Skip Navigation
Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: SUN 10/19/03
Page: 4
Edition: 2 STAR

Small business /FAITH / Sowing and reaping / An
immigrantbootstraps his way to entrepreneurial
success but answersto a higher authority

RECENTLY Frank Nunez bought a $300,000 home by the lake, in the Richmond subdivision Waterside Estates.

Six years ago, he would have been knocking on the door of such a house to see if he
could cut the grass.

He has since opened Frank's Nursery, where he sells plants, trees, flowers, mulch, gravel,
decorative stones and garden accessories. He also does landscaping design and
installation. His sales this year should reach $750,000.

He opened his sprawling 14-acre Richmond nursery in 2001, but only after 11 banks had
refused to give him a loan.

Undaunted by rejections, language barriers and a lack of education, he persisted, relying
on hard work, faith and will.

"The thing I've learned from Frank is that if you really believe in what you do, you
cannot give up," said Joe Decker, director of the Fort Bend County office of the
University of Houston Small Business Development Center, who has given Nunez
business advice.

Nunez works seven days a week, and about the only time he takes off is for a religious
pilgrimage in Mexico.

Nunez, 32, grew up on a farm near the village of La Luz in the state of Michoacan with
14 brothers and sisters.

He came to Houston to better his circumstances and mowed grass by day and studied
English at night.

Along with language studies, he took accounting classes at Houston Community College
and tax courses at H&R Block.

After going into business, he learned the value of dedication.
"Being a small-businessman is like having a second wife," he said.
"You spend more time with the business than with the wife and kids. It's the only way
you'll be successful."

He knew some people who, after work, bought six-packs and sat in front of the TV, but
that's not how you get ahead, he said.

In his case, improving his life meant personal sacrifice. He'd come home from mowing yards, spend four hours at an English class, do his
homework and get to bed at 1 a.m; he'd wake up at 6 a.m. for work.
In 1997, he opened his first nursery in another part of Richmond, where he leased 1 1/2 acres. The property was in bad shape and had no sprinkler system. Holding their baby in her arm, his pregnant wife, Rosalba Nunez, watered plants at the
nursery outdoors in triple-digit temperatures.

Nunez almost had to close the business three times because of money problems. He recalled praying to God and believes he was guided to establish the nursery: "God, you got me into this. You should help me get a better business."

Nunez did need more space, and he found a big wooded lot in Richmond. The property's owner gave him 90 days to come up with the money.

One of the bankers who declined to give him a loan suggested he contact Decker at UH's Small Business Development Center for assistance.

Decker recalled that when he asked Nunez for his financial statements, the nursery owner
produced a shoe box full of receipts and notes.

Decker helped him prepare proper ocumentation for the bank. A day before the landowner's deadline, Sterling Bank approved a $175,000 Small Business Administration loan for Nunez.

He still had to come up with a $64,000 down payment, however, and he appealed to
family, friends and neighbors.

"I was like crazy looking for money," said Nunez, who convinced about 20 people to help.

After buying the land, he cleared it, and with the assistance of friends constructed the buildings on site.

He learned the nuances of plant care and landscaping poring over books and magazines.
Decker said he was astonished by the profits Nunez was generating, in part because he
grows many of his plants from seeds.
He also observed that Nunez focuses on customer service. If a customer's plant dies, he
replaces it at no cost, and if he doesn't have a plant someone wants, he tracks it down.
Nunez said he has found that honesty is the most important value in business.

He loves the United States, but he adds, "I miss Mexico all the time."

"I feel proud of my family, language and culture," particularly his former country's
connection to Catholicism and its traditions.

Each Sunday at 6 a.m. he does the reparations for Mass at his Richmond church before heading to work later in the day.

During each of the past 15 years, he has gone on a pilgrimage from Michoacan to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a seven-day walk.

It is his way, he said, to thank God for his family, their health and his business.
It is difficult to be away from his children Francisco, 8; Rafael, 5; and Anna Julia, 3 -
who he said are "always waiting for their daddy to come home."

"But I never had anything when I was a kid," he said. "And I try to provide the most I can for my kids. I have to sacrifice now."

During his own childhood, he'd spend mornings working in his father's cornfield and attend school in the afternoon.

He is proud of what he has accomplished, he said, noting that not many immigrants have
done what he has in such a short time.

"It's not because I'm very intelligent," he said. "I feel like it's God's blessing."

After he pays off the bulk of his loans in three or four years, he plans to take off a day each week to play with his children.

Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved

powered by ezTaskTitanium TM