Shop Small is a bi-weekly series highlighting small business owners from diverse backgrounds. This series aims to go deeper than your typical product roundup, diving into the inspirational stories behind some of our favorite brands. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at how their shops came to be and highlighting the products they (and their shoppers!) love, we hope to put a deserving spotlight on these marginalized business owners.
Being a small business owner was never in the plans for Pepper Sims. In fact, her brand originated “from a place of curiosity and lack of connection.” She had just graduated from Watkins College of Art in 2015 with a degree in sculpture and ceramics and began experimenting with arts and crafts at a local co-maker space in Nashville, Tennessee. The goal wasn’t to turn her hobby into a business, but when her grandmother, who taught her everything about botanicals, passed away, Sims found meaning in her grief.
“Up until that point, I had forgotten my love of botanicals,” Sims says. “So one day in the maker’s space, I picked up some pots and began decorating them. In a way, I was memorializing my grandmother’s memory through what I love, which is art, and what she loved, which were plants.”
Thus, Pepper Palm was developed. Sims’ business, which sells hand-painted plant pots, candles and kokedamas, is currently one of Etsy’s best-selling botanical brands. But it didn’t start off that way. Though she began painting pots in 2019, Sims didn’t release her first cohesive pot collection until early 2020, a few weeks shy of the pandemic.
Whether it was the search increase for “gardening items” or the focus on small Black-owned businesses due to George Floyd’s murder, Pepper Palm suddenly gained momentum. Before Sims was selling a few pots every month, but in June 2020, her order increased to 400. “I did not expect things to take off the way they did in 2020 because I was already making pots the previous year,” she admits. Two years later, Sims still hasn’t slowed down. She’s made over 2,000 sales on Etsy and has garnered more than 400 five-star reviews.
But it hasn’t always been positive: Sims has experienced some challenges along the way. Read on to learn more about Pepper, her brand and her journey as a first-time Black business owner.
What She’s Learned as a Business Owner
Sims says she learned two major lessons since starting Pepper Palm: “You can’t do it all by yourself and know your numbers.” At first, Sims was a one-woman machine. She painted and packed her orders in her living room or garage and then ran down to the local post office for deliveries. Her production and packaging system were functional until the business’ unexpected growth. Then, Sims had to learn how to keep up with the demand.
Sims is a self-described creative, so rather than being well versed in business operations when she first launched Pepper Palm, painting and crafting came more naturally to her. While Sims struggled with understanding the business aspects of Pepper Palm, she credits other small business owners in her circle for providing support.
She also points to local Nashville resources for providing her with useful business knowledge. “When it comes to business, [Nashville has the] Pathway Women’s Business center,” she says.
These organizations helped Sims implement successful systems to produce and package orders efficiently. “I have an actual studio, a few hires in my production rotation, and USPS come right to my door. I have systems in place when it comes to production and quality control, [which helped me] branch out into other products like candles and room sprays.”
Her Top-Selling Products
Each pot is hand-painted, which is a bit tedious and time-consuming, Sims says. But, it’s what sets Pepper Palm apart from the competition. Her brand offers a variety of size pots from 5 inches to 7½ inches. To save time, Sims paints the pots in small batches of 20 or 30 but only if the design allows. An easier art look will take anywhere from two to four days to complete, but more complex pieces take longer.
Most of the products are best-sellers (an ode to how much people love her pots). Desert Days used to be the most-requested pot until 2021, when the Alblaze design took over. She also says ’90s design and Cameo are fan favorites.
As for her favorite art design, Sims loves “to paint Desert Days and the ’90s. Those are two designs that flow easily around the pot and with my wrist when painting them.”
The Message Behind Her Business
For Sims, there’s no other business like Pepper Palm. She says she might be biased, but believes “Pepper Palm is one-of-a-kind.”
It is this pride in her work and originality that motivates Sims to expand her business into a physical store. “I don’t see designs like mine online, and I surely don’t see them in plant boutiques,” she says. “They’re crafted and designed by someone who had an idea and brought it into fruition; someone who took a leap of faith on a small business; someone who continues to strive every day to bring new ideas and designs to those everyday plant lovers who’d like a little bit more flair when it comes to planting styling.”
She wants to do more than just expand her business. Her goal is to make agriculture accessible, and she believes Pepper Palm will be the medium to do it. By making Pepper Palm a physical plant and pottery store, Sims says she can begin donating and educating her community on agriculture, botanicals, and gardening. That way, she can educate and inspire community members the same way her grandmother taught her.
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