My journey toward selling plants began after I completely unplugged during a road trip from Nashville, TN – where I was living – to Yosemite National Park in 2014. It was during this road trip I became sure that I wanted to move away from my digital-heavy photo-editing career and toward my more hands-on, nature based passions. This led me to co-founding my first plant shop in Nashville, TN in 2016.
After deciding to move home to Wisconsin in 2018, I sold my half of the business and started Wildewood that same year. We now have 7 employees, and – in addition to quality houseplants – we offer beautiful pottery, organic potting soil, other botanical wares, home goods, and gifts.
Our name, Wildewood, comes from two family names, Wilde and Wood; both names happen to sound nice for a plant store! I come from a long line of gardeners and greenhouse hobbyists. My great, great, great grandfather even owned his own nursery, so when I moved back home to Wisconsin, I felt it was fitting to choose a name that included my past and ancestry.
The mission for my business has always been to provide my community with high-quality houseplants along with education about how to care for them. In Wisconsin, we live in a climate where much of the year we cannot enjoy the benefits of being out in nature, yet studies show time and time again that bringing nature into our homes and workspaces can do wonders for our mental and physical health. It’s such an awesome part of what we do.
As we’ve grown, it’s become just as important for me to make sure that we’re also creating the best work environment possible for our employees and serving as a positive influence for our community. If I can continue to do these three things, I feel successful as a business owner.
Both of my businesses had unique starts as pop-ups. My first in Nashville started out of a teardrop trailer I built with my business partner. We contacted businesses around Nashville and would set up shop outside every weekend that spring, summer, and fall. To get us through the winter, we did a long-term pop-up at Nisolo Shoes, which is where we stayed until we found the perfect spot for our storefront.
When I moved to Madison, I went for the same business model. I popped up at creative studio One-OneThousand for my first summer in Madison. That holiday season, I teamed up with the owners of One-OneThousand (now Good Day Shop) and Red’s Mercantile to create a pop-up retail space on the Square; this turned out to be a great success. After the pop-up on the Square, I opened my first Wildewood storefront on East Johnson Street. Pop-ups have been an awesome way to get our name out there and try to predict where a permanent home for the business could be without committing to 3 or 5 year leases. They can be a win-win for the landlord, too, since they have the chance to activate a space that might otherwise sit empty for a while in a cool way.
A few months after I opened our East Johnson location, Hilldale contacted me and asked if I’d like to have a holiday pop-up at their shopping center, which was a chance I jumped at right away. After a successful season at Hilldale, it became clear that I should make that a permanent home, too. For a while, I kept both stores open in Madison. Yet once COVID hit, it became too difficult to stock and staff two stores, so I made the decision to close down our East Johnson location and focus all my energy on Hilldale.
Something that keeps me motivated in my business during difficult times is revisiting our mission and why I do what I do. The most difficult thing to happen to my business to date is the pandemic, I’m sure is the case with many businesses. It felt – and still feels sometimes – like I’m constantly having to make big decisions or pivot when I never actually know the right answer. Once we safely opened back up after the shut down, it was so clear that people needed plants in their lives and that we could provide them with meaningful objects that helped make their home feel even more like a home. Remembering why we offer the products we do is all I need to keep going, even in moments when I don’t feel like I have all the answers.
SBDC helped me during a time when my business was cautiously starting to scale up. We were seeing success, and I had my eyes on growing, but I needed professional help to see if this was a smart decision. Numbers, budgets, and projections are not things I excel at, but it comes with the territory of being a business owner. Having [Amy Bruner Zimmerman] walk me through and provide me with professional advice and tons of helpful resources has been extremely valuable to me and my business.