Startup: Plante La Vie
Founders: After recently ending their careers in the technology and health care sectors, Matt Wolmer, 32, and Monet Izquierdo, 30, have fully committed to driving their mobile plant shop around Tampa Bay in a 1967 Shasta Camper they adoringly named "Flora."
Year founded: 2020
Plante La Vie, which means plant life in French, was a passion project for Wolmer and Izquierdo before it was a business.
Together, they have around 50 personal plants at home. “We took something we love and turned it into a business,” Izquierdo says.
After taking a trip to California in August 2020 in a van, the recently engaged co-owners were inspired. They found a 1967 Shasta camper, named “her” Flora and created a mobile plant nursery.
“Early on, it was very much boots on the ground,” Wolmer says. Any event they could get into, they did. “The goal was to get (Flora) front and center for people to see our creative (side) and love of plants.”
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They were particularly successful at apartment complexes. They show up in Flora with a number of pots and plants available for purchase. The pots were added with home improvement stores in mind.
“If you go to Home Depot, the pots are not anything special,” Wolmer says. The idea is Plante La Vie provides unique pots costing around the same so shoppers can “cut that trip out of their itinerary,” he says.
After enough requests, the duo added interior plant design to their list of services for clients who wanted plants but weren’t sure where to start, whether it’s for a home, business or event space. Along with the design, the pair also educate their clients on plant care and upkeep.
Clients range from beginners to expert plant parents. They let clients look around first to find the plant that “speaks to them,” Izquierdo says. When those clients call a year or two later with a story on how well the plant(s) are still doing, she says, “that’s so satisfying to hear. The information we’ve given them has made them successful.”
The third part of the business is a retail satellite shop at Ruth’s Vintage Shop in South Tampa. Plante La Vie now sells plants in a big alleyway after the shop asked if they’d be interested.
Wolmer says it was a great opportunity that creates demand. That model is a miniature retail shop without the overhead costs. Wolmer is there Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also offer special client private shopping there if a client wants to have the shop to themselves.
The business partners both went into the business with their own money. “We know we didn’t want it to put us in debt,” Wolmer says.
It took about $7,000 to $8,000 in startup costs to get it up and running. The camper itself cost $1,200 with construction that was needed to update it costing around $2,500.
Obstacles to market
When they first started looking for a camper, it was right in the thick of the pandemic. “Everyone wanted to be mobile,” Wolmer says.
Eventually they found Flora in South Carolina, though at the time it was just the “shell” of a camper. With it being a 1967 build, a lot of parts aren’t available anymore. One of the major changes was they had to rip out the base of the flooring to rebuild the metal frame.
Then came the registrations needed to make it legal to drive. After a two-hour phone call with the DMV in South Carolina, the duo thought they had everything they needed. But as trips to the DMV go, they later discovered they needed to provide a handwritten letter of what they were trying to accomplish. The entire process took six to eight weeks. Then they had. to decorate it, finding an artist to give the camper a “groovy” vibe. "The camper was the biggest hurdle,” Izquierdo says. “It was a lot of trial and error.”
Another challenge? Plant inventory management. Since the beginning, they have over-ordered and, in turn, lost a lot of inventory. “That’s definitely a thing that is a struggle,” Izquierdo says.
After taking on many roles, from video producer and coordinator to doing all the networking and accounting, they decided they needed help this year. The business has grown to one employee, Jaclyn O'Connor, to help with public relations.