There was a time when ‘going green’ and ‘sustainability’ were frequently used terms by companies looking to earn some goodwill and heavily promote their environmental-friendly practices. Industry experts touted the ‘green movement’ as a fad that was merely the new big thing. While several businesses fell off the bandwagon, there were few that stuck to their promise and saw through their mission. The reason being that going green is a long-term commitment. It’s something that requires a serious amount of time, effort and resources. We found one such company close to home: Plantshop.ae.
Founded in November 2015, the thriving green online store Plantshop.ae has received much acclaim – both in terms of its rapid growth as well as on the financial front. But, before we delve into discussing the milestones that the fast-growing business has crossed in a span of three years, we ask its founder and CEO Jimmy James the obvious question: What drives his green agenda? “Look around you. This country has such a major drive towards green sustainability. In fact, the UAE is leading the way when it comes to green initiatives. Even on a global scale, there has been a shift from artificial to natural. There is a rising awareness that highly-populated urban areas produce heat and plants help reduce the temperature. So, I think it’s important for any business – irrespective of its size or sector – to have a green agenda.”
In his pursuit of success in the plant industry, Jimmy James is joined by his partners: Abdul Sameer, COO; Siyad Saleem, Head of Procurement; and Shafeeq Rehman, CFO.
At a time when companies are trying to look for niches to create a strong foothold in the green economy, the Plantshop.ae team has successfully built a business that is deep-rooted within the industry. Whether it’s selling plants online via their recently revamped portal or offline through personal interactions, the entrepreneurs have managed to identify a glaring gap in the market and address it. “We have over 10,000 visitors on our website every week and a 25% returning visitor rate, which is phenomenal and a reflection that our concept has been accepted by consumers,” explains Sameer.
Jimmy adds: “What really works to our advantage is that Sameer comes from a UI/UX background so the entire portal is built from the user’s perspective. We don’t think of Plantshop.ae as a typical e-commerce website, where you browse products and make a transaction. We consider ourselves as an online ‘green community’, where users gain useful insights on gardening, they access advice on what plants to buy and can share their experiences. There is an added layer of belongingness that gives us an edge.”
Passion meets purpose
Sitting with the Plantshop.ae team, the passion to make a difference is contagious. In fact, it’s the one common factor that binds the four partners. While Jimmy was inspired by his father who worked for an indoor wholesale plant business, the others were committed to the cause of building a greener world. “Our vision is aligned with the vision of the leadership of the UAE to create a paradise in this dessert. Going green has been a vital part of every individual, corporate and government agenda all around the world in the last few years. And recently, there is a noticeable increase in awareness of this issue as more and more adverse effects are seen in our environment. There is a Chinese proverb we often like to refer to: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the next best time is today’,” explains Shafeeq.
Roots of success
Beyond its social aspirations, James and his team have been prudent in terms of the growth of their business. Speaking of their rapid growth as a start-up, Siyad opens up: “Since our launch in 2015, our growth was catalysed as an impact of several awareness campaigns. From social media to traditional media, we received a lot of recognition because of the campaigns run by environmental agencies and government entities. And of course, the fact that we were the first online store to sell plants gave us a competitive advantage over the demand.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy outlines some funding milestones that the business has achieved: “We received US$100,000 in funding from an angel investor, we were part of the 500 Start-ups Funding Programme and we’re currently crowd-funding on Eurecca.”
Jimmy and his partners have a clear plan of how they want to deploy the funding raised. “We would like to use it to increase our delivery fleet – both in terms of vehicles and manpower. Digital marketing is also on the agenda; to stay relevant, we need to market ourselves to the right demographic and ensure that we can reach our targeted audience. Finally, we are keen to launch a new website and mobile interface that is integrated with AR,” quips Jimmy.
“On the technology front, we’re continually evolving our offer. We’ve used solutions to enhance internal operations and more importantly improve our customer interactions. Since we’ve updated our backend, we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of customers we were able to address – both via our e-commerce portal and online chat,” Shafeeq adds.
Siyad jumps in: “I’m really excited about our soon-to-be-launched mobile app, which will use AR to help customers select the right plant, tree or pot. Can you imagine how cool that will be?” And, while his team can’t contain their excitement on the much-awaited updates on the tech front, Jimmy rounds off the conversation on a non-tech note: “There’s no doubt that we’re technologically driven, but our goal is to be the leading marketplace for plants and gardening products in the GCC by 2019, and in the world by 2021,” he beams.