Build the Plane as You're Taking Off
In this episode, hear Felix and Felipe of Juicy Leaf divide and conquer strategy that has made their boutique plant company a leader in the LA scene, and the challenges they've faced along the way.
Felix Navarro and his husband, Filipe Abrahão, co-own a quirky and collaborative Los Angeles plant shop, The Juicy Leaf. Located in the city’s Glassell Park neighborhood, the shop has been the vendor for major studios like Netflix, NBC, and Fox, on top of being a carefully curated spot for the average plant aficionado. When you step into the business, you’re greeted not by bags of soil or gardening tools, but by thoughtful crystal arrangements and Felix’s incense du jour. The Juicy Leaf prides itself on having an inviting environment that empowers its customers to create.
Yelp reviewer Emily S. is a Los Angeles real estate agent who has made The 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 Felix and Felipe’s customer service.
“I never want to get [my clients] something that they’ve seen at some big box brand. I found out about Felix at The Juicy Leaf, how he creates these incredible custom succulent displays and his gifts, and it was when I went into his shop that my head exploded,” Emily said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be my go-to for my closing gifts from here on out.’”
The first impression from Emily is exactly what Juicy Leaf is shooting for. Felix and Felipe want their customers to be wowed by the thoughtful arrangements but also feel like they’re active participants in the creative magic. “It’s a place where people can come in and design their own,” Felix said. “The most important thing is for people to be able to come in and create their own arrangements through my help.”
As a young adult, Felix would walk into nurseries with his own visions, wanting to change up the displays, switch the plants’ pots—actions that weren’t necessarily welcomed by the onsite staff. Being told “no” inspired what Juicy Leaf is today—a place where visitors are empowered, instead of discouraged, to lean into their creativity as they make decisions about their purchases. “So that is my dream—that is where it started. I just want it to be a really yummy place where people like plants, anything natural, anything earth-based,” Felix said.
Felix and Felipe’s mantra as business owners—especially as they navigated the havoc of the pandemic—has been to build the plane as it’s taking off. The pair avoids letting fear of failure dictate their business decisions, particularly as it relates to expansion and taking risks, and they’ve embraced adaptability and evolution. Reframing challenges as redirection, like in the shift from only physical to adding a digital storefront, has also been a central tenet of The Juicy Leaf’s journey and success.
“People want to be able to order online. Everything that we're looking for [as consumers is on our phones], so we have got to shift,” Felix said. “That's where the emphasis turned to. We were shipping sometimes up to 400 kits for a single party, just the two of us.”
As Felix and Felipe reflect and continue on their small business journey, they shared these three tips that helped them create a business that has been attracting loyal customers since 2007.
1. A solid support system can change your direction for the better
Feeling overwhelmed is normal when starting and operating your own business, but just because you feel in over your head today doesn’t mean that’s how you’ll always feel. Felix mentioned managing feelings of fear and anxiety when he first started the shop, but he also later realized that being confronted with important decisions can be an opportunity—not necessarily a trap. Gaining the confidence to seize opportunities instead of fearing them comes with time and experience, but that gradual empowerment was accelerated when Felipe joined The Juicy Leaf as a part-owner.
“Sometimes if you sit around and kick the can and think about it, it's never going to happen,” Felix said. “So I think between the two of us, we are able to kind of figure things out [as we go]. He'll slow me down, I'll rush him, and somewhere in between, we meet.”
Felix and Felipe have a unique perspective on working relationships, given their statuses as both co-owners and spouses. While mixing personal relationships and work can present its challenges, it also has its advantages. Surrounding yourself with people you can rely on and work well with is an important part of mitigating the stress and pressure of the unknown.
“I think we're very different people, which can be challenging and good at the same time,” said Felipe. The early quarantine stages of the pandemic proved especially challenging given the massive increase of time being spent together. Nonetheless, the two know that at the end of the day, they’re on the same team and can rely on each other for a job well done.
“I feel like we make a really incredible team because we do communicate really well,” Felix added. “We both have strengths and very different perspectives of what our company is.”
2. Don’t let fear be the determining factor
There are all sorts of factors to consider when making a big decision in your business, but fear shouldn’t be one of them. Avoiding a key business decision may prevent you from taking the step that could lead to a well-deserved breakthrough.
“It was very scary for me to have a brick and mortar. It seemed very daunting,” Felix said. “I have a degree in finance. I was a VP of corporate credit, and the financial industry was collapsing.”
The Juicy Leaf started out of a garage, with the pair attending flea markets and swap meets for a few years. Eventually, it became obvious that the business needed its own location to develop into a distinct and independent brand.
“I did eventually find the place that I wanted, and going into it, I was terrified. I thought [the rent] was insane back then, and there was nothing like what we were about to do,” Felix said. “I was still very uncomfortable and scared because I was just like, ‘What am I doing?’ I know how to teach about state and federal lending regulations, but doing brick and mortar is a completely different animal.”
3. Acknowledge, pivot, and move on
Being flexible and open to change in business processes allows you to pivot when big changes (like a pandemic) happen on short notice. While rarely easy, acknowledging and accepting these changes instead of fighting them when they inevitably and unavoidably happen can redirect you on a positive path.
When the pandemic hit, The Juicy Leaf was only a physical store. When customers could no longer visit in person, Felix and Felipe took a crash course in e-commerce and started shipping their products instead, which eventually led to a location change to better accommodate their subsequent growth.
“It was a total nightmare,” Felipe said. The pair suddenly had hundreds of plant kits to put together and ship from their small space—figuring out the logistics was no easy feat.
“We would be outside putting boxes together in the parking lot and any space that we could find. Once the store was closed, we would literally line the store with as many boxes as we could,” Felix shared. But because they were open to evolution, they developed a business that was even stronger and more empowered than the business they owned pre-pandemic.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Felix, Felipe, and Emily S., and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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