A woman from South-Africa found a way to transform her hobby, growing air plants, into a successful small business. And she did it with children to take care of.
Ruth Mathias from Munster, KwaZulu-Natal, sells rare plants across the country. The niche she excells in is the cultivation of air plants or Tillandsia, a genus that does not need a pot or soil to grow because they can obtain water and nutrients from the air (they will still need direct light). This and the habit of some species to climb and hang on just anything make air plants ideal for urban home gardening and decoration.
Ruth studied horticulture at the University of South Africa. She always loved growing plants as a hobby. She started her small home nursery business, Rare and Air Plants, 3 years ago. She has chosen air plants because no one else was focusing on them. Most of the other home plant nurseries sold orchids or potted plants. ’Most people grow orchids. I love that it is about growing and the plants don’t grow in soil so you can be creative with them and use them as gifts and if you have a small space, like a little windowsill or balcony in a flat, you can have a bit of nature in the city.’
To grow a stock took some time, but these rugged and adaptable plants turned out to be easy pack and send around. Air plants do not require much space. This genus is not native in South-Africa, and Ruth still has to import some of the more rare species, but the plan for her rare plant nursery is to become self-sustainable eventually.
Ruth sells her plants to florists, online, and she also makes plant features for events, such as wedding cakes and tables, and for home decor. She is also experimenting with hybrids to maintain the interest of plant lovers and regular customers. To improve the product and service range is important because several other small businesses have popped up since.
Besides finding a proper niche, the businesswoman emphasizes knowledge as a recipe of success. She has to know her plants, know their merits and sales points. Her know-how has to be convincing to encourage the new and satisfy the experienced home growers. ’I have also had to become knowledgeable enough to sell the plants to people who are already knowledgeable about plants’ – says Ruth. And one has to always educate herself about tax and import rules because the customers will ask these questions as well.
One not-to-be understated perk of running home plant nurseries as business that someone with children around can do it.