Before botanicals were cool, there was Brazilian concept store FLO Botanical Atelier, or FLO. As one might expect for a store dedicated to plants, the design is light, bright and airy with the plants and flowers taking central stage. Created by husband and wife team Antonio Jotta and Carol Nobrega, FLO stands for For Lovers Only although in reality all sorts of shoppers are flocking to the Instagram-friendly space.
Co-founder Nobrega gives us the inside track on the concept, the challenges along the way and how the store is integral to the business:
How would you describe FLO Botanical Atelier in a nutshell?
It’s a place where strange plants and design meet.
Can you tell me a bit more about the services you provide?
We have the shop where clients can buy plants and products right away. We also have very special designs that aren’t always at the shop, so customers can e-mail us and then we will make it specially for them.
We offer a workshop where we teach people to make some of the products we sell at the shop and we also do installations for shops or even for art galleries which is our most creative service.
We also do small events, bouquets for brides and if a client has a special need or wants something very different we can always do something tailor-made for them.
Is there a relationship between these services or are they quite separate?
We first started with installations in our own space as we felt that the everyday routine of having a shop was getting to be a bit boring, especially for creative minds. We said that twice a year we would create an installation inside our shop, so we could exercise all this creative energy that we have. Because of that other people started seeing our installations and then slowly we started making them for other people.
Our main focus is the shop though and that’s basically where all our income comes from. The other things are just like side projects.
Did you have any concerns when you were developing the business model and how did you address those?
It started very small in our apartment. We were on a trip in 2013 and my partner Antonio saw a terrarium and said ‘what’s this maybe we should try it out’. He started looking into everything he could find on the subject, making them for our house and seeing which plants worked out. Then our friends started seeing them and they wanted one, and then a friend told a friend who told a friend.
We basically grew in a very steady rhythm. Slowly we were invited to events and a shop invited us to sell terraniums there. They have an upscale client base, so we started targeting a very specific client in Sao Paolo, not on purpose, but it started the game for us.
After that we had a lot of clients reaching out to us on email. A year later at Christmas we noticed that people had to see what they were buying so they could get more excited about it. We did a larger production and told people you can come and look for yourself and see what you like. It was a very interesting experience. After that we took a three month sabbatical and went to the US and got very excited about opening our own shop. When we came back we opened our first space, which is now our studio. We had a figure we thought we would sell and then the first month we sold five times that. From there on it just started to grow very quickly.
Last year we thought that we needed a bigger space for production and instead we found a perfect place for the shop, so we moved the shop and our production space is where the old shop was. We had to double the staff and it’s still a work in progress, but financially it’s shown good results.
How does the physical store drive sales?
It’s a very specific shop. We moved to the larger shop in August. Before that the shop space was what is now our studio, so it was smaller and a bit more private. People would come for a specific reason, which meant 90 percent of the clients that would come in would buy something.
Now with a larger shop on the street where everyone can see it we have more and more visitors. Our store has also been gaining a lot of press, so people come in just to have a look and they don’t necessarily buy.
We have different kinds of clients. The strongest side of our brand are the clients who have been with us since the beginning. They know our brand and maybe buy more expensive pieces. Then we have the new clients who may be just entering the botanical space and want to buy a plant or book.
How did you decide on the store design?
We noticed that when clients entered our older shop they would always say that it would be nice to have a space to just sit and admire the store. We never had enough space to do that, but when we found this new place that even has a garden we realised we could finally offer this commodity for our clients. They can just sit and maybe read a book or even come in and just turn off from all the crazy energy that we have in the city and have a few minutes of peace.
We also have this new part dedicated to teas. In Brazil it’s not very common to drink tea, it’s more a coffee society, but we are big tea fans so we decide to completely focus on teas We thought that was a very good theme for us as we were still in the botanical world. People are not always connecting what we eat and drink with the plants we have in our homes, so we thought we would offer that connection in our new place.
How important is experience to the store?
That’s really the main focus. I want people to come in and turn off for a while and just really understand this universe. It’s really interesting that plants are now a trend but we would like people to get involved with it, not only buy a plant but to really dive into this universe.
What have you learnt from your experiences so far?
We’re always learning and we’re very eager to put our ideas to work. Usually when we travel we come back with all these different ideas. We were just in Japan and we started questioning everything. We have a solid brand but we’re worried that we’re losing a bit of our artistic side as since we now have a bigger space there’s so many products you have to put in side. We’re now focusing on going back to our roots and having more of a poetic approach to it all. We’re going to change the way we communicate some things and I think that’s going to be really important for us.
When we started we would even communicate using poetry on our Instagram and then with time our new followers didn’t really understand. They would say ‘is that for sale’ so we started to communicate in a way that people would understand more what we’re doing. Then in Japan we noticed that part of our love for this is doing it in the way that we really like to communicate. So we’ve decided that from now on we’re going to bring back the more dreamy side of FLO and we’re hoping it’ll work. We know that our followers won’t necessarily understand but we’re hoping that it may intrigue them to visit the shop and then understand the universe that we’re proposing.
Do you think that social media has also uplifted the visitors to the store?
For sure. Until about August of last year I’d say 80 percent of our customers came from our Instagram. We get a lot of press in Brazil and even so most of them come from our Instagram.
It has changed a bit because of the whole plant trend and botanical trend. Now there are so many different ages of people that are interested in plants. Usually younger people are starting in this world and don’t have a lot of money to invest so they go and buy smaller things maybe little plants. If a person has a beautiful home already and is very minimal they come for the first time and buy our most special plant because that’s exactly the piece that they’re missing in their home. It really depends on the profile.
Which of the projects that you have worked on are you most proud of?
I’m extremely proud because we are huge fans of Azuma Makoto, the Japanese flower artist, and we got to hang out with him in Japan. He had a project in Argentina a couple of weeks after we were in Japan and we really got along. He emailed us a couple of days after we returned and he said I’m going to change my ticket and I’m going to fly to Sao Paulo so we can collaborate on an installation together. That just happened so we’re very proud of that. It was the first time he actually invited other artists to collaborate with him.
Are there any lesser known Brazilian retailers that you admire?
There’s this shop called Amoreira, which is the first place we started selling which is still my favorite shop after mine. In Rio there’s a place called A Feira, which is very interesting as it’s basically an abandoned warehouse so a very different space. I really like their concept – almost everything is white, black or gray and they have all these curated goods.
Do you have any future plans for FLO?
We’ve been invited to open a store in LA and we’re very excited about it. We’re still figuring out the logistics of it all and if it doesn’t work out we would still be interested in taking FLO to a different city that we’re passionate about. I think when you change countries you have to adapt to the culture. Selling in Brazil is very different from selling in the US, but it’s something that’s been on our minds.
Other than that we’re very interested in expanding the installation side of it. It’s something that creatively is so interesting for us and when we’re done doing it we feel so energised to do other things. It’s almost like a perfect cycle – you work a lot, you do the installation, you feel so good about it and then you’re ready to do anything else. You’re motivated to do other things. That’s very important for someone that has a business, doing something that really just turns your world around. That is really special.
Images courtesy of FLO. Photo credit – Bruno Geraldi