This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Laura Bennett, the owner of Bennie Bottles, a fantastic start-up in Armidale’s mall. Bennie Bottles uses plants in jars to create gorgeous living art. Laura is extremely passionate about both plants and locally created art.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Armidale and after a short time in Brisbane selling houses, I returned to study teaching at UNE, but I developed some health issues which forced me to drop out of university. I’ve always been very creative, and I really got into painting and creating wire weave jewelry. After university I made weighted blankets for children with sensory issues. Back then they were not readily available, so I tried to make them as cheap as possible so those who needed them had access.
What does Bennie Bottles do?
I make terrariums and sell indoor potted plants. I also do custom bottled plants for people, and if someone has a special bottle, we can plant that out for them. I also sell giftware, candles, painted pots, plant stands, art, and jewellery. All items are made locally, and it’s great that I can support locals like that.
What made you start your business, and how did you end up in your shop?
I had a series of setbacks within a short period of time, not the least of which was my house being burnt down. Last year I had been given a terrarium for my birthday which I left on my kitchen shelf. At that time, I was suffering from depression and despite always loving plants, I couldn’t seem to keep anything alive. After four months of neglect, I looked at it and it wasn’t dead. Not only that, it was thriving! So I started making them; I found it quite therapeutic and kept making more. I started the business, selling them at the local markets, to support what at the time was a hobby. I had no idea the business would just keep expanding. At one stage I did four markets in the space of eight days. It was crazy. Then on Friday 19 June this year, I moved into my premises in the mall.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
Being a single parent is hard, because if the kids get sick or a babysitter cancels, it makes it hard to keep up with all my commitments. Financially also there was a stage in the business where it was hard to purchase everything, I needed to make my products. It was also hard to find a space to set up my shop. Finally, after not being able to get a place, I approached Neil at First National Real Estate to get set up in my own premises. They were great, they did a short lease at a reduced rate so I could start up with low risk and after a set period of time we will see if the business is viable and go into a longer-term commercial agreement.
What do you like most about running your own business?
My children can be here with me if something goes wrong and I can set my own hours around our needs as a family. Also, it’s great having my own business premises as I don’t have to cart around all the product, set up a gazebo and be out in the cold at the farmers’ markets. I also really love what I do. I started the business because I loved creating terrariums, and it’s pretty surreal that I have a job where I can work with plants all day and make money out of my hobby. I also get to meet some great people who love plants, and when I do maintenance on terrariums I’ve previously sold, I get to see how they have grown and changed.
What advice would you give a business just starting out?
Start small and realise you have got to put in the hours at markets in the rain and have disappointing days. Work your way up so you’re constantly putting money back into your business. Don’t try to go full tilt from day one – work your way there slowly. I only ever intended to do one market a month, but it became quite popular and before I knew it, I was working in this shop. Keep your goals realistic in the short term, and every time you reach your goal set a new one.
What inspires you?
I didn’t think I would ever achieve anything. I wasn’t highly educated. I was raised in a low socio-economic household and I was a single mother of two kids. I really didn’t feel like I had my own identity. Now I get to show my kids that you can set goals and achieve them. I get to show them what a good work ethic looks like, and I’m building this business for them. One day I might be able to provide them with a house. Suddenly being able to achieve and be successful is a huge inspiration to myself. I feel like, all things considered, I’m beating the odds.
What is your secret for success?
Honestly? One of the main things is I have a product that can’t be imported from China. You must look after them in the shop and there’s a risk of them dying. Even Bunnings only have a couple of basic terrariums. The terrariums I make are beautiful, they are unique, and they are living art. It’s tricky to get them right, and I have the knowledge to do that. It helps a lot that I’m passionate about it. I make all my terrariums from scratch and I’m extremely proud of them. It’s much easier to put time into it because of that, and that hard work has paid off.
What’s next for Bennie Bottles?
Making sure the shop is successful is my main priority; I want to get through the first six months, make sure it’s supporting itself, and make sure it’s a viable business. I want to set up a website and organise shipping so I can sell online soon. My very, very, long term goal is to set up more stores further away.