A Note from Shane
~ An essay reflecting on the past 2 years of Gabriella Plant's growth ~
Just 2 years ago, I sat at home on my laptop, up kinda late playing around with this little plant icon and the name… Gabriella Plants. I had been a 3rd generation grower for my entire life and I grew up with the greenhouses and property in my backyard, often working for my Dad to earn extra gas money throughout high school. At the start of 2017, my Dad entered a new chapter of his life and he asked if I would step in to help him keep the old commercial wholesale business running in his absence. For 2 years, I stepped in and stepped up to run that operation, but I did every process and responsibility the same way I had seen my Dad doing it.
It wasn’t until August 28th, 2018 that I had a series of discussions with a few wholesale customers and was made aware of the lack of supply of harder to grow plants, like Pink Princess, and I was also informed that part of the reason the demand is so high is because they were worth $100+ per cutting. In addition to this supply & demand problem beginning to hit the industry way back in 2018… I was also made aware of the fact that so many growers were considering retiring now that their property values have increased due to urban sprawl in Central Florida. It makes sense, but it pains my heart so deeply to see independent growers like us have to close their doors in order to retire.
I remember initially laughing at the person who told me that, but she encouraged me to Google it for myself. So I did… and at about the same time I did that Google Search, my mind began to race as I scrolled and clicked through a decent portion of the plant community at that time. I studied Business Management in college so I began to look at what we could do, or the place we could fit into the existing plant community.
One thing stood out to me: Most of the shops I discovered we had either already sold wholesale plants to them, like Logees, Hirts & The Sill… but I also noticed none of the smaller independent shops put any emphasis on the growing process or where the plants were sourced.
I knew we’d standout in an approach that focused on shipping plants From Our Greenhouse to Your House!
At this time, 2 years ago, I had just 2 part time employees helping run the wholesale operation. I knew that getting into the world of direct to consumer would come with its challenges, but I was beyond hopeful for two main reason:
1. I believed then and still believe now that the content and updates to our customers regarding the growing process including footage of the greenhouses is something no one was really doing in the industry at the time. Commercial Growers are just that, commercial, and they’re not as motivated to make content showing off their facilities.
2. I knew that I had a personal love for plants, enough to want to do plants for the rest of my life… but I had seen too many brutal summers of sweat & tears that my Dad poured into building up our operation for not nearly the proper amount of compensation and I wanted to be able to personally provide for my family in bigger ways than that.
Growing plants is simultaneously incredibly challenging, truly relaxing, therapeutic and almost 2nd nature to me. (probably why I bring cuttings home and watch youtube in my backyard GH now and stick plants after the sun sets)
So on this day, August 28th, 2018… just 2 years ago, I said well… Let’s give it a shot!
I sat down at home and crammed out the logo that so many of us have seen as a brand that is a leader in our industry. The process of making that logo was quick and in less than an hour I had the primary GP logo and the Etsy Shop made and I began loading in plants to sell online for the first time… starting with Pink Princess. My Dad’s business growing up was named Gabriella Growers… and I wanted to use that inspiration but also define what I hoped to be a new chapter for Gabriella. I was not expecting the book to expand in size so greatly over the last 2 years.
Side note: “Who is Gabriella?” When my Grandpa first quit his sales job in the 70’s to pursue his green thumb, he purchased the property located on Gabriella Lane and began growing Gerber Daisy there in seasons. So Gabriella is not a person’s name, just named after the street that the greenhouses are located on, which the property has been in the family and producing agriculture in some capacity since the 1970’s… but our larger growing operation was launched by my Dad in 1992.
I remember that first order coming in and getting the notification. I was elated! Before long, I had sold 12 Pink Princess online… the first time our family business had ever sold something to the end consumer directly. There was one major problem: I had 0 experience shipping plants through the post office & I had no clue what the potential was for the future. Luckily, our customers are the best and lovingly helped to provide feedback as I tried different packing methods as I ran the GP business after hours and on my own time.
We grew quickly and learned valuable insight from the mistakes we did make early on.
It only took a few months of selling a few dozen plants a week for the confidence to begin to build that this COULD work, and that this just MIGHT be the way that I can pursue my passion for plants & still provide for my family in a more meaningful way.
So that’s the core story of Gabriella Plant’s founding…
Over the course of 2018, I remained doing all of the work to select, sell, pack and ship and began to work on what it would be like to apply this now proven model to the entire operation at Gabriella… transitioning the wholesale only business into the retail powerhouse we are today.
In December of 2018, we finally launched our full website and at that moment, the sales & expenses for the venture were absorbed back to the business I was still running for my Dad.
Going into 2019, we were using our own website and doing everything we could to throttle how many plants we posted each week, because there were severe physical limitations to how many plants we could ship per week out of our previous 382 sq. ft. Shack.
We experimented with wait lists & we added heat packs for the remainder of winter. We also updated some of the look and feel of the customer experience, like the colorful Smile Stickers and new shipping management system so we could more easily facilitate combinations. Towards the end of 2019, we knew we had to build more space so that we could expand the number of people working at Gabriella Plants thus fulfilling our mission of Always Growing More. By the end of the year, after much delays, we were finally able to walk in and begin using our new 3,000 sq. ft. HQ building. At the end of the year we had gone from 11 species on the website to over 90 & our team grew from 6 to 11.
Which brings us to 2020…
In January, I shared my perspective & vision for what I wanted to accomplish this year… I spent time after hours nearly everyday in January working to lay out the vision & roadmap for future business development. We knew that what we did in 2019 worked and I was proud of the success, but I also knew we were capable and destined to keep growing more. The majority of the 2020 Q1 plan was just hire more hands to grow and ship more plants.
A few other vision pieces/goals I laid out to staff in Q1 of 2020:
* We are who we are because we each do our part.
* Emphasis on more delegation and full responsibility of specific jobs/functions to specific team members. For two reason: 1) Decrease the workload on me… 2) Give people ownership over their role so that they can be fulfilled, so they can leave feeling accomplished and celebrated in their accomplishments.
* Hire more shippers & grow our shipping capacity further. (In 2019, we were limited to shipping 500-600 plants per week… compared to having the capacity to ship 2400 each week presently.)
* New employee benefits like Paid Sick Leave & Paid Time Off & Plant Perks program
* Plans to launch retail location
* Desires for new branding/looks
* Renewed focus on NEW inventory items and being pickier about what we do grow in our limited space.
* Focus on growing as much as we can ourselves, because I foresaw the upcoming issues of limited plant availability because so many growers were preparing to retire.
And this is where my letter turns personal…
For the past 2 years as of today, I cannot think of a week that went by that I didn’t spend minimum of 80 hours at the greenhouses or working on GP from home. Countless sleepless nights stressing over how I handled that customer email, or if hiring is too big a risk… I know I’m not the only business owner who has these thoughts, but they’re a lot for a 24-25 year old.
Every single email/problem/FB post was handled by me, especially in 2018 + 2019.
I realized I had to be intentional about documenting processes and educating the team on how to do some of the things I did, because I did them solely because that’s how it had always been. I also could not expect a member of the team to help reduce my workload unless I was able to effectively educate them, delegate the task to them & trust they will get it done.
The team at the time executed beyond expectations in Q1 and Q2 of 2020, but I had to learn a lot of lessons quickly if I wanted to successfully lead our company through the next few years…
I had to learn how to plan ahead, keep notes, and be intentional about my interactions with staff.
I had to learn how to delegate and let go of tasks that I viewed as part of MY job…
I had to learn how to face larger challenges than what I learned in college.
I had to learn how to deal with COVID & the anxiety of not feeling capable of leading through something like that.
I had to learn how to trust others, which is hard, but is the most rewarding lesson.
I had to learn how to be patient, when we abandoned the goal of a Retail Location in 2020 due to COVID.
Mostly, I had to learn how to be a better leader, not just a grower with some friends helping me from time to time.
These were all VALUABLE and IMPORTANT lessons for me to learn, and I pressed into leadership even harder.
That plan was laid out in January and through the first half of the year… that plan was executed and it paid dividends quickly.
At the halfway point of this year, having more and more day to day operations being handled by the team, I began working from home each Thursday to focus on larger bigger picture & vision for the remainder of this year and beyond.
In July, I shared with the staff the major Growth Plan for the remainder of 2020…
* Launch new branding/look/feel
* Invest in growing our team in extremely strategic ways, hiring people with the right career experience I needed to fill in the gaps of the skills I don’t yet have, both in leadership skills and in botanical/customer service experience.
* Creation of our first IP, GP-APP which is now running and is how the Inventory Team knows what is ready to be posted on the website and where plants are located. By the end of September, every plant inside of our GHs across every bench will be tracked in this system along with the data of who was involved in the planting/growing/pest management processes of that plant.
* Grow our Customer Care team so we can have the capacity to have faster response times & a better customer experience when it comes to customer relationship building…
* Outlined goal to begin inching closer to the point where I’m not absolutely necessary for day to day or week to week operations to continue.
And, that plan worked… and God orchestrated the events of the past 2 years to be just small enough bite size challenges that it was accomplishable and gave me wisdom in making hard choices and grace when I made the wrong ones.
We’ve grown SO MUCH in the past two years together:
Staff members 3 grew to 21.
Unique species we offer grew from 12 to 90.
Weekly shipping capacity from 60 plants by myself to over 2400 plants each week during the peak of 2020.
Sales continue to climb as more people discover our family business.
Lastly… 74% of Total Sales $$$ from July 2020 was from plants WE GREW OURSELVES.
But if you know me well enough, you know that I’m always about “What’s Next?”
Here's what’s the crux of why I am so excited…
Starting next week… The team should be able to complete the ENTIRE process of selecting the plants to list next Wednesday, preparing the Inventory Update graphics/emails, posting the Inventory Update drop… then also dealing with any emails, packing those plants and lastly driving your precious new plants to the post office…. All….without… me.
I could almost cry at this moment. I have been on the biggest and most rewarding 2 year sprint of my life to get Gabriella to the place it is now… but you want to know what really makes me smile most…2 things:
1. The radical idea that Gabriella Plants is now much bigger than myself, in the best way possible and that we still do not know our full potential.
The thought that I don’t HAVE to be the one to sacrifice EVERY Wednesday for the rest of my life to the Inventory Update process. The fact that I CAN slip away for the weekend or leave work early if Miriam (my wife) or either of our families need me. That’s all still mind blowing.
2. I get to focus and reinvest my time into staff & the plant community and bring joy to people’s homes & hearts, without nearly the level of stress I’ve overcome previously.
Quick story that made me smile: A few weeks ago, we published several workplace HR policies… one of which was a suggestion by Bruce… “Instead of people taking plants home that were in our compost pile… why not give them plant credits each month?”
I didn’t know how to say yes or no, as I didn’t know how we’d go about writing that policy. Luckily, a newer member of team has that experience and was able to roll out our GP Plant Credits policy for team members.
That program had me in tears yesterday, as a number of our shipping team members came into my office holding 3” Gabby and asking me questions about their care and horticultural context. I got to share what I knew, and celebrate the victories they had that week and congratulate them on picking out stunners!
The look of excitement and passion on their faces as I got to share that time reminded me of why I love being a grower.
The hot, sweaty, long hours I work to plant those PPP or water the greenhouse 4 times a week… those late night winter checks at 11:30pm… Just knowing we created a smile on someone’s face when they get the plant of their dreams is just something I cherish so deeply. I was always willing on a case by case level to give plants away to team members, but the fact that we’d make it an official work perk with rules has clearly inspired the team and it makes my heart so proud.
With ALLLLLLLL that back story and perspective…
Today is my personal 2 year anniversary of the start of the journey that we all know now as Gabriella Plants.
Today we launch GP V3.1…
* New branding/Website redesign
* New merchandise
* Updated printed materials like Packed By Cards and Unboxing Guides…even our branded packing tape will change soon.
And… if you know me… you know I will wrap up with this: What’s Next? After today? Later today?
I am truly excited to be able to rest a bit, but more excited to watch and lead the team as they grow individually and collectively and succeed in doing their part of who GP is.
Gabriella Plants is much bigger than me now, and for that I’m thankful.
It also frees me up to invest MY time back into what I love most… propagating, talking to growers, mentoring growers & creating content that educates and interacts with our customer base. I have loads of ideas including a Gabriella Growers Club that I want to launch later this year… but for now… Always Growing More!
Thank you for reading my thoughts and feelings and for the outpouring of support people like you have shown us. We will have Ghost Updates later in the evening tonight and over this weekend as well. You guys are the reason I’m in tears, because I recognized God has blessed me tremendously with my family, with our customers like you and with the rest of the team who have all encouraged me and been patient with my obsessive dedication to growing this business and all the little details that make it special. It’s all possible because we each do our part and we’re always growing more.
Thank you for taking the time to read this book & I’m thankful for your support of everyone here at Gabriella Plants.
Your friendly grower,
Founder & CEO of Gabriella Plants