The twin sisters who turned a love for plants into a thriving botanical business community

The twin sisters who turned a love for plants into a thriving botanical business community

Posted: Fri 8th Jul 2022

Twin sisters Jemma and Annie Charman used their life-long passion for gardening to create Green Rooms Market, pop-up events that bring together independent sellers of plants, pots and other related products.

The duo will soon be launching an online version with a marketplace of independent small business sellers.

Jemma shares the story behind the brand and how the Amazon Small Business Accelerator has boosted her entrepreneurial knowledge.

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

How did you come up with your business idea?

"We grew up in the countryside to self-employed garden designer parents, so my twin sister and I had always been surrounded by plants and were aware of the positive benefits that living with plants brings from a young age.

"Having then lived in London for 10 years with fast-paced screen-led careers, in 2018 we happened to both be on maternity leave at the same time. We were both craving more plants in our lives but with little ones in tow we just didn't have the ability to get around to all the plant shops and garden centres we wanted to. We had also always loved shopping from independents and visiting markets, so decided that the time was right to bring all these things together in the form of a contemporary houseplant market. There wasn't anything else quite like it at the time.

"We floated the idea to several plant shops around us and they all seemed keen to be involved. We then set about contacting local venues to see if any would be keen to host us. Our first location was a bar in Peckham's railway arches that was keen to grow their events calendar. We were given the space for free if the bar spend on the day exceeded £2,000.

"We quickly recruited sellers and the money they paid in advance for their stall allowed us to pay for flyers and posters. We worked hard to gain a following on Instagram and contacted local press to help promote the inaugural market.

"The market was a huge success, and we booked a second one for a couple of months later. Growing our social media following we soon got contacted by more venues keen to host us.

"Annie and I both returned to work part-time. We worked on Green Rooms in the evenings and weekends. Eventually we were able to put the children into childcare which created an extra day that we could spend solely on the business. This was a real game changer. It meant we could visit potential venues without the children, and we had much more time and headspace.

"Soon we were holding one or two markets a month across London as well as some outside of London. Then everything changed with the pandemic. With all in-person markets cancelled, we had to find a way to continue the brand and also help support the many independent businesses that would ordinarily have been trading at our markets.

"We launched a 'virtual market' on our website where we created profiles for the businesses within our community. We posted our stall holders' products on social media, hosted virtual workshops and did Instagram live interviews with traders. The virtual market received good traffic so it spurred us on to start developing an online marketplace for plant lovers. It had always been the plan from the beginning, but we hadn't had the time to focus on it.

"The online marketplace will allow customers to shop from our network of brilliant independent plant retailers, growers and designer-makers from one website. The lockdowns accentuated customers' desire not only for plants, but to shop locally, so our online marketplace will allow customers to buy products online from shops within their local area if they wish.

"After nearly two years of market research, web development, seller recruitment whilst working other jobs, having more children and continuing with the in-person markets, we are due to launch the website in the next couple of months!"

Green Rooms Market

Image credit: Peach Photo

What start-up challenges have you faced?

"Time has always been our biggest challenge. Green Rooms has always been a side hustle for us whilst bringing up a young family. We are very lucky that there are two of us, so we can share the workload and bounce ideas off each other. We are also fortunate to have very supportive partners that cheer us on despite the challenges it poses to family life.

"Of course, the pandemic has been a huge challenge. When all in-person markets stopped and we were holding our virtual markets instead, we charged the 'stall holders' a minimal fee to be involved. We also earned some money doing virtual plant care workshops, styling and product sourcing. We were able to hold one in-person market in December 2020 which created vital income to go towards our online marketplace web development costs.

"We had to view this time of the pandemic as a chance to concentrate on growing our brand awareness and research rather than any earning potential. The virtual markets were great for attracting a nationwide audience. Our following was very London-centric previously but now we also have reasonable coverage in other places such as Bristol, Edinburgh and Norwich.

"Another of our biggest challenges has been developing a whole new arm to the business with a very limited budget. To develop the online marketplace we have been using a white label marketplace development company in India, so we are building a customised website rather than it being completely bespoke (which would have been way out of our budget). Any money raised from in-person markets goes towards the development costs of the marketplace, so we face the challenge of needing time to focus on launching the marketplace, but needing money to do so, which is generated by in-person markets."

What's your strategy for marketing to customers?

"For the online marketplace, the social media following we have built for the in-person markets will be key. The houseplant community on social media is very active and thriving, so we will do a lot of promotion across the platforms. The community online is thirsty for knowledge as well as products so with our own extensive understanding of plant care as well as that of our sellers we will be talking to our potential customers offering them expert advice from industry professionals.

"Like many others we have seen a real decline in the organic reach of social media, so we will inevitably have to set aside a large portion of the budget for paid advertising on social media.

"The other biggest chunk of our budget will be going on search advertising, making sure our products are seen to those users actively searching.

"Free PR is a big focus for us too. We are working hard to build relationships with key press contacts so that they think of us when they are after something plant related for an article. For the last few months we have been using PR Dispatch (run by Enterprise Nation member Rosie Davies-Smith). It’s a PR platform that gives us both media contacts and DIY PR learning. We’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge and workable strategy.

"There is an active network of plant bloggers and content creators who have very large and loyal followings, so influencer marketing will be a big focus for us in reaching our target market.

"We have been steadily growing our mailing list with potential customers that are keen to be some of the first to shop the new online marketplace. We have a banner across the top of our current website for people to sign-up to be notified when the online marketplace is live, so we have been working hard to get our website visible in as many places as possible. Using our plant care knowledge to contribute to online magazine articles and getting our in-person events listed in what's on guides is important for getting people to visit our website and join our mailing list."

How has the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme inspired you?

"Some of the videos that have been the most inspirational for us are as follows:

"Secrets to SEO success

A useful starting point that got us thinking about how to make sure we were doing things right on the online marketplace from the beginning. For example, site speed and image compression and ensuring we have as many good quality backlinks as possible. We have worked hard to get featured on credible websites and blogs to increase our backlinks.

"Content creation for your brand

We learnt about the importance of building your followers’ trust with the aim of converting them from followers to customers. This gave us the push we needed to spend time creating content focused on plant care and expert tips from industry pros. This has become a key part of our social marketing strategy.

"Measure what works

This helped us get to grips with Google Analytics and understand where most of our traffic is coming from, so we know we can focus more time on those channels. It was eye-opening to understand that the amount of time we put into social media doesn’t really pay off in terms of driving traffic, however the amount of time we spend on creating really great blog pieces certainly does!

"Paid social and how to measure return

We used this module to make sure that we understood what we were spending our very limited budget on with paid social advertising in the run-up to our in-person markets. We used the advice given to create different campaigns to see which ones work best and learn from that.”

What are your plans for the future of your business?

"The launch on our online marketplace is imminent, so we continue to shift more of our time and focus onto that rather than the in-person markets. The in-person markets will remain a key area of our business, but they will be less frequent. They will be used as a great way to reach new customers in different areas of the country, whilst freeing up our time for the online marketplace.

"After the launch of the online marketplace we will be focusing on growing the reach and customer base of that, proving that it is (hopefully) a success. We then hope to be able to employ some part-time staff to help with managing the online marketplace and someone to help run the in-person markets so that Annie and I are freed up to focus on the high level strategy of the business."

Green Rooms Market

Image credit: Peach Photo

What are your top tips for business success?

"Don't be afraid to try something. You won't learn unless you take risks and try.

"It's important to ask for help. People tend to love to impart knowledge and we have had to really lean on this whilst launching a business with no investment.

"We would also recommend building a supportive community. This has been such a vital part of our business so far. Our community is our market traders (now marketplace sellers) and of course our lovely loyal customers. Without our community of traders we have no business, but with them we can promote each other and make many collaborations happen that benefit both parties. We love seeing them collaborate between each other too."

Which other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?

"Holly Tucker is a huge inspiration to us. She started the hugely successful online marketplace Not On The High Street. She is also a mother and a great advocate for shopping from independent businesses. We admire her tireless campaigning to get us all shopping small. We were nominated in Holly's Independent Awards in 2021 which was a real achievement for us.

"We are also inspired by Aime Cox-Tennant, who runs Studio Cotton, an indie web and content design studio based in Bristol. We have worked with her on our web and social media strategy and every time we speak we gain such valuable gems of information. She puts a lot of work into putting great content on Instagram."

How is the cost of living crisis impacting on your business?

"This has been a real issue. It has meant that some of our regular stall holders have had to close their businesses, or limit their activity, which in-turn means we are finding it harder to fill stall holder spaces at our markets.

"We have also seen a decline in visitor numbers to the in-person markets and spend at the markets is also decreasing.

"We know from our network of other event organisers that this is being felt across all sectors and all areas of the country. To combat this we are going to be doing less frequent in-person markets and make each market a real destination with free demos and talks."

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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