Chickasaw entrepreneur sees business grow with tribeCONTRIBUTED BY Dana Lance, Media Relations.
SULPHUR, Okla. - His business started as a grassroots initiative and has now blossomed to a thriving landscaping business with branches in Sulphur and Ardmore.
At the age of 16, Chickasaw entrepreneur Jeremy Wilkins purchased what he describes as a “three hundred-dollar high-tech mower” at a local garage sale. He was ready to exchange his childhood sandbox and Tonka toys for a money-making lawn service.
“At first, I had to convince many Sulphur residents to let me mow their lawns,” he said. “I did not understand why everyone in town wasn’t trustworthy and supportive of a young teenage boy.”
Mr. Wilkins shared his story with members of the Chickasaw Nation Preferred Vendor program during a Dec. 2 luncheon.
Lawn by lawn, Mr. Wilkins weeded out any doubters as he gleaned homeowners’ trust with his reliability, responsibility and work ethic.
“Once people saw my work and accountability, many people started to support my one-truck, one-mower, one-man business, he said.
“As my customer base grew, I began to realize lawn and landscape was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Riding atop a loud mower in the sweltering Oklahoma heat, Mr. Wilkins had time to ponder his future and business plans.
“As a high school kid with big dreams, the Chickasaw Nation allowed me the opportunity to mow the lawns of their senior citizens,” he said. “I mowed lawns in several different districts in the Chickasaw Nation. This was my big break!”
He was rewarded with a monthly payment. He also received, as a bonus, homemade cookies made by a sweet older citizen in Johnston County.
Mr. Wilkins’ saved the money he earned from the Chickasaw Nation mowing contracts and used it, along with other Chickasaw Nation educational assistance, to pay for his education at Oklahoma State University.
“I went to school during the week and came home to Sulphur every weekend to mow the lawns and fulfill my contracts,” he said.
Four years of study, hard work and commuting the 130 miles between Sulphur and Stillwater paid off when Mr. Wilkins received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, with a minor in horticulture.
While still a college student, he was contacted by Chickasaw Nation Preferred Vendor program staff, who urged him to list his business on the registry.
With his credentials, a regular client base and his business listed on the Preferred Vendor registry, Mr. Wilkins said he was ready to enter the “big leagues” of lawn and landscaping.
“From that point on, the Chickasaw Nation has opened many doors for my business to grow and prosper,” he said.
Wilkins Lawn and Landscape left the garage sale mower in the shed and upgraded to John Deere lawn equipment to serve customers in additional towns, counties and even across state lines.
“I went from having to purchase materials from other greenhouses to owning two greenhouses in Sulphur and Ardmore,” he said.
Wilkins Lawn and Landscape has worked on many Chickasaw Nation facilities, including the Artesian Hotel and Spa, the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center, Gold Mountain Casino and numerous health facilities.
“I have gained the trust and support of the Chickasaw Nation, which has allowed me to follow my dreams as a successful landscaper,” Mr. Wilkins said.
Mr. Wilkins, now 29, is able to flex his creative muscle on several projects when he had the opportunity to design and layout landscapes using his own ideas and knowledge.
“Most jobs are given to you as a set of plans,” he said. “This is a freedom a landscaper like me longs for.
“I have also become close with many Chickasaw Nation employees through this journey, and would easily call them my friends. They take care of me as if I were a part of their department or organization.
“As a Chickasaw, there is no better feeling than working for your own. This program allows me to be involved in my tribe and serve my people.”
Mr. Wilkins and his wife, Randi, reside near Sulphur with their nine-month-old daughter.
For more information about Wilkins Lawn and Landscape, phone (580) 618-1237, or visit the Sulphur location at 44 Westgate Drive or the Ardmore location at 1712 Sam Noble Parkway.
Preferred Vendor Program offers opportunities for Chickasaw business owners
The Chickasaw Nation Preferred Vendor Program is designed to increase business opportunities for qualified Chickasaw and other minority business entrepreneurs by providing the opportunity to be a Chickasaw Nation vendor.
Since its inception in 2008, the Preferred Vendor Program has connected Chickasaw business owners with Chickasaw Nation business enterprises, and supported the entrepreneurial efforts of the Chickasaw citizens.
In fiscal year 2014, the Chickasaw Nation allocated almost $33 million on vendor services provided by Native Americans, many of which were provided by Chickasaw citizens.
“Business owners and entrepreneurs are important to the Chickasaw Nation, and to society as a whole,” Gov. Bill Anoatubby said. “We rely on the creativity and innovation of these businesses to ensure that we are providing the best possible products and services.
“It is great to see both tribal operations and tribal citizens benefitting from these collaborations. These programs are another example of how we are working together to fulfill our mission of enhancing the quality of life of the Chickasaw people.”
To participate in the Preferred Vendor program, a business must be at least 51 percent owned, controlled and operated by a Chickasaw citizen, Native American, African-American, Hispanic American, woman, or disabled veteran.
Company status must be validated by a third-party agency or council, or be certified from a qualified agency, such as the Small Business Administration, Affiliates of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, or other city, state and national agencies, unless it is Chickasaw or Native American owned.
Once certified, the company’s information will be entered into a database that is utilized by all Chickasaw Nation departments when making purchasing decisions.
This data base is be used to produce Preferred Vendor reports which will track how the program is contributing to the Chickasaw Nation’s mission to enhance the quality of life of tribal citizens.
Preferred Vendors are also listed on the Chickasaw Business Registry, which is a tool for Chickasaw citizens to trade with other Chickasaw citizens.
To register online visit www.chickasawbusinessregistry.com and click the business registry link.
To have an application mailed, contact Bill James, vendor specialist at (580) 421-9500.
Once submitted, a program representative will contact you to verify information and obtain more information about the business.