When I first stumbled into Megan's store a couple of years ago, I was really excited to finally check out the store friends were telling me about. I was attracted to the cute handmade pottery plant holders and adorable succulents, but after the first purchase I was sold. I didn't just buy into the products--the plants and pottery and the like are all incredible quality--but you can get those things other places as well. I bought into Megan and her vision. Even the day that I went in to take pictures of Zen Succulents for this profile, it was so easy to fall into easy conversation with this boss lady. We talked about plants, the cultural significance of storefronts in cities, and the importance of smart business choices.
As much as I love plants, I'm sometimes not so great at keeping them thriving or alive. But Megan has answered every question I have ever had about why my plants whether it was dropping her a quick message on Instagram or popping into the shop. She troubleshoots my plant ailments and sends me off with the doctor's orders. I love this shop and I can't wait to see how it grows.
As some of you might know, Megan is about to open her second store front here in downtown Raleigh, so we thought no better time to give you a tour through her business, and if you keep reading you can get some sneak peaks into the store, opening July 11th!
History of Zen Succulents
It really started as a terrarium and plant craft business with my mother and I for a passion in planting greenery that started at a very young age. It started as that in 2012 focussing on selling plant crafts, terrariums, focussing on succulents, all over the United States. But then that business really morphed into something else, meaning that we didn't just want to sell plants to our customers, but we also wanted to provide that education, that knowledge, that community as well. And that is what lead to the Zen Succulent to being that terrarium and plant craft business, but leading into a storefront in a workshop space, in a gathering space for likened people who love low maintenance greenery, love community, love caring for something other than themselves. in 2016 became in spot.
What got you started in plants and plant care? What inspires you?
Honestly my mom. My mom has a passion for greenery and just working with her hands. She's a scientist by day and helps out with the business still. She is a career scientist working forty years for the government, but over all that time she has always been very crafty. She still is. When I was five years old I remember her going to local craft fairs selling her hand made embroidery t-shirts. I always saw my mom having that 9-5 job along with a side hustle. I learned my plant care from her because she liked having plants in the house and we learned how to take care of them. Instead of our chores just being mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, it also included taking care of the living things around us. Things that inspire. me? My mom, nature, all the delight in color are the things that inspire me.
What are some things that are unique to being woman of color business owner?
The fact that you're seeing something different than the normal. I don't like to say that my shop has a color. It is a little bit more gender oriented with the lighter pastels that tend to be feminine, but the first thing that people notice is this gorgeous painting painted by Rachel Campbell, a Durham Artist by way of New Zealand, and her name is Melinda. Melinda is a gorgeous Durham African American Woman that is up in age. Ms. Melinda had lived a lot of years, but you can see this woman is inspired and joyful and surrounded by her plants. I love that painting. It is so amazing to have that piece in the shop because it does give a sense of this is a shop created by someone not in the mainstream, but it also brings together the fact that we are able to do a lot as woman business owners. It is very inspiring to be a woman of color because there isn't really a lot of that within the realm that I am in so its nice to show a great representation of my culture as well as a female business owner.
What makes your plant shop different? What about your brand stands out?
As I mentioned earlier, the Zen Succulent really morphed from being specifically terrarium, plant crafts, and other ways to display plants to being that neighborhood plant shop and gift shop, giving that opportunity that was allowed to myself when starting my business of having maker's independent micro businesses that share a creative theme is outstanding. We not only provide those plants and those great giftable items but we also provide the knowledge to take care of those plants so that they are living past that day and you are building confidence within yourself to continue to maintain them. We're not only providing those great looking, fun plants, but also providing the knowledge so that you gain confidence to take care of them. Our original store in Durham is 400 square feet. It is not large at all. It is baffling that we are able to have so much in that space, but everything that is in there is intentional and has a purpose so that our customers don't feel overwhelmed and its also cozy, and we have what you need.
How do you push yourself to learn more about plants and their care and go further with your business?
The big element is the plant care and plant knowledge base. This year we have become very interactive with our Instagram stories this year. Now every Tuesday we provide Plant Tip Tuesday where we select a low maintenance plant in the storefront where we tell you about the history, the care, also how you can style it in your home, and giving you more perspective of a plant that you might only see from a flat picture on the internet. We are trying to take this a step further on our blog which is revamped with out plants tips and knowledge. It's something we can catalogue. Customers would say 'we missed your plant tip Tuesday" so now we catalogue and put it on our Youtube Channel. You're never not learning when it comes to this. We are always picking up the latest books and talking to trusted growers and just finding out different tips we can trickle down to our customers.
What is the hardest thing about owning this small business in the RDU area?
Really, our business is such a niche market. You have to remember we started our business in 2012 online. We were on the online platform Etsy when it was in the heat of things, but we also took leaps and bounds by being in local shops and taking on local pop ups and putting our products in local stores like West Elm and Madewell. We were able to move our business and see what people liked as we continued to build capital and build our business. During that whole time from when we opened a shop in 2016, we were trying to build a following. We were immediately able to see what was selling and what was not, so that we could curate our store. We were also able to go into those craft fairs as makers, and then see our friends next door and see what they were selling and build personal relationships with them. When I opened up the store it was so awesome to call on friends for specific items to be in the stores. We were able to utilize the skills of where we were as makers and bring that to the RDU area. That's not the hardest thing of owning a business in the area. It's really just a rewarding thing.
Describe your office space and what your most productive time to work is.
I am an early bird. My fiancé and I have a little puppy named Archer. So Archer and I are waking up at 5:45 and we start our day together by 7. That is my prime time because my brain is up and it is moving. I can shoot off emails and design ideas. I can go into the store front or green house before the traffic gets on the road and do a great deal of work. My workplace is the same cash wrap that our customers in Durham check out at. Its a lovely L shape cash wrap, my height. Its perfect height for me to pull out my laptop and my workbooks. My workspace is the store front where I can be inspired by the things around me. I can see what I need to order and see how the shop is morphing.
What is your favorite plant or your favorite project that you’re working on?
I have worked personally on some amazing projects. I have had some stints working with the Home and Garden Television and their Instagram stories, even building a ten foot succulent wall which was an amazing and growing experience. We have also written a book called "Modern Terrarium Studios." All of those have been some exciting projects to work on. I would like to say that my favorite project to work on has also been the most stressful and that is working on opening up the storefront.
The jade plant has to be, if I had to say, one of my favorites at the moment. It's sturdy and meant to bring good luck. It's party of the succulent plant so its so easy to maintain and it can grow super large. It's a forever plant. Very cool.
What’s the most tedious but necessary task in owning a business? How do you hustle through it?
It comes to delegating. Delegating tasks are a huge bit of growing your business. Delegating tasks allows you to do something you're really passionate about and put the things that are necessary on the plate of someone else that might take away your joy. For me it was hiring an accountant. I love looking at the numbers, but I would rather focus on building a beautiful store front and an online presence than looking at those details and getting all those papers together. As soon as the new year hits you are getting off that high from doing so well during the holiday season to all of a sudden "Oh my gosh tax season is coming." I found an accountant who only focusses on small businesses.
What are some goals you have for your business?
Goals are something I try to have as short term as possible. I don't know everything and I don't know how my business is going to go. I envision my business online at one point and that's what I made happen. I envisioned when the market was right to have a storefront and everything lined up. Really another goal has been to bring a little bit more of that to another area that our customers were coming from that we new if we brought it to them in a different experience, a larger storefront, it would provide more avenues for plants and taking it to that next level (hint hint Raleigh Storefront). I can't wait to share more of those goals soon (as in July 11th!).
What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in their small business?
We started ours a little bit different than most. We didn't have a whole bunch of capital to start off with. We didn't max out credit cards. I didn't have one. I started the business when I was 24, shortly after college. Literally, the first order that was sold I used that profit from that to make the second one. Everything was a slow build for us. We only used the money that we had. That made me strap down to figure out exactly where I wanted to put that money so it wasn't frivolously going out the door. That slow and constant build really is something I would encourage a small business to do. I also encourage you to test the waters. We went to those craft fairs and went to those shops. At some of those fairs, even the disappointments, we were able to test it out in different markets.
What do you use most for marketing? What is your favorite social media platform?
It has to be Instagram. Our plants are just so visual. Instagram sums it up without even using words that goes across languages and barriers.
Sneak Peak of the new shop coming soon to Raleigh
You can purchase Megan's terrariums, plants, and other gift items in both store fronts, located in Downtown Durham and Downtown Raleigh, as well as online. Be sure to support this creative and small business this coming week for the opening of the Raleigh Storefront. We hope to see you there!
Durham Location: 125 E Parrish Street, Suite 100 A, Durham, NC 27701
Raleigh Location: 208 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601