By Lauren H. Dowdle
Photos by James and Rachel Culver
In a shop where creating a sense of community is as important as the products it sells, Andrea Huff builds relationships one interaction, gift and plant at a time. Each piece at her store, Plant, is unique—and she traces that love for her lifestyle brand back to her deep family roots and traditions.
Growing up in the South, Andrea was surrounded by amazing women like her mother, grandmothers and aunts. She remembers her family teaching her how to garden, care for house plants, entertain company, decorate a home or workspace and whip up a dish when there were unexpected guests.
To keep those once-common skills alive for current and future generations, Andrea knew she wanted to create a lifestyle brand—and what better place than the area she called home.
Andrea and her husband knew they wanted to raise their two children in a small town and community they could be proud of. They fell in love with what was going on with Historic Calera Main Street and wanted to get involved, which planted the seed for starting a new business.
As many closed their doors in 2020, Andrea prepared to open her botanical lifestyle store with the support of her family. They began selling succulents, gifts, décor and other items residents might not find in other stores.
“Living in a small town doesn’t mean we don’t have nice things available to us,” she says. “I thought I couldn’t be the only one leaving the area to find unique gifts with meaningful connections.”
She adds each item in the store with intention, from hand-painted canvases from Kiki Motif by Kelley Boggio to Rhodes Soapery by Ryan Rhodes and other sustainable products. Several of the items she carries in the shop are made for Plant, like a paint-by-numbers kit from Kiki Motif.
“It’s one thing to find something you don’t see everywhere,” Andrea says. “But, it’s another when someone makes it specifically for us.”
Plant has won Shelby County’s best gift shop two years in a row. It continues to attract shoppers with not only unique gifts, but also with a welcoming experience.
“It makes my heart so happy to see people go out of their way to shop with me because they love what I have—not just because it’s convenient,” Andrea says. “We have a curated collection of things you won’t see everywhere. I love how people want to surprise their loved ones with things from our shop.”
As the shop’s name suggests, plants are an important part of the business. Andrea began with Alabama-grown succulents and house plants, which can help transform any space.
“Adding a house plant can be the difference between a house and a home,” Andrea says. “Sometimes it can be as simple as that.”
To match customers with the right plant, she talks with them about their experience caring for plants, their home environment and what their life is like. She then shares care instructions to ensure they have success with the plant. The shop also offers a plant club where participants can pick up a plant each month.
As her succulents grew in popularity—being used in corsages, bouquets and more—it didn’t take long for customers to ask to add additional flowers to her arrangements.
“The more flowers I do, the more I love it,” she says. “It’s turned into such a great creative outlet and has been so fulfilling. Every time I try a new flower, it’s my new favorite.”
She began by keeping the flowers in buckets in an air-conditioned bathroom, but thanks to word of mouth from happy clients, the popularity of Plant’s arrangements has only taken off from there. The colorful foliage is now housed in a floral cooler, and Andrea creates pieces for proms, weddings and other special events.
“I took a leap of faith, and it turned out to be amazing,” she says.
As their first full-fledged wedding season approaches, Andrea says they strive to create arrangements that are simple but impactful, with a modern design that’s rooted in Southern culture.
“Every arrangement we do is better than the last,” she says.
While the expansion of their flower offerings came as a surprise, Andrea says she knew that opening during a global pandemic would require them to think outside of the box. Or in Plant’s case, the idea to set themselves apart actually is in a box.
To create a dynamic business model that would thrive even if customers couldn’t shop in-store, Andrea began offering subscription boxes that are mailed out monthly. Every box is carefully planned out with a theme in mind and includes a newsletter on how to care for the plant, recommendations on what to do with the items and a small business spotlight. By signing up, subscribers receive the first look at items that will come to the store.
“The boxes have been a wonderful way to explore what people want and to give them that experience they can’t go to the store and buy,” she says.
Plant also offers standard and premium concierge gift boxes. Customers tell Andrea who the gift is for, if it’s a special occasion and any other information about what they like. She then picks out items and mails them in their branded box with a personalized card. These have become a way for both companies and individuals to show someone they care.
“It’s a great way to connect on a personal level with someone you might not know that well,” she says.
Andrea has also created the brand, Plant Preserves, which offers dried greenery, ceramics, wood working, vintage planters and other antique items.
The shop has expanded to include an event space, which hosts in-house classes and workshops from other vendors, birthday parties, bridal showers and other special events. Full of character, the space has its own vibe and features antique furniture, repurposed wood and locally sourced items to give guests a unique, intimate experience.
While what she creates and sells at the shop is clearly her passion, the community and people she works with are at the heart of everything she does.
“If I’m not investing in my community, why would my community invest in me? We can all give back in certain ways. It’s all about community and working together on things.”
Andrea participates in local markets and is involved with the Main Street board, helping with community events like bringing Santa and the Easter bunny downtown.
“When you own a local business, it’s not just a job. It’s your life. Without my community, peers and Main Street, I wouldn’t have expanded. The Lord has led me every step of the way.”
For more information and to see upcoming classes and events, visit plantcalera.com.