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Decatur residents target big box plant store accused of strangling homegrown business

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Decatur residents target big box plant store accused of strangling homegrown business

PlantHouse, located at the AMLI mixed-use development in Decatur, opened in 2021. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — Lush Plant Co and PlantHouse have similar stories.

Both are women-owned businesses. Both started small. Both sell plants to green-thumbed enthusiasts. But PlantHouse, first planted in Virginia Beach in 2018, has grown, with 10 locations around the South. One of its newest locations opened in Decatur in 2021 at the AMLI mixed-use development.

Lush Plant Co. started with a pop-up in 2020, and has stayed small in its Oakhurst location. Lush has a base of loyal clients in Decatur. Lush Plant Co. co-founder Andrea Kidd said at first, she welcomed the competition from PlantHouse and said the two businesses coexisted peacefully for a while

“We’ve been playing nicely for 18 months,” Kidd said.

Andrea Kidd (left) and Jennifer Martha (right) started Lush Plant Co as a pop-up shop in 2020, and have been in their brick-and-mortar location since April 2021. Photo submitted by Andrea Kidd.

But the gardening gloves came off during the Thanksgiving break. Kidd was celebrating the holiday in Tennessee when she received a “weird” email from one of her biggest suppliers the day before Thanksgiving.

The supplier, based in Florida, informed Kidd they could no longer supply Lush Plant Co. due to a conflict with another client.

“Although we appreciate the business relationship that was established, unknowingly, it put us in violation of an agreement we have with other distribution partners,” the supplier said.

Kidd deduced that PlantHouse was the other distribution partner, in part because the company suddenly blocked her on social media. And thus began one of Decatur’s thorniest controversies, with local moms rallying to support Lush and vowing to uproot PlantHouse from the city.

PlantHouse says that the situation is nothing personal and the company did not directly order its supplier to stop doing business with Lush. The supplier took that action after PlantHouse inquired about deliveries to Lush, according to President Ted Davis and CEO Bailey Ryan. The company’s agreement with the supplier predates the opening of Lush, Ryan said.

“At no time did I make an ultimatum or threat,” Ryan said. 

PlantHouse President Ted Davis, left, and CEO Bailey Ryan, right. Photos submitted to Decaturish

For the supplier, potentially losing PlantHouse, with its multiple locations all over the South, would be a bigger threat to its business than ending its account with Lush, Kidd noted.

When the Florida company backed out of its agreement with Lush, the Decatur-based company lost a dependable, affordable supplier with access to unique products, and Kidd confirmed that her business may not be able to continue as a result.

Having a reliable supplier, particularly one that waived shipping costs and delivered products on time, made a difference, Kidd said. Losing that supplier means more work and expense for her. She’s got a family to look after and before finding a stable company to deliver products, she often had to trim back time she spent with them to grow her business. Without that supplier on board, she will face similar pressures again, and she’s not sure if she can endure.

“I’m just a human being, and I’m a hard worker, but at the end of the day, everybody has limits,” Kidd said. 

Decaturish was first alerted to the situation by a group of Decatur moms who submitted a letter to the editor signed, “A group of #LushAF plant moms.”

“Is PlantHouse so threatened by Lush that it can’t find success without attempting to sabotage the livelihood of two women in our community and ruin a small, local business? And more importantly, is that something we’ll sit back and allow? Our small businesses are the heart of commerce in Decatur, making this area unique and wonderful,” the letter says.

Ryan knew something was amiss when her business began receiving one-star reviews and negative messages in their inbox. Davis said while Lush began its business before PlantHouse opened its doors, the lease negotiations with AMLI predate Lush doing pop-ups in Oakhurst.

Initially, the company didn’t view Lush as a competitor, but then Lush began offering similar services to PlantHouse, Davis and Ryan said.

“For us, it’s always been about setting ourselves apart from similar companies,” Ryan said. “When it comes to plants, it’s finding the best quality, finding suppliers that have a lot of variety, access to plants that are different and new, and we’ve really found that with this supplier, as well as pricing. Having that competitive advantage is really important to us.” 

The supplier got PlantHouse through the pandemic and allowed the company to create a unique inventory. Lush offering the same products undercuts PlantHouse’s business, Davis and Ryan said.

“Where there’s a concern here is when Lush started adopting our business model and offering the same things we’ve been offering,” Davis said, adding later, “There is no copyright on this business model, so someone can come and copy you. Why can someone come to us as opposed to a different company? For us, it’s that plant supplier. That’s how we protect that business model. What we can fall back on is we have a fantastic supplier that is extremely reliable who can deliver us the variety of plants and quantity we need.” 

That’s also why PlantHouse’s marketing team blocked Lush on social media, Davis said.

“In essence, it’s someone peeking at your playbook,” Davis said, though he added PlantHouse is willing to revisit its policy of blocking competitors on social media. 

Davis and Ryan were concerned about what happened to Kidd after they contacted the supplier about deliveries to Lush. Kidd said she had to cut her Thanksgiving vacation short because the supplier tried to call off a delivery that had already been confirmed. Kidd returned by Saturday to accept the delivery, which the supplier delivered through a third-party freight company.

Davis and Ryan promised to look into that situation.

“We have been in Lush’s shoes before, and it is an extremely difficult position to be in,” Davis said in an email.

Ryan said, “It’s a really horrible situation that I did not see turning into what it’s turned into.”

“I wish Lush all the best, especially being another woman-owned business, going through the struggles they’re going through,” Ryan said. “We wish to exist peacefully.” 

Kidd does not see her business as a threat to PlantHouse and said their need to protect their contract with the supplier is “silly to me.”

“We were in this area first, and they came to town selling the identical not just the plants, the ceramics and accessories,” Kidd said. “They came to town selling the exact same things we were selling. I was upset when they have an identical inventory for us. If they want to say someone is going to copy someone’s playbook, in this region they came in copying ours. We’re still going to operate our business differently.” 

But PlantHouse is bigger and has a regional presence that Lush does not. It’s a battle Lush is not equipped to win, and Kidd knows she’s outgunned. PlantHouse can flex muscles Lush doesn’t have.

“They’re able to do that, and we’re not,” Kidd said. “The big dogs are winning these fights and the small dogs don’t have a chance.” 

Editor’s note: Following the publication of this story, Bailey Ryan provided this update about the delivery issues Andrea Kidd experienced. 

Our plant supplier was able to give Ted and I a call back and answer some of the questions and concerns we had about our conversation and situation with the Lush Plant Co.  Below are some bullet points I thought might help:

— Lush Plant Co started purchasing from our supplier in July of 2022, five months ago.  PlantHouse has a relationship extending beyond five years with this supplier.

— PlantHouse never asked, threatened, demanded, or provided any ultimatum of any kind to our supplier, and our supplier never said that to Lush Plant Co.

— Lush Plant Co claimed to our supplier they also have had “pottery” issues with PlantHouse in the past. This is not true as we do not have any exclusive agreement with any supplier of pottery or ceramics. I do not know where this allegation is coming from.

— We started the conversation with our supplier informing them that we would be having a conversation with a media outlet.

They then proceeded to provide us the following information:

Our supplier contacted Lush Plant Co early last week to discuss the situation. Initially they called, left a voicemail, and finally sent an email.  Once Lush Plant Co received the email, they called back our supplier to discuss.  Our supplier confirmed that while it is true that Lush Plant Co had submitted an order to be delivered on December 28, 2022 – those orders are never confirmed or invoiced until the Friday before delivery. Often, plant suppliers cannot provide much of an order due to demand. Lush Plant Co’s insistence that the order was placed and confirmed cannot be true – it just isn’t how our supplier works.

However, after initially telling Lush Plant Co that they could not fulfill the order as placed, our supplier agreed to send everything they had on-hand that Lush Plant Co.  In addition, our supplier also arranged to get the order to Lush Plant Co sooner (per their request) as Lush’s owners stated they had “a construction project with contractors in and they needed the plants immediately”. Typically orders are delivered in Decatur on Mondays, however this was over Thanksgiving and therefore the delivery schedule was shifted to Tuesday.  From our supplier’s understanding, Lush Plant Co required this order on Monday for these contractors and this project.  This required a change of delivery, and our supplier made the required change to get these products to Lush Plant Co on their schedule – which happened to be a delivery on either Saturday or Sunday.  Lush Plant Co accepted and pre-paid so that they could ensure they received this product in time for this project they were pursuing.  At this point, I spoke with our suppliers about the situation in its entirety and we ended the call.

Again, we appreciate this opportunity. We just want to provide clarity from our side of things.

After we ran the response from the owners of PlantHouse, we received a follow-up response from Andrea Kidd. Here’s what she had to say: 

I would like to clarify some of the details surrounding the situation with PlantHouse and our supplier. It is true that we have only been using this supplier since July. However, I would like for it to be known that this supplier sought us out as a distribution partner and before they contacted us, we had never even heard of them. We were reluctant to bring on a new supplier, but we did and what we found is that their level of service solved many of our operational issues. It is truly a shame that a supplier would actively seek us out as a partner if they had any agreement that would prevent them from serving us in the way they promised.

We are in no way threatened by sharing our suppliers with PlantHouse; there are many other suppliers that we share.  We can’t help but think about all of our amazing local restaurants here in Decatur and, how despite using the same suppliers, the chefs use their talents and unique approach to technique and presentation to differentiate themselves. At Lush, we serve up a special sauce of fiercely attentive customer service, a genuine dedication to our community, a deep connection to our customers and an unending commitment to the health and quality of the plants that we sell. We opened at the height of the pandemic with a goal of making houseplants more accessible in our community during what was a difficult time for so many. We will continue doing what we do best which is spreading joy through plants.

Since the delivery issues I dealt with were experienced by me, and me alone, it would essentially be impossible for anyone else to provide clarity on the topic. None of the details provided by Planthouse regarding our delivery are correct, but I suppose at this point it is a bit like playing a game of telephone.

We are truly blown away by the outpouring of support we have received. Thank you, Dan and Decaturish for your dedication to the homegrown businesses in Decatur.

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