Jacob Dill (right) opened Plant Daddy Co. in East Sacramento with his partner Luke Swanson during the pandemic and says business is booming. (Photos by Andrew Calisterio)

Getting to Know: Jacob Dill

Co-owner of Plant Daddy Co. in East Sacramento says retail business is booming

Back Web Only Sep 24, 2020 By Vanessa Labi

Googling “millennials and plants” will yield about 15 million results, with many of the articles citing the generation’s need for connection and delayed life milestones as a few of the reasons behind the need to fill the void by hoarding greenery. Some millennials may not be literal parents, but they can certainly be plant parents. 

Jacob Dill and Luke Swanson, cofounders of Plant Daddy Co., are partners in life and business and discovered the joy of plant parenthood in their 20s living in San Francisco and Portland. They gathered inspiration from Portland’s creative community, as they soaked in its abundant plant stores, street art and vibrant restaurant industry, and set out to start their own shop.

The pair sought to open their own venture in Northern California to be relatively close to family (both grew up in Redding) and decided on Sacramento. “About two years ago, we were exploring around the Ice Blocks, and we instantly fell in love with the Downtown area,” Dill says. “We were like, ‘We’re going to move here, and we’re going to make something big out of it.’”

Driven by the desire to create an accessible, inclusive space among the queer community and “anyone wanting to make Sacramento a better place,” Dill says, the Plant Daddy owners have created a retail space for local makers and plant lovers alike. 

Opening in early March on 21st Street in Midtown as Bot.a.ny (with “Neighborhood Plant Daddy’s” as the tagline), they soon faced the challenge of how to do business under California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order. But as people focused on beautifying their homes during the pandemic, they found they could barely keep the inventory on the shelves. They expanded into a new space in East Sacramento as Plant Daddy Co., with the exterior’s botanical mural and the interior’s rainbow design as cheerful beacons of positivity. They are currently evolving their Midtown location into a community space called Elective, which will open soon.

More than just a place to purchase photosynthetic friends, Dill says he wants Plant Daddy Co. to grow into its own as a place for plant lovers to exchange tips, ideas and creative insight.

Jacob Dill (right) and Luke Swanson go on weekly plant-buying trips to the Bay Area to restock their inventory at Plant Daddy Co.

On the popularity of plants right now: It’s definitely a trend, although it’s growing, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. I think with COVID right now, people have needed something to take care of. If they have a plant in their home, they have something to do each day, and they get to see it grow and care for it. 

They’re also extremely air purifying, and more than ever, we need that in our homes. But also, people have taken their plants to Instagram. We’ve seen a lot of what I call “plantsagrams” on the rise, especially locally. They start their own Instagram account, share their collections and tips. They learn. They create this community of people outside of Plant Daddy. 

The power of art to draw a crowd: We’ve only been open through COVID, so that’s all we know. After moving Plant Daddy to Folsom Boulevard, the murals (by Jeremy Stanger and Haley Titus) have attracted people from Fresno to San Jose, San Francisco. We even had someone drive from Portland to come to the store. So it’s been really neat to see the attraction that we’re drawing to the city. 

And it’s brought so much life to East Sac, and it’s so cool to have people who live in East Sac walk by and say, “Hey, thank you for all the color in the neighborhood, we’ve needed this for so long.” People that live in the area are super excited about it.

Using social media to connect and grow during the COVID-19 pandemic: Bot.a.ny opened three days before shelter in place. So we were literally open for three days and had to close the doors. When that happened, we started selling plants on Instagram. We would do our weekly shopping trips (in the Bay Area). We’d get back to the store, photograph everything, list them on our Instagram stories, and we would do deliveries the next day. So we definitely were hustling when COVID first hit, just keeping the business alive and relevant. We were insanely busy and would completely sell out of plants every single week. 

It was really neat to just be able to connect with people through social media because we were chatting through (direct messages) and getting to see their Instagram pictures. Finally, when we reopened the store, we got to meet them in person and get to know their name behind the actual social media page. So it was really neat to just create this bond with people that was digital at first, but has turned into so much more than that as we’ve grown throughout all of our transitions that we’ve had.

Expanding the business by creating a dedicated, free community space: We quickly outgrew our space on 21st Street just through doing Instagram sales. And then we opened back up in that space to the public for a short period of time. And we would be sold out in three days, so we knew that we couldn’t sustain that square footage for very long. That’s when the East Sac location became available, and it was a perfect spot. 

So we decided to transition Plant Daddy over there, but still keep our 21st Street location that will transform into Elective, which will be our classroom setting but also a community space where people can use the space for whatever they need to, especially if it’s benefiting the community. If they have something going on that is going to make Sac a better place, it’s free of charge. Right now, we’ve been (filming) some hip-hop classes (with Muganzo Entertainment’s Afro Hip Hop class at Elective). Those have been all through a digital experience through Instagram Live. 

Luke Swanson (right) works as a dental hygienist in addition to helping to run the shop.

Our roles as business partners: Luke has another job. He’s a dental hygienist pretty much all week. So I pretty much own the operations and day-to-day of Plant Daddy. Luke and I always go shopping together on Mondays, though. So we go plant shopping in the Bay Area and pick everything for that week. 

I consider myself more of like the creative side of things, whereas Luke is the one who brings me down to earth. He’s my voice of reason. But we still do everything together with our team meetings and conversations. It’s been a lot of work for him to do his full-time job and then do Plant Daddy as well.

You get a plant, you get a plant, you get a plant: Our next project is our online store. We are working on finding a really neat warehouse space in Midtown where our online store will live. So we’ll be able to ship nationwide, and it’s going to take Plant Daddy to a whole other level. I’m really excited to be able to get our message across and have our plants in homes throughout the whole U.S.

Making space for makers: We have a rotating month of makers where their products can live at Plant Daddy for an entire month, and 100 percent of the sales go back to the maker. We had a lot of people approach us and want to get their product in the store. 

We’ve had an amazing time working with Bad Seed (beaded jewelry), who was our first maker in the store. And we currently have Clayfl, who also does jewelry. We have lots of upcoming body and skincare creams and washes and rinses and scrubs coming up and leather workers in the works for our makers’ table.

How Plant Daddy is a place for interpersonal and artistic connection: I think (the community aspect of our business) comes from a lack of a place where people can just be promoted. For a long time, I’ve wanted to be a business owner, and it was challenging to get my foot in the door and take that risk and be able to be heard. 

We struggled with getting out there and getting our name out there and starting our business. So that was something that I was really passionate about — giving people a platform to showcase their talents and artistic values. It was challenging, especially because we’re still brand-new. So, what credibility do we have in giving people this platform that we’re still creating for ourselves? So that’s definitely been interesting to navigate but also amazing.

A safe and creative space for the queer community: It’s been incredible to see the queer community come forward that actually have amazing businesses and art skills and things that they want to showcase. 

Overall, I wanted a place where everyone felt at home, everyone felt welcome and no idea was a bad idea. You know, that’s how we really run our team (of three employees). This is not Jacob and Luke’s store, it’s all of our stores. And we all sit down and come up with ideas, events, pull together our resources to figure out what our month is going to look like and how we’re going to be able to be as inclusive as possible. 

Our favorite plants in our own home: My favorite plant is our Philodendron mican. And Luke’s is his Anthurium veitchii. (The latter) is on the rare side. It can get leaves up to 10 feet long that are kind of ripply. It’s beautiful.

What we treat ourselves to (besides plants): Definitely wine. It’s been amazing to come home and be able to have a nice glass of wine and relax. Acheson Wine (Company) over in Midtown gave us some bottles for hitting 10,000 followers (on Instagram). Their wine’s been amazing, and they’re all refillable bottles. And one bottle is like eight glasses of wine. It’s been really cool to support a new business and also have a great product that’s close to home.

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