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Reba Hamilton: “Shake off the dirt and loosen your roots!”

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But most of us spend about 90 percent of our day indoors, which makes that daily outdoors jaunt difficult to achieve. That’s why the next best thing is to relish the positivity of indoor plants at home or work to improve mood, ease stress, recharge ambition, enhance creativity and even get a few extra z’s in bed. Cultivating the game plan to bring indoor plants to the rescue is Reba Hamilton, owner of Virgil’s Plant Shop, 2763 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Missouri. She knows exactly what the doctor orders when it comes to greening up an indoor space.

“There have been studies that show people can be more productive with greenery around them. Of course, that’s not everyone but certainly everyone I meet,” she noted. “There is something to be said about having greenery around you because caring for your plants is hands-on. You have to engage with them and touch them. It’s like you have a point of contact. And it’s so rewarding when you are doing it well because they give you something back by growing larger. You can share cuttings or your knowledge with friends and family. I’ve found that people who love plants love to talk about their plants.”

If you don’t know a Philodendron brandtianum (silver leaf philodendron) from Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston fern), then Virgil’s Plant Shop is for you. Reba welcomes agricultural neophytes to those who have cultivated multiple green thumbs. “I envisioned Virgil’s Plant Shop as an extremely welcoming space for others to come in and ask questions, where we can talk and answer their questions, judgment free,” Reba shared. “While we offer a range of plants in price and type for the first-time plant parent, I also have tried to curate a space where collectors that are really into plants, who are used to spending hundreds of dollars on a small plant, can come in here and find something that they’ve never seen before. It’s about creating a vibe for all, a nice little neighborhood plant shop that’s ever-growing yet dependable.”

Reba grew up in Stilwell, Kansas, and then left for college in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 19, eventually picking up a degree in English literature. She came back to her hometown for a short stop and then decided to try the East Coast and all that New York City has to offer. It was then that she fell in love with houseplants.

“When I was living in New York City, I used to regularly go upstate, often visiting this little plant shop called Flora in Beacon, New York, and the woman who owned it was there every time that I went in. It was a tiny little shop and while I never left without buying something, my favorite part was just sitting and chatting with her and enjoying her openness,” she revealed. “She was never in a hurry, never tried to get a purchase out of you and move on to someone or something else. She was just always really attentive, really present and excited to talk about plants. I gained a lot of inspiration from her and I want people to feel that way when they come into my space. I want to be there, be present with them and answer any and all plant questions.”

After crossing off living on the West and East coasts and all of the glamour that major metropolitan areas offer, Reba heeded the call to return to the Midwest in early 2018, which was heightened by the birth of her niece. When she arrived, she was filled with new ideas and set her sights on starting her own plant boutique. Her initial plan was to open a brick-and-mortar shop and café in 2019, but she decided to scale this back to one that favored a small start and to be a mobile plant shop, a first for the Kansas City community. She opened the mobile shop in July 2019, and the timing could not have been more favorable for her being on the move. Shortly after she signed a lease for a storefront on 27th and Troost, the COVID shutdown hit and the community went into lockdown to avoid spreading the infectious disease.

“I was pretty stressed about it, but fortunately it turned out that everybody fell in love with houseplants during that time. So it ended up being an ideal time to be in the business of houseplants because many found they made quarantine so much more pleasurable,” she recalled. “I would get in a shipment of plants to the storefront, and then I would post on Instagram what plants I got in, how many I had, what they cost, and people would reach out. I would get in 200 plants and sell out within the week. Then I would deliver them all over the city. I would ring the doorbell and run back to my car.”

Although she wouldn’t visibly interact with her customers, they could talk with her on the phone for full instructions to get their greenery started and to keep them healthy. She continues this practice today by encouraging her customers to reach out if things go awry. “We’re a smaller boutique plant shop with a focus on sharing our knowledge and educating our customers to ensure they keep their plants alive,” Reba noted. “For each purchase, we always include a care card with instructions. We also encourage them to contact us on the shop’s iPhone with texts or photos, and we’ll troubleshoot back and forth. There’s never a charge for that and, most important, no judgment.”

Many business owners struggle with settling on the perfect name for their company. Some adopt labels that are so far out that no one understands the objective of their business or what they are selling. Reba knew that her store would have Plant Shop in the title but she realized she wanted something more with an emphasis on her family.

“Virgil is actually my dog, a border collie-boxer mix and he’s about to turn 12. I had a couple of different ideas for shop names, but I really wanted to name it after my dog. He’s our little mascot. People will often come in and ask, ‘What’s Virgil? Are you Virgil?’ But he’s been with me for so much I chose to name the shop after him.” Reba notes that every year he gets a birthday party at the shop, “A Very Good Boy” event, that is open to all. On March 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the celebration will be held with vendors, drinks, discounts on plants and more. Most importantly, Virgil’s Plant Shop sponsors the adoption of four senior dogs in honor of Virgil.

Long before Virgil’s Plant Shop was a reality, Reba spent hours developing strategy and studying the marketplace for her shop. For guidance, she also turned to her parents, LaVon and Adam Hamilton, founders of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest-growing, most highly visible churches in the country. Pastor Hamilton steered this organization, which began with 20 members meeting in a funeral home, to six locations in the Kansas City metro, representing tens of thousands of worshippers. When it came to knowing how to “maintain the faith,” Pastor Adam had sage counsel to offer.

“One piece of advice that he shared with me that’s been really helpful is that it’s such a roller coaster, even in the church,” she stated. “One Sunday there might be half of the attendance that’s normal and you think that’s going to be it forever. Then you have another Sunday that’s gangbusters and filled with people, and you think that’s what it’s going to be like forever. It’s really a roller coaster. You’re always hoping that it stays that way or doesn’t stay that way. But he said that it will always change and you’ll have your ups and downs but keep plugging along. Don’t try to do it all and don’t get too big. Do what makes sense and at a pace that makes sense.” Reba also shared a critical observation about the impact of the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs on her business. “It’s wild how much the Chiefs’ game affects my business. I look at the schedule, and if I see a game, I know I won’t need an extra employee that day. No one will be out shopping.”

After almost five years in business, Reba takes great pride in her accomplishments, especially Virgil’s Plant Shop. She shares these tips with others who might be contemplating opening a new business or growing the one they are now operating. “I see it a lot across the nation but it’s really big in K.C. The small business community throws small events or popups to help people get started. All one needs is a table to display your products and have a way to accept money. It’s an awesome way to see if people like what you’re doing,” she advised. “So start small and don’t take on more than you can. Also, conduct as much market research in the area of your business as you can. I always suggest to others to bring something a little different to the table to stand out. And don’t hesitate to ask questions, that’s my biggest thing. When I was getting started I would send out many emails to business owners with questions. People love talking about their business, so often they respond.”

Not only does Reba sell greenery but she also offers selections of locally produced products and other merchandise. A phrase printed on some of those items is “Loosen Your Roots,” this green thumber’s nod to the fun she enjoys through her work and passion.

“When it comes to repotting your plants, you want to gently massage the roots and loosen them up so that when you transplant them into something a bit larger, they can expand and grow to their full potential,” she remarked. “This relates pretty well to my life, but I think most people would agree that by moving into something different, by shaking off what you might be used to instead of staying in a tight circle and not expanding outward, you don’t really get to grow to one’s own full potential. So take yourself out of what you’ve been used to, kind of cramping yourself into that same little lifestyle, and hopefully you’ll break out a little bit at a time. You kind of shake off the old and grow more fully in another way. I love that.”

Virgil’s Plant Shop