Bridgette Mueller inspects her haul from the Baker’s Acres pop-up plant shop at Seventh Son Brewing Co.

Hundreds of craft beer aficionados and aspiring plant parents converged on Seventh Son Brewery on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was March 8, a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the denizens of Columbus, Ohio, were eager to leave the house on the first truly nice day in months. It was the perfect set-up for Baker’s Acres Greenhouse’s first pop-up plant shop of the year. This is the second year that Nick and Pamela Baker have partnered with Seventh Son Brewing Co. on pop-up plant shop events. Baker’s Acres’ growing operation and retail store is in Alexandria, 20 minutes outside of Columbus. They pack one van-load of plants, a printed tablecloth and some postcards with a map to their store.

A line began to form 15 minutes before the pop-up shop opened and only lengthened once Nick and Pam opened the doors. The couple hustled nonstop from 1 p.m. until about 4:30 p.m., selling plants and answering questions for the houseplant-hungry customers. They made $3,000 in sales over a few brisk hours.

About 90% of the crowd fell into that coveted 20s and 30s demographic that gardens centers desperately want to convert into customers. The Bakers know that, like many IGCs, their core customer is older.

“A lot of them are either dying or downsizing,” Pam says. “We all need new customers. If we continue to rely on those older, downsizing customers, we’re not going to exist as retailers anymore.”

The pop-ups are a way to tap into a new generation of gardeners. Baker’s Acres has tried pop-up plant shops at farmers markets, orchards, grocery stores and even other retail stores. But they’ve had the most success at breweries for three main reasons. First, the demographics. Their target market is millennials and those millennials are driving the craft beer boom in the U.S. Second, these customers don’t mind paying a little more for a product they perceive to be better. Otherwise, they’d be at a corner bar buying cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $2 instead of paying $6 at the brewery for a pint of the latest double dry-hopped IPA. Third, they find value in buying a locally produced product.

“People right now are really into knowing where everything comes from,” Pam says. “People are getting more invested in their communities. They want to see us; they want to see the person behind the product.”

A new breed of customer

The pop-ups have been an opportunity to engage a new market of potential customers — apartment-dwellers or first-time home-buyers, people who have only bought plants from a box store or grocery store and never got to see the face of the person who grows the plant. There definitely is some crossover between the beer voyagers who scour local breweries for well-regarded hidden gems and the houseplant hunters looking for the rarest, hippest items.

Nick Rodgers, 24, and Bridgette Mueller, 25, are frequent visitors to Seventh Son and follow the brewery on Facebook. They saw a post about a plant sale and made plans to go. They were looking for houseplants in general, and succulents specifically.

“I like the weird-looking ones,” Bridgette says. “I’m getting more into houseplants now. I never really had houseplants before. I was more into outside walking, explore nature in nature. But I definitely enjoy having plants at home now so I can be in nature at my house too.”

This was their first plant sale at Seventh Son, but they visit the brewery often, especially when events featuring local businesses are happening. The pairing makes sense for the venue and its clientele, Nick says.

“We always associated Seventh Son with plants because they have plants everywhere,” he says. “I associate the people who are super into breweries with plants and the outdoors,” Nick says. “A lot of other breweries have activities that are outdoor-focused, sustainability-focused, so plants are probably a good fit.”

That sentiment was echoed by Michele Holmes, who was sporting a Seventh Son T-shirt. She loves to hang out at the brewery with her friends, but she is also is a proud plant parent.

“I have about 30 plants,” she says. “I typically only let myself buy new ones when I let ones die. And I did just accept death to one of my plants, so I’m allowed to buy more. When one dies, I buy two more.”

Holmes decided to attend the plant sale when she received a text message about it that morning from her friends Taylor and Taylor Olsen, a couple who just bought their first house in February. The same-named husband/wife pair was looking for indoor plants to outfit their first house. Husband Taylor is the gardener of the couple, and he wanted something low-maintenance that needed minimal sunlight and was about 1 to 2 feet tall.

“Inside plants are easier to take care of because I’m inside more often,” he says. “So I am more aware that they’re around, rather than my outdoor plants which I might stumble on after a week and say ‘Oh, I should water that.’”

The friends, who are all in their late 20s, waited nearly an hour in line before they got their chance to see what the Bakers brought to the plant sale.

John and Ally Foryt are also recent first-time homeowners in their 20s who were looking for houseplants. John is the gardener of the two, but he has mainly has stuck to outdoor plants, flowers and vegetables.

“As far as indoor plants go, we don’t have any,” he says. “But we might in 20 minutes or so.”

Although the line wound through the brewery and outside past picnic tables, culminating near a parked food truck, no one seemed to be having a bad time. The ability to have a beer and chat on a beautiful day while talking plants and beer with like-minded people contributed to the overall good mood.

“The plant sale was a good excuse to come here,” John says. “The weather was so nice. The brewery does a lot of events like this where they have people bring in local art or in this case, plants. People end up coming for other things besides just beer.”

Planning the pop-up

Although the pop-up plant shops have become more successful as the Bakers have refined their formula, making a ton of money has never been the primary goal. The top priority is to introduce new customers to their brand. Nick and Pam spent a lot of trial and error finding the right venue for their pop-up and forming partnerships with breweries.

“Bars and breweries tap into the houseplant craze,” Pam says. “That’s what the generation that needs to come into these garden stores next wants. That’s what’s going to be their gateway into the plant world.

“Bonus, people are drinking so maybe they’re going to spend more money than they wanted to on plants,” she laughs.

IGCs that are considering planning their own pop-up should choose their partners carefully or their time could be wasted. And as any IGC owner can imagine, sending some of your best employees or leaving your retail store yourself to run a pop-up on a spring weekend is a risky move. But the Bakers signed up for the plant shops at breweries every Sunday in spring, even on Mother’s Day.

“It was a big leap for us,” Pam says. “We left and we did it. But the return was fantastic. It was so worth it.”

Pam says Seventh Son is a great partner because they have a tremendous social media reach and do a great job promoting their events.

The line for the plant sale started outside and ran the entire length of the bar for nearly three straight hours.

It certainly helps that, unlike at a farmers market, Baker’s Acres is the only retailer at their event, so they don’t have to compete with other vendors for shoppers’ cash, and they don’t have to pay for a spot.

Baker’s Acres has 4,400 likes on Facebook and 1,600 Instagram followers, compared with 17,000 Facebook likes for Seventh Son and 33,000 Instagram followers. When Seventh Son promotes the pop-up plant shop to its followers, it’s a huge boost.

“We never get close to those likes on anything we do, but 717 people liked their post of us doing the pop-up,” Pam says. “Most of those people have never heard of us. So even if they weren’t at the pop-up, they know who we are because of that. That’s what hitting your target looks like.”

For summer 2020, Baker is branching out to visit more breweries, like new partner Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. Before coronavirus concerns shut down breweries as gathering places, the Bakers had a full schedule of pop-ups planned.

Many of the people who attend Baker’s Acres’ pop-ups at breweries have never set foot in a garden center, let alone visited their retail store. Pam says it’s important for the pop-up to represent your brand and convince new customers to come to your store. A secondary goal of the pop-up is to get new people to think plants are cool. The brewery buffs may not be gardeners yet, but they’re generally open to the idea.

“If you get somebody to love a plant, you get a customer,” she says.

For the first several pop-ups Baker’s Acres did at a brewery, Nick and Pam were selling plants to people who didn’t even know they were going to be there that day. But those people walked out of the brewery with one of their plants and newfound brand awareness of a local IGC.

Think big picture. If you can get 100 of the people that passed through your pop-up to come to your store, and each of those people spends $100 over one season, that’s $10,000 in revenue.

Consider who you want to reach with the pop-up store. Then, craft the message you want your pop-up to convey.

“I know I want more young customers,” Pam says. “I want to tap into the houseplant craze. I want all those people who love houseplants. Because we’ve always had a ton of houseplants. We have weird ones that people have never heard of and we had them before it was cool to have houseplants. Now that’s our niche. I see people falling in love with houseplants that we have in stock.”

That makes the next step easier for them: figuring out what to bring to the pop-up. You only want to take one van-load of plants, so you need to use your space wisely and transport only the items that give you the most bang for your buck.

Nick Rodgers and Bridgette Mueller are beer fans who also love houseplants.
Pamela Baker and her husband Nick set up their table in front of the silver brewery tanks.

“Where we’re going now, where we’re hitting the houseplant craze, I don’t take a single perennial, single herb, single vegetable,” Pam says. “When I know what the market wants, I sell everything. I don’t bring anything back.”

Sizing and pricing are other variables to consider for IGCs planning their own pop-up. Do you want to bring a bunch of $1 and $2 items or slightly more expensive items in the $10-15 range that are still small enough to fit in the van? Baker has done it both ways, from gallon perennials to 3-inch succulents. Her advice is to fill your vehicle with small, easy-to-carry items.

“We have sold some things in 10-inch or gallon pots,” she says. “But a lot of it is going to be impulse buys. You want to get that person who wasn’t there that day to buy a plant to buy a plant. If it’s something that can fit in their hand, great.”

Once you’ve decided how many price points you want to have at the pop-up, another consideration is whether or not to charge slightly more than you would at the retail store. Baker does, because those plants are technically being delivered. There’s also labor involved in loading the van, manning the booth and time away from the main store.

IGCs also have to answer the payment question. Baker’s point-of-sale system is accessible off-site. Make sure you know if your current POS system supports that option. Can you bring an iPad with a card swiper and still access your main system? The other option is going cash-only, but that presents its own set of problems.

Nick and Pamela Baker answer customers’ questions near the end of the event.

Also, make sure you have what customers need to protect their plant on their way to the car. Consider the temperatures on the day of your event. Depending on your location, you may need to provide bags or boxes. Many breweries are in downtown or walkable areas. It might be cold enough outside that a plant could freeze on the way to the car.

Marketing materials are important so that these new potential customers remember you. At most pop-ups, you won’t get a ton of space. The Bakers bring one solid black tablecloth with the company’s logo, address, phone number, social media handles and website. The Bakers printed a bunch of 6 inch by 8-inch postcards with the same info as the tablecloth on one side and a map on the other.

Track how many new followers you got on social media after a pop-up shop. Every postcard you passed out is a potential new customer. And track when someone follows the map on the postcard back to your store.

This Swiss Cheese Vine basket arrived for the plant shop but stayed as part of the brewery’s décor.

“We saw so many people with those postcards,” Pam says. “The postcard was not a coupon. It wasn’t saying ‘Come here and we’ll give you money and take money off our sale.’ It was just a map saying, ‘come see us.’”

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