30 November 2018 Courier Weekly

The houseplant economy

PLUS: Emotional intelligence – Amazon’s HQ – CBD oil – T-shirt making

The houseplant economy 

Lots of media outlets have been talking about ‘plantfluencers’ – social media personalities with especially green fingers.

Trend forecasters say a desire to retreat to nature in the face of political and environmental uncertainty – think the US midterm elections, Brexit negotiations, California’s wildfires – is behind increased interest in houseplants. (And, of course, the fact that owning a home with a garden is becoming increasingly out of reach for younger people.)

As always with trends like these, a business opportunity has been unlocked. Startups like Patch, Léon & George, The Sill and Bloomscape have launched e-commerce platforms selling premium houseplants. Meanwhile, interior plant styling company Ro Co, which works with commercial and retail businesses, has just launched a book on how to grow and propagate plants.

Emotional skills for the workplace

Anyone can go to business school and learn how to read a balance sheet or the legalities of hiring and firing. But businesses with leaders and staff that embrace and develop their emotional intelligence can often end up running more sophisticated operations, argues The Emotionally Intelligent Office, the latest book from The School of Life.

It outlines 20 key emotional skills for business leaders. The big hitters are all there (creativity, adaptability, decisiveness) along with some more unexpected skills. Charm, the book says, is not innate but something that can be developed – and charming people are better at communicating ideas and their importance. Colleagues who display ‘playfulness’, meanwhile, can help dissipate stress levels and also encourage curiosity among employees.

Of course, the book’s aims is to sell The School of Life’s workshops and training services. Nonetheless, it provides a welcome alternative to business self-help books following the #CrushingIt narrative.

When Amazon comes to town

After 238 US cities applied to host Amazon’s second headquarters (and its 50,000 employees), the e-commerce giant ended up choosing two locations: Crystal City in northern Virginia and Long Island City in Queens, NY.

New York state reportedly offered $1.7b (£1.3b) in tax incentives to the company and also said it would redevelop the Queens waterfront.

Many have interrogated the logic of coughing up public funds to entice already-wealthy companies to move in. For small businesses, there is undeniably an opportunity in serving an influx of tech workers. In Seattle, where Amazon employees make up 8% of the workforce, the restaurant and retail scenes have been reinvigorated – arguably due to the company’s presence.

In New York, the situation is different. It’s hard to imagine how its already deteriorating transport system can support thousands more commuters to Long Island City, and if house prices jump as a result, local residents risk being pushed out.

CBD and confusing food laws

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the ingredient of the moment – but actually bringing a product to market with the ingredient is tricky. US drinks maker Dirty Lemon has just announced it will pause production on its CBD-infused drink due to lack of clarification on the rules and regulations.

Healthy drink brand Botanic Lab has recently launched a CBD drink in the UK. The first challenge was actually getting CBD (an oil) to blend into a liquid drink properly, while still maintaining its efficacy. Next, getting the product to retailers and trade clients was also tough. Botanic Lab’s founder Rebekah Hall says many retailers are still wary of the association with cannabis and stoner culture.

Finally, there’s also a customer service implication when using CBD. Because research around the substance is limited – for example, there are no official guidelines on how much CBD is safe to ingest in an evening, or whether it’s safe during pregnancy – businesses are restricted on what advice they can provide. The substance is considered a Novel Food under EU law.

The journey of a t-shirt

T-shirt seller For Days which, for a small fee, will replace its customers t-shirts when they become stained, ripped or otherwise scruffy, has just announced a £2.2m seed funding round

For Days is one of many brands trying to provide more sustainable options for items like t-shirts or socks, which tend to be replaced on a more regular basis than other bits of clothing. 

UK-based Everpress takes a slightly different approach. It makes its t-shirts in batches, only going into production once the orders have already come in. This way, it can avoid over-producing.

In the latest issue of Courier, we look at the business models of For Days and Everpress – and the challenges of setting up a sustainability-focused business in the fashion industry.

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