Who knew that casually swiping on a dating app could lead to meeting someone life-changing?
When Ivan Woo, 30, and Angeline Goh, 27, decided to take their conversations on the dating app offline and meet in person, they immediately hit it off. They later found out that they share a common interest in plants, and have a mutual goal to start up a business.
The couple decided to put two and two together, which eventually led to the launch of Soilboy, borne out of their curiosity to keep indoor plants.
Starting out as a purely online venture, it focuses on the “greener things in life”, with an aim to make planting “accessible, aesthetic and modern”.
Back then, Ivan was a freelance brand and graphic designer, while Angeline was a pre-school teacher. With their day jobs, it was hard for them to juggle setting up and managing their new e-commerce business.
“Most of our free time after work is used to take care of our plants and make sure they grow in the best way [possible]. … “It was not easy keeping our first plant alive — we did plenty of research, [and] trial and error, especially on how to bring outdoor plants indoor,” said Ivan.
“We discovered that the type of soil mixes really matters and it’s one of the most important things when it comes to planting. We started questioning ourselves: ‘how nice would it be if there’s a place where we can find the answer to planting and how to best take care of plants?'”
This is why they shaped Soilboy to be more than just a plant store. In line with one of their taglines, ‘slow and grow’, they wanted to build a lifestyle brand that encourages people to slow down and go at their own pace.
They officially launched their first plant collection online in December 2020, which were all successfully sold out. “It is really nice to see our hard work [receive] positive responses,” said Angeline.
“The products that we carry offer a more curated experience for our customers. The majority of plants in our store are already paired together with a planter, so it is much easier to visualise and select a potted plant.”
Sharing more about their planters, Ivan explained that the duo personally conceptualise the shape, size and colour of the planters.
“To make sure both the plants and the planter worked well together, we took a lot of time and effort to visualise how the finished product would look from the very start. This process can take anywhere from three to nine months,” he added.
While their plants undoubtedly posses a beautiful, minimalist aesthetic, many might gawk at their high pricing, compared to regular plant nurseries.
On average, their prices stand at around S$60, and go up to over S$1,000 for their range of premium bonsais.
“Our prices are inclusive of the plant and planters. With the planters that are handmade in Korea, they would be costly. The majority of our plants are [also] imported from around the globe, from Japan to Africa. They are uncommon and not readily available everywhere,” explains Angeline.
“On top of that, we put in the extra effort to make sure that plants [shipped from overseas] are acclimated to our local weather conditions. This may take from two weeks to two months. They are usually ‘asleep’ when they arrive, and it can be quite challenging to ‘wake them up’.”
According to Angeline, they have a few best-selling plants such as Phyllanthus Mirabailis, Stephania Erecta, Stephania Suberosa and Stephania Kaweesakii. These plants can take about three months to grow, and even though some of them are the same species, they can sport very distinct leaf shapes and colours.
Beyond selling just plants and other related products like planters and potting mixes, Soilboy also retails its own line of merchandise, including tees, caps, shopper bags, posters as well as postcards. Most of them are illustrated by local artist Oak And Bindi, who is a plant lover herself.
“Right from the beginning, we started Soilboy with a design-centred mindset to harmonise both people and plants together. We constantly work with local artists and overseas ceramic artists to bring in something different for the community here,” said Ivan.
When it comes to funding, Angeline said that it has been a real challenge bootstrapping their business.
She shared that the duo pooled in about S$50,000 of their savings to start up Soilboy, and thankfully, they managed to break even in a year.
Additionally, they also managed to open a physical store in less than two years, which they dub as one of their biggest milestones.
Elaborating on their move to adopt an omnichannel presence, Angeline said that they received many requests from customers who want to self-collect their orders, view their products in real life, and opt for their repotting services.
It was a no-brainer for them that a physical store can help meet these requests, which prompted the opening of their first outlet in November 2021.
“We always wanted our brand to be approachable, and having a physical store has definitely allowed us to do that — meet our customers, exchange plant care knowledge, and even have a short conversation about our favourite plants. We really like that,” said Ivan.
“It also created a seamless channel where people can not only shop through our online store, but also through our physical store and Instagram’s direct messages. We want to create a platform that not only makes planting easy, but also accessible.”
Prior to their physical store, they relied on pop-up stores — in collaboration with several local brands like SOJAO and The Editor’s Market — to build an offline presence.
Starting up a business at the peak of COVID-19 might be a challenge for most, but the couple saw it a business opportunity instead.
“With COVID-19 restrictions, many people felt the need to bring nature indoors. Having plants indoors help us to find time to put down our phone and work, and take some time to be more aware of the little things. [Plants also have the ability to] bring life to a space,” said Angeline.
“This led to a significant increase in online shopping, and starting as e-commerce allowed Soilboy to be more accessible to people at home. Ultimately, this has significantly increased our sales and revenue.”
Over the years, they have introduced the concept of planting to many people who were initially not interested in plants. However, after successfully caring for their first plant, they tend to fall deeper into the hobby and start growing a collection of plants.
The couple feels heartened by the growing interest among Singaporeans, propelled by the pandemic, and see it as a “therapeutic” and “rewarding” hobby, which is needful in our fast-paced society.
Moving forward, they aim to build their presence and establish several concept stores overseas.
“We will continue to develop Soilboy as both a consumer brand for plants and a lifestyle brand that inspires a sense of curiosity for the greener things in life, [as well as] bridge the gap between nature and people.”
Featured Image Credit: Soilboy
Man behind Chye Seng Huat and PPP Coffee on building S’pore coffee tech startup Morning
Subscribe to our premium content for just S$99.90 a year.
Gain access to all Vulcan Post Premium content for S$9.90 per month.
Gain access to all Vulcan Post Premium content for S$99.90 per year.
Stay updated with Vulcan Post weekly curated news and updates.
MORE FROM VULCAN POST
Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.
© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.(UEN 201431998C.)