Box & Sprout 2020: A Year in Review
By Charlie Chappatte and Robert Ford, posted January 7th 2021
We’re sharing with you a brief summary of our first year as Box and Sprout.
It goes without saying that our first year as a business, while important for us, pales in comparison with everything else that has been going on in the world. It has, as everyone keeps saying, been a crazy year and there’s been a lot of personal tragedy and trauma.
Through all this, our hope is that we have been able to bring a small ray of happiness into our customer’s lives with the plants that we’ve been delivering. We know that plants can make us feel a bit better and that growing things is good for our health. We hope we can bring more of this goodness to more people in 2021.
We wish you all a Happy New Year.
When we kicked things off in early April, we wanted to create something that could make being stuck at home a teeny bit more bearable.
It all started with a test: our very first online store was only supposed to be a dummy store - a ‘smoke test’. We loved growing veggies at home and wanted to see if other people might be interested too. We also wanted to get a feel for the costs involved; for things like advertising, delivery, product costs etc.
We whipped up an online store and uploaded a range of potted vegetable plants.
At that time, we didn’t even have any vegetable plants to sell…
When those first few orders came in, the first thing we had to do was scramble to buy in the plants and pots we’d just sold!
We managed to not only fulfil those orders, but we did so with happy customers who came back and wanted to buy more. It was an amazing feeling to make somebody’s lockdown a little more interesting and a little more fruitful.
Since those first few orders, driving around London in my dad’s old van, the store has grown. Our early learnings for vegetables were that:
- The margins are very thin (to the point of unsustainable);
- Driving around London all day on deliveries can be hard; and
- While running ads on Instagram can be effective, navigating the algorithm required a steep learning curve and successful campaigns, which could work well one day, might then do nothing the next.
Before long we also had to reflect on our product range.. vegetable plants are great in spring and early summer, but the options decrease through late summer and only a handful of things will grow through winter.
So was this a very seasonal business? Well, not exactly…
By June, the business comprised an online store, a handful of lovely customers and an Instagram account with some awesome followers. However I (Rob) was now working on the project alone, and I needed a co-founder!
A short post explaining the business on an entrepreneurial Facebook group page was in order. Charlie got back to me and within 48hrs we were on a zoom call chatting everything through...
It was clear that growing things is good for our wellbeing; the responsibility, the nurturing, seeing and feeling progress. Lockdown also saw a renewed value placed on the environment in which we live; making that environment special, unique and wholesome has become much more important.
Many of our customers, being mostly city-based, wanted that feeling of reconnecting with nature. Our offer of potted veggie plants was an outlet for this, and while veggies are seasonal, the core motivation - getting hands-on with nature - is not.
We came to understand that the gardening industry can feel quite functional and doesn’t cater to non-gardeners.. might there an opportunity here?
From potted vegetable plants, we started to look at house plants, which are much less subject to our harsh British winters! There are already some established companies doing a great job in this space, but this new direction connected to our core purpose of helping people reconnect with nature and so, in August, we launched our first range of house plants.
Suddenly we were back in at the beginning – testing things and seeing what worked. We started with big house plants, delivering them around London by van or bicycle.
We then expanded again to include baby house plants too. This fits nicely into our ethos of getting more hands-on: baby house plants tend to cost less than their bigger brothers and sisters (so they’re often a lower risk option for newbies) but they also give us the chance to nurture the plants from babies and to watch them grow up.
Happily, we could also start shipping these babies by post, and soon we had our first customers from Wales and Scotland!
Sprout Box Club
When we spoke to a number of our veggie and house plant customers we found out they were keen to learn more about growing at home (beyond just how to not kill their plants!) – and so our subscription box was born.
We sketched out a plan for the full year, planned the first 3 months in detail, and got to work on December’s box.
Each month we’re delivering a plant project – think of it like a grow-at-home-kit – through which Sprout Box Club members learn how to grow all different types of plants, supported by videos, blog posts and illustrated booklets.
We plotted out the 12-month plan so that all our monthly boxes are seasonal, with a focus on learning how to maximise whatever growing space you have.
We’re also building a community, so our members can connect and share their growing stories, challenges, learnings and successes. So far we have just under 20 members signed up with our Sprout Box Club and we’re incredibly excited to see where this goes in 2021.
Plans for 2021
We can't wait to see where the business takes us in 2021. Both of us will be working full-time on Box & Sprout. We also have Sonja on the team, an awesome illustrator helping to create the booklets that accompany Sprout Box Club’s monthly projects.
Our plan now is to keep exploring the connection between nature and wellbeing. We’re also interested in looking beyond the confines of our home, to see whether we can spread the green love to our city environments and public spaces. There are a number of organisations doing great work greenifying cities and we’re looking to connect with and support them – so watch this space!
Thank you for joining us on this journey. We wish you all the best for next year and if you have any comments or thoughts please, as ever, feel free to drop us a line.
Charlie and Rob