Q&A: Founder and CEO of Bloomscape Justin Mast

The direct-to-consumer retail landscape is blossoming in today’s ecommerce era. Take Detroit-based Bloomscape, an online shop that delivers live plants directly from the greenhouse to its customers’ front doors.

The visionary green thumb behind Bloomscape is Justin Mast, who comes from a long line of growers and first branched out with the idea to sell house plants directly to the public in 2006. With a business management degree under his belt, he managed several plant and flower businesses before earning a master’s degree in architecture and urban planning from the University of Michigan. From there, Mast and a few partners created Practice Space, an incubator that brought together entrepreneurs, creatives and the local community to shape businesses. In just one year, it helped start 12 companies that are now local staples in Detroit.

Mast kept cultivating Bloomscape in his mind and relaunched after developing a patented packaging made from 100 percent recycled materials designed to hold plants securely in place to prevent damage and soil spillage. That packaging means Bloomscape can ship a large range of plant sizes — everything from a 10-inch aloe plant to a 5-foot bird of paradise — anywhere in the United States from its greenhouses near Grand Rapids, Mich.

But Bloomscape wants to go beyond merely delivering plants. It wants to help strengthen the customer’s relationship with plants by delivering healthy potted plants and providing all the tips needed to help them thrive. Each plant arrives with its own care instructions, and customers can also view instructional videos online. It’s all part of Bloomscape’s attempt to calm the fears of anxious plant owners.

Plants are deeply rooted in your family. When did you know that you’d follow in their footsteps?

As a kid, selling plants came naturally. Instead of a lemonade stand, the entrepreneur in me started a plant stand. It all started with a cart of geraniums on a street corner in Grand Rapids when I was nine. It was such a hit that by the time I was 16, it became a local phenomenon. I had to hire six friends to help me and place pre-orders to make sure I had enough product.

It all started with a cart of geraniums on a street corner in Grand Rapids when I was nine. It was such a hit that by the time I was 16, it became a local phenomenon.

But my hero was my grandfather on my mom’s side. He immigrated to the states as a young man with his young family and started what turned out to be a large, national wholesale floral business. I was so captivated by his story and by his entrepreneurship. It was just magical to me. I kept thinking, “How can I start something?”

Bloomscape didn’t really take off right away. What’s the back story?

The idea was pretty much the same then as it is now. The difference is more people are aware of how great plants are, so there’s not so much of a selling job as there was in 2006. The real window of opportunity arrived when millennials and urban city dwellers, who are our main customers, began to see plants as a lifestyle and a passion, not just a decorative object. Our customers like to show off their plant families and share their knack for nurture as plant moms or plant dads.

Retailers from grocery stores to home improvement stores sell house plants — how can Bloomscape compete with bricks-and-mortar-based sellers?

Bloomscape’s plants are larger and healthier, shipped directly from our high-tech greenhouse to your front door. I wouldn’t want a plant that was stored in a warehouse with fluorescent lights instead of natural sunlight, which is what these larger stores do. When you purchase a houseplant from a box store or nursery, it can spend four weeks or more traveling from greenhouse to drafty warehouse to a hot/cold truck, then ships to a store where it likely isn’t receiving the right water, light or care it needs to thrive.

Our plants are cared for by plant experts and kept in optimal conditions at our greenhouse, where they’re shipped directly to you. Instead of four weeks, this only takes about three to four days going from our greenhouse to your door, ensuring that your plant arrives healthy and already thriving.

We also have a strong mastery of our supply chain and our shipping technology. We have truly deep relationships with our suppliers — generations’ worth of cultivating — and are the only company with the ability to ship large potted plants across the United States in only three to four days. Our team includes leaders in the foliage space with deep knowledge of the industry, and we have an authentic history and connection to the business.

Can you share any business stats with us?

We sold more than 100,000 plants in our first year to 25,000 unique customers in 48 states — and we’ve had orders come from as far as Ireland. We’re now expanding our greenhouse footprint and scaling fast.

Turning to customer support, can customers really text or email a question about plants they purchase from Bloomscape and get a response?

Yes, we empower customers to embrace plant life and be good plant parents — we offer expert care advice and instructions to keep plants thriving. All of this advice is inspired by our “Plant Mom,” who is my real-life mom. She always helped me with my plants, and this is our idea of how to provide a warm and human touch. Joyce, aka Bloomscape’s Plant Mom, has a dedicated platform to provide customers with individualized plant care guidance. Since we launched, she’s had thousands of interactions with our customers. She is one of our greatest differentiators because our customers are able to tap into her 40 years of expertise with a family touch.

You use the term “gezellig” on Bloomscape’s website. What does it mean? And what does it mean to the business brand?

Gezellig is a Dutch word which is tricky to translate in English. Basically, when a space is gezellig it is cozy, warm, inviting — but people can be gezellig or feel gezellig as well. You might be gezellig when you see a friend for the first time in a long time, or when you’re enjoying an evening with your family. We believe plants are part of creating a gezellig home and are an easy way for people to bring the outdoors in. Houseplants connect you back to nature, and we could all use a little more nature in our lives.

Janet Groeber has covered all aspects of the retail industry for more than 20 years. Her reporting has appeared in AdWeek and DDI Magazine, among others.