On Starting…STUMP Plants

When you are in the middle of something, it’s easy to feel muddled. You can get so caught between the regrets of the past and the worries of the future that your current situation can feel like tremulous water trapped in-between. Or it can be that the amount of things to do and information to process at one time hits you like an inescapable wave, shaking up your sense of direction and robbing you of clarity. And while we all know hindsight is 20/20, when we are standing on the brink of a decision, all that matters is answering the questions before us. Should we take the plunge or wait for a better time? Is this the right program to choose? Should we stay together? Should I save more money first? The questions that guide us can also paralyze us.

While our culture is often big on pushing us towards the plunge, on being a successful entrepreneur, on getting rid of  heavy burdens in order to raise us higher, higher, higher, it is up to us to recognize what is appropriate for our situation. At some point, we either have an “aha moment” or just keep moving ahead from that gut feeling which gives us enough confidence to step over the waffling.

So whether we are moving forward out of undeniable certainty or out of a more basic desire to keep on trucking,  just starting in itself is often the hardest part. But when we do summon the energy, pluck ourselves up and take action, the simple act of starting is the momentum that catalyzes us to great things.

That’s the impetus for today’s new series, “On Starting”. I want to hear from the makers, creators, business owners, the spiritually converted, you name it, about how they started. What finally drove them off the edge and into that exciting abyss where the molten bits of life are discovered and cast into something grand. Since starting can often be the biggest challenge, I don’t only want to uncover motivations, but also learn about the fears and the hopes. In this series, we will hear straight from the starters themselves about what is driving them forward and what holds them back. I hope to reveal the humble origins of starting, showing that we are all similar, and that, really, the starting doesn’t have to be so scary.

static1.squarespaceJoin me today for our first interviewees, Emily Brown and Brian Kellett of STUMP plants in Columbus, Ohio. These new-found business owners, entrepreneurs and green thumbs are shaking up the retail scene in Columbus with an innovative take on your everyday plant store. Helping you find a plant suited to your needs and level of care, creating gorgeous installations for your home and partnering with other game changers to offer delicious, Lokal Cold Brew and fashion-forward vintage and modern clothing from Flat Foot Shop, Emily and Brian are creating a special space. They even offer an artist residency program in the apartment above their shop. If you’re in Columbus, you’re due for a visit, and if you are far away like myself, you should still take a peek at what they’re doing, it’s sure to give you inspiration.

In the midst of their grand opening last month, I asked Emily and Brian to take a moment out of the whirlwind to reflect on this exciting moment. They graciously answered my questions about their origin story and gave name to the flurry of emotions that they were feeling. Let’s dive in.

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To begin, can you explain where the idea for Stump originated and what the store is all about?

This one is kind of a long story. Brian and I had always been intrigued by the idea of starting our own businesses. I remember the night that I met Brian, he asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to have my own furniture business one day. I think both of us loved the idea of having our own businesses, we just never knew what the business should be.

At the time Brian and I met, I was working on a very large research project with an organization called AmericanHort, to explore possibilities for the future of garden retail in North America. This project was our inspiration for the business. If it weren’t for the project and the wonderful experience, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

A little about the project : AmericanHort is a non-profit trade organization for the horticulture industry, and they came to my school, CCAD, to work with us on this collaborative design research project. Among many things, they were trying to figure out how to increase customer diversity in independent garden centers across North America. The issue current garden centers are facing is that they are having trouble reaching new customers, especially millennials. The majority of their customers across the board are older white women.

During the project, I and five other team members traveled to different garden centers across the country, collecting qualitative data and gaining insight into the current state of the industry. After each trip, I would return home and tell Brian about all of our findings. Over time, Brian and I started playing with the idea of starting our own plant business from all of the insights and findings from the research. First, we were thinking we could open a plant truck – almost like a food truck but for plants. We were going to call it the Stump Truck. Then, we thought maybe it would be better to start with a plant installation service, where we would do custom interior plant installations for small businesses around Columbus.

One day in June, while Brian and I were driving, we passed an old gallery space that had a for rent sign in the window. This was the old gallery space next to Till (the restaurant). Till is where we had our first date and we had been eyeing this old gallery space for a while so we were incredibly excited to see the for rent sign in the window.

Seeing this sign is what made us totally switch gears, and start to consider actually opening a shop in the near future. Before, we were thinking we should wait a year until I graduated from school (I’m still in school part-time for another year), but now, we were feeling very optimistic about opening a shop asap.

So the gallery space didn’t work out as we had hoped, but we were lucky enough to find another space in Italian Village, where we are now, that was even more perfect than the gallery.

We are dedicated to bringing plants back into people’s lives. It’s part of our mission statement and we completely believe in it.

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Ideas behind Stump :

Education –

We want to make sure that each of our customers leaves the store with a plant/plants that they are perfectly capable of keeping alive. We have a chart that separates every plant in the store into categories based on amount of light and water needed. – In the research we learned that a lot of people who have owned plants in the past have killed them. This makes them feel bad and not want to try again. By teaching people the proper care, and pairing them with plants that fit their care style, we hope to eliminate this problem and keep people coming back.

Urban Living –

We are kind of like an urban garden center, but I like to call us a plant lifestyle store. We do everything we can to make sure that the plant/s you choose will fit seamlessly into your lifestyle. Most green centers market to people living in the suburbs. People who have large yards, and need shrubs, hanging baskets, garden decor, things you typically find at a garden store.

At Stump, we cater our products for those living in urban environments. This is why the majority of our inventory throughout the year are pre-planted house plants. We do not sell anything in plastic (we do all of the potting) so there is no need to go home and make a mess after purchasing a plant. During the summer we will have pre made container gardens that customers can simply buy and place on their patio’s.

Affordibility, Exclusivity, and Collaboration –

This ties into our Three Tier system that we have for the pottery. Since we don’t sell any plants in plastic, our prices are slightly higher than those of a traditional garden center. For those who would like to purchase on the cheap side, we have our Tier I line of classic tera cora pots. Tier II Is called our “modern” line and these are pots that are glazed in a variety of colors ( white, black, turquoise, etc.) and are made locally by Burley Clay in Roseville, OH. Our third tier is our line of artist made pots. At Stump we have an artist residency program where we bring in a different artist each month to make our Tier III line of planters. We feature the artist of the month in our store and on our website. The idea here is that this line will be ever changing and each piece is one of a kind.

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How long were you both ruminating over this idea for Stump before you thought “Yeah, let’s actually do this!” Or did you know from the start that you were going to make it happen?

I talked about this a little earlier. I remember we actually came up with the idea one day while Brian and I were visiting my family in Louisville over Thanksgiving Break. Brian had a dream that we should open a plant shop (or something like that, I don’t remember exactly). So in the morning he told me about the dream and we were both so excited that we started coming up with names and branding and researching other shops like ours. We spent the whole morning coming up with different ideas for the business.

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Once you decided to go for it, what were the next steps you took to make it a reality? (people often gloss over the planning and work that goes into making dreams reality, that’s why I feel it is important to ask)

We were super lucky because Brian has a ton of cool friends who have very useful skills. When we actually decided to go for it, Brian called his step brother Mica, who is an accountant and now our financial advisor. Mica gave us a list of steps that we needed to take, then instructed us to call him after we had them all finished. This was super helpful. Brian also has another good friend – Bryan, who is a lawyer who helped us with all of the legal steps that we needed to take to make Stump official.

Throughout this process, did you feel ready for this new venture or was it more of a feeling of being in over your head?

The majority of the time I think we both felt ready and excited for the process. At some points we had so much to do that we would just finish one thing and move right on to the next, there wasn’t much time to stop and think too much about what we were doing once we started- if that makes sense. I do remember two times that were a little scary and exciting. The first was when we signed all of the paperwork to make Stump an LLC. We still have pictures of each other signing and I remember on the way home we were both kind of in awe.

The same feeling happened when we signed the lease for the shop. These times were a little scary but we were still confident in all of our choices.

For a while, Brian and I were listening to business podcasts and I remember on one they said, “Most people live the first half of their lives thinking they’re too young and the second half thinking they’re too old.” We both loved this quote. It’s so true! When I start to the get the feeling like I’m in  over my head, I like to think about how big the world is, and the universe, you know? And then just say why not? When I think of things this way, it puts everything in perspective, and big decisions don’t seem as scary.

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The majority of the time I think we both felt ready and excited for the process. At some points we had so much to do that we would just finish one thing and move right on to the next, there wasn’t much time to stop and think too much about what we were doing once we started..

What are your biggest hopes for Stump?

We are dedicated to bringing plants back into people’s lives. It’s part of our mission statement and we completely believe in it. With so many people moving to cities, we are not spending nearly as much time with nature as we used to (think back hundreds of years). There are so many benefits to having plants around us (and studies that support this) and at Stump, we want to share this info and encourage people to incorporate plants into their spaces.

Our hope is that people love this concept as much as we do! From there, we would like to open a couple of other locations around the U.S. Eventually, as we grow, I would love to be able to grow our own plants (now we are getting them from a place in Cincinnati and they grow them in Florida). It would be awesome to have our own greenhouses in Florida / Cali where we can source our plants and not have to depend on wholesalers.

What are your biggest fears?

My biggest fear – What if people don’t like the idea? Then I guess its just back to the drawing board. Brian and I have a back up plan in our pocket just in case.  What if they kill their first plant and don’t come back? For the second, we have ways to keep it from happening (hopefully).

What’s it like being in a relationship and starting a business together? (something I think everyone wonders..)

It’s hard to sum up in words but it has been great. Brian and I work so well together and never fight. We are both extremely easy going and I think that helps. I would say the worst part is that sometimes we will spend every hour of every day together but it doesn’t feel like we’ve been together at all. When we start to feel this way, we take the day off and just focus on being together. Last time it happened we took the day and drove to hocking hills. It was so nice. Sometimes we just get so caught up in what we are doing and what we need to do – and it is a constant cycle, its so important to put the relationship first, no matter what. We both agreed before we started the business that our relationship will always come first.

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If you had to sum up how you are feeling about the opening right now in 3-5 words, what would they be?

Stoked, Optimistic, Thankful

Thank you Emily and Brian! Want more STUMP? Check them out on Instagram and Facebook for more views into their beautiful shop and thoughtful process.

What are you starting lately? Let me know in the comments! I’d really love to hear.

More…profiles and interviews with awesome people.

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