Anne Fleshman founded Baltimore Contained in 2009.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Baltimore Contained is a retail and services business for urban gardens and garden spaces. Most 'gardens' consist of containers and window boxes for front stoops or windows, balconies, or terraces. We sell containers, soils, fertilizers, plants small and large, vegetables and herbs, as well as indoor plants, and grab and go gifts that are garden related. We also provide services such as garden coaching, on-site consultation, and installation of containers for balconies, decks, curb appeal and small backyards and courtyards. Situated around the Baltimore Harbor, many homes also have rooftop decks with water views. We also hold seminars and hands-on workshops.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I was a project manager for strategic initiatives at a financial services company. For the past several years, I commuted from Baltimore to Chicago for work every week. This is my first business.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Learn your target market, learn the particular areas of concern and address them. Don't try to sell what the big box stores do for much cheaper. It costs a small business more to buy than they can sell it for. You are also selling an experience! Listen hard and provide what the client is trying to achieve.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I've been a lifelong gardener, mostly while living with small outdoor spaces and using containers, and I wanted to share the benefits of living with green plants and flowers. Baltimore is a city of row houses and high rise condos. There were no businesses that address the issues specific to urban gardening, such as wind, water, heat and sun, and I saw a niche that needed to be filled.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
I did write a business plan and it was an effective tool, especially when I was doing due diligence to determine if my concept was viable. It was also a useful tool to learn how to budget for inventory, as this is a very seasonable business.
What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, ….
I attended classes sponsored through the Small Business Development Center in Maryland, which is partially funded with monies from the SBA. A service available to all business owners is free counseling, and I also take advantage of that. I meet with my counselor to discuss marketing strategies, advice on next moves, and to get answers about resources that may be available to small businesses.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
I am still learning to navigate how best to use social media, but it is paying off. I have a Facebook page and Twitter account, which link to my website. Baltimore is a very networked city, and buzz has been generated about the business through these media. I am also beginning to register on sites such as Yelp, and asking clients to review my services after completion of a project.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?Probably the most effective thing I've done is joining community associations and participating in community greening efforts. Whether it is offering discounted garden products, speaking at garden club meetings, or donating living designs for fundraisers, my work is getting seen and the community is responding in kind.
There is also a complete dedication to sharing knowledge and educating customers about how to create what they want. Almost all of the people that come into the store have specific questions and issues for which they seek answers, and they get them Baltimore Contained. I won't sell someone a plant or plan that is incompatible with their environment, and there is an appreciation for the candor, and confidence that their choices will succeed.
And finally, there has been free press in magazines and blogs that have generated recognition and interest. It has not paid off yet, but I am anticipating a big spring season!
I'm inspired! For my business and my garden. Thank you for sharing your time and wisdom with us, Anne. Visit Anne at Balitmore Contained, 2400 Fleet Street, Baltimore, MD