The plant-loving entrepreneur recently left her corporate gig to start her own business.
Kate Block really loves plants. She has more than 50 in her Olde Towne East home, including a 6-foot-tall fiddle leaf fig, which she describes affectionately as “my baby.” When COVID-19 hit in March and she was furloughed from her job as a buyer at DSW, she decided now was the right time to open her own business, and Quincy General Store was born. Named after Block’s hometown of Quincy, Illinois, the store specializes in plants, whether you’re looking for a low-maintenance pothos, a trendy snake plant or a timeless cactus. The store also sells ceramics, candles and stationery. Currently, Block runs her business online, but she is signed on to be a vendor at The Little Light Collective when it opens.
Columbus Monthly spoke to Block about all things plants and opening a business in these uncertain times.
Tell me a bit about Quincy General Store and how it came to be.
The name came from where I had my experience growing my own roots. It's the only spot both my parents lived when I was growing up until they moved apart. It's where I felt like I built my own foundation. Both of my parents, especially my dad, had really green thumbs. There were always cacti, succulents—huge cacti too. He always had this one he was super proud about. I always found it fascinating. How are adults so obsessed with a plant? And then as I got older, I'm like, oh shoot, I get it. I have over 50 plants of my own, and it's been a growing obsession since I moved out. Caring for plants, it kind of gives you a purpose. I don't know how to explain it. It's just the uncertainty of knowing how they're going to do. How are they going to grow and bloom? I've always been attracted to that and feeling like it's something you can take care of. I was furloughed from DSW, and I was like, you know what? I feel like Mother Nature is like, “Kate, you've been wanting your own business for a long time. I'm setting you up.” People love plants. Plants make people happy. You can do delivery that you aren't in contact with anyone and bring people joy. What's stopping me, you know? I know plants, and I want other people to have them too, especially during this uncertain time. Then Quincy was born.
What was it like quitting your job and starting a business in the midst of everything going on with COVID-19?
It was my little ray of joy. It just felt like a little community. I had people that were repeat customers. Plants don't make anyone mad. Everyone can agree on plants being a good thing. It's just not a political area, and it just brings people together. The community that was created with Quincy is what that is. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it's not something people could argue about. Everyone loves plants. They make you feel good. I feel like that's what Quincy became: a community of people just enjoying bringing life and having something to do indoors.
Did you have any reservations about starting a business in the middle of COVID-19?
I'm not someone that sits around very well. I'm a doer. The uncertainty kills me, so it's almost like I just have to go after something. I'm a very passionate person, so whatever I go after ends up being bigger than I originally intended. I was nervous, but honestly I've gotten so much support from the Columbus community. Having a retail background, you learn what's important to customers as well. So creating that community and the support really made it an easier decision. I'm not saying it was easy, because it was six years of my life I gave to DSW, and they've been good to me. But I've always wanted to be my own boss and really create something. I feel like Columbus is a great spot for that. People like a good entrepreneurial story.
Walk me through the process of selling plants online. How do you source the plants? Are they all stored in your home?
So right now I look like I live in a jungle. [Laughs.] Luckily I have a good amount of space, and I get tons of natural light where I live. I'm like the middleman. I work with different plant wholesalers, and also do the finding of the ceramics. Some of them are local and some of them I wholesale from other places. I do take all the work out of it and actually plant them in a ceramic for people and deliver them that way. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for people. I have my little corner where I take my photos. ... I like the creative aspects of it. I run that Instagram [for @twogirlsonecbus].It's given me a lot of knowledge on social media, and it's helped me reach out to people and spread the word about Quincy. I've had a lot of good connections from that, but I feel like it's also given me the ability to be creative with Instagram and have that knowledge before I started Quincy.
House plants are kind of the perfect hobby right now as people spend more time at home. Are you getting a lot of customers who are first time plant owners?
I definitely have my repeat customers. I have some great customers that have bought like 10 to 15 plants from me. I have noticed quite a few new people. I tend to get on social media and have people ask me questions. I could tell a lot of new people were coming in because there's a lot of people asking for pet-friendly plants, or can you divide them into low light, medium light, that kind of thing. So I tweaked my website, and that to me tells me there's a lot of newer people with plants out there because they're needing a little more guidance. I definitely think quarantine has created a lot of new plant lovers just because it makes your space so much livelier, and it's good for you. It's supposed to be good for the air that you breathe in, and it just looks nice, too. It's pleasing to the eye, especially with all the time we're spending indoors this summer. Hopefully we've converted quite a few people to plant lovers.
For people who are getting into plants, what are your tips for them?
My number one thing, is because I know everyone that kills them, I ask them how much they water, and they say twice a week. Step away from the plants. Plants are better when they're loved from a distance. They like a little distance in their relationship. They're not stage five clingers. They like to have their space. It's better to underwater a plant than to overwater it, because you can come back from underwatering. You can't come back from overwatering.
What was the first plant you owned?
I have a fiddle leaf big. It started out as a 12-inch fiddle leaf big, and it's over six feet tall now. I'm so impressed by it. That's my baby. It's so rewarding. That's the thing about plants: you can see it actually grow in front of your eyes.