Opening an online store for houseplants may sound strange in theory, but as more and more people have settled into working from home and setting up their ideal work and living spaces, the rise in plant purchasing makes perfect sense. Pioneering this burgeoning market is Emily Wight, a serial entrepreneur and mother of three, who launched Foli in 2019. She spoke to The Edge about the unique challenges of setting up an e-commerce plant delivery service and what inspires her as an entrepreneur.
How did you come up with the idea of Foli and what was the process of setting up an online store like for you?
It actually started as an outdoor planter subscription model that my brother and I had thought about. We made a Shopify website and we bought 50 planters, had a relationship with a grower, and sold the planters. [We] vetted the idea of delivering something that’s not a traditional thing to be delivered, and from there we just spiraled into all these other ideas within the industry of plants in itself. Our idea morphed into tropical house plants [due to] this resurgence of them in decor and interior design focuses. Plants have made a massive comeback [from] their days in the seventies when they were really popular too.
Plants for sure are hard to source sometimes, but so is finding the right pot that fits your plant, fits your space, [and] is the right trend that you’re going for. It just became a big problem-solving mission on how to find the right suppliers of unique and reliable items that people won’t kill and so aren’t super intimidating. And then the packaging is a massive part of what we do—testing packaging, so that the customer receives it in a really good condition, there’s not dirt everywhere [and] nothing’s broken. [It] spiraled into a lot of sourcing, a lot of procurement, a lot of testing. I continued with Shopify, doing Foli.ca and building that out from scratch.
What is the biggest challenge that you have faced so far in running Foli?
There is always an obstacle, I feel, that you can focus on. This isn’t my first start-up. I’ve owned a couple in the past—this is my third—so I’m really used to the wild ride that is being an entrepreneur and owning a start-up. It’s hard for me to say one thing, but I think it’s such a personal journey when you’re running your own start-up. You have a lot of good days and then you have one experience that isn’t great and […] you feel it’s so much heavier than the good. I just always try to keep a light heart and keep on going.
I’m very, very committed to the mission of what we do at Foli. It’s really what I want to do for the long run. I enjoy it and I keep the mentality that just putting my head down and keep on going, keep on refining, keep on perfecting, that that will prevail. And it always does. Just really remembering why I’m doing this, what I’m doing this for, who I’m doing this with. I’m normally able to get to the other side.
What significance do you think plants hold for those who might like to hoard in their living spaces and has the pandemic brought about any new shopping trends for plants?
I think for people who are in their spaces more now, home is definitely king. I think plants just add an extra dimension to the room. They’re another living thing that you share your space with, and they’re not foolproof. They’re not always the same. They take a really interesting journey in any space they’re in, so your plant’s going to live differently than my plant. There’s a little bit of mystery to it, which I think people enjoy.
Once people start collecting more—which has definitely been brought on with COVID—[…] then it spawns new interest in propagating your plants or sharing your plants. I think a lot of new plant parents have definitely come about in the past year. And a lot of people [are] gifting plants, especially for those who are stuck at home or they’re away from their loved ones […] because it’s something that you’re going to continue to look at that will remind you of that person. […]
COVID has definitely forced people to [consider] online [ordering], which I think was a barrier to what I’m doing because people think it’s an unusual thing to ship. As soon as they’ve overcome that weirdness, people are really up for it because it’s hard to find in the city a hoya or a funky plant.
How important has teamwork been for having Foli up and running?
I’m always saying teamwork makes the dream work and it’s cheesy, but I lean on my staff so much. It’s very important to trust who you’re working with and to share the load and the love of what it’s like to run a start-up. I don’t know everything. My favorite might not be the majority’s favorite plant or pot, so I really lean on my staff to help me make those decisions, to hear their opinions, to try to empower. I work with two amazing females and they’re just the best. I always want to elevate what they’re doing to be more in line with where they want to grow in their career. It’s integral for the success of Foli. It’s all team, really. All hands on deck unloading plants, packing plants, cleaning. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to have this work family. While many people have to work from home, it’s been a sanity saver for sure.
What is something you learned through the process of starting your own e-commerce company?
I just love it. I’m obsessed with Shopify. Our platform is all on Shopify and I’m just amazed at the depth of intricacies that you can do with coding. My eyes have been really open to all these different facets of how you get in front of your customer when you’re in a virtual world.
There’s been so many things I’ve enjoyed so much more than I thought I would. Building the website is definitely something I’ve started to love, and really owning the user experience, trying to think about how people shop. And it’s not always about the sale. How can I educate people to make the right choice for their space or their friend? All of those different things have become really interesting to me.
I thought I would hate the marketing and advertising angle of being virtually away from customers and trying to figure out how to get in front of them. But the more and more that I’m my authentic self [the more I realized that] people really want the real deal. They want to see you and your face so that they can relate to you and they can connect on a personal level. So yeah, those two things I definitely think are something I’m learning and I’m happy I’m doing in an e-commerce world.
Rose Ho | Staff Writer