We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Laura Bright a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Laura, appreciate you joining us today. Are you happier as a business owner? Do you sometimes think about what it would be like to just have a regular job?
I’m definitely happy being a business owner. It is a terrifying job but just rewarding enough to keep you coming back for more. Once upon a time, I had a regular job. I was an elementary school teacher for almost 15 years. I absolutely loved it in the beginning. However, as time progressed and teaching evolved, I found that the changes in education played more to my weaknesses than my strengths. So I knew a change was in order.
Being a shop owner allows me more mental and creative flexibility than my prior job. Being a business owner is not easier than teaching. In fact, I would say it challenges me more. However, these challenges are ones that I am excited to meet head on and now I have the ability to handle them the way I see fit.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Laura Bright, owner and founder of GROW Geneva, located in Geneva Illinois.
I am one of the few small business owners that was able to change and expand during the pandemic through hard work and a sheer survival attitude. I believe my shop and view on life are a bit different and interesting.
A bit about me:
In 2018, I founded GROW because I love plants and I love the feeling of community. Plant shops are something special. They are usually in trendy neighborhoods run by creative people and mine is no exception. When I travel, I love to stop at plant shops and breweries for this reason. Talking to an owner and staff about what they love in their community is the best way to see a new city. I was hoping to bring that same vibe to the town of Geneva, about 1 hour west of Chicago. I am an energetic creative with a kind and vibrant personality. I am also a boss. I care about the success of my business and have only the highest expectations for my team and my staff.
At GROW, we have branded ourselves as an education hub. We know plants have become trendy but we don’t treat them that way. We were around before the Great Pandemic Plant Boom of 2020 and we will be around long after. You see, my team is a group of plant lovers that see the true benefits in having a living, breathing home. So instead of treating plants as decor items or a trend, we treat them as something that truly brings us joy. To do that, we constantly talk about the difference between thriving and surviving and we caution our customers against focusing only on the rare and expensive plants. That is not our GROW style.
Through this, I have created an incredibly active and engaged instagram following that was essential to surviving the pandemic
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
In early 2020, I was beginning the process of an unfortunate divorce. Fast forward to March 2020 and my business was shut down and my bank account was empty. Honestly, one of the most terrifying financial moments of my life. The kindness of my neighbors/best friends kept me sane and fed me every night until I could afford it again. My hard work ethic kicked in and through all of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the chaotic nature of my divorce, not only was I able to save my business, I was able to expand a year later! While my business was closed due to pandemic restrictions, I had to pivot quickly to be able to pay my bills and survive. To do this I quickly found a way to list my products online, gassed up my big old suburban and began delivering plants door to door in our area. Thankfully, my GROW instagram following was active and engaged and ordered non-stop until we could open our doors again. It was definitely a lonely few months of just me, the plants and my car but I am so proud of myself looking back on it. Survival kicked in.
Do you have any insights you can share related to maintaining high team morale?
My advice is finding other business and use them as a model for success. Early on, I knew that someday I would have a big booming business with a large team working for me. To help me prepare for this, I identified other business owners that seemed to know what they were doing and I straight up asked them how they do it. A local independent book store curated a team of employees that always seem happy to be at work. Asking the owners how they keep them motivated was very helpful to me. A local high end salon has a high retention rate with their employees so picking the owner’s brain on that was immensely valuable and lead to many changes in our procedures.
Choosing people that love to interact with other people and are comfortable selling is what I look for first. If they like plants, great! However, our #1 job is selling so finding people who can do that was priority. Then we focused on making sure that the team had a great vibe together and enjoys working side-by-side. Then we do silly things like surprise bonuses and monthly GROW bingo to help keep us motivated and morale high.
Lastly, when choosing the people to rep your business, go with your gut. Your gut will always be right.