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From seed to sale: EBRD and CEI support Moldova’s Alex Garden

By Nick Thompson

Based in Chișinău, Moldova, and founded by young entrepreneur Alexandru Ciobanu, Alex Garden is a garden centre and blossoming landscaping business.

With funding from the Central European Initiative (CEI), the EBRD recently provided a comprehensive array of assistance from combining and streamlining internal operations, to a roadmap for growth and suggestions on crisis survival during the pandemic helping it to become more agile and efficient.

Due to the success of the project, company management recently expanded operations, opening a second site in Iași city in neighbouring Romania.

Growing the business from the ground up

The idea of a gardening-related business came to Alexandru purely by chance, while he was enjoying a coffee in a restaurant in Chișinău, admiring the manicured green lawn that it overlooked.

Unbeknownst to him, Alexandru had caught the gardening bug and this was the seed of an idea from which a burgeoning interest and budding entrepreneur emerged.

His first customers were his parents, who provided him their own back garden as a blank canvas on which to experiment, which he did, replicating the aforementioned lawn with great results.

From there, he kept practicing, landscaping the gardens of his friends, building confidence and knowledge with each new project. “The outcomes were a success time and again,” he says. “I found the creative process of garden design fulfilling and so I decided to take a leap and set up a legal entity and start a proper business. From there, Alex Garden was born.”

In Moldova, competition is growing and the rapid development of this industry in the country is something Alexandru attributes to the demand for private garden space in the context of remote working: “It also demonstrates the closeness of people to nature and an awareness of the therapeutic benefits of gardening becoming more apparent to those with their own back yards,” he says.

Digging deep and seeking support during times of crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic had a major effect on the company’s operations. As Alex Garden’s main suppliers were located outside the country, the company was unable to import new products across the period of April to June 2020.

Company management consequently realised that they needed to ensure the stability of the business and limit any further vulnerabilities, primarily through the diversification of its supply chain and the identification of new suppliers.

This was when Alex Garden reached out to the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses team in Moldova and received timely support in strategic planning – specifically in crisis management plan development.

The ‘anti-crisis’ plan had to address topics like risk management, risk assessment methodologies, technical recommendations regarding the reaction capacity, adoption of financial decisions, and the reorganisation and restructuring of the business, to avoid any worst-case scenarios.

The project involved the development of a complex list of measures, strategies and instruments to enable the company to respond to the situation at hand promptly.

These recommendations were implemented to great effect and meant the company could adapt to the new economic realities quickly, even enabling it to increase its client base as well as employ three additional staff members all the way to project completion.

The company now has nine employees and turnover and volume of business have doubled, vindicating Alexandru’s decision to seek support and quickly implement the required measures.

A green future

The company is now on strong footing and is continuing to develop its landscape design department and expansion into the Romanian market.

In parallel, it has purchased a large land plot in Stăuceni, Chișinău and plans to build its own showroom and storage areas there.

The company’s USP is its identity, passion and respect for its customers – and a commitment to providing quality products and services. 

It is clear that Alexandru and his team love the creative process of landscaping design, as well as selling plants, and believe that theirs is a business with a noble pursuit. He says, “Our garden centre sells products that directly combat air pollution in our cities. Trees for example, provide a precious resource in absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. We hope to continue to stake our support in the climate change fight through the installation of solar panels in the near future,” he says.

He is also ebullient about the benefits of gardening as a relatively recent convert. Alexandru says, “The combination of physical activity, along with the peace I feel when gardening, is the best kind of therapy I can recommend. Being outdoors also affects you in more intangible ways and is great for your mental health and general wellbeing,” Alexandru concludes.

His enthusiasm is certainly infectious, and with summer approaching, there is an argument to be had that he might be on to something. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of his book!

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