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Build the Plane as You're Taking Off

Season 1: Episode 66

podcast featured img Build the Plane as You’re Taking Off

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Becoming a go-to spot isn’t luck—it takes consistency and a memorable experience. From the owners’ daily incense-burning to custom orders and spot-on delivery service, The Juicy Leaf does just that. In this episode, hear Felix and Felipe’s divide-and-conquer strategy that has made their boutique plant company a leader in the Los Angeles scene, plus listen in on the challenges they’ve faced along the way. Reviewer Emily shares what sets The Juicy Leaf apart and why she’ll never shop anywhere else for client gifts.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more from The Juicy Leaf, including tips on partnership, pivots, and working through fear.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind it. Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.

EMILY S.: I am always looking for unique and cool closing gifts to give to my clients. I never want to get them something that they were like, ‘Oh, I think I saw that at some big box brand.’ So I found out about Felix at The Juicy Leaf, how he creates these incredible custom succulent displays and his gifts. And I went into his shop, and it was when I went into his shop that my head exploded. I was like, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be my go-to for my closing gifts.’ Like from here on out.

EMILY: Yelp reviewer Emily S. is a real estate agent in Los Angeles. She has made Juicy Leaf her one-stop shop for the gifts she gives clients when they close on properties. The gifts are local and unique, and Emily has always been impressed with owners Felix and Felipe’s customer service. Let’s listen to Emily’s review of the Juicy Leaf to understand what made it her go-to for her business.

EMILY S.: The Juicy Leaf is my go-to spot for heartfelt and unique gifts. Of course they specialize in succulent plants and pots, but they also have a gorgeous array of crystals, sage smudges, incense, macrame, and wall art. The owner Felix has pulled some absolute miracles from me last minute when I need a gift created and delivered across town.

You are always going to find something unique and cool here and for a really affordable price. Thank you 10,000 times over, Felix.

EMILY: Felix has been running the Juicy Leaf since 2007 and was joined by his husband, Felipe, in the business just four years ago. Establishing your business as *the place* to come to, regardless of the industry, is no easy feat. I spoke with both Felix and Felipe about how The Juicy Leaf has evolved from Felix’s adolescent dream to an instantly recognizable brand in the LA plant space.

FELIX: For me, The Juicy Leaf was just a place where people can come in and design their own. That’s how it started. It’s evolved over the years, but the most important thing was for people to be able to come in and create their own arrangements through my help. As a young man, I would go to nurseries when I was in college. I would get up early and I would go to these different nurseries and I would say, ‘Oh my God, I love that plant. But can I have that plant in this pot or, you know, can I change this out or move this around?’

And they’re just like, ‘No kid, buy what we have. And if you don’t like that, then I’m sorry.’ And so I was like, one day, I’m going to have a place where people can come in and say, ‘I want to build this, do it this way and do it that way,’ and then I’ll create it for them.

So that is my dream. That is where it started. And then over time it’s kind of evolved from, but basically it is, I just want it to be a really yummy place where people that like plants, that like, anything natural, anything earth-based, you know? Growing up I loved rocks. I like crystals. I love branches. So that was important for me.

EMILY: The pandemic has had huge impacts on small businesses around the country, with many having to pivot to make it through to the other side. And The Juicy Leaf is no different. Let’s hear from Felipe how they changed their mindset and their products to stay in touch with customers, and how innovation played a role in implementing these changes.

FELIPE: I think when the pandemic came, it was just such a shift in the way that we do business. Because I remember when we had to close when there was this order about shutting down and everything, Felix was like, he just looked at me and he was like, ‘I don’t know. I think we’re done. I think there’s nothing else to do.’ And then we still opened the store because we actually could. Nurseries could still be open, but only with appointments. We were taking care, but at the same time we went to our neighbor, and then I think we were just drinking and talking, and he was scribbling stuff on a piece of paper.

And it was like, this is what you’re gonna do. And at the time he was the marketing person for DC. So he’s really like, he’s a genius. He was like, you’re going to build this kit and you’re going to sell it on Monday and you’re going to build it on Instagram and blah, blah. He gave the whole idea to us.

And this is how we survived. This is how it started, like with all the kits and the zoom meetings and Instagram workshops. So we were able to do a lot of stuff online. And that’s a key piece of The Juicy Leaf that we have right now, literally. Because the store is so hit and miss, like, we are not at the corner in that McKinney area anymore that we can rely a lot on the public visiting.

So now there are days that we have like a bunch of people. There are days that there’s nobody and we’re like what’s going on? Until the pandemic, like nowadays it’s getting kind of back to normal. We see a lot of people coming in.

EMILY: Opening a brick and mortar store is a big step for any business owner—it’s a huge investment in your future and a dedication to your brand. I asked Felix to share what it was like opening his first brick and mortar and how he translated who he was into the physical space.

FELIX: It was very scary for me to have a brick and mortar. It seemed very daunting. I have a degree in finance. I was a VP of corporate credit and my partner at the time, this was way back like, ’06, ’05 when the financial industry was collapsing. And he was like, ‘Why don’t you start a plant store?’ Cause this was what I did. Every time I was working, doing mortgage stuff, I would be planting outside.

I was just like, ‘Babe, I don’t know that I can do that.’ And he was like: ‘You can. I’ll help you.’ He had a marketing company. So we started out with the garage. We did flea markets and swap meets for a couple of years. And then, you know, he was like, ‘We need a brick and mortar.’ And so we looked around at a lot of different places. And I did eventually find the place that I wanted, and going into it, I was terrified. My rent, and this was back in ‘07, was $3,000 a month. And I thought that was insane.

For it back then, like, there was no boutique plant store. There was nothing like what we were about to do. And so I will say like the helpful part of it was having a degree in finance, like that background. So I was able to sit down and say, ‘Okay, how much do we need to make? How many plants do we need to sell? How is this going to look?’

And so I did that. But I was still very uncomfortable and scared because I’m just like, ‘What am I doing?’ Like I know about finance. I know how to teach about state and federal lending regulations, but doing a brick and mortar, it was a completely different animal.

FELIPE: I think it’s all about the experience when you get in the store. Everything is thought about, like, even the playlist that’s playing at the store. We curated to be part of the whole experience.

So we usually select pots by colors and then things that are inside are usually tropicals, which are plants that actually are good for the light that we have inside the store. There’s a little area outside where we usually put the succulents, which need a lot of light. So it’s all about an experience and very like a natural feeling. It’s just easy, you know, when you get in and there’s a part that has a lot of crystals that I actually rearranged, like two days ago. I think it’s really cool. I’m really proud of it.

FELIX: I think one of the cool things—it’s been a ritual for me my entire life of having the store—I arrive in, just like you said, everything is curated, with a lot of care. But I start my day off by lighting two candles and incense. It’s my thing. But I always like to just say, ‘I’m grateful, store, for giving me this. Let’s have a good day,’ like just some little meaningful thing. Like I have to start the day off lighting those candles and light a little bit of incense, because it makes this place feel really yummy.

EMILY: And all of that thoughtfulness and curation of the space stands out to customers like Emily.

EMILY S.: So when you first walk up, it’s just like bright, yellow and bright pink on the outside. And you see Felix’s cute logo of the juicy leaf. But when you walk in, you feel like you’re walking into a jungle like Shangri-La. There’s giant macrame, with plants growing out of it, hanging from the ceiling. There are enormous amethyst crystals. There’s smudge sticks. There’s everything you could ever want from a specialty gift shop.

EMILY: And beyond what the business looks and feels like, it’s run with human connection in mind. Developing relationships with customers to take them from one-time visitors to loyal fans is a process that requires lots of time and intentionality.

Leaving customers’ experiences up to luck introduces uncertainty. Instead, small businesses should be proactive in developing and maintaining those deeper relationships. The Juicy Leaf focuses on creating a culture of personality and authenticity to encourage customer trust and satisfaction—but knowing your partner has your back is definitely a unique business advantage.

FELIPE: Felix has this personality that he actually cares about people, genuinely. So he just cares about people, like period. I think it’s a little bit easier for him to be like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ And just talking on the phone and also our business card has the store number and has his personal phone number. And he responds to everything, honestly. So he’s always on his phone, he’s always taking care of customers. It’s crazy.

FELIX: I think having a relationship, like it is over the years. I mean, from the beginning I think what has developed a relationship is people walking in and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, this is a cool place.’

And then they’ll make an order. And we’re really, really honored about the orders. And we honestly make a great team because I can like, literally just say, like, ‘Babe, are you able to deliver this on this day? And on that day?’ And he’s like, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ And so we know exactly what can be done. But yeah, it is like over the years, we’ve just kind of developed these relationships.

And we have people that will call and say, ‘Come to my house, pick up my planters.’ He’ll go pick them up and bring them to the store. We’ll replant them together and then take them back to their house. We work with all the major studios in Los Angeles—NBC, Fox, ABC, Netflix, who like, and these people will literally just send an email and say, ‘Hey, we need to spend X amount of dollars to this client, to this address, you use my card on file,’ and we’re just like, ‘Gotcha. We’ll have it out.’ We’ll send a photo if they request it of what the product is so they can know what their client is getting.

And so we’ve just gotten like years and years of doing this. It seems easy, but I think the most important part is—and I tell people, cause like everyone likes to email—but I’m like, if you really want service, like immediate service, you have to text me because I literally have this thing on me all the time.

EMILY: And while everyone needs a break from their devices from time to time, Felix’s openness to let customers reach him directly on his cell makes a difference for continuous clients like Emily.

EMILY S.: Having a vendor relationship like I have with Felix is really important to me because it may have slipped my mind that it’s one of my clients’ birthdays and, ‘Oh shoot!,’ I need a beautiful $75 bouquet created and delivered today. ‘Hey Felix, can you handle this for me today?’ And he absolutely has been able to do that for me in a pinch, even when I’m the one that drops the ball.

Felix picks it up and runs with it and makes me look good. I don’t know of another relationship like that. And actually now thinking back to when we did our 38 sales, I thought for sure Felix was going to forget that it was coming up, especially cause our closing date kept pushing and pushing. So I would check in with him and I’d say, ‘Oh hey, just so you know, we pushed.’ He’s like, ‘Okay, I got it. No problem.’ And he really staffs his business so beautifully with people who are able to, you know, jump in when they need to.

EMILY: With the shift in their business during the pandemic, Felix and Felipe went through a crash course in e-commerce, online orders, and the dreaded process of packing and shipping products to clients. It definitely had its bumps, and it even resulted in a location change that could better serve their current business model and customer expectations.

FELIX: People want to be able to order online. Everything is on this gadget that we’re looking for. We have got to shift. And so that’s kind of where the real emphasis turned to, yeah. So going into Glasswell Park, into this much larger space, we were able to actually spread out and work. Like we were shipping sometimes up to 400 kits for a single party. I think 475 was the biggest order we ever did.

And we would be outside putting boxes together in the parking lot and any space that we could find. And once the store was closed, we would literally line the store with as many boxes as we could. And we were packing the stuff, just the two of us.

FELIPE: It was a total nightmare.

FELIX: But I think you did a really good job just breaking all the costs down.

FELIPE: I know, but like, it’s a process. Like it took a while. It took, we are still learning to be very honest, like we learn everyday.

So we started with the USPS, like little boxes. The kit didn’t even fit in there. It was just like, ‘oh my,’ it was just so hard. And after that, I kind of understand the operations side of it, because now it doesn’t matter the size of the box. You have to weigh it as well. And it was just, but after, I don’t know, ten parties that we’ve closed, it was just getting better and better now. Like there’s no like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’

FELIX: I used to freak out. Now it’s like, ‘Oh, we have to ship this out.’ But like, what he did do is like, he literally designed boxes that have our logo on them. He broke down, like, ‘Okay, peanuts cost this much, the box costs.’ Cause like I would have been the person that’s just like, ‘Oh, it’s a cardboard box. There’s peanuts. There’s the tape that we like.’ I wouldn’t even—I’m just like, ‘Oh, like this probably costs like a dollar or two.’

FELIPE: If you don’t charge for those, you actually break even.

FELIX: My motto, which is a horrible motto sometimes, is build the plane as you’re taking off.  Cause sometimes if you sit around and kick the can and think about it, like it’s never going to happen. So we, I think between the two of us, are able to kind of figure things out. Like he’ll slow me down, I’ll rush him, and somewhere in between we kind of meet.

EMILY: As you can probably tell by listening to Felix and Felipe, they make a great team! That’s not always the case when you mix personal relationships with business though. I’ve met many life partner duos who have made working together work, and the resounding key to their success is always the same: communication.

FELIPE: I think we’re very different people, which can be challenging and good at the same time. I will not lie—the fact that we are together the whole time and that we are partners as well—it’s not easy.

There are times that we’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ And we both started therapy. I started first cause I used to do therapy in Brazil and I was like, ‘I need therapy because I need somebody to talk to.’ And then he was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to do it as well.’ And I think this kind of saved our marriage to be very honest, because if it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be able to be emotionally stable to endure this whole situation because it’s a lot, it’s a lot.

FELIX: And we have learned like during COVID, it was actually nice from the standpoint, because we would meet in the morning and knock out the shipping, everything that we needed to do, and then he would take off and go do his deliveries. So it was that separation, and it’s still to this day, we kind of have kept it that way, where like in the mornings we power through what we need to, and then he’s off.

And then we’re apart, cause if we were literally like this everyday we would kill each other. But that being said, I feel like we make a really incredible team, because we do communicate really well. We both have strengths and very different aspects of what our company is. It was challenging. I will say for me to have had the company, you know, 10 plus years, I think—

FELIPE: And suddenly I’m here. And then I bought 50% of the company, which was like four years ago. But I wasn’t in the company the way that I am right now. I started to say that this is my company, literally at the end of last year. It was also a process for me.

FELIX: And it took us having to sit down. Like it was a hard truth, but he had to sit down and say, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like—I understand that on paper, I am a half owner of this company, but I feel like sometimes you don’t give me that opportunity.’ And it was really eye opening for me because I thought I was, but he was like, ‘You do this, you do this, and you do this. I don’t feel like I have any say in anything. And I understand you’ve had this thing for a long time, but why am I doing this?’ So it was a really nice talk. It was like, good talk. And like, after that, I think the dynamic really changed where I was like, yeah, I have to let go.

EMILY: To close us out, I always like to touch on the topic of reviews, of course. I wanted to hear from reviewer Emily on what motivates her to write a review and what called her to share her experience with The Juicy Leaf.

EMILY: I would say for me, I’m a person of extremes. If I love something, I’m going to write a review. If I hate something, I’m also gonna write a review.

I’m really not a middle of the road type of person, you know? So if something’s only a three stars out of five, I’ll let someone else review it, but if something really sucks, people need to know about it. People need to know when a business is not running smoothly. Especially if it’s a small business. And it’s yet another reason why, you know, I like to support The Juicy Leaf because they are killing it. They are doing it right. And so I really wanted to give homage and accolades to, you know, someone who knows how to run their business.

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