Brian and Emily Kellett, founders of STUMP, shared that their key to success is knowledgeable employees who know the plants they’re selling inside and out. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

by Courtney Llewellyn

Perhaps you know someone who describes themselves as a plant mom or dad. Perhaps you have customers coming in to your nursery or greenhouse, looking to add to their “families.” The indoor plant trend is showing few signs of slowing down, with people still spending lots of time at home. The founders of STUMP shared their strategies for keeping that momentum going at Cultivate’21.

Emily and Brian Kellett launched STUMP in 2015, a collection of interior plant retail shops. Through building a system of training employees, who in turn educate each customer, they find much of their success comes from passing on accurate plant care information to their customers. Emily has a BFA in industrial design; Brian holds a BFA and an MFA in fine art photography. Neither had any background in horticulture when they started their business.

However, their research regarding their business began eight years ago. “We realized being around plants is such a magical thing,” Emily said. “We had interest in plants but didn’t have a yard. Houseplants made sense for us.” Brian added that his grandmother thought it was a brilliant idea, because she was downsizing but still wanted a plant presence too.

Emily said they’d thought they’d start with a pop-up or a truck, but they ended up going for it and opened a retail store – the first one was a 700 square foot space in Columbus, Ohio.

“The benefit of having no horticultural background was that it simplified the information for us, and it streamlined the sharing of information with our customers,” Brian explained. “Our big focus is on customer service.”

STUMP now has seven locations spread throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia, all under 1,500 square feet. They also intentionally limit their inventory so their employees are more knowledgeable about every plant. They also offer three tiers of pottery and try to partner locally to source it. For example, they work with Burley Clay Pottery in Ohio. Employees are trained to repot plants for customer in the shops.

“Our customers are very diverse in age and background and experience,” Brian noted. “First-timers tend to come to us because big garden centers can be overwhelming. We also see plant collectors. Some people come for just one plant.”

STUMP doesn’t stock palms or plants that tend to be susceptible to pests – they have a “do not buy” list. They’ll source plants locally on occasion. Plant deliveries are made once a week, and there’s an entire shop turnaround every two weeks. That helps creates demand among customers.

That demand is strongly driven by their marketing campaign. Emily said Instagram, a photo-heavy medium, is their first point of contact. STUMP has a main account and one per city where the shops are located. Accurate Google and Yelp listings are also key, as is positive word of mouth.

The physical stores are important because “a computer can’t smile back at you,” Brian said. “You can’t beat becoming a community partner.” That’s true for local growers as well.

As for the future of STUMP, the Kelletts have goals of introducing more sustainable practices (including using EcoForms, pots made from renewable and sustainable plant byproducts), increasing team building, more product development, expanding their wholesale offerings and mentoring other plant shop owners.

“We don’t see houseplants as a trend,” Brian said. “People have wondered ‘What if people don’t want plants?’ COVID proved they always will.”