Hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a succulent distributor and nursery in San Diego’s North County is digging up new ways to grow business and keep families – including their own big bunch of eight – busy during these days at home.
For the past 10 years, Lora and Darren Irwin have run The Succulent Source in Valley Center. Their nursery, greenhouse and distribution business are located on a property where they live with their six kids – five boys and a toddler girl – all between the ages of 2 and 16.
The business is certainly a family-run operation.
Lora Irwin told NBC 7 her boys each work in the greenhouse weekly, tending to their own plants and working hard to make a little cash.
But these days, as with so many businesses across San Diego County and the world, things are a bit slower for the Irwins.
Irwin said her business, from the get-go, was primarily designed to provide succulents for big events, including weddings.
“We truly designed our whole selling platform around providing succulents for weddings and showers. We built our business from that; about 80% of our business, from inception, was for that,” she told NBC 7.
As the coronavirus pandemic reached San Diego County in mid-March, Irwin said her business took a huge hit. Per the public health order, people were canceling their weddings and gatherings left and right.
Her phone was ringing off the hook – but not in a good way.
“We had tons of cancellations,” she explained. “That’s all we did, for two weeks.”
Irwin said her business lost over $25,000 in event order cancellations in those two last weeks of March.
“To be honest, I quit looking,” she said. “It’s hit us hard. Our whole business is down about 80%.”
For a typical wedding, Irwin said brides order 100 to 200 plants. The Succulent Source’s “bread and butter” products are tiny succulents, she said, that people upgrade by putting into cute pails.
The plants are often used as wedding or party favors; Irwin said she adds little tags or seat numbers on them to give them a special touch. On average, she said an order of 100 succulents with the extra trimmings runs about $300.
She said about 60% of those types of orders were canceled in March.
The rest of the orders were put on hold indefinitely, and that gives her hope. After all, these dark days can’t last forever.
“If nothing else, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Irwin explained. “I feel like there will be an explosion of events as soon as this is lifted. We just have to get through the…who knows how long.”
So, to get through the tough times, the Irwins are pivoting. They are planting new seeds. They are rebuilding.
In the last few weeks, since there are no events happening, the business has launched a new line of Do It Yourself succulent kits and air plants.
And, while Irwin admits the kits will never take the place of the business she gets from events, it’s something, for now, to keep the family business moving.
The basic kit, which sells for around $28, includes five small succulents, plus the soil, gravel topper and a garden accessory like an owl or hedgehog figurine.
Irwin said the kits were designed with kids in mind – as an activity for parents to do with their kids while everyone is spending their days at home.
She said the bulk of her customers, so far, have been moms just like her. Customers have been sending her photos of kids planting the succulents at home.
Irwin said she hopes the succulents are bringing families together and giving them a chance to get some fresh air in their yards during springtime.
She also figures they could be used as a home school-style lesson on the science of growing plants, as succulents tend to grow fast during this season.
And, because succulents are a low-touch plant, Irwin said one doesn’t have to have a green thumb to take care of a succulent.
“There isn’t that much care, you just get to watch it grow,” she said. “It’s really hard to kill these things, unless you’re overwatering. So, for a little kid, that’s a great plus.”
Irwin said she’s grateful that she still has orders coming in, and that her company is considered an essential business that’s still able to operate under state guidelines.
“We are blessed to able to remain open, we are blessed to be able to continue to employ our employees and not have to cut their paychecks,” she told NBC 7. “We have to keep our eye on the future.”
And the future is the Irwins’ six kids – James, 16; Blaise, 13; Jude, 11; Beau, 9; Justus, 7; Leah, 2 – who are also helping to keep the family business running.
Irwin said her boys each have their own section on The Succulent Source website, where they’re each in charge of selling a specific plant. This keeps them busy between school and creates a little friendly competition among the siblings.
She said Jude and Blaise get particularly into it.
“They have a little [sibling rivalry] going on to see who’s selling more of their plants,” she said, laughing. “They love seeing the fruit of their labor.”
Irwin said her family nursery will keep on keeping on.
She plans to roll out more DIY kits in the weeks to come. She and her husband are also working to fulfill more corporate orders, a branch of the business they didn’t always prioritize.
With more companies working remotely, Irwin said the succulents are being used as gifts sent by companies to employees or clients to brighten their days and remind people that we’re all in this together.
“We’re not the only people suffering,” Irwin said. “Everybody is going through this; every business.”