I recently received this email from a sweet lady who loves succulents and wants to sell her designs: “I would love to talk to you sometime, have lunch, and/or communicate via email and get some tips on how I can best develop my business. My passion is creating succulent containers and sharing information on succulents.”
If you have a similar dream—to express your creativity and sell the results—here are suggestions based on my observations of successful succulent container garden designers:
~ Set goals. Define what it is you want to accomplish, i.e. “Sell my designs to a high-end clientele within 30 miles of home.” Then delineate what steps you plan to take to get there, i.e., “Sell at farmers markets, show photos of my designs on my website and social media, and do potting demonstrations for garden clubs.” Consider composing arrangements to display, along with your business cards, for your hair salon, dentist’s office, nearby succulent specialty nurseries and garden boutiques, upscale restaurants and other small businesses with whom you have a relationship and who serve your target clientele. Find five locations and freshen or change the arrangements weekly.
~ Don’t compromise on quality. Everything you do should express who you are, exude confidence, and offer the subliminal assurance that you’re WORTH IT. Whatever you’re not good at, hire it done. (Consider it an investment, because it is. It’s also a tax write-off.) Your website, logo, business cards, social media pages, photos, text—even your personal appearance—should show your clients that you’re the real deal, you’re serious about what you do, and you’re committed to excellence…and therefore they can count on you to provide it. You want them to brag to their friends that they discovered you. Good word-of-mouth is golden.
~ Go the extra mile. Treat your clients like royalty and make them feel special. Give them extra time, package your designs beautifully, and include a thank-you card or small gift. Follow up with them after the event or occasion, ask if they’re satisfied and how you might improve what you provided. If they adore you, politely request they recommend you to their friends.
~ Give yourself deadlines. Most people don’t accomplish much without them. For example, commit NOW to participating in an upscale holiday bazaar in your area this November.
~ Develop your own style. Your work should be different enough that it says YOU. Use your website to showcase your individual style. Visit the websites of Dalla Vita in Santa Barbara, Marialuisa Kaprielian of Succulently Urban, and Cindy Davison of The Succulent Perch. They have methods and approaches to design that are uniquely theirs yet are immediately recognizable to people in the biz (like me). On Instagram, look at designs by @FairyBlooms and @LeafandClay. Be able to replicate the work of a designer you admire, analyze why you like it down to the last detail, and figure out how you might make it even more practical or appealing.
~ Be observant and focused. When something (or someone) creative and intriguing crosses your path, contemplate how it or they might help you build your business or enhance your signature style. Visit upscale garden and floral boutiques for ideas, like Roger’s Gardens in Orange County, Pigment in San Diego, Succulence in San Francisco, Potted in Los Angeles, Hearts of Jade in Moorpark, or Terrain in Philadelphia (research any within driving distance). If you’re a people person, offer to assist a designer you admire for free as a learning experience. Collaborate with a design- or garden-oriented store to host a workshop, like succulent designers have been doing with The Hunt Collective in Orange County.
~ Expect a learning curve that entails giving away time and effort. It’ll take a while for you to define what you’re all about. It’s called “paying your dues,” and there aren’t any shortcuts. So be patient with yourself while you’re fumbling about, pursuing dead ends, and hitting your head against walls. Prepare your spouse for the long haul. Don’t give up. Quitters don’t succeed and succeeders don’t quit.
~ If you’re OK selling mail-order, open an Etsy shop. Thriving design shops often originate on Etsy. Do your homework and make sure you have a solid product that is unlike anyone else’s, and you’re willing and able to fulfill orders even when inconvenient. The bridal market, for example, is huge but seasonal. Do you really want to spend all of May and June doing bouquets for picky brides and assembly-line tabletop decor?
If I had the energy and inclination to start a succulent container design business, I’d probably attempt what Diana Clark did with The Perfect Plant (now owned by Muriel King, who also is a wonderful designer). Such a cool idea. But then, Diana has a remarkable eye. If you’re curious, Google “Diana Clark Perfect Plant” and see what comes up. Hint: It entails prowling thrift stores and antique sales, repurposing vintage and one-of-a-kind vessels, pairing succulents with them, and hosting seasonal sales. Diana thoroughly enjoyed those aspects of it, but let it go because it was too time consuming (she’d already retired once) and physically difficult.
You know who else has a thriving business are potters Keith Kitoi Taylor and spouse Donna Davis Taylor, of Sacramento. They travel to succulent events statewide (like the Succulent Celebration and Cactus & Succulent Society Shows) to sell their handmade art pottery. Because their vessels are one-of-a-kind and collectible, they command top dollar. Aspiring potters are everywhere. Maybe find one whose work you admire and collaborate?
I wish you every success as you explore your creativity, pursue your passion, and (hopefully!) monetize the results. Keep us posted on your progress!