When Passion Turned to Product

In Spring of 2014, Philadelphia Horticultural Society gave horticulturist Andrew Olson access to a vacant lot in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia. He had already established a successful educational urban farm on another plot, but he had long wanted to try his hand at growing flowers. He seized this opportunity to try something new and gathered a few volunteers to help him test out the viability of this quarter acre. Together, he and his volunteers installed raised beds on top of rubble, added compost, planted seeds and waited to see if anything would come up. During this process, a different type of seed was also planted as well: a seed that would grow into a partnership: a friend from the neighborhood, Erica, who had grown up on a farm and who had her own roots in architecture, preservation, and horticultural history, started volunteering at the garden in the mornings.

Little did Andrew and Erica know that by summer, they would have more flowers than they knew what to do with. Even littler did they know that after selling at markets and in CSAs, they would begin a business by booking a few gigs designing 100% locally and organically grown floral arrangements for weddings. By 2015, word of mouth (and a gorgeous Instagram account) would turn their budding ideas into a dream: the floral business that they named “Chicory” had booked over 40 weddings. Entirely local and organic arrangements were rare, but an emerging market trend. The entrepreneurs had bloomed where they had been planted and consumers had taken note. Because Chicory developed into a business so organically, their creativity was unbound by trends in the floral industry or standard business practices. Their products were fresh, original, inspiring, and highly sought.

When Product Turned Business

During Chicory’s emergence, Erica and Andrew made an important friend of Laura Siena, a local food and farm supporter who was intrigued by the budding entrepreneurs: she respected their ability as farmers and marketers and she knew they were “it” people who made others want to be around them and want to do business with them. However, she recognized that, by 2016, the owners of Chicory didn’t know their growth potential and, to make their dream a reality, they needed to be able to visualize it. As a believer in sustainable, urban, local agriculture, she offered Erica and Andrew a scholarship that funded consulting with Kitchen Table Consultants (KTC) to help Chicory flourish from a business standpoint. For Laura, it was a no-brainer: Ted, CEO and Co-Founder of KTC was “talented, accountable and a Good Person with a capital ‘GP.’” She knew that the Kitchen Table team would be able to see the incredible potential of Chicory and help Andrew and Erica see how to better access and expand this potential. She also knew about KTC’s sliding scale tenet and trusted that the consultants would offer as much consulting as they felt would be helpful to Andrew and Erica, charging in accordance with what they (and the scholarship) could afford. KTC has always operated on a sliding scale because it was founded on a genuine desire to invest in the community; they work out arrangements to suit each individual client and they pride themselves on true flexibility (from full payment to moderated pricing to profit sharing to free hours) so that their efforts can ultimately have the most possible impact.

Chicory at the Kitchen Table

In six two hour sessions, with much homework in between on both sides, KTC Entrepreneur in Residence, Rebecca Frimmer, sat side by side with Andrew and Erica to break down Chicory’s finances to figure out where they were, where they wanted to be, and how they could get there. They dove into the nitty gritty with a crash course on the necessities. They overhauled Chicory’s Quickbooks. They categorized Chicory’s spending to determine cost of goods sold, operating expenses, sales, general and administrative expenses, fixed expenses, and labor. They delineated the multiple services and products that Chicory offered and determined market values for these goods and services. Rebecca stepped them through the process of making saleable markups. They created tools for understanding costs and profits in real time, linking numerous excel spreadsheets to create a single page document that provided a succinct portrayal of their finances at any given time. Not only did Rebecca help them to outline their goals, but she gave them the confidence to make the business decisions that would help them to achieve these goals; they came to KTC with excitement about their artistic and agricultural process and product, but, as they put it, “spreadsheets weren’t our thing.” After this crash course, they still prefer soil and seeds to spreadsheets; however, with Rebecca’s help, they have incorporated numerous regular business practices into their everyday processes. KTC met Chicory where they were; Erica and Andrew were artisans with immensely marketable skills and products; with the help of KTC, they are entrepreneurs who have retained their passion and connection to their craft and augmented their ability to convey their talents into a sustainable business. In fact, since working with KTC and seeing the financial bigger picture of their business more clearly, Erica and Andrew have decided to go in a new direction. They have realized that their passion is growing flowers more so than designing for weddings. After evaluating their new Quickbooks, they decided that they could change their business to align more directly with their passion without losing profits. In the future, they plan to farm flowers and sell them wholesale. They hope to acquire a bigger plot of land that is more centrally located. The knowledge they gained through the process of working with KTC helped them to make an informed decision about how to best pursue what they most enjoy and the knowledge they gained will help them to make this transition more expediently, efficiently and smoothly. The scholarship that Laura Siena provided allowed Andrew and Erica to see their business up close, and in turn, prompted them to take a bigger overview. The insight they gleaned will lead them towards a clearer vision, and, hopefully, an even more successful realization of what they most want to accomplish with their business.