Nevash Rambaran, PROLAS’s business development officer, who has been with the company for roughly five years.
“Landscaping in Trinidad tends to be a lot of people who are gifted around plants, but who are not professionally trained,” Rambaran said. “Mr. Boodoosingh brings an intellectual aspect to landscaping. He models a studied approach to landscaping like someone who would study law or study medicine.”
Over the years, Boodoosingh has been actively involved in several professional associations — including the former Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA), the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), and the International People Plant Council (IPPC) – and he feels the relationships and knowledge he’s learned through these networks has been instrumental to his business’ success.
“In Trinidad, there were no professional landscape associations. There was only a horticulture society, which was more focused on flowers.
After attending trade shows in the U.S., he realized he had a community that he could communicate with. “I would learn about processes for measuring our operations, and then come back to Trinidad and fine tune them,” he says.
Measuring everything. Adopting a scientific approach, Boodoosingh began measuring all aspects of his growing business – from daily field operations to fuel use to employee training and proficiency.
“We set benchmarks for our workers, letting them know ‘This is what we expect you to accomplish,’” Boodoosingh says. “And we set those benchmarks based on data.”
PROLAS also adopted a multi-faceted employee rating and reward system to incentivize hard work and professionalism.
“We went through many evolutions of bonus and grading systems trying to find the best means to reward workers,” Boodoosingh said. “Work ethic was a big challenge. Early on, the people attracted into landscaping were dropouts from school. So, training became a part of our business model.”
To reward and build a culture of professionalism, PROLAS’s employees received bonuses for arriving to work on time, being in their uniforms, having few safety errors, and more.
After a few years, basic employee protocols like attendance and uniform wear became part of the company’s culture and no longer needed to be reinforced, allowing Boodoosingh to focus instead on rewarding on-the-job skills and professional advancement for his employees.
“We have a grading system. You come into the company, and if you can do a skill in a certain time, you can be considered a grade 1, or grade 2, or grade 3 employee,” he said, noting that employees have a clear sense of how to advance, as they acquire additional skills within the agency.
The transformation in his company culture from its origins to today has been striking. In the early years, it was sometimes difficult to find employees, since PROLAS was known for having “so many rules,” Boodoosingh said.
Fast forward to now, and employees view experience with PROLAS as a boon to their resumes, since its professionalism is respected in Trinidad, even outside of the landscape industry.
Expanding to outdoor living. As PROLAS grew throughout the 1990s, Boodoosingh’s scientific, systematic approach to business paid dividends quickly. By 2001, PROLAS had grown to 52 employees, with clients ranging from small residences to large commercial and business clients including the Airport Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, the country’s Parliament building and the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad.
When the recession hit Trinidad in 2015, PROLAS remained committed to providing high-quality services, even as some high-profile clients shifted to other, lower-cost bidders. “There were companies just interested in getting the job done, and that became a disadvantage to us,” Boodoosingh said. “But at the end of the day, we wanted to maintain our brand as a quality-oriented company.”
More recently, PROLAS has added an outdoor living division to its landscaping services, hoping to build an entirely new market for these products in Trinidad. The company’s outdoor living product showroom – featuring on-site models for pools, kitchens, patios, pergolas, gazebos and even artificial turf – is one of the first and largest in the region.
“We own a compound that’s about 70,000 square feet,” Boodoosingh said. “When customers come to our property, they can see something that’s alive.”
“It’s been exciting to bring a new, indoor-outdoor lifestyle trend to Trinidad,” said Boodoosingh’s wife, Shellene, who manages PROLAS’s front office and business accounts. “We’re promoting outdoor living options for our customers down here. It’s very new here, and it’s rewarding to bring ideas to them about what is possible.”
PROLAS anticipates that its outdoor living division will be a strong part of its business in Florida as well.
Paying It forward. Boodoosingh has been proud to see PROLAS “set the benchmark for the industry” in Trinidad in its nearly 30 years of operations, he said.
To continue advancing the industry in the country and throughout the broader Caribbean, Boodoosingh hopes to create an educational and training resource center in Trinidad so that green industry professionals from the U.S. and other countries can lead workshops there.
Plans for such an active international partnership are one of the driving factors behind Boodoosingh’s decision to expand his operations to Florida in the coming months.
“The idea is to send my employees from Trinidad to Florida, and back and forth, in sort of an exchange program, to see how operations work in both countries,” he said.
Both Narase and Shellene Boodoosingh plan to move to Florida to help establish their new office. Their oldest son, Naveen, who helps with social media and marketing for their company, is preparing to enroll in college in the U.S. to potentially study landscape architecture.
Already, PROLAS has had calls from prospective landscape clients in the Florida market and has begun building partnerships with U.S.-based outdoor living companies, Boodoosingh said.
“I believe outdoor living and landscaping go hand in hand. We believe one can coexist with the other,” he said. Further, he feels that by diversifying his business model, he’s helping insulate PROLAS from any potential future market recessions.
After opening the Tampa office in early 2020, Boodoosingh hopes to open another office in Palm Beach within the next two years or so.
“The whole idea is to expand in order to get competitive import prices for our products,” Boodoosingh said. “We’ll be buying for the Caribbean islands and buying for our U.S. stores.” Eventually, Boodoosingh has plans to open a landscape superstore in Trinidad.
“It’s not just about generating income,” he said. “It’s about generating income in an area where we believe we are professionals, in an area where we feel we can help educate the market and where we feel very competent in our staff members’ ability to do the job.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.