If you have a passion for plants, you have the power to turn your hobby into a business. The internet provides a platform to connect with other plant fanatics, advanced botanists, and curious homeowners who want to liven up their living areas.
Maybe it’s time to use your growing expertise to start an online business. Here’s everything you need to know about how to sell plants online — along with some tips to get your company off the ground.
Just so you know
Where can you source your plants?
Before you can start selling, you first need to have plants to sell. Unlike traditional businesses where you buy materials and assemble them to sell a finished product, you’re selling a living thing that could be still in the early stages of growth, which means it will take time (often several weeks) before it’s ready for the customer.
There are multiple ways to source the plants you sell online. The first is to grow your own plants in a backyard nursery. This could be a good option if you plan to sell plants on a small scale (typically as a hobby) and have both the time and the land to turn tiny seedlings into viable plants.
The next option is to buy your plants wholesale. You may be able to find a local nursery to partner with, which would then free up your time to market and resell them in unique pottery or under your own branding.
Many nurseries will be up front about your ability to resell plants; some even specialize in growing for online resellers. The Tennessee Wholesale Nursery allows resellers to use their images and descriptions. This can save you a lot of time and help you grow your business quickly.
Another viable nursery is Gro ‘n Sell, which prides itself on its high-quality starter plants. It has a large product line, and you can place orders in advance for a discount.
These are just two examples to give you an idea of what a plant wholesaler looks like. There are others to choose from, so shop around for plant variety, price, and shipping costs to make sure your vendor costs don’t cut into your bottom line.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll work with multiple wholesale nurseries throughout the year. Some nurseries are seasonal and dependent on the climate in their area. If you sell plants throughout the year, you may need to change distributors seasonally.
Which channels are best for plant sales?
Along with sourcing variety, you also have different choices when it comes to selling your plants. The most notable options are to sell them on your own e-commerce site or through a third-party vendor.
If you develop your own e-commerce site, you won’t have to worry about fees or competition from other vendors on the page. However, you’ll need to build a big enough audience to make a profit. Many vendors turn to third-party companies like Etsy and Amazon because they can reach millions of people within a few hours.
When it comes to choosing a third-party option, consider the different websites available to you. Will it be easier to get noticed on eBay? Can you sell for higher prices on Etsy? While you aren’t limited to one website, each vendor has its own best practices to get noticed, so you may want to dedicate yourself to one platform instead of spreading out to sell on several.
If you’re worried about getting noticed on Amazon, check out the options available to plant sellers. Amazon has improved its Amazon Plants Store to make it easier for customers to browse or buy.
“Plants have always been available on Amazon through various vendors, but they haven’t all been easily accessible and organized in one place until recently,” Christina Butan writes for Real Simple.
When choosing a third-party vendor, make sure you’re aware of the restrictions that come with shipping plants and the rules for sellers online. These can vary by platform, plant species, and region.
“Anyone shipping nursery stock must adhere to seller guidelines for Etsy, Amazon and eBay, among others,” writes Susan Brackney, author of The Insatiable Gardener’s Guide. “In addition to barring the sale of some specific plant or seed types, they require online nurseries to adhere to state, federal and international laws. They’ve been enacted to help prevent the spread of potentially harmful pests and pathogens.”
These regulations vary significantly by state. You may need a license to operate your plant sales business and may need to report which plants you plan to grow and sell. Not only do these steps keep you in good standing with the local government, but they also make you an ethical grower. Invasive species can destroy the populations of native flora and can even be dangerous to local fauna.
To get an idea of the scale of invasive plant species, Kevin Espiritu, founder of Epic Gardening, lists 16 invasive plant species you can find in many garden centers. Something soft and beautiful like Chinese wisteria can actually take down a tree in your backyard.
As you set up your online business, you may want to focus on selling to local residents or limiting your plant species to those native to the United States or your home region.
The business basics of how to sell plants online
The core of a good plant company is a solid business model. Once you get a handle on your bookkeeping, marketing, fulfillment, and order management, you can start to scale your business and run it with confidence.
Tips for shipping plants
Plants are incredibly delicate, especially when it comes to shipping. Not only do you need to protect the plant from damage, but you also need to keep it alive. Make sure you wrap your plants in a moist paper towel and then use plastic wrap and newspaper to keep them safe.
There are also legal guidelines you need to follow in your plant business.
“If plants are dug from the ground for shipping, they must have all native soil removed from the roots,” the team at VIPparcel, part of the United States Postal Service, explains. “The tops then have to be cut back to match the amount of root present. If growing plants in pots with artificial media, this doesn’t need to be done.”
If you grow your plants in pots, the VIPparcel team recommends removing the planter and shaking any dirt free. This will lighten the plant and reduce your overall shipping costs while allowing you to reuse the planter.
Some plant sellers, however, sell their planters as part of the plant purchase, especially if the planters are uniquely decorated or part of their branding.
One of the main reasons why sellers opt for third-party vendors is so they don’t have to worry about payment processing. They’re willing to pay Etsy or Amazon a fee if it means their customer orders are secure and they get paid on time for the items that they sell.
If you opt to develop your own e-commerce website, take payment processing seriously. You can use an app like Shopify for your e-commerce site and work with other secure vendors that can protect customer data. You aren’t just responsible for protecting customers’ credit card information but also their names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, and any other relevant data you collect. You also need to keep your own bank account information safe.
Jotform can help with payment processing as you learn how to sell plants online. You can easily embed a payment processor into your forms for a secure checkout experience and a one-stop shop for your orders. We always prioritize customer safety to help ensure your business is safe from data breaches and lawsuits.
Good bookkeeping habits
You don’t need to be an accounting expert to start a plant business, but it may be beneficial to take a basic accounting class so you understand how to balance your books. This will help you stay profitable.
For example, consider which plants would be best for your business’ bottom line. Craig Wallin at Profitable Plants Digest shares his list of most profitable plants on the market. These include large shrubs and outdoor ground covers as well as delicate herbs.
This is where your bookkeeping know-how becomes important. If you already have an idea what these plants should sell for (or get an idea from researching online), you can calculate the cost to buy the seeds and fertilizer, grow the plants, package and ship them, as well as rent the space for your greenhouse, which will include utilities and water. These costs add up. Even if you plan to source your plants from wholesale nurseries, you’ll have to factor in the elevated prices.
This doesn’t mean you can’t specialize in growing rare and delicate plants. However, in the short run, you may want to start with easy, low-maintenance plants that grow quickly and help you turn a fast profit — at least while you nurture your specialty buds.
Tracking expenses is particularly important when you’re first starting out, as you’ll likely have more startup expenses to recoup.
Developing an order management process
There are two schools of thought when it comes to selling plants to make money, Tamara Reid writes at The Reid Homestead. You can either take orders ahead of time or grow a variety of plants and see what people buy. Each approach has pros and cons, and will affect your order management.
By accepting orders, you know where the demand is and can plan what you grow. You may even be able to set up order forms during the winter months to gauge future demand. Jotform has more than 700 order forms available so you can get the information you need from customers and map out your growing area.
Your second option is to grow what you want and see what people buy. This removes the stress of filling existing orders — especially if your seedlings don’t turn out the way you expected. The downside is that you’re subject to the rules of supply and demand. You may run out of something people like early on or get stuck with plants that aren’t in demand.
The basics of marketing for first-time plant entrepreneurs
Once your business is up and running, it’s time to market your brand and win people over. To create an effective marketing strategy, consider what makes your business unique. You can also look to other plant sellers to see what they’re doing — and why they’re profitable.
For example, some companies have positioned their plants as stress-reducers at work or companions at home. Not only do they dress up your desk, but they also help you better cope with the frustrations of the workplace.
“[Our plants are] the antidote to this unfortunate thing that our entire generation suffers from: anxiety,” Eliza Blank, founder and CEO of The Sill, says. “And plants really can be part of the cure.” The Sill’s tagline is “Plants Make People Happy,” which highlights the company’s self-care and wellness approach.
You also can expand beyond plants into other gardening essentials. Clara Leung, the founder of Clara’s Green House, sells houseplant sets that include the plant, soil, and planter. She even sells homemade soil mix. This takes the stress off of city dwellers who might not be able to garden or customers who lack your green thumb and don’t know how to care for the plants they buy.
To start a successful online plant sales business, your passion for gardening comes first. If you have the knowledge and ability to grow or resell plants, then you just need to put your business together.
Technology has made starting a business significantly easier, especially with tools like Jotform to help. We can guide you through order management and payment processing aspects so you can ensure seamless transactions with your customers.
To learn more about us, check out this story about how one dog bed maker grew its business with a little help from our forms and Slack.