Starting a business during the pandemic? Here's how one new Vancouver company has fared
VANCOUVER -- The week the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, Kevin Tholenaars was opening his company's doors for the first time.
"We had no idea what to expect," he told McLaughlin On Your Side at Plantsome's warehouse, near Cambie and Broadway. "It was obviously something that added another level of complexity and stress to launching a business."
But, it turned out, Plantsome was perfectly placed to profit from the realities of the pandemic, delivering plants ordered online across British Columbia to those stuck at home.
"We're very fortunate that we're in the space of shipping products to customers, which has really taken off in the last couple of months," Tholenaars says with a laugh.
So much so that the company made its first four months of projected sales in its first month alone.
What is it that appeals to British Columbians about Plantsome? The company sells hundreds of tropical plants, all online, and ships them through Canada Post right to your home.
When you log onto the website, you can fill out an online questionnaire to help you find the perfect plant based on your needs and those of the plants. Some are pet-friendly, others require little watering or light, others are air purifying – and the company wants to hook you up with the perfect match.
The plants also have human names, something Tholenaars says provides entertainment and helps buyers connect with plants in a different way.
"The plant personalities are really fun to read and it's a very different take on e-commerce and on shopping online than you typically see," he says. "We think that the Latin names of plants can be a little bit overwhelming to customers and therefore we give them human names such as Tito or Evelyn or Eileen."
And once the plant arrives in its special, ship-proof packaging at your door, you can download the Plantsome app and automate its care, so you'll receive notifications when it's time to water or add fertilizer.
While things are going well for the company now, starting a business in a pandemic isn't easy. British Columbians stuck at home re-painted their living rooms, built patios and decks, baked bread, and there was a run on plants.
"Demand was quite excessive and we had a really hard time keeping up," Tholenaars says of the early days. "We had a really hard time making sure that we have enough inventory because demand wasn't just growing for plants at Plantsome, but demand was growing for plants everywhere."
And as the local nurseries the company sources from closed down and stopped seeding, it was hard to get the plants customers wanted.
"It's still very challenging," he says. "It takes a long time for nurseries to really get back to those levels that us, as customers of those nurseries, are expecting, but we're managing. It's tough."