After shelter-in-place orders took effect in cities across the U.S., some people turned to pet fostering or intricate baking projects as a means of comfort. Others sought the company of succulents and flowers. The latter group helped boost sales for houseplant startup the Sill.
Sales in April from the Sill's website increased by more than 50 percent compared with March, a direct result of the shelter-in-place mandates, says co-founder and CEO Eliza Blank.
"We're experiencing days that look and feel like Black Friday," says Blank, who declined to share the New York City-based company's revenue. "The growth that we're seeing is definitely beyond what we had planned to see this year." The Sill has reportedly raised a total of $7.5 million in venture funding since launching in 2012. In August 2018, the company was on track to book nearly $5 million in revenue after reaching $1.7 million the year before, according to Business Insider.
Of course, that growth wasn't just organic. Realizing the opportunity for the Sill to better connect with home-bound customers, Blank ramped up her efforts with social media and online learning.
As customers rushed online to buy fiddle leaf figs and anthuriums, Blank says she retooled the Sill's marketing efforts to meet more consumers on social media. She increased content for the Sill's Instagram TV channel and focused on self-care messaging instead of solely promoting discounts.
Blank also pivoted in-person workshops on subjects such as propagation and plant care to digital classes. The in-person events had a maximum attendance of between 10 and 12 people, due to the limited space in the Sill's stores, and took place once or twice a month. Now, up to 100 people can join one of the five or more classes per month, Blank says. The Sill charges $10 for its online workshops.
To be sure, the Sill isn't immune to the effects of the pandemic. The direct-to-consumer startup sources plants from growers primarily in the U.S. and designs its own pots and accessories, but it has seen shipping delays as it takes added health and safety precautions.
Blank temporarily closed the company's five stores and laid off 20 of the company's 80 employees. Additionally, the corporate team, which includes Blank, took salary reductions.
And though in March the company launched a new collection called Blooming, which features flowering plants like orchids, Blank concedes that times have been difficult. "We're not operating as if it's business as usual," she says. "But we are energized and optimistic because it's very clear that our products are resonating now more than ever."