Small Business Profile: Kate Holl and Kerbi Howat, Owners of Flora

 
 Photo by  Bree Marie Fish

Hi Kate and Kerbi! Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Kerbi: I moved to Nashville 12 years ago from Dallas, TX for college. I fell in love with the city and my husband so I’ve been here ever since. I love plants and gardening so it was a natural fit to start Flora but not something I ever pictured happening. Prior to Flora, I worked solely with non-profits and social justice groups.

Kate: I’m originally from Wisconsin and made the move to Nashville after college about 6 years ago with my then boyfriend, now husband. I went to school for photography which is still a big part of my life, only now as a hobby for documenting everyday life and travels. I live in, and rarely leave, East Nashville with my husband, Brian, and dog, Bjorn.

What were your first jobs?
Kerbi: I was a hostess at a Mexican restaurant in high school.
Kate: At 16 I got a job at a small gelato shop which really made me appreciate and look up to small business owners.

What led you to begin Flora?
Kerbi: I was ready for a big change in my life career-wise. I had been unhappy for a couple of years and took a huge leap to quit my job with no back-up plan. Kate and I were new friends on a similar path and we spent a lot of our time together encouraging each other to follow our dreams. When Kate asked me if I wanted to start Flora with her, it was a no-brainer.

Kate: Things were getting pretty stale in my photography career and I was really getting tired of the hands off nature that photography was turning into. Everything is so digital, from one screen to the next. Because of this I had been spending more time outdoors and in the garden and I was finding so much more happiness and peace. I began dreaming up ways to make it a full time job and many times spoke with Kerbi about some ideas, all the while she was so supportive and motivating. One evening it occurred to me that she was the missing piece of the idea and I was right. Flora would not be what it is without her.

How do you source your plants and products? Do you look for local growers?
We get most of our plants from Florida. The climate in Nashville isn’t conducive to growing tropicals year-round. We’d love it if we could find plants locally. For other retail merchandise, we work with a lot of local artists and makers, many of them women.

How do you connect with your customers and community?
It is really important to us for our customers to have a positive experience. That’s why we are a full-service plant shop. We’ll pot plants for you, provide you with care instructions and encourage you to reach out for help if you start to have problems.

We’re always looking for new ways to connect with our community. We offer workshops, display the work of local artists and host art shows. We also have teamed up with area non-profits to help support their programs through garden veggie sales.

What are some of your favorite plants, if you can choose?
Kerbi: That answer changes all the time. Today it’s ponytail palms and giant philodendron xanadu.

Kate: I love the classics like the bird of paradise and pothos. We try to keep this variety of the snake plant in called moonshine and I love its seafoam green color.

What do you wish more people knew about plant care?
Get on a schedule! Put your watering day in your calendar and stick to it. Also, if your plant looks sad, don’t give up so quickly. They can usually bounce back. It’s also way easier than you think to be a plant parent. We can convert people who swear they kill everything into green thumbs. We even have some plants that thrive on neglect!

Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
Even though small businesses are typically higher priced than big box stores, the quality is infinitely higher. We are well aware that you can get some of the same species of plants we offer at Home Depot. You may actually end up paying more in the long run, though, because they don’t pot the plant for you, so you have to purchase your own soil and the plant may be on the brink of death. We care for each plant individually, are knowledgeable about how to care for it and provide you with the instructions you need to keep it alive. Our door is always open for questions and we think that’s well worth a few extra dollars. Also, you know your money is going to directly support a local individual or family.

What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
We love our shop! It is such a dream space to show up to every day. We were a part of every detail that went into this space and built a lot of the furniture ourselves. It was a labor of love and so fun to watch our ideas for it come to life, like the mural and our bright green couch.

What role has Nashville played in the development of your shop?
We started out as a pop-up so we were all over town the first year. It was a great way for us to test the market for what people want without any huge financial commitments. We loved connecting with people while they were out getting coffee or a beer and we learned so much during that time. Now a lot of those same people we used to travel to come to us at our storefront and we’re so grateful for that.

Was there any particular person who helped shape your career in formative way?
Kerbi: My husband, for sure. He is so confident not afraid to go for what he wants. It took years but he finally helped convince me to stop being afraid to take risks (and possibly fail).

Kate: I’m surrounded by people with incredible work ethic which I’d like to think has rubbed off on me a bit. But Kerbi has taught me so much more about business and this career choice in the past year than I had learned in my whole life. Just having a strong, intelligent woman who’s had my back throughout it all has certainly shaped every bit of this journey.

What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Kerbi: I’ve always been an “all in” person when it comes to work but owning a business brought it to a new level. It feels like an extension of myself.

Kate: Getting to share what I’m passionate about with others. I truly believe in the benefits and improved quality of life that comes with surrounding yourself with plants. We get to connect with others about that on a daily basis.

What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your shop?
Our shop took forever to build out and finding funding for a new business is nearly impossible. We’ve definitely learned the importance of patience and persistence.

What tools or resources have been most helpful for you as a shop owner?
Having a partner has been invaluable. Someone to bounce ideas around with and calm you down when things feel crazy. We also love connecting with other small business owners to share experiences.

At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Women inherently face more difficulties when it comes to chasing their dreams. Whether it’s not getting equal pay, not having the confidence to pursue a path or trying to juggle being a working mom, so many things hold women back. We’ve got to be there for each other and build each other up.

What creative women do you find inspiring?
Kerbi: As I’m typing this, I can hear our suite-mate Ashtin Paige (photographer, owner of Nous Art House) doing a photoshoot. She is a talented artist and hard-working mama (especially inspiring to me because I’m a mom-to-be).

Kate: My beautiful sister. For as long as I can remember I’ve looked up to her as this strong, creative, passionate force in my life.

What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
Kerbi: We are working on growing our services- we do rentals and consultations. I’m looking forward to seeing how those grow and take a life of their own. I’m also expecting a baby in January so I’m very excited for the new addition to my family and see how life changes next year.

Kate: Continuing to see our shop change and grow. With each shipment our shop transforms so much. I’m really excited to keep working with other small businesses and local artisans to expand our non-plant retail and explore more partnerships. We’d love to see our space used for more events as well. So many opportunities to make the business grow!

How do you manage a work/life balance?
Because there are two of us sharing the workload, things have been very manageable. It was also a priority for us when making our shop schedule that we don’t keep long hours and we take days off. Sure, that doesn’t happen 100% of the time but we stick to it as much as possible. The hardest thing is not working on days off because we love it so much! Having a partner at home who keeps you present and reminds you to put your phone down helps, too.

What are some of your favorite places in Nashville?
Kerbi: The Belcourt Theater is my #1 favorite place in Nashville. My husband and I have been going there together since we met. My favorite restaurant is City House and I love hiking at Percy Warner Park.

Kate: Nashville is such a special place to me. I got married in Marathon Village, danced to the best country music at Robert’s Western World, and sang to strangers at Santa’s Pub. But my go-to spots are Mas Tacos, a stroll at Bells Bend, and a drink and some darts at

Find Kate and Kirby at:
Website
Instagram