A One-Woman Plant Shop BloomsCOVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | From her Brooklyn apartment, Katherine Hernandez delivers indoor greenery to homebound New Yorkers. Published: March 02, 2021
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While the pandemic has displaced millions of workers and forced countless businesses to close, it has also spurred a new era of cottage industry. Out of work, stuck at home, and without much left to lose, a wave of hungry self-starters are turning their passion projects into full-blown businesses. This week and next, I’m highlighting two of these young micro operations.
First up: Juanita’s Plants, a plant delivery service started by 26-year-old Katherine Hernandez, a New York native who’s currently based in East Williamsburg. Amid dwindling job prospects as a freelance podcast editor, Hernandez started selling plants on Facebook to make ends meet. Quickly realizing the demand for her service — quarantining New Yorkers were eager to greenify their newly circumscribed environs — she parlayed the Facebook experiment into a full-time gig. Below, our conversation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get into plants?
I became interested because of my mom. I grew up around plants: there were always vines in the hallways, [green] things trailing around. Ever since, wherever I’ve moved, it doesn’t feel like home until I have houseplants.
Juanita is my grandmother's name. She passed last year, and when I decided to start this business, I wanted to pay homage to her. She didn't have a green thumb, but she was an amazing woman. There would be no one else to name the business after. And I think she's been helping me along this journey.
What was the motivating factor to turn your passion into a business?
I was super broke. [Laughs.] Prior to starting Juanita's, I was a freelance podcast editor, and I wasn't getting any work. Another reason was, I've always wanted to be my own boss. I was like, "What is something that I love doing and that I can get started on?" That’s how Juanita's came about. I started selling plants on Facebook and saw that there was a demand. I didn't think I would do so well, but wow. People really want plants.
You opened at the height of the pandemic, right?
I officially launched the website in January, but I have been selling plants on Facebook for five months. So yeah, at the height of the pandemic. What got my business going was offering delivery. No one was trying to go to plant shops. The fact that I was bringing these beautiful plants to you was what made it appealing. I deliver all over New York City: the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, everywhere.
Do you think that Juanita’s Plants would exist if not for the pandemic?
I don't know if I was really thinking about it in 2019 to be honest. [Back then,] the last thing I would have expected is to start a business during what’s been happening, with all the millions of people losing their jobs and a lot of people on unemployment. For me, it was a wake up call that anyone can do whatever they want, whenever they want. It does not matter. There's no excuse not to do that thing you want to do.
You do all the deliveries yourself, correct?
Right, it's only me. My friends help here and there but ultimately this is a one-woman band. It’s kind of crazy.
Yeah, I can imagine. Where's your HQ?
My apartment [in East Williamsburg]. All the plants are in my living room. There's almost no furniture.
Do you think the large-scale migration to working from home has helped with demand?
For sure. I think because people are home more, they’re seeing the need to make their spaces comfortable. And they're realizing that plants do that. One of the biggest reasons I have plants is they bring peace and clarity to my space. I don't know if there would be room for my business in the market [if not for COVID-19].
Is Facebook still your primary point of sale?
It was initially Facebook, but now because influencers have been showing me support, most of my sales have transitioned to Instagram. And it's crazy because I'm not a big social media person. It's actually been kind of difficult for me. I don't post as often as I should and as often as my competitors do. But I understand the value of it. It’s a learning curve.
Have you felt the need to apply for any COVID relief grants or loans?
I have looked into it and I don't qualify because my business is so new. I'm optimistic. The first month was really good, but this month I’m not doing as well. I'm learning as I go and I'm going to keep tweaking my approaches and seeing how I can engage people. And people don't even know I exist, so there's also that [to work on]. I think I’m doing okay. The goal is to eventually have a brick and mortar. I'm going to be doing a lot of pop-ups this spring and summer, and I know our sales will go up because people tend to buy more plants during that time.
What's your schedule? Do you take days off?
No, I don't. For the most part I'm on my phone, doing deliveries, picking up plants, creating social media posts. I'm always on; that's just the nature of being a small business. You always have to be aware of everything that's going on. But … How can I say this? I feel good. This is my baby. Whenever [it gets overwhelming], I tell myself, "Hey, this is mine.”
What plant would you recommend for someone who is a total amateur?
Okay, well first, just get it! Once you take that responsibility of like, "Oh my God, I have this thing and I don't want to kill it," you do what you have to do. But what I would suggest is a ZZ plant or a snake plant. Those are really hard to kill. You can put them in any kind of light. Whether you live in a basement or a penthouse, they will thrive. And they don't require much watering or anything like that. And if you really, really, really don't even want to deal with plants, [get] a cactus. You don't even have to water a cactus for a whole month.
How to help:
Until next time,