Build the plane while you take off

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Behind Review host and Yelp small business expert Emily Washcovick shares a sneak peek from this week’s podcast episode.

Courtesy of Juicy Leaf

Felix Navarro and her husband, Filipe Abrahão, are co-owners of a quirky and collaborative plant store in Los Angeles, The juicy leaf. Located in the Glassell Park neighborhood of the city, the store has been the seller of major studios like Netflix, NBC and Fox, as well as being a neatly curated spot for the average plant lover. When you enter the company, you are greeted not by bags of soil or gardening tools, but by thoughtful crystal arrangements and Felix’s daily incense. The Juicy Leaf prides itself on having an inviting environment that allows its customers to create.

Yelp Reviewer Emily S. is a Los Angeles real estate agent who has made The Juicy Leaf her one-stop-shop for freebies she gives clients when they close properties. The gifts are local and unique, and Emily has always been impressed with Felix and Felipe’s customer service.

“I never want to get [my clients] something they’ve seen in a big brand. I found out about Felix at The Juicy Leaf, how he creates these amazing custom succulent displays and gifts, and it was when I walked into his shop that my head exploded,” Emily said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be my favorite for my closing gifts from now on.'”

Emily’s first impression is exactly what Juicy Leaf is aiming for. Felix and Felipe want their clients to be wowed by the thoughtful arrangements, but also to feel like they’re actively participating in the creative magic. “It’s a place where people can come in and design their own,” Felix said. “The most important thing is that people can come in and create their own arrangements with my help.”

As a young adult, Felix walked around the nurseries with his own visions, wanting to change the displays, change the pots of the plants – actions that were not necessarily welcomed by the staff on site. Being told “no” inspired what Juicy Leaf is today – a place where visitors are empowered, rather than discouraged, to lean into their creativity when making decisions about their purchases. “So that’s my dream, that’s where it all started. I just want it to be a really delicious place where people love plants, anything natural, anything earthly,” Felix said.

Felix and Felipe’s mantra as business owners — especially as they navigated the ravages of the pandemic — has been to build the plane the moment it takes off. Both men avoid letting fear of failure dictate their business decisions, especially when it comes to expansion and risk-taking, and they embrace adaptability and evolution. Reframing challenges as redirection, as in moving from a physical-only storefront to adding a digital storefront, has also been a central tenet of The Juicy Leaf’s journey and success.

“People want to be able to order online. Everything we are looking for [as consumers is on our phones], so we have to change,” Felix said. “That’s where the focus turned to. We sometimes ship up to 400 kits for a single party, just the two of us.

As Felix and Felipe reflect and continue their small business journey, they shared these three tips that have helped them build a business that has been attracting loyal customers since 2007.

1. A strong support system can change your direction for the better.

Feeling overwhelmed is normal when starting and running your own business, but just because you feel overwhelmed today doesn’t mean you’ll always feel that way. Felix mentioned dealing with feelings of fear and anxiety when he opened the shop, but he also realized later that being faced with big decisions can be an opportunity, not necessarily a trap. Gaining the confidence to seize opportunities instead of fearing them comes with time and experience, but this gradual empowerment was accelerated when Felipe joined The Juicy Leaf as co-owner.

“Sometimes if you just sit there and kick the box and think about it, it’s never going to happen,” Felix said. “So I think between the two of us, we’re able to figure things out. [as we go]. He’ll slow me down, I’ll rush him, and somewhere in between we meet.

Félix and Felipe have a unique vision of working relationships, given their status as co-owners and spouses. Although mixing personal relationships and work can present its challenges, it also has its advantages. Surrounding yourself with people you can rely on and work well with is an important part of easing the stress and pressure of the unknown.

“I think we are very different people, which can be difficult and good at the same time,” Felipe said. The early stages of the pandemic quarantine proved particularly difficult given the massive increase in time spent together. Nonetheless, the two know that ultimately they are part of the same team and can count on each other for a job well done.

“I feel like we’re a really amazing team because we communicate really well,” Felix added. “We both have very different strengths and perspectives on what our business is.”

2. Don’t let fear be the determining factor

There are all sorts of factors to consider when making an important decision in your business, but fear shouldn’t be one of them. Avoiding a key business decision can prevent you from taking the leap that could lead to a well-deserved breakthrough.

“It was very scary for me to have a brick and mortar. It seemed very intimidating,” Felix said. “I have a degree in finance. was collapsing.

The Juicy Leaf started out in a garage, with the couple frequenting flea markets and exchanges for a few years. Eventually, it became clear that the company needed its own location to become a separate, independent brand.

“I ended up finding the place I wanted, and walking into it, I was terrified. I thought [the rent] was crazy at the time, and nothing was like what we were about to do,” Felix said. “I was always very uncomfortable and scared because I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ I know how to teach state and federal loan regulations, but doing bricks and mortar is a whole different animal.

3. Recognize, Pivot, and Move On

Being flexible and open to change in business processes allows you to pivot when big changes (like a pandemic) happen on short notice. Although rarely easy, acknowledging and accepting these changes instead of fighting them when they inevitably and inevitably occur can redirect you on a positive path.

When the pandemic hit, The Juicy Leaf was just a physical store. When customers could no longer visit in person, Felix and Felipe took a crash course in e-commerce and started shipping their products instead, which eventually led to a change of location to better accommodate their subsequent growth.

“It was a total nightmare,” Felipe said. The couple suddenly had hundreds of plant kits to assemble and ship from their small space – figuring out the logistics was no small feat.

“We would be outside assembling boxes in the parking lot and any space we could find. Once the store was closed, we were literally filling the store with as many boxes as possible,” Felix explained. But because they were open to change, they developed an even stronger and more self-sufficient business than the business they had before the pandemic.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Felix, Felipe and Emily S., and to subscribe to Behind the review to hear about new business owners and reviews every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple podcast, Google Podcasts, embroidererand sound cloud