How My Brother And I Started A Plant Business With Less Than $100
We turned my brother’s hobby into a side hustle in the middle of the pandemic.
Starting a new business is challenging, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. People are changing how they consume products and services. At the same time, businesses adapt their operations to follow social distancing rules.
We see plenty of small businesses struggle to survive. No wonder it’s harder to open new ventures compared to before. Despite the uncertainties, my brother and I took the risk of building a small plant business in our yard.
Here’s how we turned his gardening hobby into a promising local business.
Discovering The Market Potential
My brother was blessed with a green thumb. Give him some soil, water, and stem cuttings. I guarantee he can grow a healthy plant in a couple of months.
When the pandemic began, he bought different types of plants, from houseplants to succulents. He said caring for plants helped him relieve his anxiety while being stuck at home. When his plant collection grew, he had to set up a small garden in our yard.
Then, my aunts and neighbors couldn’t help but look at his plants. They were also asking him where he bought them and how much they were.
As a marketer, I noticed how his garden was attracting so much attention. I saw the potential of us making a profit selling plants in our town. Before that, I did a bit of market research on Facebook to confirm what I thought.
Voila! There were tons of plant enthusiast Facebook groups in our area. Plus, I found some plant enthusiast groups in nearby towns. When I got accepted into the groups, I looked at the engagements to make sure sellers weren’t the only ones who were posting in there.
The majority of the posts were from plant sellers, but I saw lots of interested buyers in the comments. Although I saw lots of competition in the niche, I approached my brother and pitched a business idea.
Joining Forces to Make The Business Possible
My brother confessed he already thought of selling plants as his business. The only problem was he didn’t have enough money to source his products. To get him on board, I offered a small amount for us to get started. Finally, he said yes to the idea.
I knew I couldn’t make this idea work without him. I don’t know anything about gardening. My brother, on the other hand, has the knowledge and skills to propagate plants and ensure they won’t wither.
We couldn’t afford to lose potential profit because I couldn’t keep our products alive. So, he was in charge of product sourcing and quality control while I took care of sales and marketing.
Testing The Idea With A Small Capital
Before we looked for plant suppliers, my brother and I talked about our strategy. He had great ideas on how we could profit from our small capital. Here are the two biggest things I learned from our conversation:
Profiting On A Small Budget Is Possible
Starting a plant business is usually a low-risk investment. Why? You can buy plants at a cheap price. In our case, we found suppliers selling indoor plants at around 40 pesos ($0.81) to 150 pesos ($3) each piece. If we bought in bulk, some sellers gave us a 5-7% discount.
To make a profit, we marked up the original price of each plant by 15–40%. But we ensured our typical customer could still afford our products.
So, my brother and I decided to embark on a 3-month experiment to see how our small capital could take us. So, we initially invested 3,000 pesos ($62).
Investing In Mother Plants Can Pay Off Big Time
Mother plants are mature plants you can take cuttings from and propagate. Basically, you plant the cuttings from a mother plant to create more of it. Doing so can increase plant sellers' sales without buying new stocks.
Of course, mother plants are more expensive than smaller plants. They cost from 300 pesos ($6) to 1,200 pesos ($25). Most plant resellers earn more when they get a mother plant and sell the offshoots (baby plants).
We bought four mother plants, three houseplants, and a carnivorous plant. We weren’t sure about this move, but now I’m glad we did it!
Choosing The Best Plants To Sell
We were definitely aware there were lots of plant sellers in our area. So, we brainstormed ways on how we could separate ourselves from the competition. Then, it hit us… We had to offer rare plants in great condition.
We came up with a set of criteria for sourcing our products. Here are the qualities we look for in choosing the best plants to sell:
- Low Maintenance
Some plants need more care than others. Most of our buyers were beginners when it comes to gardening and plant care. We wanted to offer plants that required little effort to maintain, so they can start their new hobby with ease.
We figured air plants fit this specific trait. Air plants are spiky, low-maintenance houseplants, which don’t need soil to grow. Most varieties of air plants grow best in tropical places. Collectors used them as decorations because they can display them in different ways.
One of our bestsellers is the cotton candy air plant. It stood out because our customers were drawn to its pink, cotton candy bloom and silvery leaves. We marketed the cotton candy air plants to both long-time collectors and beginners. Once it sold out, we almost doubled our investment in buying air plants.
- Fast Growth
I thought buying mother plants would help us earn more profit immediately. But it turned out we had to wait 4–8 months before we could sell the offshoots and cuttings. We discovered the mother plants we bought grew slowly, except for one.
We noticed our carnivorous plant grew offshoots a lot faster than the houseplants. We learned that if a carnivorous plant ate more insects, the faster it would grow. Our Byblis guehoi ate a lot of bugs and mosquitos in our garden. So, we were able to propagate and sell them off every five weeks.
During our 3-month experiment, we made almost 40% of our revenue from selling its offshoots.
We sourced our products from suppliers in different regions. It usually took three to six days before our products arrived. So, we decided to find plants that were resilient enough to survive the transit.
Some plants had yellowish leaves and droopy stems when we received them. We couldn’t sell them right away because we had to make sure our products were in excellent condition.
Water therapy was a simple fix to rejuvenate the plants and stabilize their roots. My brother submerged their roots for an hour. After that, he re-planted them in well-drained soil.
Then, the plants grew healthy leaves and sturdy stems after two to three weeks. Once they were in great shape, we immediately offered them to interested folks.
Finding Suppliers Online
Finding wholesale plant suppliers on Facebook groups was easy. We just needed to check whether if they were legit, or not. The first thing we looked at was the supplier’s Facebook page.
We checked the reviews from real profiles and tried to spot if there were any complaints. After we verified the quality of their service, we reached out to the suppliers and ordered in bulk. We typically bought 15–30 plants per batch depending on the price and variety.
Also, my brother usually asked for recommendations on plant seller groups he was in. A plant YouTuber who was selling succulents was referred to us. She became our go-to supplier for local and Korean succulents.
Getting Our First Customers
Before marketing our business, we defined our target customers first. You see, we have an aunt named Clara. She’s a 57-year-old housewife, has grandkids, and she has a small garden with lots of orchids and succulents.
Whenever we had new products, we would inform her about them and she would usually buy one to add to her collection. We figured plants had a certain appeal to older females in our area. So, they became our target buyers.
Next, we tailored our branding and marketing to catch the attention of our target buyers. We went all out for this year’s Mothers’ Day. Before the event, we encouraged our customers to send love to their moms and grandmas.
Then, we put all our products on sale. Our customers would also get a freebie (common houseplant) as our Mothers’ Day gift if they spent more than $10. We sold out our available products four days after we launched the campaign.
We figured word of the mouth marketing would also be a game-changer for our business. Everyone seemed to know each other in a small town like ours. So, it was effortless to spread the good word about our plant business.
I gave plants as gifts to my friends and acquaintances who love gardening. I also posted updates about how our business was going in my IG stories. As a result, we got referrals from people we know.
But our biggest supporters were our relatives. In fact, one of our aunts bought some succulents as displays in her workplace. It became an instant hit in her office. Her colleagues were interested in getting succulents for their home. She would refer us every time they asked where she bought hers.
But our main marketing strategy was posting consistently on Facebook groups. We wrote engaging captions and added eye-catching images to our posts. Then, we would get messages from plant enthusiasts who wanted to buy our products.
Some of our customers would negotiate our prices. We usually gave them a discount as long as it was fair because we wanted them to buy from us again.
How Much Did We Make After The 3-Month Experiment?
In total, we spent 4,855 pesos ($96) in sourcing our products and buying tools and materials, such as pots and soil. Our total sale was 9,601 pesos ($191), so our net revenue was 4,746 pesos ($94).
Our experiment was a success and we learned a lot during the process. We decided to slowly scale our business.
There are three things we have to do to scale our plant business:
1. Invest in Carnivorous Mother Plants
We noticed the community for carnivorous plant enthusiasts is booming. We plan to buy more carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps and Pitcher plants.
Then, we’ll supply our own carnivorous plants and sell each pot for around 200 pesos ($4). Since we could sell off the baby plants in 5–7 weeks, we expect a great ROI in just a short time. At the moment, there are only a few sellers of carnivorous plants in our region. So, we want to get in first before others find out there’s a growing interest in carnivorous plants.
2. Discover What Other Plants Our Target Customers Like
We already know our target customers love succulents. But we can’t expect it to be profitable all the time. Right now, we are searching for new plant varieties that will entice our older female audience.
Here’s what we know so far. Our target audience likes flowers and houseplants with colorful foliage. After we find some plants which fit that description, we’ll sell them off to test if we can profit from those types of plants.
3. Publish High-Value Content On Social Media
Now, it’s time to go big on our social media marketing. As plant sellers, it’s important to position ourselves as experts in the gardening niche.
We’re going to create YouTube videos and Facebook posts showing tips to care for different types of plants. I know this strategy will eventually pay off in the long run, so we’ll roll out new content next month.
Starting a new business during a pandemic is possible. But before you do, it’s crucial to assess potential risks to create a solid business plan. In our case, we launched our plant business on a small budget to see whether we can profit, or not.
As we gathered more data about our target market, that’s when we made some calculated moves and they paid off. If you’re considering starting a full-time business or a side hustle, here are five tips to help you succeed:
- Collaborate with someone who specializes in something you suck at
- Conduct in-depth research on your target market and products
- Boost your social media presence to attract potential buyers
- Spread the word about your business whenever you have the opportunity to
- Listen to your customers' feedback and demands