Finding the right tools to grow your retail business can be difficult, especially when you’re starting out and don’t know how popular your products are going to be. In the beginning, you may be overwhelmed with all of the high-tech business tools available to you. And let’s face it — you may not even know what you’ll need in the beginning, too.
Nathan Smith and Jason Chongue, cofounders and directors of Melbourne’s The Plant Society, were faced with this problem when they decided to turn their hobby, sourcing and styling plants, into a retail business. Unsure of the demand for their unique greenery, they started out selling at markets and small pop-up events, using Square to take payments from customers on the go.
One year later, The Plant Society has a permanent shopfront in Melbourne’s trendy Collingwood neighbourhood — and they’re still selling at markets and pop-ups across the state, in addition to styling homes, restaurants and other retail spaces.
We caught up with Nathan and Jason to hear about their first year, how they’ve grown and the business tools they’ve adopted along the way.
What sparked the idea for The Plant Society?
The Plant Society was born in August 2016 from a passion for design and plants, but also the will to create a community of sorts, or what we refer to as a ‘plant social network.’ Our goal is to nurture and preserve rare and interesting plant species for future generations, and share the knowledge and skills required to grow them with our community.
Describe a typical day working at The Plant Society.
Our typical day begins at 6 a.m. Mornings are used to source plants, answer emails and prepare the team and ourselves for the busy day ahead. As our days are heavily intertwined with retail, maintenance and styling, it’s important to have everything behind the scenes seamlessly organised. We believe it’s vital to build relationships with the plants we care for and with the people who grow and nurture them, so the customer experience is our main focus.
What did you find most challenging about starting your business?
The most challenging aspect of starting The Plant Society was juggling our ‘passion project’ with our full-time jobs (as an international flight attendant and an architect). We wanted to manage cash flow and keep our overheads low — so we kept working. It was tough, but we also wanted to ensure we had the best products and offered our customers the highest-quality service.
What digital tools have you adopted to help you grow the business?
As our products are highly visual, we put the highest attention into capturing them at their best, so Instagram and online content have played a very important role in helping us establish our brand. When we started out we were running a range of roaming ‘plant social’ events, so we also needed business tools that were portable, simple and cost efficient. We also wanted to avoid any ongoing or monthly fees as we were unsure of our long-term growth. That’s when we started using Square for payments and for managing our employees.
It was the easiest solution for us because our events and services mean that our team members regularly move around Melbourne on a day-to-day basis. They’re taking payments on the go, at our plant shop, at markets and onsite with our clients.
What other business tools or accessories do you use?
We have been using Square Stand in our shop since August. It has synergies with our vision of the retail experience, because we aim to allow our customers to shop in a non-traditional environment without a heavy focus on the checkout. The stand seamlessly blends with the interior of our space and it feels more professional when taking payments from customers.
The Plant Society has grown from selling at mobile markets to a fully-fledged retail store. Have your business needs changed as you’ve grown, and how are you using technology to help out?
Yes, definitely. At the beginning we were just looking for cost effective ways to do the basics — promote our brand and take payments. Now that we have a permanent retail space, plus our extra customer services, we’ve needed different tools to service that growth.
Square Stand is a stylish point-of-sale and payments system for our countertop but it also allows us to use powerful features like employee management, sales reporting and integrations with our accounting software.
Where do you see your business in a year’s time?
We’ll be traveling nationally as part of some interstate projects and our book launch (Plant Society by Jason Chongue will be published by Hardie Grant in November 2017, and featured at Finders Keepers). We are also working hard to build upon our relationships with new and existing clients to expand our services.
What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own retail business?
Go with your gut! Do your research, work hard and make sure to balance your personal life with your work life as best as you can. Always value everyone who touches your life and give them the respect you would expect; you never know who may become an important influence.