After transitioning last year to a brick-and-mortar shop from a home-based e-commerce venture, a plant retail business is growing.
Emma Fear, who co-owns The Plant Room with husband Brandon, set up shop in June 2021 near the intersection of Glenstone Avenue and Bennett Street. The store is filled with common, rare and exotic houseplants, along with grow supplies, decor, pottery, macrame and stained glass. Common varieties sold include pothos, spider plants, cacti and begonias, while rare plants such as philodendrons, hoyas and monsteras also occupy the shop’s 1,600 square feet. Costs range $5-$1,000, although Fear says most shoppers look for plants priced under $100.
The Plant Room’s greenery was only able to initially stretch within 900 square feet in the shop – a size limitation Fear says worked for her in the early months as she got accustomed to day-to-day operations. However, she says expanding the store’s footprint was always in her mind. The thought became reality when next-door neighbor Blue Collar Barber Shop shuttered at the start of the year.
The Fears spent roughly $8,000 on the renovation work in February, which took three weeks to complete. The expanded space has allowed the shop to hold up to 2,000 plants – double its original inventory.
“It’s a lot busier,” Fear says. “People appreciate being able to walk around in here. It was so small before. Everything was so cramped it was kind of hard to shop. I envisioned something like this to begin with, but I couldn’t go that far, that fast.”
New plant shipments come in weekly from over 20 suppliers – almost exclusively in the United States, she says.
“We get a lot of our plants from Florida,” she says. “We get some from Missouri, but they really come from all over.”
A recent shipment of more than 1,000 plants cost $7,000, Fear says, adding that was a much larger than usual order size.
“For my weekly restocks, it’s probably anywhere from $1,500-$2,000 every week,” she says.
Fear, a 2017 Missouri State University graduate, says she’s long been interested in plants and teaching others how to care for them. She’s even created a plant support group on Facebook to share advice.
Still, Fear admits she’s not immune to plants dying in her care.
“I’ve killed a lot of plants. That’s how I’ve learned,” she says, adding they all have different needs for soil, humidity, water and lighting. “You have to figure it out.”
The Plant Room also is extending its teachings out in the community. The shop presented a terrarium workshop in April at Finley Farms in Ozark and has held past classes at Springfield Botanical Gardens. Fear says she’s working to acquire dedicated space in Springfield to host workshops on a regular basis.
Until then, the shop plans to soon make use of the alley adjacent to its building to offer outdoor classes.
The Plant Shop’s small brick-and-mortar origin is nothing new for Fear, who launched the business – then called City’s Edge Seed Co. – in the couple’s house. Eventually, she had over 500 plants for sale, occupying about 600 square feet in the home.
“It was crazy. I’m so glad I’m not doing that anymore,” she says with a laugh.
Fear says there’s no comparison to her shop sales versus when she sold plants from her home via Etsy and Shopify.
“When I was doing it home-based, it was so small,” she says, declining to disclose revenue or year-over-year percentage growth. “I was mostly busting my tail to get the plants shipped to sell. That’s why I’m doing brick-and-mortar, because it’s hard to meet up with people when you’re only selling a $10 plant.”
Anna Quigg says she’s purchased plants from Fear since the business was launched. Quigg, a professor in the occupational therapy program at Cox College, says she met up with Fear dozens of times before the shop opened to buy plants such as birkins, hoyas and pothos.
“My plant collection went from a few plants in each room to almost 200 plants in my house,” Quigg says, adding roughly half of them were purchased from Fear over the past two years.
When the shop opened, Quigg says she went at least a couple times a week. The frequency is a bit less now, but the buying interest is just as strong, she says.
“We’re very comfortably in thousands of dollars that happened to come in and out of my house in the past couple of years,” she says, adding most of her plant purchases are less than $40.
While the business has e-commerce origins, Fear says the shop’s website generates less than 10% of overall sales. However, she’s aiming to boost that total as more common plants get photographed and added to the site. She wants to eventually reach a 70/30 split between in-store and online sales.
“I want to market the rare plants to people that know their plants on Instagram and Facebook,” she says.
With newly expanded space and increased attention on classes and online sales, Fear says she’s surprised how quickly business has progressed. She says her husband, who previously used some of the shop’s backroom space for growing microgreens for his own business, has turned his full-time work focus on The Plant Room.
“I did not expect it to grow this fast. I was just going to see how it went,” she says. “We’re all in.”
For most, winter offers a break from gardening. But there’s plenty of action at Amanda Belle’s Farm on East Primrose Street, a Springfield Community Gardens project at the edge of the Cox Medical Center South campus.