Forage Plants is a business with five locations across multiple states...and only one employee.
For most of its history, however, it didn’t operate this way. Before COVID-19 hit, Founder Jamie Fairman had several thriving Forage Plants locations, including the very first in Louisville, Kentucky. Each location had its own employees and close ties to local communities in cities that included Denver, Cincinnati, and Lexington.
When the pandemic happened, Forage Plants needed a fast pivot. Jamie consulted with her employees: Could they collect more money in unemployment while the pandemic raged? It turned out that they could.
But could the business move online quickly enough to continue to make sales without losing a single location? They decided to find out. Jamie temporarily became the sole employee of Forage Plants. Working by herself, she handled boxing and shipping as online orders rolled in.
Like the succulents in her stores, Jamie was about to find out if Forage Plants had the mettle to survive a drought.
How succulent bouquets helped a solo gig become a multiple-state retail presence
Jamie’s story starts in 2006. Though she had what she calls a “really cool” corporate job with Bulleit Bourbon, she reserved her real passion for her side gig: moonlighting as a wedding florist.
Succulent bouquets, a particular specialty, were trending. And with the new demand, Jamie started selling hers outside of weddings. Soon, she had enough incoming business to open a tiny shop in Louisville.
Unsure of the market demand, Jamie never envisioned a second shop.
Soon she had five.
These days, Forage Plants even has a global reach, selling unique ceramics from small makers as far away as Australia.
Jamie was proactive with each community. She reached out to other businesses and invited makers and businesses to do promotional pop-up events, while Forage Plants also did pop-ups with other businesses. She even reached out to local businesses to handle large-scale plant installations.
The in-person retail model was a success. Until COVID-19.
It was a snap of the fingers, and things changed. And nobody saw it coming. Not me. Not anybody. And the biggest thing in any business is being able to pivot.
The pivot to Shopify POS in the midst of a retail desert
Fairman held meetings with employees and staff. Though the rules varied by state, it worked out that employees would receive more from unemployment than if they continued working. Fairman says her best business decision was taking quick action, including a plan for reemerging after the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Forage Plants was using Shopify—but only for ecommerce. Its in-store POS ran on an old system.
The old system was already the bane of Forage’s existence: It was old school. We’re talking manual entries required...hand-written. It couldn’t print out barcode labels. It cost staff hours of extra time each week.
Even though it was already a candidate for replacement, with the sudden impetus of COVID-19, Jamie made the decision to ditch the old POS and go completely online.
“It simplified. And honestly it was our saving grace when the pandemic hit. It was the best business decision that we could have made at that point.”
With employees temporarily laid off, Fairman became the only employee at Forage Plants. She took online orders herself, boxing up the plants for shipping.
Customers responded. Supporters flocked online, where Forage Plants already had Shopify in place to help manage analytics and inventory. It wasn’t long before a full migration to Shopify POS, including an expansion to curbside pickup options.
After Jamie brought employees back, they were able to reopen retail. Throughout the closure, Forage didn’t lose a single location.
The move Forage Plants had been waiting for all along
When no one was coming into the Forage Plant stores, Fairman realized that there had been no point in using multiple systems. Circumstances forced a change that had been coming all along: a move to Shopify POS.
“We knew we were going to migrate everything over to Shopify eventually, but it was that moment where it was like, ‘Now we have to do it. This has to happen.’”
The process of onboarding employees proved to be a cinch. A few employees had retail experience and were familiar with Shopify. Then Forage Plants consulted its web designers to revamp its website, keeping Shopify in place.
“It was a really easy transition,” says Jamie.
Forage Plants’ new model included curbside pickup and online ordering, which proved intuitive to customers. But there were more benefits down the line.
After switching customer subscription services, Forage Plants lost all of its subscribers. Shopify provided a platform for attaching subscription invites with text message marketing. Subscriber numbers rebounded in a hurry.
According to Jamie, it’s one of her favorite features of working exclusively with Shopify—third-party apps are easy to integrate, introducing new possibilities.
“[Text messaging] has been wildly successful.…I don’t know what other platforms are doing these days, but I’m not sure I’ve seen that in another POS or ecommerce situation that works quite as well.”
Shopify POS helped simplify inventory problems, too. “Creating an inventory system was kind of a nightmare,” says Jamie.
Inventory at Forage Plants is complicated. Five locations across multiple state lines, plants going in and out, variability in plant pricing. Staying on a single system has simplified the process and kept inventory moving—even through the pandemic.
Multiple locations—one handy system
Growing Forage Plants from the ground up has been a learning experience for Jamie, who started out with a hobby and ended up with a full-scale retail business. She credits Shopify for simplifying the learning curve with multiple locations.
“I think the switch to a Shopify platform can speed up the process if you’re looking to go into multiple locations,” says Jamie.
“I think, honestly, Shopify is the way to go if you’re going to be a retailer.”