After being in business for two years, co-founder and co-owner of Plante La Vie Mobile Nursery, Monet Izquierdo, shares the trials and tribulations her small business has faced and how she and her business partner have been able to overcome challenges.
Monet Izquierdo, the 30-year-old co-founder and co-owner of Plante La Vie, began her journey with a biology degree and a dream to study naturopathic medicine. Though that dream didn’t quite materialize as she hopped into the fitness industry to teach pilates, she’s always advocated for mental health and realized plants’ significance on overall well-being. On the other hand, her 32-year-old business partner, Matt, comes from a marketing and sales background and has always been very savvy and forward-thinking. From this passion, Izquierdo and Matt wanted to bring something new and different to Tampa Bay by offering a mobile plant nursery to all plant enthusiasts.
After a van trip to California with their dog, both business partners were excited and inspired to see so many people living out of their van or camper, enjoying a relaxed and adventurous way of life. Shortly after, they found a camper located in South Carolina, which they drove down to Florida and realized along the way the “groovy” and “nostalgic vibes” they got from the camper itself. And so, Flora, the camper’s name, was born.
Although neither business partner came from an entrepreneurial background, they knew they had to build something “one of a kind.” Their mission from that point on was to set up an inviting and inspirational space where people of all ages could come to and enjoy plants. Izquierdo says, “The act of taking care of something that may not speak to you but can communicate in a different way is very, very healing.”
That being said, all businesses face various challenges and struggles along the way. Taking the first step in creating a business can be daunting, especially in a competitive and well-established industry like plant nurseries. Although the business partners had confidence in their concept and ideas for Plante La Vie, there was also a significant amount of hesitation to break into the industry, especially in Tampa, where there are many successful plant businesses. “Believing that what we were creating was going to set itself apart, we came into it as people that were just sharing our knowledge and education [regarding plants and plant care], which was really well received.”
Flora, part walk-in plant shop and mobile greenhouse, had her own set of challenges. Izquierdo recounts the numerous conversations between herself and the South Carolina DMV, as there wasn’t an existing title for the camper. Finally, after a long series of battles, the DMV agreed to register Flora, and it was on to the next hurdle. Izquierdo knew that “if I can do that, then I can do something harder,” a great mentality to be in as their business was coming to fruition. The two spent a lot of time rebuilding the camper, which is over 50 years old and hired a contractor to turn the roof into a greenhouse and completely open one side of the camper with doors. They invested around five to ten thousand dollars in fixing Flora up and invested $200 from every paycheck into the business before taking it on full-time, such as buying pots and plants. Since Plante La Vie is rooted in being mobile, they will often travel to various pop-up market locations to interact with new customers. However, what was most important to them was creating “experiential moments” with customers, regardless of whether they bought a plant. Customers would share their experiences and challenges in growing plants, and the business partners wanted to be that “listening ear” to create a human connection “in a world where we have so many distractions from nature.”
When asked what has been the most effective strategy for growing the business, Izquierdo immediately thanked social media. Though she didn’t start as a social media expert, she runs all of their social media accounts, and it has been an incredible tool to reach a greater audience and connect with other small businesses and markets. Through socials, they were able to make a name for themselves and secure partnerships with other people in the space. By keeping consistent and continuously attending events where the business thrives while building new relationships, they’ve experienced a lot of success. To set themselves apart from competitors in the industry, Izquierdo realized that the majority of their followers want to learn the “tips, tricks, and hacks” about plant care. As a result, she’ll often spend time responding to Direct Messages on Instagram from people who’ve never purchased a plant from them, as she will help diagnose and provide suggestions. Additionally, images and videos that are “soothing” and “aesthetically pleasing,” such as their greenhouse, as well as user-generated content, have helped them grow a significant following. Above all, though, Izquierdo mentions that “people want to connect to the business and to you.” Meaning standing in front of the camera and showing your face, your personality, and what your passions are. “It’s not just about selling to the customer, but selling the brand.”
That being said, there’s going to come a time when a business has to pivot or make adjustments to keep customers happy and coming back for more. Listening to customers’ needs is especially important, and Izquierdo will often jot down different business ideas that she comes up with or that are suggested to her. In addition, not being afraid to try new things can lead to a world of new possibilities and new potential customers. For example, Izquierdo had a friend reach out to her regarding interior plant design for one of her friend’s clients. And although it was something the business partners hadn’t thought of previously, they now invest a significant amount of time towards interior plant design for small businesses and residential spaces, which has proved to be very successful for them.
Along the way, the business partners learned a lot about themselves and being in the plant industry. One of the primary struggles they faced, which Izquierdo wished she had known before going into it, was establishing a better balance between being an entrepreneur and figuring it out for themselves versus hiring an external team. “When you’re in the thick of it, it can be really lonely or challenging, but it’s only temporary.” She continues by saying that identifying why you’re doing what you’re doing will help you remember to stick with it and keep persevering. It takes a long time to build a business from the ground up and continuous work to help it become successful. “Slow and steady wins the race, but remember it’s okay to be innovative.”
Izquierdo wanted to personally thank her family and friends who have been so supportive throughout Plante La Vie’s journey over the last couple of years. Those who have been able to provide connections, like her friend that designed the business’s logo, have been a huge inspiration and help.
When planning for the future, Plante La Vie is taking some significant steps toward potentially opening up a greenhouse that could also be used as an event space—additionally, focusing special attention on their interior plant design business with the goal of expanding to larger projects and spaces. There’s also talk that Flora may be taking a road trip soon, so definitely keep Plante La Vie on your radar!