Herb Your Enthusiasm: An Afternoon with Kerbi Howat

By: Alyssa Curran

 Photo by Bree Marie Fish Photography

Photo by Bree Marie Fish Photography

Kerbi is a business owner, foliage design guru and first-time mom to baby Arlo.

I chatted with her about practical tips for female entrepreneurs, local resources for new moms, and best practices for designing with houseplants.

 

 

Tell me about how a backyard gardening hobby led to your opening Flora.

I spent my previous career in social service and social enterprise and had great opportunities to work internationally and locally with different populations, but I needed a break. I quit my job with no back-up plan.

I had recently met a new friend, Kate Holl. Kate and I shared a love for gardening and plant life. Our budding friendship led to countless conversations about our dreams of opening a shop. Flora began as a traveling pop up shop until we opened our brick and mortar storefront on Trinity Lane in the Spring of 2017.

Can you offer some practical advice for women looking to start a business in Nashville?

Mentorship is key. Network with people who work in the same industry. Pick their brains about process, infrastructure, business plans, marketing, challenges, and triumphs. Make sure to have this support system because a lot of times when starting a new business, you feel like you’re in open water.

What about securing funding to get started? Any tips?

Nashville is turning the tide on providing funding for women and minority entrepreneurs, but there’s still a long way to go. We had a lot of trouble finding funding, but I’ll go back to the importance of making connections early in the game with like-minded people.

Flora’s Co-founder, Kate, recently moved out of state and you’re now the sole owner of the business. Tell me a bit about this transition and the challenges associated with this change.

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This was bitter sweet. I loved being partners with Kate, but wish her well in her new endeavors in Wisconsin. I certainly would not have had the courage to start Flora without her.

That being said, transitioning from a partnership to a sole proprietorship has been a change, for sure. It has been particularly stressful because the week she left was the week I came back from maternity leave. “Mom brain” is real and I have had it bad. My first week back I would have to ask my staff the names of plants in the shop that I have worked with for years. With a newborn, and learning to navigate without Kate, my workload has quadrupled. It’s getting easier though. I’m learning to do more in less time.

Let’s talk about being a first-time mom to a newborn as well as a business owner. Can you recommend any resources for new moms in town?

I’ve love being part of the Baby+Co community. They are a birth center that offer a ton of resources and classes for pregnant women and new moms. I joined a six week long new moms group and I loved it. I don’t have family in town and for a first-time mom, it was so important to have a community and know that I was not alone navigating new motherhood. It’s a community where you can ask questions like, “Is this normal?” and “Are we going to survive this?” when it’s been a long night or we’re going through a new phase with the baby. I’m currently enrolling in a new class called “About First Foods” which explains how to introduce real food to your baby.  

Those are super helpful tips. There’s no doubt about it that mothers are Herculean. Having a community to learn from and grow with seems so important. Tell me about Flora’s products and services. Your plant design and consultation offerings seem very popular. How do you begin styling a room with plants and can you share any high-level design tips?

When we do consultations, we’ll go into the space and the first things we have to consider are the availability of light and how much maintenance the home or business owner wants to take on. If a client travels a lot and isn’t home often, or just prefers lower maintenance, for example, we’re able to help them choose plants that do not require much attention.

We start with the availability of light and work from there based on their décor. If we’re working with mid-century style, for example, we’ll incorporate more tree-like plants and moody colors. If we’re going for a more Bohemian look, we may incorporate cylindrical planters with palms. The design piece is really fun and a large part of our business.

What are your customers buying? What’s hot?

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Some customers shop for aesthetic, and others for health benefits. In general, we’re riding a wave where houseplants are very popular. The benefits of houseplants are numerous. They help to increase productivity and creativity, filter toxins, enhance our moods and minimize stress.

Currently, our customers are very interested in the tropical plants like fiddle leaf figs and birds of paradise, as well as desert plants like succulents and cacti. With the exception of the fiddle leaf fig, which is extremely high maintenance, tropical plants tend to be pretty low key, and for that reason are top sellers.

Our number one seller is the snake plant. This is a hardy, low maintenance, but beautiful plant that thrives in the shade. I would recommend purchasing a snake plant if you’re a first-time plant owner or if you’d like to give a plant as a gift.

Why do you think houseplants are so “in” right now?

First off, I don’t think having plants in the home has ever not been in style. Mid-century pieces and general style of design is still super popular. Mid-century homes were filled with the same types of plants that are popular today. Macrame plant hangers and indoor house plants dominated in the 70’s and are still trending now.

Also, social media is used a lot to find design inspiration. Structural plants add a lot to a well-furnished room. Vining plants add whimsy. Almost all photos you see online of an interior space contain plants which have definitely led to an increased interest in indoor plants, especially specific plants. The fiddle leaf fig started to see it’s (very long and continuing) moment in the spotlight because it’s the chosen plant of lifestyle bloggers.

I’m glad to hear that the fiddle leaf fig is high maintenance and it’s not just me. I have the hardest time keeping mine alive. Any advice for caring for these tricky little guys?

Fiddle leaf figs like bright light. I would position them near a South facing window and water weekly, but don’t let it get too soggy. Additionally, do not position it near air vents. They can be fickle.

If you’re struggling to care for a plant, send us a picture of the plant, or bring it into the shop, and we can offer advice on ways to revive it.


To learn more about all Flora has to offer, visit FloraPlantShop.com, or check out their Instagram @floraplantshop.