Succulents and airplants are like the Gucci loafers of the botanical worlds – trendy, adorable, practical, and totally grammable.
Thinking my house needed some green, I went to Google and typed in “Toronto Succulents”. Succuterra came up as the first search result, so naturally I click it because I was too lazy to scroll. What blew me away was the assortment. It was succulent heaven and I had to really resist the urge to buy a $130 terrarium. It was just beautiful. Anyways…I didn’t end up buying anything. Instead I contacted the owners, Jay and Lauren, for an interview and they graciously agreed.
Now here’s the twist. When I arrived at Succuterra for the interview, I realized that the three of us had met before. In highschool! I didn’t even recognize Jay at first. His sleek appearance is strikingly opposite to the blue hair and baggy jeans he sported in high school. We didn’t interact much back then, but let’s just say he wasn’t exactly the model student. I think that’s what makes his story all the more spectacular. His transformation from teenage misfit to successful entrepreneur was beyond what anyone had expected.
“I did a lot of sh*t back then” he says, “I stole, I dealt drugs…I didn’t know what I was doing”. He did go on to University though, mostly to conform to parental expectations. “I went to Waterloo for speech communications and I hated it. I was a horrible student. Then one day I read a book called the 40 Hour Work Week. It opened my eyes to two things – automated income generation and location independence. Once I fully understood those two concepts, I knew that was what I wanted”.
After three years in his program, Jay dropped out of school with no clear direction of what’s next. He went on EI, then on welfare for a while. “I wanted to be a bartender, so I learned how to bartend and worked as a bartender part time. I also started a non-for-profit rugby league, which I gave to some volunteers to run. It’s actually now Canada’s No.1 touch rugby league”. Around the same time, Jay started dabbling in digital marketing and took some courses. “My Dad’s friend owned a flower shop so I asked if I could do the marketing for him. He didn’t trust me and said no. So I decided to open my own flower shop online”. From there GTAFlowerDelivery.ca, Jay’s first for profit venture, was born. Using digital marketing to promote his website, Jay quickly realized the only way to see results is to double down on advertising. “I was putting in $5 a day into digital marketing. Then I heard in a podcast….I don’t remember which one…that if you trust in your own ability to execute then you should go all in. I thought about my business and it’s essentially a branding play – I’m just rebranding flowers, the flowers themselves are nothing new. I then thought to myself, ‘do I trust my own ability to execute this branding strategy?’ The answer was yes. So I jacked up my marketing spend from $5 a day to $100 a day. The orders came pouring in”.
With a booming online business, you’d think a full time job would be the last thing on his mind. But one day, Jay met a guy playing soccer who’s company was hiring for a digital marketing position. He interviewed, got the job, and took it on. “I’m good at my job and I like the like-minded people I worked with. But at the same time, I am constantly thinking of business ideas and different verticals I can be in. I’m in the flower business, but it’s actually pretty sad when I buy flowers for my girlfriend. They die so fast and I spent all this money on it. I looked for alternatives to flowers, even tried bonsais but those died too. Then somehow I came across succulents and I thought, these are awesome! They last so much longer, they’re easy to take care of, and they look great!”. With his contacts in the flower industry and expertise in digital marketing, Jay started Succuterra just two weeks into his new job. “I wanted to make a case study of building a business while working full time to. I had two goals: A) to make automated income and sell things I really liked and B) to show aspiring entrepreneurs that its possible to build a business while working full time.”
The current brick and mortar Succuterra location is only temporary, but Jay and Lauren are working to find something more permanent. “Having the retail location really helped us boost sales. We have a solid conversion rate. It’s such a visual product and we are the only store in Toronto right now specializing in it. We have the most variety.” And he wasn’t lying. For the two hours I was in the shop, almost half the customers who came into the store made a purchase. “It also helped us with storage and cut down our manual labour. We don’t have a warehouse so before this we used to store everything at our apartment. Everyday after work we would go home and pack boxes all night long. We’ve grown to a point now where it’s just not strategic for us to do that anymore. The opportunity cost is too high.” I look over at Lauren, who looked unamused. “Our place looked like a jungle”, she says, “We had plants everywhere we barely had any room to move around. We would go to sleep with soil at the foot side of our bed. It was gross”.
I asked if he remembers any of our old high school teachers. “Mr. Mahoney, our economics teacher. I remember him. He was the only teacher who was honest enough to say ‘you don’t need to go to university, don’t be pressured into it’. I wish I listened to him. What I’m doing now has nothing to do with my degree. I could have avoided the student debt and done all this 4 years earlier.”
Couple of dings go off on Jay’s phone. He turns it to me, revealing the latest sales numbers of his store for the day. I won’t tell you how much it was, but I will tell you it was very impressive.
To shop Succuterra’s selection of succulents and airplants, head over to their online store, or visit their retail location at 585 Gerrard St E.